Interviews With The Coach
KC PD Calls It Like He Sees It - Kevin Fleming, Gavin Magazine
Programming In an Unfamiliar Market
Mainstream Now Flows In Different Directions- Opportunity Knocks
KPRS-Weaverful! (Importance of Research)
Using Promotional Opportunities To Win
Developing Young Air Talent
Sam Weaver’s Programming Tips
Learning To Add (songs)
On Guard (dealing with competition)
KC PD Calls It Like He Sees It - Kevin Fleming, Gavin Magazine
Talk about an OG, Sam Weaver is one colorful character, and he's been at the top of the Kansas City radio game for more than eight years. Currently the PD and OM of Carter Broadcasting's KPRS, Weaver's never at a loss for words and has a unique perspective on most topics. Rather than re-cap his illustrious career, let's jump right in. Hold on tight!
Kevin Fleming: In the past eight years the business has made some dramatic changes...
Sam Weaver: There have been lots of changes. It's just the evolution of radio. The terms have changed: there were no clusters eight years ago. The level of success has changed. The playing field has changed across the board, and we had to adjust and keep on going, it's just radio, just business.
KF: Many operators have put people with limited experience in charge of stations...
SW: Those people never had a chance to learn the same way many others have. But that's the way of our country right now-it's not just a radio thing. The same thing happens in sports. It amuses me that people are all upset about these kids being drafted in to the NBA out of high school; they've been doing it for years with baseball. The difference is, in baseball these kids get drafted and go to minor league teams. In the NBA, these kids are expected to play relatively soon. In radio we don't have the same type of farm system. At one time, to become a PD, you would have had to be a jock (a good one) or a production manager before you get the PD point. It's just not that way anymore. Everything's shifted.
KF: Isn't there a down side to rushing people through the process.
SW: There always is, but that's how it is today. The people who hire inexperienced PDs have to take more care in dealing with those young people. The national PD and consultants out there had a chance to learn their craft. Many of today's young PDs haven't had the seasoning. They didn't work the small markets and move up through the ranks. So the guys who are responsible for these PDs have to teach and groom these guys like on-the-job training. These guys have to be able to do as much as they can right now. They're qualified-they just haven't had a chance to experience the steps. Again, it's like sports-they're being asked to play right away.
KF: We face many challenges in Urban radio today. We used to break records
on Urban stations before Rhythm Crossover stations would play them.
SW: Everything we see now is a result of the video channels. It's been a great marketing tool for the record companies and artists. There are only so many video outlets, so if you're watching MTV or VH1 you may be exposed to something that you normally wouldn't have experienced and you might say, "Hey, I like that." We've created a totally different generation of consumers and artists. take Jessica Simpson for example, she's 19, she grew up in the video age. She's no pretender. She's been exposed to pop, R&B, country, dance-everything! And you can see it in her style. We used to use the term crossover. In the industry, all the little categories of music are great because it keeps people working. But in reality, in the video world, once it's put on television, it's already crossed. Everybody has the opportunity to see it. MTV, BET, and even VH1-they're running the Notorious B.I.G. story on Behind The Music. That's going to the masses, and that's what it's all about. It's becoming harder and harder to define what music goes where, and that's not a bad thing.
KF: What's the difference between Top 40 and Rhythm Crossover?
SW: I don't know, I didn't make up the terms. The bottom line is everything in our country is like a game of "Simon Says." Simon says "CHR/Pop," so Simon has certain records for that. Simon used to say "Churban," but now Churban is gone. So now Simon says, "CHR/Rhythmic," so
what's the difference?
KF: You're Familiar with the LA market. There isn't a great difference musically between Power 106 and 100.3 The Beat. Yet one is a Rhythm Crossover and the other is Urban.
SW: Those are categories defined by the industry. Go out in the street and ask a kid if the listened to the Rhythm Crossover station and he'll say "what's Rhythm Crossover?" These are industry term-they're not consumer terms. The industry creates these divisions. I haven't heard a kid yet that said, I listen to the Urban station." It is interesting to me how people use terms to find their own comfort so they can market or sell a product. But the consumer out there-all they know is that they either like it of they don't. But all this cross-pollination has been a blessing for Urban radio. Look at the charts of the different trade magazines and compare all their different categories-especially Urban, Rhythm Crossover, and CHR/Pop/Top 40 and you look at the sales. A vast majority of the sales are from what you would consider Urban music by black artists, or by artists that are directly influenced by black artists or black culture.
KF: Are you playing 'N Sync?
SW: N' Sync. No, not right now.
KF: Are you playing Christina Aguilera?
