Saturday, March 15, 2008

Matt DuBiel

Two interviews of Matt follow. This first one is the most recent, from April of 2011...

Matt DuBiel has been in the news recently because of his Save The Loop campaign.I previously interviewed Matt when he was the program director of The River.

Rick: First of all, it's been three years since I last interviewed you and you've done a lot of different things since then. Could you get us caught up on what's been going on with you in the past few years, and what you're doing right now?

Matt: Man how time flies, huh Rick! If you believe what you read on the internet, I am "unemployed." I could bore you with the inconsequential details of my career I suppose...but the Reader's Digest version is simple: I am free from the shackles of corporate radio!

Over the last 3 years Mike Noonan and I built a nationally syndicated show from scratch, hosted by Donny Osmond. We built the network to 75 stations including WLS FM in Chicago and sold the show to McVay Syndication last year. Building a business is an experience in and of itself, but selling one is a wild ride!

I’ve been experimenting a lot with my personal and professional life over the last year or so especially and chronicling some of it at You could almost define the last year more by what I am NOT doing.

For the last 3 years (even as early as my 9 FM days), I have immersed myself in the fusion of audio entertainment and internet marketing. I stopped listening to radio people and going to radio conventions and started paying attention to the people trailblazing the internet media movement. I have been studying and engaging with people like Leo Laporte, Chris Pirillo, Alex Jones and Gary Vaynerchuk. I have put lots of what I have learned into practice, and the results are paradigm shifting.

We’ve cracked the code for making money on the web, powered by radio. Leo is doing it. Alex is doing it. We know how to do it, and the weird thing is, no one cares. They’re still caught up in paying Arbitron ridiculous amounts of money, to define the rules of radio advertising, and then suffering at the hand of those very rules, which in the long run are killing radio.

Meanwhile Arbitron is realizing profits and radio is transferring wealth to Groupon, Google, Youtube and Facebook.

Rick: You were in the news recently because of the "Save the Loop" campaign. Robert Feder wrote a column quoting Loop GM Marv Nyron. Nyron outed you and your partner Mike Noonan as the brains behind the operation. I've seen a few quotes from you since that story came out, and you kept saying it wasn't just the two of you. Who else was (and is) involved?

Matt: Well now…in fairness to Marv, I don’t think he used the word “brains." I KNOW Feder didn’t. (laughs) This whole Save The Loop thing blew my mind. Here’s Emmis openly saying OUTLOUD, “We’re not cutting it in Chicago…we’re gonna move on….we’d like the industry and the world to know we’re totally open to selling WLUP and WKQX”. They weren’t pussy-footing around the issue at all. It was in corporate conference calls and reports…industry trades, you name it. The Loop and Q101 all but had shiny for sale signs in their front yards!

We happened to launch the video online right after they did a format tweak at The Loop. Incidentally, we bought over a year ago! Naturally, we knew some folks would be disenfranchised by the format change. The timing was right. We finalized the script, the audio, and the video and pushed the button. Within a week we had thousands of people signing up. We documented everything by the way. We knew we were going to get bombarded with naysayers and a negative response, but we also knew we’d get some buy in and we might make some good contacts or start some interesting conversations.

Unfortunately, somehow…someway…Marv and a few others took this as a negative and an attack. The tenor of this was nothing but to elevate and edify the institution that is WLUP Chicago. You don’t want it Emmis? Cool…no sweat. We think it would be radical if we could put together a group of Chicagoans to make this a Chicago thing. We spoke to some radio pals and we had some buy in from some names we thought would resonate with Chicago.

The plan all along was to appeal to real Chicago people who are passionate about WLUP, if in fact anyone is passionate about an FM radio station anymore in 2011. The fans were the coolest. Some of the radio folks were the coolest too, but sadly many of the radio people who said “I’m in!” never made good on any follow up whatsoever.

Two people made good on the videos as promised. I don’t want to mention the first name because I don’t want to ruffle any feathers at his day job. The second was Jeff Schwartz. Those two guys are men among men. They just get it.

As far as who else said they’d be on board, and who else said they’d talk and so on… It would be sour grapes for me to name them and list them as they did not come through. I will say this, throw out a name of a person who you wish would have consider this and we either heard from them…once, or they heard from us and declined.

No matter though…and here’s why, the list of people who have opted into the email list for is growing every day. The people, or “folks” as Bill O’Reilly would say, are responding favorably. They believe in the concept. So do a few merger and acquisition experts we’ve met with.

Rick: Are you still working on it?

Matt: We’re going to continue to engage with the people who are part of the community for sure. These people are awesome. The open rate of the emails we send to them is better than 70%. These people are plugged in. They will decide how far goes.

