Saturday, January 31, 2009

Barry James

Barry James is the program director of WILV, 100.3 FM. Before coming to WILV, he was the PD and the station manager at the Mix, WTMX.

Rick: When I asked you to do this interview, you jokingly called yourself "one of the geezer program directors." Of course, in order to program radio stations for a long time, you have to amass a successful track record. What does the current day Barry James know that he wishes he could have told the Barry James who came to program WTMX back in 1993?

Barry: I continue to learn every day, so I can't say there is one parcel of knowledge that I'd wish to impart. Drew Horowitz (photo), my GM at The Mix, told me that I had to "experience the four seasons" to get what was going on here. He wasn't talking about Vivaldi and he was right. Almost everything that I'd learned to be true about programming up to the time I came here in May of '93 would need to be looked at differently. Things that had worked for me in the past either didn't, or needed to be greatly modified to work here. From this experience, I developed my own mantra. I shared it with Mary Ellen Kachinske during her first few months when she joined me. It was simply "It's bigger than that". We look at our past successes and think they'll make the transition. Rarely are things that cut and dried. I still use the "It's bigger than that" test to make sure I really think things through- at a market #3 level. Geezer. Hmmm. Perhaps I misspoke.

Rick: A few years ago you switched over to program WILV. I know the studios are in the same hallway as WTMX, so it wasn't a big change physically. How much of a change was it for you musically?

Barry: Just as we had to consider Chicago's rich radio history when we were building The Mix, we had to think about the music to which today's 40 year old was exposed in their past. So, WILV's recipe certainly isn't one that would necessarily work elsewhere. Greg Solk and I have seen that for years when people have tried to copy The Mix or The Drive in other markets.

Rick: WILV's current roster of air talent includes admired veteran Chicago music jocks like Brian Peck, Megan Reed, and Brian Middleton, but you recently let Tommy Edwards go. Did that signal a change in direction for the station? I notice you're not calling yourselves Love-FM anymore.

Barry: Let's start with the Love moniker. Our Arbitron performance proves that when people sample us, they like us. We're top 5 in prime among 25-54 females. In the last 3-month average, Peck was 7th, Meg 2nd and Middleton 5th. PPM vs diary performance proved what we thought may have been true. Since the station made a transition to its current music mix a couple of years ago, we didn't want people to get the wrong idea about who we are and what we do. In a PPM world, it's the "address" that means the most for a radio station. Thus, Chicago's 100.3.

As for Tommy, his contract was up and we simply chose not to re-sign. No directional change. Tommy and I are friends and don't be surprised when you hear him soon on a radio station near you (and very near me).

Rick: Has the entry of Fresh-FM into the market affected your approach at all?

Barry: No.

Rick: As I mentioned earlier, you were at the Mix for many years before you switched over to WILV. About a half-dozen or so people can legitimately take some credit for the success of Eric and Kathy, and I think it's fair to say that you would be one of them. You were the program director who put them together in the first place. What was your thinking about that back in the day, and why do you think they have become so successful?

Barry: A half-dozen people can take some credit for Eric & Kathy? So, that's where my share of the kitty went! I was their PD or Station Manager for their first 8 or so years. I've been asked a number of times about their success. My answer remains true to this day; they are where they are first and foremost because of their talent. My part in the process was to (a) identify talent, (b) nurture that talent through support and guidance and (c) step back and watch it grow. "C" is the hard part. Most program directors can't do that. It was the most difficult aspect of the process, but the one that reaped the greatest rewards. I work with the talent on WILV in the same way. I guide them to their own answers. I don't want to build talent in my "image" because frankly I wasn't all that good on the air.

Rick: Do you have any favorite memories from your days at the Mix?

Barry: My favorite memory from The Mix is one that isn't directly tied to the on-air product. We use a facilitator to work with our strategic teams at Bonneville Chicago and during a session some years ago we discussed some pending changes. Drew Horowitz was taking a broader role in the company and I was upped to Station Manger. The facilitator said that it was a critical time for the station, the market and the impact we have on Bonneville overall. He warned us of the problems that could occur with these levels of transition. Over the next few years, we continued to grow The Mix, both on the ratings and revenue side, and Drew's contributions made Bonneville Chicago a stronger entity. I'm extremely proud to have been an integral part of that team's success.