SW: Yes, it's impossible not to play Lady Marmalade. As soon as the video came on it was over. the video made it happen. Look at the ages of the performers in that video. What [music] did they grow up with in the music video age? Urban music. That's what they have in common. Take a look at Gwen Stefani. It's the video age!
KF: Do we need more video outlets?
SW: I hope not, because if you have too many we'll go back to the old way of doing things when we were all stuck in our own segments. Rock with rock, hip-hop with hip-hop and so on.
KF: So how does all this video exposure influence how you run your radio station?
SW: I play the music consumers are into. I don't question it. I just deal with it. The music industry is not about likes or dislikes. It's about what you do to advance your cause... rating, revenue... is it good for business? Is it acceptable by society's standards? I'm a commercial radio station and I'm out there competing for just one color and that's green.
KF: What do you think about Jennifer Lopez using the "N-word" in her latest song?
SW: From a social standpoint or how kids use the word.. it doesn't have the same connotation as it did when we were growing up. The word is used completely differently. The way kids use it today, no matter what racial group they come from, be it African American, Asian, Latin, or Caucasian, they use it as a term of endearment.
KF: Do You play records with the word in it?
SW: Most of the companies send out clean versions of all their songs. I don't think we play any song with that word in it at all.
KF: I've heard the word on some station.
SW: That's up to them. I try and deal with what the majority will accept. I'll take a look at the video and see what version they're playing. I want all the listeners, I'm all for everything if it becomes acceptable by the majority of society.
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R&R New PD in Town By Walt Love
Programming In an Unfamiliar Market:
It’s always challenging to start a new PD job. But when you’re new to the market, it can be a particularly tricky predicament. Long time programmer and former WQMG-FM/Greensboro OM/PD Sam Weaver, who’s faced that situation several times, offers some sage advice.
Weaver’s been in Greensboro just ten months, but each book has been an improvement over the previous one. His formula for success relies on simple but important rules.
First: (Don’t) go into a new situation and automatically start dismantling things because you want them to the way you want them. You have to be sure your way is what’s correct for that particular station in that specific market. If you’re an OM as well, you oversee engineering, promotions, programming, and work very closely with the sales department. You may know something about all these areas, but you don’t know about them at this new station. If you’re intelligent, you won’t talk as much as you listen. Then you can begin to observe what tools are already available to help you. According to Weaver, PDs should ask these crucial questions: Is there any outside research? Is there any in-house research? Does the station do music as well as lifestyle research?
Said Weaver, It’s very helpful when the station already has research for you to look at when you first arrive. Get someone to assist with your in-house callout research. I believe in going to local colleges and employing students who want to learn about radio business. You can learn a lot from students who are majoring in communications, journalism, computer science, or public relations. You can never have enough input, and these people are average listeners.
Another question new PDs should ask: Is there anyone who can give me an historical perspective on the station and the market? Admonished Weaver, Listen to everyone from the owner to the janitor. Bits and pieces of information will help you in your overall goal: knowing the market, its people, and the station.
"Checking to see if sales and programming have a good working relationship. Try to determine the best production person on your staff. He or she will help create the on-air image you’d like to convey to your audience. Next, make sure the station is visible in the community on a regular basis. Outside contest will help. Also, travel to high-density black areas. If there’s a station van, wonderful. Knock on doors and shake hands like it’s a political campaign.
"A new PD should also quickly become acquainted with local political and civic leaders. It’s important to determine who’s in control at the local concert venues, indoor and outdoor."
Also familiarize yourself with the budget. Weaver suggested, "Determine how much money the station has for billboards, and television. Find out what type of budget there is for T-shirts, visors, etc. After you’ve checked everything and listened to the station, take all that information and combined it with your radio IQ. What is your radio IQ? Your experience, good and bad. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of people in a number of different formats and situations. I’ve worked in everything from CHR to Country- a varied background. Variety helps."
Weaver has developed a simple equation for achieving ratings: (music) x (community action) x (political awareness) = image (the image you want to project to the community). Add time, and Weaver maintains winning ratings will follow.
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Urban Music Meeting by Quincy McCoy
Sam Weaver has done it all. He was a tremendous Top 40 jock with the legendary Bartel Radio Group in St. Louis and Detroit; he’s programmed stations in Pittsburgh, Greensboro, and New Orleans; he was the music director for country outlet US99 in Chicago. Sam is the only PD to program the nation’s oldest black-owned and oldest black-operated stations. WDIA in Memphis is the oldest operated, and KPRS, owned by the Carter Broadcast Group in Kansas City, is the oldest. Sam is a veteran broadcaster, and dedicated to his craft. That makes him crazy, very smart, and the perfect choice for our first music meeting. We begin with his reasoning for adding BIG L’S single "MVP"… Sam: First and foremost, it’s getting serious video play on the video channels; therefore consumers have responded by calling both the retailer and us. Hip-hop and rap are easier to track. In your own marketplace, SoundScan’s great but if you have a serious retailer in your town, you need to establish a relationship with them. Don’t get in too deep, though, because they think they’re the expert, but definitely use them. I recommend having one of your people work with the store, because that gives added insight into who’s buying what. With hip-hop and rap we know what the majority demo is. I try to deal in majorities; that’s how I daypart my music.