I will say, I expect Emmis to hold out longer now that their finances are looking up. Combine that with the fact that those stations aren’t worth what they want to sell them for…and I think Emmis is going to be in Chicago for a while.

Rick: A few years ago you programmed the first "we play anything" station in the Chicago area, 9-FM. That same general format was used by CBS for "Jack-FM". In the light of Jack-FM's demise, I'm curious about your opinion of the entire format/genre.

Matt: Here’s the hi-comedy. Radio kills oldies. Radio gives birth to variety hits. Radio kills variety hits (even though listeners love it if done right). Radio revives oldies? It should be noted I missed the Jammin Oldies birth and death in there too. The bottom line, radio knee jerks at different paces like clockwork.

Now if you flip around the dial in Chicago you have Rewind, K-Hits, The Drive, The Loop, and WLS FM. You can even throw in Lite FM, The River….all shades or degrees of Classic Hits. K-Hits and Rewind remind me a lot of 9 FM. When I left 9 FM, the cume was 750,000. Newsweb killed it anyway. Anyone want 750,000 cume, raise your hand? WSCR? WMVP? WIND?

Everyone’s got the PPM sweats and it’s sad. The problem is what’s good doesn’t matter. What matters is which format can appeal to the 2,500 people carrying PPMs in Chicago. It’s crazy, because it’s directly counter to what serves advertisers.

So radio’s target is satisfying 2,500 PPM carriers, while their sales reps are talking to advertisers about targeting hundreds of thousands, even millions. The kicker is, advertisers don’t actually need to reach millions of people who will ignore them. They would MUCH RATHER reach thousands or just hundreds of people who will buy, or at least engage.

Now radio managers play this shell game with stations and formats to make it feel like they know what’s going on, and Robert Feder calls me a hoaxster!

Steve Dahl, Mancow, Brandmeier, and Mike North should all be on the air daily in Chicago. Don’t fire the talent, fire Arbitron and cultivate sales talent who can sell personality based radio. Chicago retail needs it. Suburban retail needs it.

Rick: Do you think there's a hole in the Chicago radio market that still needs to be served?

Matt: Well I think we’ve got classic hits pretty much locked up. (laughs)

I am 34 years old. I am a “professional” Gen X husband and father of 3 living in the suburbs. Sports radio isn’t my thing. I’ve got nothing to listen to. There is no rock station. There is no station super serving men 25-54 or 18-49. I am at the age where men cross over to talk radio. It’s too angry for me. It’s too left vs. right for me.

I’d be less worried about format and more worried about generation programming. The Drive programs to a generation. It’s a station for Boomers. They own it. XRT used to say they were growing old with their listeners, but I am not sure they have it on lock down like The Drive.

The Mix is the closest thing to a generation station for my g-g-g-g-generation….but it’s not made for me. I think that’s why their male numbers are higher than you’d expect for a Hot AC.

There’s a hole for a Male driven format in Chicago, especially targeted to Gen X, whether that be music or talk. I think there’s room for another country station in Chicago, especially male leaning. Noonan and I have long believed our Blue Collar Radio format would do very well in Chicago.

Another non-format specific niche is no one owns the suburbs like they could. The suburban stations don’t own the suburbs, and the Chicago stations don’t own the suburbs. There’s a lot of money out there, but they don’t care about ratings. They need to move the register.

There’s a hole for rock now of course. I also have long been a believer in the Movin’ format which Rewind dabbled in for a bit but never really jumped all the way in on. At some point I think a business talk station with regular Bloomberg updates and financial talk mixed with real estate talk would do very well.

If I had an underperforming suburban station I’d throw Jack FM on off the bird asap. CBS spent millions marketing that station over 5 years and people know what it is. It wasn’t a bomb, it just wasn’t good enough for CBS. That’s what people don’t realize. A lot of these shows and formats are NOT failures. Steve Dahl is NOT a failure. He just doesn’t fit into the formula corporate radio is forcing themselves to use. The mind job is this: Corporate Radio can change the formula anytime they want. Someone needs to shake them and say YOU DON’T HAVE TO FOLLOW THESE RULES. Make your own like Google did, and Facebook, and Groupon, and Craigslist and Drudge.

Rick: People that haven't seen you in awhile may be surprised by your appearance. You're a shell of your former self. How much weight have you lost and how did you do it?

Matt: Well that’s sweet of ya Rick. I'm blushing. I recently lost 70lbs. When I did afternoons at WLLI my on air name was Fat Matt. It was a playful name given to me by Rob Halford (Singer of Judas Priest) off the cuff, but at the time I was about 205. From there I ballooned up to 240!

