Saturday, January 29, 2011

Patty Martin

Patty Martin is the program director of WDRV (97.1 FM), The Drive.


Started in college—WRSE, Elmhurst College (did it all-airshifts, PD, MD, Union Board rep, etc)

WXRT: 2 internships, first for Terri Hemmert (public affairs), then for Norm and Bob Gelms in programming (yep, Norm still hired me as MD after knowing me in my college days)

Q101: first paying gig…music research (Thanks to Hemmert for recommending me for the gig)

The Fox, WJKL, Elgin. First post-college on-air gig…nights. The station flipped to big band and I stayed doing 4p-10p. (Again, thanks to Hemmert for the recommendation)

WDEK: started out part time when it was still a cool eclectic rock station, and here’s where it gets interesting. I worked on 4 stations at 1 time. Weekdays I did WJKL + news on its AM (WRMN) then went to DEK to do overnights. Worked both stations Saturdays, slept on the couch at ‘DEK to sign on the “god squad” religious programming on their AM, WLBK Sundays at 7a. I was on-air somewhere 7 days a week, and any hour of the day, putting 700 miles a week on my car. After the “dues paying” initiation, I got full time nights and Asst Promotion Director at DEK. DEK flipped to Top 40 and I got dumped on overnights. My airshift was 7 hours, so I talked them into letting me play an album side at 3am so I could get some of my production done!

KMBY- Monterey- middays, pm drive, nights, morning news and Promotion Director and Music Director (not all at once)
KWAV-Monterey-daytime fill-in
KSJO-San Jose-nights and Music Director
KLOL-Houston-Music Director and weekends
WXRT-Music Director
WDRV-Program Director

Rick: You've been the program director at the Drive now for almost ten years. Take me back to that first phone call from Greg Solk. How did he convince you to come over from WXRT?

Patty: I’d known Greg for years, and every time he saw me he’d tell me he was going to hire me someday. Even back when I was living in CA and TX. I always figured he was blowing smoke! I think it was November ’00 that Greg called. The conversation went something like: How’re they treating you over there?. “Fine.” So you’re not interested in another opportunity then. “I might be…” (it was Bonneville after all, the best radio company to work for.) Greg said they had something in the works, he couldn’t give me any info about it but formatically it was right up my alley. After several meetings, he still wouldn’t clue me in and I just couldn’t make the leap without at least knowing the format. (I believe in trust, but I still lock my doors)

After the stunting, the Drive started the regular format with no jocks, and after hearing an hour of it, I called Greg and told him if he hadn’t found someone yet I was in. Fortunately for me, he hadn’t and I started a couple weeks later, in time for the launch with Bob Stroud

Rick: How has the station evolved musically since you arrived?

Patty: The Drive is an organic living breathing organism that evolves pretty constantly. When we launched, we needed to stand out. So we did that with a whisper (the IDs and much of the imaging was done with Nick Michaels whispering “The Drive”). We were very laid back and sounded very different than anything else on the dial. Plus, there was no one playing the bulk of the music we played.

As time has gone on, we’ve continually freshened our imaging, music and our approach. Successful companies need to evolve in order to thrive. Overall we sound much different than we did at the start, but it’s been a gradual process. These days, many other stations play a chunk of our music, but no one has the intangibles we have between the records. We maintain a deep respect for the music and the listeners in a way the others can’t touch.

Rick: When you look back on your decade of the Drive, what do you consider the highlights of that time?

Patty: Our run has been so amazingly consistent, it’s basically all a highlight! Some of the big feel-goods revolve around listener feedback. Be it in person at an event like the Drive Birthday concerts or via email, they have such genuine passion for what we do! Two others are ratings related…the initial response to the station and when PPM started. We got to see just how many people were actually tuning in. It’s quite a thrill, and quite humbling. When you realize so many people are connecting to what you do on a daily basis it makes you feel even more obligated to do your best for them.

Over the years we’ve developed a very special relationship with our listeners, especially through Drive Advisory Board. They’ve given us great ideas we’ve implemented on-air, and we thank them regularly with unexpected tokens of our appreciation…including a free birthday concert almost every year. It’s such fun to give out every ticket to Rosemont Theatre and see the diverse and passionate audience that embraces this music with us at our birthday celebrations.

Rick: You are blessed with a tremendous air-staff there. There probably isn't anyone on the staff that doesn't have at least twenty five years of radio experience. I'm guessing they don't require a ton of direction.

Patty: So true. It’s an amazingly gifted team, and I look at my role more as a coach. A great team is full of outstanding individual players, but championships aren’t won without coaching to bring that together. There’s always room for growth. The best are the best because they don’t stop trying to improve. Michael Jordan threw hundreds of pre-game free-throws. Players review game video. Our staff is expected to keep focused and give their all every break every day.

The triumvirate of Steve Downes, Bob Stroud (photo) and Bobby Skafish are the core. They have long histories of success, and they want that success to continue, which takes work. No one is allowed to phone it in at the Drive, even though just doing that they’d be better than most of the talent in town! Besides being an outstanding journalist, Kathy Voltmer has as strong a work ethic of any air talent I’ve encountered. Phil Manicki, Greg Easterling and our weekend team of Carla Leonardo, Steve Seaver, Allie Ellison, Marc Vernon, Don Nelson and Jim Foster all have impressive pedigrees, and the high quality of the talent in every hour of every day is something we’re very proud of. We’re also proud that we’re live and local 24/7. There’s never a moment when there’s not a live human being behind the console.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the contributions of the staff behind the scenes. Full credit for the positive environment in the hallways goes to Jerry Schnacke. He’s now Market Manager, but was our GM for over half the Drive’s 10 years. He created an atmosphere where creativity thrives, and people enjoy coming to work. Drew Horowitz is responsible for giving us the room to develop and grow. We have the 2 most accomplished production wizards in Chicago, Tom Couch and Matt Bisbee, and the unsung hero is Paul Webber. He’s a secret weapon, and that’s all I’ll say about that!