Rick: I don't know if you remember this, but when you first started at the Mix I was writing a column for a magazine called "Chicago Advertising & Media." I wrote a column that was critical of the many changes that had been happening at the station (most before you started, but a few after you arrived), and you sent me a pretty scathing letter, complete with facts and figures to dispute my assertions (I saved that letter. It's in one of my old scrapbooks). I don't remember what I wrote, but I do remember that letter and your follow up phone call. I think it's safe to say you're very passionate about what you do. Do you still handle your day-to-day duties with that same kind of intensity, or have you mellowed over the years?

Barry: Just as passionate? Absolutely. Intense? Absolutely. Mellowed? Well, sure. In the past 15 years or so I've found better ways to get a point across.
If it was "scathing" then I was less than unprofessional and for that I apologize.

Rick: No apology necessary. Maybe "scathing" isn't the right word. More like "chastising."

Was I right?

Rick: To tell you the truth, I don't remember. I'll have to go look.

Barry: We'll have to have lunch someday and look over those notes. My guess is that we were likely both correct to some degree.

Rick: You've been in this market now for more than 15 years and radio has changed quite a bit in that time. How would you assess the changes to the business and the Chicago market, and what do you think about radio's future? Do you have any words of encouragement for those who are worried?

Barry: In my opinion, the changes in our business parallel those of the economy. I'm not simply referring to the revenue side of the picture, but more globally. The economy took most people by surprise. Oddly, so have the sweeping firings and "right-sizing" efforts of many companies. We allowed ourselves to be lulled into a sense of security and assumed prosperity that simply wasn't realistic over the long haul. As devastating as it is at present, from these times will rise a new period of growth. BUT, we can't allow ourselves to believe for one second that we'll be able throw a bandage on this and it will all be OK. It won't. It requires a completely new way of thinking and it starts with the reasons why people use radio in the first place.

If you identify a problem, and you solve that problem, your talent or service will find a place to flourish. We've had decades of talent, goods and services that solved no problems. Those are going away. We are entering a period where "what I want" is eclipsed by "what I need".

Radio needs to solve problems. If there isn't one that's apparent, find one. Then solve it.

To people that are worried about their's not just the young ones looking to get in, or the old ones looking to get out. It's everyone. Channel that worry into thinking. Look around you. What are people doing differently today that they didn't do a year ago? Do their actions present an opportunity for you? Spend time talking to people outside of your business. Go beyond the obvious.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kent Voss

Kent Voss is the morning news anchor on the Jonathon Brandmeier show on the Loop, WLUP-FM 97.9

Rick: I get a kick out of the joke that "Kent has worked in radio in all 50 states." Obviously you haven't, but can we get a list of the actual states?

Kent: Here are the states in order and for an added bonus, cities; Phoenix Arizona, Seattle Washington, Tampa Florida, Houston Texas, Dayton Ohio, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Los Angeles, California and finally, Chicago Illinois. I was born in Iowa but never worked there.

Rick: You were in Phoenix when a young Johnny B was doing the morning show there before he came to Chicago the first time. Is that where you met him, or were just a listener in those days?

Kent: I was in High School then and never met him. But if I had never heard him on the radio I don’t think I would have gone into broadcasting. I don’t know that it would have occurred to me that it would be a fun way to make a living.

Rick: When you did your own show there, you had a sports guy that people here might know. He went on to become your sidekick. Tell us the story of how you met Jimmy Kimmel.

Kent: Here’s the whole Kimmel story. I was doing afternoons in Phoenix with another guy, Mike Elliott, and Jimmy used to call the show and do bits. He was going to Arizona State at the time. (I had just graduated from ASU a couple of years prior) I met him at an appearance at Houlihans, I think. He had to use a fake I.D. to get in. He was a funny guy, we started to hang out. His mom’s a great cook and she fed me on a regular basis which was nice.