It was pretty disgusting frankly. I was a fat mess. (Photo: Matt before weight loss)

Last fall, I lost 30 lbs in 40 days. Then I took a break and lost another 30 in 40. Over the last few months I’ve paired down another 10-15 and I weighed in at 168 this morning.

The secret….is women’s urine. I am serious. If I took a pregnancy test right now I would fail. Dr. Oz just did a whole show on the HCG Diet, and that’s what I did. In fact, Nina Chantelle from Kiss did it too, although she did the holistic drops which don’t actually have any hormone in them. I did the injections which are much more effective and require Doctor supervision.

It sounds like a pretty radical undertaking, and it is somewhat. But when you’re 30 pounds overweight or more, you need to do something radical. I did it with a local Doctor and it has changed my life forever. No more heartburn. No more high cholesterol (they wanted me to take crestor!). My jeans are a 32 inch waste and they are hanging off of me!

There’s a certain larger than life radio guy I turned onto the diet recently who’s doing very well with it. His results are going to be very exciting.

If radio personalities want to talk to Dr. Tom about how the diet works, drop me an email. I might even be able to get you “taken care of” if you’re willing to do a testimonial for their website! It’s life changing!

The following is my original interview with Matt from 2008

Matt DuBiel is the director of programming and operations, and the afternoon host, at WERV-FM.


1995, WMVP – AM 1000, STEVE DAHL SHOW (Intern)

1995-1996, WLUP – 97.9 FM, WENDY & BILL SHOW (Intern)

1995-1996, WYKT (COAL CITY) – 105.5 FM, (overnights)

1996-1997, WKQX – 101.1 FM, WENDY & BILL MORNING SHOW (Intern/Producer)

1997-1998, WDEK (DEKALB) – 92.5 FM, (Part-time jock, interim middays)

1999-2000, WTMX – 101.9 FM THE MIX, HOT AC (Weekend/fill in jock)

2000-2002, WLLI (JOLIET) – 96.7 WILL ROCK, (afternoon/imaging director), WJTW (JOLIET) – 93.5 FM, AC (middays voicetracked/imaging), WJOL (JOLIET) – 1340 AM, (imaging)

*Spent 2002-2004 as stay-at-home dad, and imaging various active rock stations throughout the countr.

2004 – 2007, WDEK/WKIE/WRZA – 92.5/92.7/99.9 FM, NINE FM (Creative Services Director, Director of Programming, middays, afternoons)

2007-PRESENT, WERV – 95.9 THE RIVER, (afternoons)

Rick: This has been a tough time for radio, and your company (Next Media) is feeling the pinch as much as anyone. Is that what was behind the recent changes at The River?

Matt: Actually it’s quite the opposite. NextMedia has stepped up in a big way with The River by hiring a dedicated GM (Bill Cavanaugh) and a dedicated OM/PD in yours truly. They recently just invested in some other tools for us that are unique to this radio station also. There has only been one change that was budget related since I have been on-board. The rest have been decisions to improve the product we’re putting out.

Rick: You're the Director of Programming & Operations there, which basically means that you are responsible for just about everything. With a title like that comes perks and burdens. What are a few examples of each?

Matt: The perk among perks is that I am not digging ditches for a living. Let’s face it, working in radio is a dream for many of us and I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work in an industry I have chosen, doing what I’ve always wanted to do! Burdens are a different story. They come in all shapes and sizes and for the right people are really just challenges that need to be conquered. I am always up for that. (Photo: Cheech Marin, Matt DuBiel, Tony Shalhoub)

Rick: Before you joined this company, you were the head of programming at 9-FM. That station got a lot of buzz. Certainly within the industry, everybody was talking about it. Yet, for some reason it hasn't taken off in terms of ratings. Why do think that is, and what were some of the challenges that we might not realize from the outside looking in?

Matt: Wow, where do I begin? I could probably do a talk show just on the subject of 9 FM….taking calls from radio people, message board aficionados and listeners for hours and hours. “Let’s go to Mappo on line 2”….

If it were up to me, we wouldn’t have even have subscribed to Arbitron. The problem is, to get “good ratings” you need a core who listens for long amounts of time, or an enormous amount of people who listen often. WXRT has a smaller cume of loyal listeners who spend a lot of time listening, whereas Kiss FM has a huge cume made up of less loyal listeners who tend to listen in smaller doses. 9 FM wasn’t built to be great at either.