Back to the videos. What is the effect of video shows?
They get the consumer’s attention. I know that if a record is barely out but it’s on the rap chart and I’m hearing about it, it’s probably getting good rotation on video shows. We don’t have a big club seen here that’s not a situation that’s stirs up retail action. However, when record companies market to the hip-hop and rap audience through video and college radio, they can get something going on the retail level. Video takes it right to the buying public, who respond instantly. BET’s and MTV’s music information shows have really helped hip-hop and rap.
So you can combine your retail, research, requests?
At this point you make an intelligent gut decision. I think everything gut. It’s a question of how much information you have that determines the gut. Gut is your feeling, plus what has determined that feeling. That’s intelligent gut.
Give us another song.
Okay, here’s how we came to the decision on playing Brandy’s "Best Friend." She had a big hit her first time out. Intelligent gut tells you the listeners have a perception of her as a hit act. The audience has gained this perception from the label’s marketing by outside of radio. So you listen to the second single and if it has the right sound, you ask yourself what this record’s chances of being big. Well the chances are pretty good. The marketing was in place, the video was out, and product was in stores. Therefore, you go with it. That’s intelligent gut.
Is there a Kansas City sound?
No, not anymore, not with the information highway. Tastes are becoming nationalized. We had the group Lo-Key come out of here. They have a hit sound, their record company was behind them and they hit everywhere. The group Kansas City Sound came out of here. Their label did a poor job of marketing the record, but we played it because people knew them, and it had a good sound. We knew it wasn’t going to be big, but maybe the next one will.
How about another song, Xscape’s "Feels so Good."
Once again, a group with a track record, the right sound, and the video was out. Intelligent gut tells you it’s a good chance this is going to happen. Their label marketed them very well. You can pretty much tell if a company believes in a record.
Who listens to the music besides you and your music director?
We use interns, volunteers, people who represent our target audience. We don’t let them know who or what about the music, because we want their gut reactions. Some people have a better feel than others for music, but don’t tell them that because then you’ll ruin what your after: Their honest response.
Do you check around other station’s play lists before making a decision on a record?
There is no one that influences me, because that’s dangerous. However, I will look around to see if a record follows all the bits and pieces of information I’m getting. So once again, I use intelligent gut. I don’t go off the top of my head. There’s no such thing as immediate gut. You have to think it through first.
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R&R Urban Radio: Mainstream Now Flows In Different Directions by Walt Love - Opportunity Knocks
KPRS/Kansas City PD Sam Weaver says he looks Urban fragmentation this way: "Increased employment opportunities! There was a time when all you had was mainstream Urban Contemporary radio and you had to service everybody for everything. So if you were on the air you were expected to go in only one direction-and that was Urban. Now you have a number of different directions to go and you’re still able to participate, because there are more opportunities within the format. It’s been that way in other formats for many years. Now you potentially have more areas to get into and you also may have more longevity in the business."
"When I’m out on speaking engagements I hear people say they want to get into radio. That means everything to me; any kind of radio is good. Then I hear others say they are interested in Urban radio. Those people just now getting into the business have lots of different areas of Urban to choose from."
Education is Key
With many Urban variations gaining in popularity today, Weaver believes opportunities exist not only for up-and-coming air talents, but in others areas of radio as well. "I believe there will be more management opportunities, which means there will be more sales opportunities. I hate to use this term, but it’s a trickle-down effect." "The key to getting into our business is for folks to educate themselves so they can work at any radio station in any format. And when I say educate, that means to learn as much as possible about radio-period."
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Hits - JAMZ
KPRS-FM and KPRT-AM Kansas City are owned and operated by the Carter Broadcast Group, headed, since 1987, by President Michael Carter, grandson of Andrew Skip Carter, an engineer who founded America’s first black radio station west of the Mississippi. Sam Weaver is OM of KPRS and KPRT, but doesn’t fit the stereotype of an urban programmer. The 20-year broadcasting veteran has programmed formats ranging from country and Top 40 to oldies and urban. Committed to serving his core audience, Weaver solidified KPRS’s positioning and strengthened its presence in the most current Arbitrends, in which the station maintained its #1 position. JAMZ VP "Ben & Jerry" Boulding talked to both Weaver and Carter about booking them on "Hee-Haw," before realizing his head was in some wheatfield way over the rainbow.