After moving on to another station in Phoenix I got a chance to do mornings in Seattle. The brain trust asked me if there was somebody that I wanted to work with and I said, “Yeah, I know a guy who would be great.” Jimmy and I moved there, did well in the ratings actually but somehow managed to infuriate management and got fired. A footnote: the name of the show we replaced? “The Oatmeal Buddies”. We were out of work for 9 months and I ended up going to Tampa to do mornings with my former partner, Mike Elliott. We were both big fans of Jimmy’s and we convinced the station to hire Jimmy to produce. But he did a ton of on-air stuff as well. A lot of fun until Jimmy and I got fired again. After that Jimmy went to Palm Springs to do mornings and I went to Houston to start doing talk radio.

Rick: I know for awhile your career took a detour into the television world. You were a writer on "The Man Show" on Comedy Central, and a producer for the show "Crank Yankers." What was that television experience like, and which do you prefer--radio or television?

Kent: A little background. I was doing a talk show in Philly when the station changed formats. Jimmy called and said I should move to L.A. and work on “The Man Show”. So I loaded up the family truckster with my wife, 2 kids (at that time, 3 now), two dogs and several cats and drove across the country. TV was interesting. Different world. I’m glad I did it but I love doing radio. In fact I met Johnny at a taping of “The Man Show”. Jimmy knew there was a station interested in us working together and invited Johnny to the show.

Rick: You were part of Brandmeier's show when he worked in Los Angeles at Arrow 93. When he came back to Chicago, he brought you with him. Were you prepared for the kind of reaction Brandmeier receives here in Chicago compared to the way he was received in LA?

Kent: I knew how successful he was in Chicago so I was aware that it would be different. But I will say the show in L.A. would have done well given time.

Rick: One of things I like about your approach to the show is that you seem to be fearless on the air. If Johnny ribs you a little bit, you're not afraid to rib him back. How would you describe your relationship with him, and how do you see your role on the show?

Kent: I get along great with Johnny. Sometimes his hugs last a little too long and that makes me uncomfortable but other that, no complaints. As for my role, do the news. Pick out some good stories, interesting stories. When I have something to say, say it. And when I don’t, shut my yap. It really is a great way to make a living. I had never done news before until I worked with Johnny.

Rick: You've been compared to Buzz Kilman by the listeners since you arrived. I'm guessing that gets a little old. Have those comparisons finally settled down, and have you ever met Buzz?

Kent: Buzz (photo) worked with Johnny forever so I guess it’s natural for people to compare us. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve never met Buzz, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about him.

Rick: Now that you've been in Chicago for more than three years, what are the pros and cons of this town from the perspective of a guy who has seen everything?

Kent: There are good things about all the places but I like the Midwest. Just a good place to raise kids. And Chicago is clearly the best big city. It’s big, but you can still get around and enjoy it. Plus lots of sports.

Rick: There have been rumors swirling around the show for awhile now because it's been reported that Brandmeier's contract is up soon. I'm assuming that means your deal is up soon too. Unfortunately, it's been a pretty rough climate for radio personalities lately--with the advertising revenues down and the PPM changing the landscape. Do you have any idea what is going to happen next for you or the show?

Kent: Nope. Look at my resume. Does it look like I ever know what’s going to happen next?

Listener Songs about Kent...
VIDEO: Loving You Kent Voss
VIDEO: The Many Faces of Kent Voss
AUDIO: Kent Voss, King of the News

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Eric Ferguson

Eric Ferguson is the co-host of the very successful Eric & Kathy Show on the Mix, WTMX (101.9 FM).

Rick: You knocked around the radio dial in different markets around the country before landing here in your hometown. When you got here it must have felt like you made the big time—and yet it’s been even bigger than you ever imagined, hasn’t it?

Eric: No question. Not in my wildest dreams did I think we would ever have the success this show has had the past almost 13 years now. Everyone wants to believe it will turn out that way when they get a big shot like this, but to be honest, I was happy just to get here. Everything else has been like icing on the cake.

Rick: Your show has remained remarkably stable over your long run there. Same co-host (Kathy), same traffic reporter (Melissa), same producer (Swany). The only real change in personnel occurred last year when Mark Suppelsa replaced Barry Keefe as the newscaster on the show. How has that transition worked out?

Eric: I think it’s worked out really, really well. We had a unique opportunity, a chance to bring in someone with incredible name recognition, and we didn’t want to miss that chance. It was never my desire for Barry to leave. I always thought very highly of him and the company did too. They tried to create a management position for him that would have allowed him to stay, and he chose not to take it. I think that says a lot about how much we thought of him. Not many companies would have done that in this day and age.