For starters 9 FM isn’t a Chicago radio station. It’s 1 Suburban station, 1 Dekalb station, and 1 Peotone station. In drive times, the BIG cume is leaving the area. That’s why staying true to being a Suburban station is important. There are 2 real scenarios to make those stations successful. #1 is split em up, and make them the best 3 midgets they can be. Sell them locally, and format them based on the region they serve. All 3 regions have very different needs. This was my hope. I wanted to put a classic rock or male leaning country station on 99.9 serving the Southside all the way to Peotone, an Adult Alternative or Dance/CHR on 92.7 serving the Northwest Suburbs, and depending on the arrangement of the previous 2 stations either a Fox Valley focused Hot AC or Country station on 92.5.

The second scenario for those stations to be successful would be to fill a market wide niche on all 3 stations, but yet something major stations wouldn’t steal. I believe that is a male leaning country station. The biggest thing people got confused about was what those stations could be, and what they could not be. You can’t make those things something they’re not. Moving into the future, radio companies (even in the city) are going to have to start asking themselves why they care what Arbitron’s measurement (PP or otherwise) shows, when they can see exactly how many people are listening minute by minute on their stream. Arbitron is killing radio.

Rick: I know you were named one of Edison Media's Top 30 under 30 last year, but you started in the business back in the mid-90s as an intern on Steve Dahl's show. How old were you then, and what was it like working for someone like Steve Dahl at such a young age?

Matt: I was 7 and a half. Actually I was 17 at the time. I was so excited to meet Steve and learn from the best, I couldn’t wait to get started. I secured my internship before school even started.

At that time, Mancow had just gotten to town and everyone my age wanted to intern for him. He was in the Rock 103.5 studios in a closet at the Evergreen facilities, and then there was AM 1000 and The Loop. Between Mancow and Chet Coppock (photo), there were about 100 interns. There were at least 6 studios, because you had 3 stations, then the production studios and dub rooms. All the studios had studio windows so you could see what was going on. If you watched the action in the hours surrounding Mancow’s and Chet’s show you’d see these dudes floating back and forth from studio to studio, constantly doing something or nothing while making it look like something. They looked like schools of fish, and so everyone called them the boy-quarium. I didn’t want to be in the boy-quariums… I wanted to learn about the kind of radio I grew up listening to with my Dad. So I went right for Dahl’s show.

Meeting Steve (photo) and working on the show was a charge to begin with, and then a bit disappointing as time passed. I believe he was having a tough time around then, and as a result everyone around him was in slow motion. So there was rarely any action. And compared with all the action everywhere else in the building it felt like I made the wrong choice. I pulled his carts and prepped his diet colas for a few months, and once I even brought the Farrah Faucet Playboy to Bruce Wolf at the Fox studios. I did meet Brandmeier there and he was everything I thought he would be. Matt Bisbee was also very nice to me there.

Rick: You went from there to the Wendy & Bill show at the Loop-FM, and then followed them down the dial to Q-101. What kind of an impact did those two have on your career?

Matt: Across the hall from WMVP, The Loop had a morning show on all day long. I went over to talk to Ross Silverberg the producer, and the next week I was working for Wendy and Bill and loving it. I found the show to be everything I wanted to be a part of. Wendy was like a big sister (photo), Bill Leff was hilarious and real, and Steve Saur (the technical producer) was as solid as they come. They all taught me so much. I thought the show was excellent, and even better I was a part of the show. They would include us in planning, booking, writing, you name it. They had great bits, great listener interaction and an energy that was contagious. There was no better place to learn about radio than The Loop at that time, and this show was perfect for me to be a part of.

When W&B got mornings at Q101, they took us all out, sprung the news and asked us to come along. It was a great group and a fun time. I learned a lot from that show, those people, and the managers above them. At Q101, Bill Gamble was the PD, and I listened and absorbed everything I could from everyone. As you can probably tell, it had a huge impact. Wendy and Bill started in mornings about the time Eric & Kathy were getting cooking at WTMX, but W&B were cut short when Q101 brought Mancow over. I have long believed that W&B just got the wrong set of circumstances and they would have been a franchise here.

Rick: Since leaving their show in 1997, you've been all over the dial, and done air shifts for stations like WTMX, WDEK (Dekalb), WLLI, WJTW (Joliet), WJOL (Joliet), Nine-FM, and now the River. How would you describe your on-air style, how has it changed with each successive call letter change?

