Cliff Dumas is the new owner of the American-based radio group Local First Media with 23 radio stations under his direction.
A bit of a backgrounder. I met Cliff at 1280 CHAM in Hamilton where he was a developing on-air talent. It didn’t take him long to establish his on-air persona and presence. I knew from the first time we worked together that Cliff Dumas would go on to do many great things in Radio. We consulted most of the on-air talent for Moffat Radio at the time.
Cliff spent many years in Country Music Radio, getting great ratings and becoming the first Canadian Broadcast to earn CMA and ACM awards in the U.S. and multiple CCMA Awards in Canada. His keen interests in radio have now transferred to the ownership of Local First Media group in the U.S.
DC: What attracted you to radio all those years ago Cliff?
CD: I suffered an eye injury during a hockey game when I was 14, I had to spend 10 days in the hospital flat on my back with both eyes covered until the clot caused by a stick to my face dissipated or risk losing sight in one of my eyes. My only source of entertainment was Toronto radio. I found myself emersed in the personalities and stories they told. From that moment on I was hooked.
DC: When you worked in Canadian radio give us some of your greatest highlights.
CD: There are so many highlights! Being part of the CHAM family for almost a decade, an opportunity you gave me by the way, being part of the team that launched Toronto’s first Country FM, launching CMT in Canada, writing the Tommy Hunter show and 18 CCMA Award shows, specials for Anne Murray, Paul Brandt and Terri Clark, it was all magical. Most importantly I was fortunate enough to work with and be mentored early on by legendary broadcasters, you, Dave Charles, Keith James, Kevin McKenna and Jim Johnson, their guidance gave me an incredible foundation for what has now become a 40+ year career.
DC: What was it like to do the morning show at KUZZ AM & FM owned by country legend Buck Owens?
CD: Working for the Buck Owens family was a bucket list thing for me for sure. KUZZ is a legendary station, and its staff and management are some of the hardest-working professionals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. It was a wonderful way to close the chapter on my country career as a radio host. In the 3 years I was there that station won both a CMA and ACM award for station of the year, and our show earned both a CMA and ACM nomination for radio personality of the year.
DC: Tell our readers about your new radio group Local First Media. How many radio stations do you own and what markets are they in?
CD: We put an ownership group together of people I have known and trusted for close to a decade and purchased 23 radio stations in 5 U.S. states. Alaska, Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These are all what we call “siloed’ markets that have good cash flow and real estate assets. We literally cover every format, and I’m excited to enhance the digital footprint of all of our stations.
DC: In a nutshell what is ‘Local First Media’s’ group strategy?
CD: We target well-run, owner-operator stations in siloed markets and have a few more targets on our radar. As the name implies, Local First, we want to do what radio does best, remain a relevant source of connection in these local communities. We also plan to integrate a robust digital strategy for all stations in all markets and launch a podcast division. During covid, I partnered with long-time friend and colleague Jennifer Smith to create a podcast production company called Everything Podcasts. This company was sold to Pattison Media in 2022, and I continue to run the creative side of things. So, I will be deploying the same strategy with our group of radio stations.
DC: AI Radio is making noise around the world. What do you see as the positives and negatives of AI Radio and will Local First Media adopt and adapt AI now and in the future?
CD: I think AI is an exciting tool for content creators and I am optimistically cautious. I use it every day to help kick-start the creative process and augment and streamline the publishing process across social media assets. I’m concerned about the lack of guardrails in place to protect artists’ rights. As AI becomes more pervasive, it is crucial to develop frameworks and regulations to ensure transparency, accountability, and ethical use of AI systems. I don't know about you, but I prefer my content with a side of human error and a dash of self-doubt.
DC: Radio continues to outperform all other media platforms on localism, local news and events and community growth with a 92% rating. What are some of the key attributes that your radio group will use to grow and develop radio in the markets you now serve?
CD: As the name implies, we want to focus on super-serving the local communities we serve. Radio was the original social media, and I believe we can continue to be relevant in the markets we are targeting while growing our digital footprint and embracing technology. I also want to recapture radio's relevance in music and help support new and emerging talent both locally and nationally.
DC: Are there investment opportunities with Local First Media? Tell us about that.
CD: We are a tight group of 3, but yes, we are considering a small equity raise opportunity, and we can provide the presentation decks for both radio and real estate opportunities.
DC: As a new owner, what are some of the things that you must focus on to improve radio’s listening share?
CD: I want to foster a culture of collaboration in our stations and think beyond what radio has done in the past. What does that mean? I have no idea, but it is the challenge I’ve put in front of our team. I also think it’s important as a leader to identify your own weakness and surround yourself with smarter people than yourself. So, we are actively surrounding ourselves with some of the strongest and most innovative colleagues we know and have worked with in the past to envision a future for our stations that is innovative and disruptive.
DC: What advice would you give new talent looking at radio as a career in on-air, production, marketing and sales?
CD: First, I love when people reach out to me with this question. I’ve been honoured to have individuals seeking a career in broadcast and artists looking for music connections reach out, and I am thrilled to help in any way I can. So my advice is to reach out, ask questions, get advice and learn everything you can associated with broadcasting. The broadcast world is a multi-platform content world now. You must be a passionate communicator and understand how to create content on all the relevant platforms today.
DC: What does Cliff Dumas do for fun away from radio?
CD: I had to really think about how often I’m not doing something related to radio. But when I do, I love staying fit, I’m a level 4 Krav Maga practitioner, I’ve been married for almost 25 years and have 2 amazing daughters, so anytime I’m away from broadcast, especially now, it is spent with them.