As for Mark (photo), he had been filling in for a long time so he really hit the ground running. The biggest transition for him was building his body to the schedule, working nights and mornings. I told him when this first came up that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea for him physically, but he said he was prepared for it, and really wanted to give it a shot. He said he always got more response doing the morning show than he did all those years doing TV news, and it was his chance to build a brand. With so many outlets out there these days for people to get information, he’s really found a way to set himself apart.

Rick: I don’t think listeners understand how much work goes into doing a big-time personality show like yours. How do you divide up the roles amongst the six of you?

Eric: After 13 years we’ve all found our spots. I’ve always believed that you should find out what people are good at, and then get out of their way and allow them to do it. That’s how we approach the show. We’re actually, believe it or not, one of the least structured shows out there, in terms of everyone knowing what is coming up next. I do the lion’s share of the show prep, Swany has a lot of organizational duties, and Kathy does too—she’s got a good eye for it. But once the show starts, somebody has to be driving the bus, and that’s my role. I like it that I’m getting real reactions from people that way, and I think it’s one of the reasons the show sounds so authentic and unscripted.

It took awhile for everyone to buy into this approach because they’ve all been taught not to do it this way, but it’s the way I’ve always done it. Kathy (photo) had a hard time with it at first, but if you’re too prepared, you sound too prepared. I pointed out to her how great she was at reacting when she was just having a conversation. “Do you realize when you talk with your friends you don’t prep?” This is the same thing. We’re friends talking to each other on the radio.

Rick: What about your producer Swany? He must know what’s coming.

Eric: To tell you the truth, after 13 years Swany (photo) knows what I’m looking for before I even know I’m looking for it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be thinking to myself, you know, I really need to ask him for...and...poof, there it is. It’s uncanny. He does a lot of show prep too. I don’t read the papers at all in the morning—I only read what Swany gives me. I trust him to know what we’ll need.

Rick: Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it seems like you’re out at events at night quite often too, at promotions, station events, charity functions, etc. When in the world do you sleep? Do you take naps?

Eric: I’m not a nap guy. I intentionally avoid them because I feel worse instead of better when I wake up. I’m actually very structured about the time I go to bed and the time I get up. I just don’t schedule stuff that will conflict with the time I need to prep and rest. On the other hand, I know I need to be out there, and I make the effort. I describe it like this: Pepsi is a well known brand but that doesn’t mean they stop getting their name out there, or stop promoting their product. For something like a morning show, it’s even more important. You have to be out there, making a personal connection to people. A lot of shows lose sight of that over time, and it’s easy to do because it is difficult. But it’s important, and I keep reminding myself not to lose sight of the big picture.

Rick: I know you have a lot of male listeners, but your show is aimed predominantly to females. How have you recalibrated your brain to come up with topics that appeal to women?

Eric: (laughs). It’s not as hard as you would think. It’s important to be around women, but luckily I’m around them all the time-- Kathy, Melissa, my wife—I’m surrounded by women all day long. We’re not as different as we seem to be. There’s a lot of topics I bring up that I think will be right down Broadway with females, and then nothing but guys call. We each want to understand the way the other sex thinks. No question that’s one of our main topics of conversation. One of my other big rules is that it’s OK to talk about yourself, but it needs to finish with a way to include the listener. I know that sounds so simple, and it is, but too many people in this business get too consumed in their own egos and lose sight of that. It’s got to be a conversation, not a monologue.

Rick: Bonneville is known as a pretty conservative company (owned by the Mormon Church). Are there any topics that are off-limits?

Eric: In nearly 13 years, we’ve never had one single meeting about that. It’s a non issue totally. I’ve never thought about it, never worried about it. I’m pretty good at self-editing, and I have a pretty good idea of where that line is—but I’ve never crossed it. I’ve gotten close a few times. People will say that we’re the “safe show,” but listen to what we talk about and compare us to other shows. We’re talking about some of the same controversial topics, but we’re not doing it to shock, we’re doing it to entertain. It’s done in fun.

Rick: One of the most impressive things about your show is the incredible guest list. You consistently have bigger celebrities on your show than any other show in town. (I was listening on Wednesday and Meryl Streep was on the show). Who are some of the guests that have impressed you the most, and who has been disappointing?