Rick: I absolutely LOVED that history of rock and roll special you aired recently. I think I listened to six hours or more of it. To hear a locally produced and written special of that caliber was amazing. How did that come about? 

Patty:  It was a true group effort. The original idea came from Director of Creative Services, Tom Couch. We passed the overall idea to key airstaff members for thoughts on how it should be flushed out. Skafish came up with the winning idea, and we were off and running. We figured out the “chapters” then the music to include and it was off to production. Downes, Stroud and Skafish wrote their chapters, Tom and Matt Bisbee wrote the connecting pieces. Several months in the making…and we are so happy with how it came out. The audience response was off the charts. It's running again Saturday (1/29).

Rick: I know that working as a PD for Greg Solk is a challenge. He's very hands-on (he told me so himself when I interviewed last year), and in your case in particular, the Drive was his creation. How does your relationship with Greg work on a day-to-day basis? 

Patty: He’s a challenge, but he should be, and he challenges me in a good way. I’m very self-motivating, but he sets the bar very high, and it’s invigorating to work to meet it. Greg (photo) travels a lot, so weeks can go by where we don’t see each other. When he’s on the road I send an occasional update email (nowhere near often enough, if you ask him). If I really need him, he’s reachable (and Fina Rodriguez is key in finding him!) When he’s in Chicago he spends 2 days a week at the Drive. That’s when we joke about him meddling, and doesn’t he have a plane to catch? The Drive is absolutely his baby, and I feel so fortunate that he’s entrusted its daily care and feeding to me! He has a definite vision for its evolution, and is the one who comes up with most of our unique features. I honestly feel that every radio station he touches is better because of his input, so I’m grateful for the attention he gives to the Drive.

Rick: Of course, you also worked for a strong personality at WXRT; Norm Winer. How would you compare and contrast Norm and Greg? 

Patty: They both have an unparalleled passion for what they do. Both are unquestionably responsible for their stations vision. Both love sports analogies. Both have a tendency to nit-pick, but Norm gets the nod there! Greg is much better at time management…he’s never late for a meeting, Norm, not so much! (Greg does have Fina which gives him a distinct advantage, but even if Norm had a Fina, he’d still be late!) And Norm loves playing Christmas music…Greg, not so much!

Rick: WXRT is also a unique place. People that work there almost never leave. I've interviewed a few that have and they said Norm was quite upset with them (at least initially) when they left. How did he react when you told him you were leaving in 2001? 

Patty: Norm (photo) was extremely gracious with me, especially considering the circumstances... I told him I might be taking the job the day before he left on vacation. The deal wasn’t done yet, but it would happen while he was gone and I didn’t want him to return to that surprise. I told him he was going to have to trust me, or he couldn’t go on vacation…(and that he really needed a vacation).

We agreed to keep it quiet and I’d call him as soon as it was done (ask Norm where he was when I called!). Norm got back to town on a Friday which was my cue to go into Harvey Wells’ office to tell him I was taking the Drive job, and was giving my 2 weeks notice…Harvey (as expected) told me that today was my last day (which was good since I was starting at the Drive in 3 days), and off I went. Sorry Harvey…I’m not sure we ever clued you in on that! John Farneda was in on it early on…I needed to train him because there was no way I’d leave them high and dry. Sorry Norm…not sure we ever clued you in on that!

Rick: What are some of your favorite memories from your time at WXRT? 

Patty: Hands down: my private Buddy Guy concerts. My office was the “green room” for any visiting artist, so they’d use it to warm up. Every time he came in (which was often) Buddy would sit in a chair 5 feet away picking away on his guitar, regaling me with stories. People would naturally gather around my door, but Buddy would say this was my private concert and they could only come in if I said it was ok! Another funny time was when the roof caught fire the day Sting was coming in. The place stunk with smoke, so we ran around spraying Ozium and lighting scented candles. It was much better by the time he got there.

Rick: You're a Chicago girl (Elmhurst College, Immaculate Conception), so you're quite familiar with Chicago radio history. Who did you listen to when you were growing up? 

Patty: I was the kid, to quote the Ramones, “with the covers pulled up over my head, radio playing so no one can see it.” It was a Mitsubishi transistor, as I recall, with a painful little ear bud. Early on it was WLS and WCFL, then in 8th grade, after graduating to a clock radio with FM, I stumbled on XRT, and my life changed overnight. Literally, because at the time XRT came on at midnight. I also enjoyed Triad Radio, WSDM, WDAI (pre-disco), WDHF, The WMET/WLUP rock wars, The Fox (out of Elgin, where I later worked).

Rick: The big news this past week was the sale of the Drive to Hubbard Broadcasting. Do you anticipate any changes coming to the Drive after the sale is final? 

Patty: The principals of Bonneville are coming to Hubbard, and we anticipate a very smooth transition. If all goes well, it will hopefully close around mid-May! My big worry is I’ll be in New Orleans at Jazz Fest when that happens. I want to be here for the celebration.