Sam, what shape was KPRS in when you arrived?
When I got here, KPRS was doing well. It was a straight ahead, urban radio station. My job was to go in and give it a little bit of life, some stationality and street sense. Between our consultant Tony Gray and me, we accomplished that. You get away with a wider demo than most markets. Kansas City has a high saturation of cable, and that might have some influence for a lot of crossover artist we play.
In a recent play list, you had several records with seven plays or less. Can you get an accurate read on a track’s potential with so few plays-per-week?
We do several specialty shows, and we’re constantly testing a lot different music. If you really look at our play list, there are about 22 to 25 songs that get the majority of play. This is a very reactive market. There’s a great deal of disposable income for people to go out and buy the things they like. So, even if we’re not playing something more than seven or eight times a week, if the audience likes it, they’ll let us know.
You go to Arbitron to analyze diaries after every book. How important is that?
It’s very important. I’ve been going since 1988. It’s information that gives you an instant snapshot of what’s going on. I can do mechanicals or the programmer’s package, but there’s nothing like going there to check your file and meet the people who are grading your report card. You also get a chance to network with various other programmers and research specialists who can share information with you.
Describe your relationship with consultant Tony Gray.
Tony’s a very knowledgeable consultant. He works with each individual programmer based on that person’s background. He deals with music very well. He knows what not to play. What I really love about him is he’s a consultant, not a dictator.
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R&R Using Promotional Opportunities To Win By Walt Love
PD gives his take on how to successfully serve the community, clients, and listeners.
The summer months bring out numerous station promotions. KPRS/Kansas City PD Sam Weaver shares his active station’s successful promotion strategies and why this area is so important to Urban radio. "In my opinion, you can divide promotions into three areas: sales-related, programming-related, and community relations. All three are ratings driven as far as I’m concerned."
Cooperation Is Key
How does KPRS balance these promotion types? "First of all you need cooperation," Weaver stresses. "I’m lucky enough to have a GSM (Bartt Horton) who works with the programming department. I also have a promotions director (Rich McCalley) and a communications relations director (Monica Cassidy) who I can depend on to not only help make things work for the good of the radio station, but help identify things that we should be doing or should get involved with." As far as choosing which particular promotional approach is the best suited for a specific event, Weaver points out, "There are times when all three can come together, but sometimes they don’t. Most of the time, if a promotional idea comes in, it’s sales related because the department may have a client who wants to present something. For example, the client wants to find a charity that they would like to do some things with. The client will ask sales and sales will ask us to help identify the right charity for them to work with to accomplish the (client’s) goal. Sometimes it might be something that is community related. It all goes back and forth throughout the year.
"It comes down to what can we collectively come up with? What can we possibly design for this client to fit their needs and accomplish their goals? A lot of times promotions people think we’re talking about giving away a house, a car, a trip, some money. That’s all great stuff and it’s ratings-driven, but (parent company) the Carter Broadcast Group values giving something to the community because you do get it back. When you help do things for the homeless, that’s priceless. Besides helping human beings who are in need, you’re also creating goodwill in your city that you couldn’t buy."
Make Extra Effort
Weaver adds, "For example, if you’re going to do a Back-to-School Jam, you don’t just provide music and a back-to-school party atmosphere. If you’re smart, you’ll also provide school supplies for the students. You still can’t beat word of mouth, which is also important in image and top-of-mind awareness."
I asked Weaver how important community-involved promotional events are to our format. "Real important. In 1995, most market places, we’re all up against everybody. By that I mean in some places it’s still possible to be the only Urban-formatted station in the city. But in most places you have a direct competitor. As for as I’m concerned, everyone in the marketplace who is competing for the advertising dollar is your competitor."
"When you can turn on an Oldies station and hear a song they refer to as a ‘soul’ tune or an R&B song, well that’s competition at 2pm if they’re playing a song that was once considered something only for us to play. And if people in our city wanted to hear that song or one in that particular genre they’re supposed to come to us to get it! I call that direct competition. We’re all after the same thing-ratings, which are listeners. Those listeners are consumers of radio and the products we advertise, which is revenue. "So, when you do a community-relations piece and you’re out raising money for a scholarship fund or something like that, top-of-mind awareness is what counts. You may not listen to us, but you do know who we are-you’re aware of us in this city. And because we’re out there doing some positive (activities) to give something back community and its people, maybe, just maybe, you will tune in to us to find out more about what we do. That’s why it’s so important to do community things at all times."