Eric: I always have a hard time answering this question. I can never come up with the names because we have so many guests on and I really do think they’re all good. Uh, let’s see...

I will say that when Oprah called us unsolicited just to chime in, that was pretty cool. When Bon Jovi does that too, that’s awesome. I know a lot of people make fun of Tom Cruise, but he is such a nice and genuine guy. Travolta is the same way. As for the disappointing or negative stuff, that’s all handled off the air by Swany and their people before they come to me. I don’t have to deal with any of that.

I find that people are all generally happy to be there, and pretty easy to get along with. I’ll give you an example. We had Nick Lachey on the show and his people told us before the show that he didn’t want to talk about Jessica Simpson. They had just broken up and it was a painful situation for him. But that wasn’t exactly a topic we could avoid—it was the elephant in the room. So I didn’t directly bring it up, I asked him to name his favorite Simpson from a multiple choice list—Homer Simpson, OJ Simpson, etc. Jessica wasn’t one of the choices. He got it right away and laughed, and opened up to us. If you handle the situation respectfully, and don’t try to play a “gotcha” game, it works out nearly every time. Jack Black was a great guest. David Spade. You name ‘em.

Rick: Your billboards have been all over town for many years now. I know it’s great to have the advertising, but it must be a little weird to be driving around Chicago seeing pictures of yourself dressed up as Green Day or something.

Eric: I have to confess that I’m always the one who doesn’t like those billboards at first. I say “People are not going to get this. This is too inside. This is gimmicky.” The marketing guys and Greg Solk have to talk me into it. I always end up grudgingly telling them go for it, and every time I have to eat my words. They really know what they’re doing. The company has been incredibly supportive with the way they’ve aggressively marketed the show. It’s fun to see that, to see the kind of commitment they’re making, and to know that everyone on your team is behind you.

Rick: I’ll have to take your word on that.

Eric: (laughs) And, I know it drives our competitors crazy, which is a nice bonus.

Rick: I know you’re aware of the difficult times radio is going through right now, particularly big time personality shows. There have been a rash of firings lately...guys like Steve Dahl (photo), Eddie & Jobo, Tommy Edwards, Mike North, and just yesterday, Dan McNeil. Spike O’Dell retired too. What are your thoughts on the volatile personality show market?

Eric: It’s tough out there, no question. Every industry is feeling the effect of the bad economy. From a morning show perspective, I don’t see this as the demise of personality radio, it’s the natural cleaning out process, the bringing in of the new. The great products that are successful will survive. I firmly believe that. I look at it like Warren Buffet looks at the economy. There are lots of opportunities here too. This unrest has created a lot of available audience looking for a home. Let’s build up what we have, and make it even bigger. Look at the opportunities to build, instead of bemoaning the bad situation.

Rick: Has the PPM affected your show at all?

Eric: For us, we’ve been pretty fortunate with PPM, with the big picture, the morning show and the rest of the radio station. I think PPM rewards stability, and we’ve had that here. I’m proud that while others have slipped in the new system, we’ve maintained our rank.

Rick: How much longer do you see yourself doing the show?

Eric: Depends on the day you ask me.

Rick: How about today?

Eric: I still think this show has a lot of life in it. Drew Horowitz and I talk about this all the time. He wants to build an FM version of what WLS once was. Big talent on a great station with lots of longevity. That’s what we’re trying to do, and I could see doing this show for another 5, 6, or 7 years.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kevin Matthews

Kevin Matthews is the morning host and Director of Development for WLAV Radio in Grand Rapids. Before going to Grand Rapids he had a long and successful radio career in Chicago with the Loop, AM 1000, CD-94.7, and WCKG.

Rick: What is the update on your health? (Kevin recently announced he has been diagnosed with MS.)

Kevin: The news is actually pretty good. I’m undergoing treatment right now, which is really working. They tell me I should lead a somewhat normal life.

Rick: Did you know very much about MS before you were diagnosed?

Kevin: No, not at all, but I’m educating myself. MS attacks the nervous system, sometimes in the spine, and sometimes the brain, or sometimes the optic nerve. Depending where it is, it affects different things, and has different severity. It can be treated though. For me, the treatment has really reduced the mass. It’s been working out pretty well. You wouldn’t believe the number of people that have contacted me, who are going through the same thing. It’s really been great from that point of view—it humbles you.

