Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kipper McGee

Kipper McGee was the program director at WLS-AM for several years. He recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Conclave.

Rick: Is there a story behind the name "Kipper"?

Kipper: came from my parents. My dad's name was Cliff, as is my given name. However, my parents had been debating up until the critical moment whether "Kip" would be a nickname or a real name. In fact, my original birth certificiate has everything typed EXCEPT the first name, where "Cliff" was finally handwritten in. I've been known as "Kip" or "Kipper" since birth!

Rick: Congratulations on receiving the Rockwell Award at this year's Conclave. How does it feel to win a "lifetime achievement award" at such a young age?

Kipper: Thanks. I'm thrilled and honored, especially to receive the award from my mentor and fellow Rockwell recipient David Martin. Being a co-recipient with another former colleague and hero, Steve Goldstein makes it all the more special. (I just hope I don't bring down the curve for him too much!)

Rick: You were let go from WLS a few months ago, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. The ratings were stellar. That used to be the only measurement of a PD's success. What reasons were you given when they let you go?

Kipper: I'd rather not comment on that. However, I am proud to have peaked the station at #2 12+, with solid top 10 showings in Adults 25-54 for all weekday dayparts.

Rick: You inherited Don & Roma, Roe & Rush when you came to WLS, but the rest of the lineup was largely shaped by you. Looking back on that lineup now, what do you consider your greatest successes and what moves, in retrospect didn't quite work out the way you envisioned?

Kipper: Getting a lineup of talented hosts all in the same place mentally, focused on the same objective is key. Give them the tools (or try to remove the obstacles) for great performance and get out of their way. How they each attained their respective goal is what brought their unique individuality to the tapestry. The addition of Jerry Agar (photo) and Maura Myles set the stage for a midday resurgence, and the development of "Jerry's Kidders" (with local comedy headliners Dobie Maxwell, Ken Severa and Tim Slagle) was fun. When the opportunity to bring Mancow and Pat Cassidy presented itself, our goal was to move Jerry Agar to early evenings after Roe, but the economics were not in our favor.

Rick: I know you're a student of PPM, the new people meter ratings technique, because I talked to you about it before it was implemented and you had already been studying it for months. What have you learned about it since it became the ratings system in Chicago?

Kipper: There can still be some bounce and wobble, but it is much more reliable than the old diary method. Ironically many of the basics of "Radio 101" remain in play, but for different reasons. Now instead of trying to persuade listeners to 'recall' a certain behavior which they may or may not have done, a station runs similar promos to activate future occasions of listening. It's still about the "Key 3": 1.) Find out what the market wants from your station brand(s) today, 2.) Give it to them, 3.) TELL the prospective consumers that you are giving it to them. Simple, but not easy...particularly in this economy.

Rick: I loved that WLS Rewind weekend you did during the past two Memorial Day weekends. Hearing those booming Big-89 jocks coming through the radio again was a delight. I know that whole idea was your baby. How did that come to be, and do you think the success of that Rewind was responsible for the move of re-naming 94.7 WLS-FM?

Kipper: It was a true labor of love with one strategic goal: to re-enegize the passion and loyalty of "Big 89" listeners currently in the station's talk target, to come back to The Big 89. Period. It was no coincidence that the specials were chock full of promo's about the "Talk" station! The Music radio era was truly a magical time, for management and talent alike, so it was not difficult creating a stellar on-air lineup.

As for the calls to WLS-FM, that idea had been bounced around since the Zone (94.7) was on its last legs. Howevever, this is a case where PPM was the deciding factor. It would have been a statistical nightmare to have two distinct formats on AM & FM with the same call letters at the same time. With PPM, both General Managers John Gallagher and Mike Fowler realized that would no longer be an issue, and when the switch to metered measurement happened in June of 2008, Mike was finally able to make the switch.

Rick: You came from the music programming world before you started at WLS. That's a very different kind of programming. What were the biggest challenges in your transition from music programmer to talk programmer?

Kipper: Actually, a music radio background is quite helpful for talk programmers and talent alike. It creates certain 'internalized' traits like keeping listeners tuned in by teasing good things coming up, hitting your breaks and the general sense of "show biz." However, since many music stations have de-emphasized talent in most dayparts, it has been said that talk radio is like having a whole lineup of 'morning shows'. While I can't argue with that logic, it is ironic that PPM is showing afternoon drive to be the new 'mornings' which brings that whole structure into question. It was helpful growing up as a lifelong fan of WLS. Understanding the heritage and 'roots' of legendary stations is all too frequently overlooked by 'newcomer' management.

Rick: I have to ask you this question because you were working at Citadel, which is one of the most financially troubled radio companies in America. Looking back on the era now, what impact do you think the "age of consolidation" has had on the medium you love so much?

Kipper: All industries are consolidating. When Fiat takes over Chrysler and possibly GM the same week, we know the world is changing. The mediascape is no different. What is crippling some of the larger companies is the humongous debt service. There has been more time, effort and energy put into financial engineering than to energizing the product. At some point those operators will have to pay the piper...some sooner than others. Meanwhile organizations who focused on creating great content, while keeping their appetite for growth within their means, will be much better poised for sector recovery as the economy rebounds.

Rick: What's next for you?

Kipper: That is a chapter that is waiting to be written. I have been blessed with a number of interesting projects in a variety of areas. As "Chief Digital Evangelist" at Kipper McGee, LLC, I remain quite bullish on the strength, viability and saleability of branded media content, through any number of distribution platforms. I have also spoken at a number of group and corporate meetings on "The Future of Radio", and will be debuting my session "How (NOT) to Self-Destruct Your Radio Station" at this year's Conclave. I have also been doing some traditional station projects both domestically and internationally.