Weaver continues, That’s another reason why I say it’s important to do more than just give something away to people. You want to do something that will stick with people. You want what you do to stay in their hearts. It’s called good-will! Remember, promotions are community relations at their best. Sometimes people in our business think of promotions as strictly giving away something. There’s giving away something and then there’s giving something. The two are related, but you have to balance both."
Weaver cites the recent Samuel U. Rogers Health Fair, in which KPRS participated. "It’s an African-American health center that gives free screenings (to members of the community). We did a live broadcast from there last weekend starting at 7am Saturday. They had testings all day for those who wanted to make sure they’re in good health. Each year they get more and more people. This year’s turnout was approximately 3800 people.
"What’s most important about this is the fact that these tests were free to the public. And we were there. There were no other radio stations in this city there. We do several things when that happens:
*We’re touching our audience.
*We’re telling people information that’s needed.
And remember, we still play our music and do our format things that are needed. But (listeners) can see us doing our thing while they also continue to hear us on the air. Also, they are now part of the on-air presentation. It’s good for our image and it sticks with our listeners because we’re helping somebody. This is just as important, if not more so, than just another promotion.
"When Oklahoma City bombing happened we did like everybody else-help raise funds to assist those people. We raised over $5000. We recently had a ‘Peace & Unity Weekend for Non-Violence.’ The point is that we’re always out there doing something besides giving away CDs in the station van or concert tickets.
Do promotions help ratings? Well, they certainly don’t hurt. In the Winter ‘95’ Arbitron, KPRS was No. 2 persons 12+ and No. 1 persons 18-34 and 25-54 in the 27th ranked market with a 12.2% black population. During that ratings sweep the station did numerous promotions, including air personality Tony G.s 48 Hour Food and Toy Marathon, which raised a lot of money, food, and toys for needy families. "And that’s something Tony has wanted to do since I’ve been here," Weaver says. "Fortunately, we have the tools to work with not only to do it, but do it right for the good of the people of this community, our radio station, and the Carter (Broadcasting) family." And what do people do at smaller organizations who may not have the same tools as a larger company? Weaver recommends, "Know your community and the people in positions who can help you get what you need to get what you want done. For example, get to know the mayor and his or her assistants. Meet the chief of police and his people. Get to know the local school board superintendent and his assistants. That’s the way to supplement a budget and a staff of people to be able to accomplish the desired results. "Do something worthwhile for people; something that really touches lives positively. Do something that will be lasting. Ratings are important, but human beings come first. The ratings will follow."
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R&R Urban Contemporary - Developing Young Air Talent
Two PDs discuss the basics of training young personalities
Working with and developing air personalities require patience and expertise that are, unfortunately, at a premium. This week, two PDs talk about why and how you should teach and motivate and maximize talents.
In his 21 years in radio, KPRS-FM/Kansas City PD Sam Weaver has programmed WDIA/Memphis, WAMO/Pittsburgh, and WQMG/Greensboro. He also taught radio for four years at Chicago’s Columbia College of Broadcasting. He says, "I like to get talent in the early stage-in college or just getting into the business."
No Ego + Voice = Promise
"These are the things I look for. One: no ego problems. You have to have a little ego, but too much can interfere with a desire to learn. Also, can they read? Can they write? Do they want to learn? And can they follow directions? If the answer to those questions is ‘yes’, I can work with them.
"Two: voice. In today’s industry it’s how well you communicate, not necessarily how big your voice is. The things is, can you learn how to be yourself on the radio and communicate with people? We want to show air talents how to be the people they are on the street everyday while they’re entertaining on the radio." To begin with, says Weaver, "I tell them radio is not based on their memory, it’s based on how good they sound. The biggest thing in developing and nurturing talent is building confidence and keeping it high at all times. Based on my own experiences, it can be devastating for a young announcer to lose confidence. You should never expose people to situations they aren’t prepared for, like doing afternoon drive when they’re not really ready for it yet. I’ll work with people on the all-night show to prepare them both technically and professionally."
Explain The Basics
"Then we’ll work on some basic things," Weaver continues. "Not only do I tell them how and when to identify the station, but why. It’s always important to understand why you’re doing something. I tell them several ways to make something happen a particular way to get the desired result. I always tell the people I'’ working with that I may give them ideas, but I’m not God. The bottom line is whether something works for you. Overall, things work better when people have a good understanding of why they’re doing something.
"For example, you should explain the concept and methods of identifying the station, whether by call letters or frequency or slogan. I tell people it’s done differently at various places, but it’s always done consistently within a station. The most important thing to teach a person is how and when to identify a station. You can’t get rated if nobody knows who you are.
"Here another thing I always teach: Every time you turn on that microphone, you are potentially meeting a new person. So try to make sure people know who you are. Another basic thing you want to teach: It’s not the quantity of the words you use, but the quality. That requires a good vocabulary and knowing how to use your words effectively.
