Julia Schutz is no stranger to radio’s coalface, having successfully hosted various shows for many years. As a media economist, she developed a deeper understanding of the business side of broadcasting and now, as a senior executive with one of Germany’s fastest-growing DAB stations, has become a sought-after speaker, host and jury member at specialist events, such as media and journalism awards. She is also not afraid of the occasional fight.
RedTech: Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey within radio.
Julia Schutz: My journey started in 2001, when girl groups were topping the charts and the first mobile phone with an MP3 player debuted — with a massive 32 MB! My first day as an intern was dramatic — Sept. 11.
For the next 20 years, I worked as an ambitious trainee, passionate host and successful program director. Today I am the managing director of Antenne NRW, a new digital broadcaster in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state with 18 million potential listeners. And I am proud to say that we made it from an idea to a relevant player in less than two years.
For many years, I had a second mainstay as a boxing promoter and matchmaker in international competitive sports. That all started with a local radio promotion — a celebrity boxing match in 2013. I believe boxing is the best management training. Above all, you learn quickly. You have to; otherwise, it hurts. Same with the transition to digital, right?
RedTech: How do you set Antenne NRW apart from your terrestrial radio (FM and DAB) competitors?
Schutz: Antenne NRW is a feel-good radio station focused on music from the 1980s and 1990s. It has the spirit and agility of a digital startup in conjunction with the strength and credibility of the analog radio world.
We probably go to the greatest lengths in western Germany to develop a love brand. No fans, no fun! Therefore, we broadcast live, on location and close to our listeners. We appreciate every single interaction on air, online and off air to stay in contact.
We are based in Cologne with a great team of hosts, a digital newsroom and a highly motivated sales team. Our brand new “audio center nrw” enables multimedia workflows and is an important meeting place for teams, listeners, clients and partners.
A small bitter pill for the optimists and food for the pessimists: We really need to have staying power. The greatest need for action is the rising market penetration of DAB radio and the spread of devices. Nevertheless, those who know Antenne NRW tune in, come back and listen even longer. We are also recommended more and more. It feels great that the programming is exactly on the right track.
RedTech: Antenne NRW is a relatively new radio station; is this an advantage or disadvantage, and why?
Schutz: Back when the project started, we actually enjoyed a relative advantage. We had, and still have, an incredibly strong parent company in the Antenne Bayern Group, which gave us the best possible jump start. Secondly, the numbers of competing stations in NRW were still rather small. The potential was extraordinary. Antenne NRW also had the advantage of being one of the first movers after the opening of the market for DAB. Now we have to defend and build on this advantage. We note, established brands with similar music formats in neighboring markets are no longer growing, so they are entering new markets like NRW. That certainly keeps us on our toes.
In the end, your mindset in the radio business is the same as in sports: The decision to fight is always a risk. It makes no difference whether you are the reigning champion or an underdog. We are all walking the tightrope between success and failure. It helps to remain aware that North Rhine-Westphalia is an unsaturated market with 18 million people. The bigger the payoff, the more time needed to invest to be successful.
RedTech: With increasing competition from online audio, both streaming and on-demand, how are you building audience loyalty and growing advertising revenue?
Schutz: Basically, we merge challenges with the power of a group. The Antenne Bayern Group is a remarkable house of brands that support each other. We use synergies and learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.
In fact, Antenne NRW made it from startup to relevant player in less than two years because of an impactful market entry involving high investments in people, technology, marketing and workplace — all based on a group’s strong tailwind.
And we must not forget one thing: Audio gained increasing importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. More senior adults, not just the youth, are listening to digital audio, and those who do, are spending more time listening. Each radio station, each music channel and each interactive platform has its own consumer behavior and user patterns. These are all different music instruments supposed to play one hit. Anyone able to conduct this orchestra will prevail. However, the crazy handicap of our radio business is that the greatest moment lasts for the blink of an eye. A few days later, everything’s at stake all over again.
RedTech: Shifts in technology have changed audience behavior and expectations. How is your strategy responding to these changes?