Rick: What kind of treatment is it?

Kevin: At first it’s a heavy duty steroid treatment, but now it’s a standard treatment to prevent relapses. I’m working on regaining anything that may have been lost.

Rick: What kind of symptoms were you having that made you worry?

Kevin: Now that I look back, I was getting dizzy spells for awhile, but I thought I was just buying the wrong kind of glasses at Walgreens. Then, one time I was on the air, and my foot and my hand went numb. That scared me, so I saw my cardiologist, who told me to get an MRI. That’s when they found a mass in my brain. It was a long seven days waiting to find out what it was.

Rick: So you were worried that it could have been worse?

Kevin: Oh yeah. I was actually relieved by this diagnosis. It could have been much worse.

Rick: Is this going to affect your ability to do a radio show?

Kevin: No, it shouldn’t. They tell me it probably won’t. Lots of people have this and they lead normal lives. Plus, I’m taking much better care of myself. I’ve been watching my diet, getting my sleep, and exercising for the last six weeks, concentrating on living a healthier lifestyle. I should probably warn the people in St. Louis about this. Budweiser’s going to go bankrupt without me.

Rick: It was great hearing you on the air in Chicago again a few weeks ago at WLS. How did that come about?

Kevin: I love filling in for Roe. He’s been a real good friend for a long time. We both work for the same company now, we’re sister stations, so it’s a natural to do this. I loved it. There are so many people in Chicago that listen to my show on the internet (at, but I don’t get to talk them. Being on WLS—I got that chance.

Rick: Do you still have a home here?

Kevin: Yeah. Debbie and I have always kept a home in Chicago, and I have a place in Michigan too. Everyone in the family is doing real well. Trev’s 2nd album is coming out, Teague’s in school, Debbie’s business is doing well, and I’m really loving it in Michigan. If the kids were younger we never would have done this, but it’s working out great now.

Rick: What is it about Michigan that you love so much?

Kevin: This job. I really like Matt Hanlon, who’s our regional manager. Matt and I had been talking about my coming back for about three years before I did. This is where I got my start, so it’s always been a special place for me. And I’ve had a great time rebuilding the morning show—which is back up to #1.

Rick: I was on your show a few times this past summer and got to hear long stretches of it. I think it’s really sounding good. For your fans in Chicago who haven’t heard your show in awhile, how it is the same and different from what is was here?

Kevin: I would say that all the characters are all back. Jim Shorts, Devon, all the characters you know. There are some new ones too. Ricky and Rocky are new. I have a guy named D-dog, who grew up in Detroit, who is on the show. I also have a producer named Splatz who is really talented. He reminds me a lot of a young Matt Bisbee (photo), he’s really got the ear for it. He could be Matt’s protégé. The phone calls are back too.

Ed Buchanan is my news guy, and it’s so great to work with him again. He was a broadcast teacher of mine in college, and the guy who gave me my first job. Ed was the guy that started up WLAV, which is one of the classic rock stations in America. He broke everybody (musically) in those days. From Aerosmith to Genesis, he was the first guy to play ‘em. It was the first FM underground station, and it’s turned into a powerhouse.

This is the station he started, and the station I started on, so I really think that’s why so many people have connected to the morning show. It’s part of this community—especially thanks to Ed. They feel a connection to him. Plus, it’s a fun show. That’s all I want to do on the air these day. Just have fun. When you start thinking about your funeral, things have a way of getting into perspective quickly.

Rick: So is it going to stay in Grand Rapids?

Kevin: Yes. I would like to see the radio show grow, but I’d like to stay in Michigan, and if we pick up other markets, I’d like to keep it to the Midwest. I like the Midwest, that’s really who I am, and who I connect to, people from this area.

Rick: Tell me about your other job there, director of development.

Kevin: I put a radio station on the air, the Outlaw, which is doing really well. That’s a format I’ve thought about since Jimmy de Castro sold AM 1000, and Matt is letting me do it. I think it’s a beautiful radio station, it’s all hand groomed. When you listen to it, it feels like you’re in Austin Texas. This is how I describe it: music that makes you want to get a trailer in Austin and just get drunk. Artists that aren’t being played anywhere: Dwight Yoakim, Steve Earle, Merle Haggard. I’ve always loved that music. Legends and young guns. Lucinda Williams to Snow Patrol to Phish to the Grateful Dead to George Jones. It’s a carefully crafted music station. And it’s really growing.