"Another thing I work on is reading liners. How do you change someone from a liner-card-reading jock into a personality-oriented entertainer? The first thing is they have to learn how to act on the radio and get comfortable with their voice on the air. And then they have to understand that what they're’ actually doing is acting."
"Weaver concludes, "Early in our careers, we wonder how big-name talents know about all the different things they talk about. Well, they work at it until it becomes natural. Before any of us gets to that point, we have to practice reading and acting out what we think we should be doing on the air. Radio is about making your lines fresh, exciting, and entertaining."
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Sam Weaver’s Programming Tips
Do you want the good news or bad news first? Okay, the good news is that programming is fun. Now the bad news: The job is not all glitz and glamour. And if that wasn’t enough, there are not many programming positions available. Rumor has it that the job requires one to possess the combined skills of a salesman, music lover, and animal trainer. Programming is an inexact science based on acquired opinion and repetition of successful theories. There are many obstacles along the way, including: Rating Service Methodology, marketing, budgets, promotions, community service, music, vacations, human error, record companies, sick leave, and the listener.
There are three types of listeners: active, inactive, and concerned. The active listener is one who simultaneously listens to four stations a day. The inactive listener listens to and from work only. The concerned listener belongs to both aforementioned groups – with one exception. These listeners take part in Birch surveys and Arbitron diaries. Unfortunately, a programmer’s destiny belongs to the same irresponsible people that don’t vote and thought census forms were junk mail.
So why should anyone want to program? According to a concensus of my colleagues, the attraction is competition, strategy and free T-shirts. Programming is an acquired skill. Fine statement, but how do we get a chance to run a station? I’m glad you asked. Since there are no degrees given in programming, here are some situations that could lead to the throne of power: the next Barry Mayo might be an all-night jock who gets off at 6 am and still attends the 8 am program meetings. Then again, an upcoming James Alexander might be top-notch announcer with excellent production skills and a flair for PR.
Meanwhile, I sense another Tony Gray is a weekender with lots of questions and an aircheck collection. To make a long story short, tomorrow’s Urban programmers will be the ones with the determination and drive to go the extra mile. According to a concensus of my colleagues, aspiring PDs should equip themselves with knowledge other than music. I’m talking about American History, Black History, computers, Statistics, research, Sociology, Consumer Marketing, sports, Public Relations, Public speaking, Politics – the list is endless. But the point is, versatility is the key to program management.
Future programmers need to absorb life experience and combine it with common sense to deal with the complexities of radio. There is employment and unemployment along the radio road. During the un days, become a professional announcer and look for a radio job, not a format. Don’t limit your opportunities for employment by only looking at Urban stations. Also, get a regular job while looking for a radio gig. It will give you self-worth and keep you in touch with the real world.
Black programmers and their counterparts are going to face increased radio fragmentation: Black AC’s, Black Oldies, CHR’s with Black AC slants, AC’s with Black Oldies slants, CHR’s with Black Heavy Metal, new evolving formats, video and technical advancements, etc. Plus, with the current wave of American conservatism, don’t expect rating service to increase sample sizes for the sole purpose of potentially giving Urban radio a larger piece of the pie at the expense of non-ethnic facilities. Getting to the PD chair is a hard road, but you can do it. Here is a road map for the "Next Urban Generation."
The Coach: Motivation – Game Plan: This person has to put together the right chemistry and flow for a station. He or she should have a high level of experienced radio awareness.
Research: Key factors to programming are knowing the audience’s lifestyles and musical tastes. A good coach can never have enough information. Ongoing perceptual and musical research are necessities. For in-house researchers, one should exploit the various departments at local colleges. If there is a budget, pay researchers. If not, implement an intern program for college credit. If in-house research is not possible, hopefully your budget will allow for an outside firm. Two major keys to research are knowing what to look for – and generating enough numbers for a proper sample base.
Music: Good business means knowing the product. For a contemporary music station, MUSIC IS THE PRODUCT! A good music director is essential since the coach has to oversee various aspects other than just music. This person should be well versed in a variety of music, be open-minded, and act as a liason for the coach in numerous musical selection areas. A station MUST play the hits! In the process of musical selection, the coach or his liason should use research, record sales, TV video shows, market support and feel for the market.
Staff: The essential part of running a radio station is having capable people whom you can trust and give the opportunities and incentives to succeed. Winning is a team effort.
Promotions: One should always keep in mind that most listeners do not care about contests or promotions. However, whether it is an audience or sales related promotion, a good coach should always have a purpose in mind. A promotion into the right zip code areas never hurts! Strategically placed recorded promos and live liners are also part of your propaganda artillery. Large or small, local or national, audience or sales related, promotions can help achieve success.