Matt: I was loving the Mix when I was there. When I got hired to do afternoons at Will Rock, I was very uncomfortable and out of place, and still working at The Mix. Lonny Tyler (the PD at WLLI) was very patient and let me find my way on my own, which made a big difference for me. Everyone falls into the age old jock traps when they are getting started and I was no different. I crutched a lot. Now, my on air style is just me. It isn’t always all of me….but it is me….a somewhat chipper, sometimes critical, sarcastic but happy, pop culture minded, suburban father and husband.

Working at The Mix and Will Rock at the same time helped me learn how to take the same information and make it work for different audiences. For a while the conventional wisdom was that Rock listeners lived in a bubble….Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy….but the thing is, they know who Britney is too. Their interest in her is very different from the Hot AC audience’s interest though. Let’s just say the Rock listeners don’t want to go shopping with her.

Rick: Where did you have the most fun?

Matt: That’s tough. I had an amazing amount of fun with Wendy & Bill. Will Rock was an unbelievable time. We achieved a .7 with that station and made a lot of things happen in the community. 9 FM was an unreal experience. I had a run there where I got to see that I could do things. I tried things I always wanted to do, and thought I could do …and many of them were successes. Harvey gave me that opportunity there and I always appreciated how rare that chance was. That was fun and then some.

Rick: It must be a little difficult doing both the programming and the on-air work. There are only so many hours in the day. When push comes to shove, how do you prioritize?

Matt: I focus on whatever I will have the most impact on. That changes from day to day, and week to week. In my days at 9 FM, many times I was more focused on sales & marketing related efforts. My contributions in that arena have proven to be valuable, and if the question is voicetrack and help a client, or be live this afternoon and miss an opportunity to aid the sales/promotions staff, my greater impact is usually going to be in the board room, not the studio. That makes it sound like I am an advocate for voicetracking, which I really am not in the long term. But in the short term, it’s vital. The best way to keep from having a weird sales/programming vibe is to be a friend to sales by creating win/win ideas. That is becoming more and more a part of a programmer’s job in music radio as things shift.

Rick: In addition to all the other things you're doing, you're also one of the founders of Broadcast Barter Radio Networks (along with Mike Noonan). Tell us a little bit about that company and what you do.

Matt: Mike and I met at WLLI a few years back. He’s become a valued friend. While he has been building his production stable ( voicing and producing creative for clients nationally and locally, we’ve been building Broadcast Barter Radio Networks.

Pretty simply, we design programming solutions that serve radio audiences, and provide radio stations additional revenue opportunities. We make these programs available via syndication. Our first 2 projects are The 8 Track Playback with Donny Osmond, and Blue Collar Radio ™. Donny’s show is a shortform daily feature designed for Oldies/Classic Hits/Variety Hits/AC stations where Donny talks about “today” in music and pop culture and then plays a 70s song. It’s on over 17 stations nationally (including WZZN Chicago), and growing every day!

Blue Collar Radio ( is a radio format we designed around 2003. Traditionally country radio is geared toward women, and as a result men have to put up with an AC presentation of country. Blue Collar Radio is a lifestyle format geared toward men who grew up with the Dukes of Hazard, Farrah Faucet posters, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Garth Brooks, and Star Wars, love country music and love to rock! A lot of radio folks think this idea has been done, but it has not been done with the amount of conviction and discipline we think is required to make it successful. Morning drive, middays and afternoon drive would all be shifted to coincide with more Blue Collar friendly hours, making everything seem earlier. Non-blue collar folks wouldn’t be alienated but this format is designed for a very specific psychographic that we think is very underserved in many markets.

Rick: You've got a unique perspective on the business because you're one of the few from your generation that's working in the business--especially here in Chicago. What does radio have to do to attract young talent?

Matt: I think radio needs to attract new talent, whether they are old or young. Rush isn’t that good. Bob & Tom aren’t that good. There are many show’s that are just not that bad. I believe there is talent everywhere, and one of the biggest mistakes we make is looking for radio talent. Sales does it and programming does it. Now that doesn’t mean that Whoopi Goldberg is the answer, but it was a good try. That waitress that is personality plus and knows how to upsell at Lonestar should be in radio sales! That Wendella driver who’s tours always sell out because he’s always got something to say and knows how to have a one on one conversation with people, should have a show……..on the weekend….overnight…until he gets good. We need entertainers and we really need talented sellers. When we add “radio” to the front we limit ourselves.

We need communicators, entertainers, relationship builders, hosts and hostesses, and they’re all over. More importantly, we need sellers ready and willing to build businesses for our clients using the talent we have. Too often we have the talent, or the numbers, but no one to turn it into money. It’s a very delicate yin/yang. There’s a lot of talent podcasting, and building streaming stations. They don’t need radio.

The other million dollar question is, “What will radio do to keep the talent we already have?”