We have no personalities on the air. The music does the talking. It’s just a really innovative direction that radio can be going. If people want to listen to it, they can go to People out of Nashville are really into it—I hear from them all the time. It’s being listened to all over the world.

Rick: And this is your baby.

Kevin: Yup. Matt threw me the keys about a year ago, and I think forgot he gave me the keys for awhile, but he really likes what I’ve done with it. Matt reminds me a lot of Larry Wert (photo--Kev's former boss at the Loop). He hires people to lets ‘em go. He’s a street-wise guy from Jersey.

Rick: Your market hasn’t gotten PPM yet, has it?

No, not yet.

Rick: I’m curious to see if that changes anything there, because it sure has here. That, and the economy, which is hurting every business. I don’t know how closely you follow the radio business in Chicago, but in the last few months some of the biggest names in personality radio have lost their gigs here: Steve Dahl, Eddie & Jobo, Mike North. Do you think personality radio is in danger of disappearing altogether? After all, when budgets start getting slashed, it doesn’t take a genius to see who is making the most money, and whammo...

Kevin: I really don’t think so. I think managers are in more danger, which is good. They are the ones on the firing line, and they should be. There are some great managers, but there are also some people who have been ducking bullets for years. As for personalities, this probably is a wake up call for all of us. Anyone who isn’t working hard at constantly reinventing themselves is going to be in trouble. Say what you will, but it’s natural. People sometimes get tired or complacent. I’m not saying that’s the case with Dahl (photo), North, or Eddie & Jobo, because I haven’t been listening to them, but talent is talent. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. It’s whether you utilize it or not. That’s the thing. And let’s not forget this job takes hard work. Ask David Lee Roth. Ask Whoopie Goldberg. This ain’t easy. You can never slack off, and you have to constantly reinvent yourself.

Rick: I’ve known you for more than 20 years, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about your radio influences growing up. Is there anybody out there that helped shape your approach to doing radio?

Kevin: Honestly, I listened to my brother’s 8-tracks in his Torino, and didn’t really listen to radio that much. It wasn’t until I saw American Graffiti and saw Wolfman Jack that I got a feel for what radio could be. The Wolfman—he was wild! I started at a college station and we were wild too. Our advisor dropped acid and would do two days shows—I swear that station was like the Manson Ranch. But it was so much fun. I learned about music there—everything from John Coltrane to the Sex Pistols. My roommate and I did a show we called the Dos Equis hour. We brought in a case of Dos Equis, drank it live on the air, and played Spanish songs. It was so much fun—probably too much fun. We lost our license when we said that President Lubbers (the President of the University) had been mutilated and killed. They came in like Animal House, took away the license, and turned it into a hair salon. That’s where it started for me. My first station--and we lost our license.

Rick: And someone’s letting you run a radio station now?

Kevin: (laughs) I know people are worried about the business, but I see this as an opportunity to recommit to what radio can be. You can be all doom and gloom, or you can really work at it. My advertisers have all become really good friends. We create marketing together. We’re not just playing commercials. If you’ve got something people want to hear, they’ll listen. I think maybe one of the reasons we’re handling this so well up here is that we’ve been in this economy now for over two years. People will still advertise. People will still buy every day products. You just have to hustle. Look at the opportunity instead of the doom and gloom. We’re going survive this.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Navigating the site

Hope everyone had a happy and healthy holiday.

I've done a little bit of housecleaning at Chicago Radio Spotlight over the holiday season. One thing that always bugged me about this blogspot page was that it was so difficult to navigate. There were more than a hundred interviews on this site, but if you didn't know when they occurred, it took quite a bit of hunting.

That problem is fixed. Take a look at the right side of the site now. I have all 100+ interviews listed in alphabetical order now. Look over the list and see if there are any that you missed or would like to read.

I'll be back with a brand new interview this weekend. I had a nice chat with Kevin Matthews the other day, and that interview will be posted sometime on Saturday.