Sales: Programming and sales are one unit. These two departments should go hand in glove. It should be understood on both parts that what may be good in the short term may hurt the product as a whole in the long run.
Radio is an opinion. However, opinion should be based on fact and reality, not on prejudice or presumption. Some programming keys include:
A. The ability to adjust strategies;
B. Good feel for the average listener;
C. Teaching and being open to new theories;
D. Community image positioning;
E. Utilizing research information;
F. Understanding that people do make mistakes;
G. Analyzing all angles before making a decision;
H. Knowing when to compromise;
I. Recognizing that programming and sales are a unit;
J. Maximizing and utilizing talent;
L. Varied musical background;
N. Understanding Arbitron and Birch methodology;
O. Being accountable.
Formatics: Good formatics are not unique to a particular marketplace or format. Call letters, name, time, one precise thought per talkset, being prepared before the mike is on, show prep, being positive, and taking direction. Since programming is a total package, a programmer should oversee everything that relates to the air. They include: a jock’s presentation and personal appearance; Traffic; Continuity; Sales and audience promotions; Creative production and everyday production; and Music.
If a station can capture the listener’s heart, ears and eyes, the sum total will be profit. One should always keep in mind the station’s targetted demographics. A programmer has to consider: The active listener; Arbotron; Birch. Program toward the inactive of average listener because he or she is usually responsible for the fate of a radio market. The inactive or average listener wants to hear: that they perceive to be hit music; Likes music information; Enjoys being entertained in a concise manner.
At every opportunity, maximize intense propagandizing to raise the awareness level of your cume and the community. Audience partisanship will help you win the battle.
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R&R Urban Contemporary - Learning To Add
Making New Music Work For You
In these days of increased product flow, smaller shares, and tougher competition, formulating a policy on adding new music is more challenging than ever.
Two PDs talked about how they choose the music. OM/PD Sam Weaver has been at WQMG/Greensboro for two years. He began, "You add music you think is going to help your station not only sound good, but win. I add music that I think listeners will perceive as hit music. It’s real easy to research records after they’ve been on the radio for four or five weeks, but with new music, you’re relying on intelligent instincts. There are a lot of nice songs, but I try to go for what might make it onto an artist’s greatest hits album. "The more hits you play in a row, the better you’re your chances of increased TSL (Time Spent Listening). And that’s what you need in Urban radio. CHRs that play black hits and the Acs with very large cumes can take chances with music if they want to, but we don’t have that luxury. It’s dog eat dog out here, so I’ve got to play the most hits in a row possible. That’s why we’re hearing about tighter playlists. I’ve never heard a listener call and say, ‘Play something new.’ They ask for what they like.
Crescent City Crunch
Brian Wallace has been PD at year and a half of his seven years in radio. His station is in a hard fought battle for first place with rival UC WQUE-AM & FM, which is currently on top. "Lately," said Wallace, "I’ve been cutting back on the amount of new music I add each week. Because of the battle I’m in, I try to add no more than four or five songs a week. This approach is going to benefit not only me, but also record sales. "For this part, Weaver maintained, "I’ve always kept my playlist tight. Total number of records isn’t always the answer. It’s really about the amount of hits you’re playing. What you don’t take off your weekly playlist is what’s most important – not what you add. It’s important to hold onto a hit piece of product. I believe in giving records some type of good rotation so people get to hear them. That’s the only way you’re going to find out if they like something or not."
Wallace bases his add decisions on a number of factors. "My criteria start with the sound of the station. I listen to hear if a record sounds like it belongs on our station – if it fits. I talk to other PDs and get their opinions about different records, and I try some records in rotation after 6 pm to see if they catch on with the public. "Of course, my decisions about new music are based on quality: If it’s seriously strong cut or it’s from a major artist, I’m going with it right out of the box." Weaver explained his add criteria: "I consider the sound first, the history of the artist – if there is any – second, and third, what kind of support the record company is giving the project. Finally, I look at the support from the artist management." He explained what support means to a record and its chances. "Say you have two records to choose from. Record A sounds good, and the artist has a good presence, but it has nothing else behind it to help it succeed. Now, record B also sounds good, and the artist has a good presence. But in addition, a live TV performance is scheduled and the act is visible through interviews in national magazines and a promotional tour around the country. "I’ll go on record B, because with all the other things behind it, it has the better chance of making an immediate impact with my audience. That doesn’t mean I forget about record A. I follow its progress, because it may reach a point where it’s ready to happen."