Schutz: Radio turns 100 this year, and in this anniversary year we are opening the new “audio center nrw” as a new generation of audio. Listening remains our DNA: Whether we switch it on, activate it by touch or ask a smartspeaker to play. We are eternally new and remain familiar and well-tried. It drives us to constantly reinvent ourselves.
Let me compare it again with sports: German boxing faces two challenges. It has milked its cash cows for years and neglected the rising stars. At the same time, trainers and their methods have not evolved. A young generation of boxers has not been internationally competitive for years. Does that sound familiar? Our strategy is an investment on all levels, especially in talent development.
One particular gamechanger is overdue: The idea of 14 to 49-year-olds as the advertising-relevant target group is a bit outdated. It’s time to consider 50-59 year-olds as absolutely relevant for advertising. This needs to play a part in ratings and market research.
RedTech: Which technology poses the biggest threat to your operations, and which presents the greatest opportunity, and why?
Schutz: To be honest, the biggest struggle in our 2023 start-up life is the daily battles: vision vs. reality, twists and turns, ups and downs. You can’t afford to have low standards for anything you do or the company you keep.
The greatest need for action is the rising market penetration of DAB radio and the spread of devices. In this context, something else interesting is happening. The biggest threat to our operations actually comes from within our own ranks — the radio industry. It is obvious how digital broadcasting is becoming an important pillar of a market development strategy. Locations are being consolidated, activities aligned and established programs introduced in new markets. DAB is the best way to do this, and we are not alone with this insight. The targeted predatory competition is a big challenge for new brands like us, and I haven’t even talked about streaming and podcasting.
I consider that a major incentive. You have to train yourself to take a punch. I believe in doing so, you will always learn something or gain a skill that makes you more capable and resilient. To answer your question briefly: Know your purpose, and technology will follow — not the other way around.
RedTech: How has new software and innovation in technology changed radio programming strategies and tactics over the last three years, and what changes do you foresee in the next three years?
Schutz: The intervals between innovations are becoming shorter and shorter. Although the Antenne NRW platform has been online for only two years, the first relaunch is already in the starting blocks. It is a necessary step to personalize the listening experience.
The topic of AI touches radio programming right to the heart. The ability to process information of any kind — voice and data — and react intelligently to it will shape our work life of tomorrow. I am optimistic about the development in almost every respect. We will learn to deal with it.
RedTech: To compete effectively for audiences, traditional radio stations must be multimedia organizations; how is this reflected in your operating procedures and your human resources strategy or staffing?
Schutz: We regularly need to rethink how to interact best with our audiences and how to distribute our content. Every interaction is a chance to strengthen community participation and build audience loyalty. It is true that our job specifications have become very complex — whether reporter, host or managing director. That requires investment in talent development, focus on new business cases and the joy of innovation. At best, this leads to increased advertising revenue, and we are well on our way.
Another thing that boxing taught me is to focus on the power of your punch. First and foremost, we are audio content creators and producers and presenters for an audience. Everything we do, we do for listeners. You can’t be a champion on every platform. I am proud to say that our group takes every opportunity to surround itself with people who forge alliances with listeners.
RedTech: Can radio continue to be the dominant in-car entertainment channel? How do you expect the in-car listenership experience will change over the next five years?
Schutz: Broadcast radio continues to dominate as the most preferred source of in-car entertainment across the globe. We know we can no longer take this for granted, but fear has never been a good advisor. The answer is, firstly, a continuous dialog with all stakeholders. Secondly, coopetition — the balance between competition and collaboration — and to defend that with all our might. Thirdly, we must accept that not only one thing can be listened to in the car at any time. A parent could be in the front seat listening to the radio and a child in the rear listening to their mobile phone through earbuds. That’s why it’s so necessary to personalize the listening experience.
RedTech: Is there anything you would like to add?
Schutz: In Germany, 52 million people listen to radio stations every day. Antenne NRW is one of those and growing every day. Good outcomes flow from countless hours of hard work and dedication. Delight your listeners, and ratings will follow.