One of the hottest current topics is the huge amount of available new product. Yet WYLD-FM’s Wallace doesn’t necessarily see a vast selection. "In terms of quality music there isn’t a glut, but there is a lot of music available. There’s a lot of OK music – but music that’s going to be around for a while with the public? There’s not a lot of it." Weaver doesn’t let the increased product flow influence him either. "You should never add music just because you think you have to. As I said, listeners never call and say, ‘Play something new.’ They will, however, walk into a record store and say , ‘What’s the latest?’ You have to play what you think is best, but don’t add records just to add them. "You don’t take off records that are working for you and add new ones just because you think that makes the station sound fresh."
Your Ears Are Not Normal
Both programmers spoke of how a radio pro differs from listener in approaching new music. Wallace pointed up the difference between a green PD and a seasoned one, saying, "When I first took this job I was like a number of other young PDs in their first programming opportunity, thinking I had to keep the station sounding fresh to my own ears. Now I’m not jumping on new stuff as quickly as I used to; I need to keep the station sounding more familiar. "I’ve learned here that what I get into quickly as a PD is not the same as what the average listener gets into. Radio is entertainment for the average person, and it takes him (or her) longer to get into the music. So I’ve slowed down to adding about half the amount of music I used to add weekly."
Weaver admonished, "Think about this: I’m a jock and a PD. When I’ve heard a record for five to six week, I’m tired of it and ready to take it off my list. But any record company sales department will tell you that it takes six to eight weeks to begin to show sales. Now think about the average consumer. Too many programmers get off hit music too soon."
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R&R Urban Contemporary - On Guard
While the station currently has no direct challenger, Carter notes, "We keep a close eye on our market, because we’re aware that someone may want a share of our lucrative audience. We stay aware of different stations’ formatics and what they’re doing on the air. But we certainly don’t go to war with or challenge other stations about what they’re doing. Nor are we going to change format or what we’re doing, because people here know what we do, and we’ve been doing it a long time. We’re just continuing to improve our product, and right now it seems to be working."
But what if a challenger arose? Cater explains, "It depends who. Most Black stations don’t have the dollars to fight off a major player with billboards, television, and large promotional giveaways. The bottom line here is that we have heritage, loyalty, and an excellent community reputation, and we’re not going to roll over and let anyone come into our market and take anything from us.
"What we’ve got to do is be ready for the fight, and that’s what we’re doing. And remember, the guy who is already at the battle is not as weary as the person who has to come to it. We're already in the battle, and it’s our battlefield. We just have to put up our shields and be ready for any type of flanking."
Ratings Into Dollars
What does Carter hope to accomplish in this down economy and with a new administration in the White House? "What I plan to do is make money. We are going to try everything we can – new marketing plans and special packaging and the whole nine yards – to be able to offer our clients something that makes sense as far as their dollars are concerned. Everybody is happy and optimistic with the new administration in Washington, and I think that in the next few quarters or so we’ll see people – and advertisers – come out of the woodwork a little more.
Historical Perspective Carter paused to pay homage to the man who started the KC dynasty he currently heads. "We’ve changed our company’s name from KPRS Broadcasting to the Carter Broadcast Group in honor of my grandfather. We’re trying to set the future foundation of the KPRS family, which began with my grandfather, Skip Carter. In early spring we’ll be having a formal ceremony to dedicate this building to him.
We feel none of this would be possible if my grandfather hadn’t been a visionary and taken action like he did. We can never thank him enough, even after his death, because he looked further down the road than most people do. All we have to do now as a family is make sure this facility is here for the rest of our family and our employees as a way to make money and have a decent place to work for the rest of their lives."
Talent Is As Talent Does
Sam Weaver, OM of Urban AC KRNB/Dallas, raises the concern that while programming strategy in the format has improved, programming talented needs more direction. He says, "There are many qualified people in programming, but, because of the times we are in, many of those programmers may not have the same experience that a PD at their level did 10 years ago.
"There was a time when a PD would have had more years to develop, maybe doing different jobs, like on-air, promotions or working as an MD or Asst. PD. They would have ripened before they hit the PD chair. "But today we’re seeing more younger programmers who are thrown into the position simply because they are there. You can compare it to sports. For example, in basketball you see more players drafted straight from high school. Now, they may have the talent, but they don’t have the experience."
SW: I use the term old school, because that’s what the listeners call anything old. As far as hanging on to an audience, an Urban AC will not hang on to anything unless it has done focus groups, had its music tested over and over and done things to see if its audience liked that music. Nothing is ever done on a personal whim.
SW: It depends on what version of Urban AC you’re doing. If you’re doing something like Derrick Brown is, yeah, you can break new artists. It depends on the situation - especially now, with consolidation that’s going on across the country – and how your particular Urban AC fits into the overall game plan for the company and the marketplace. That’s what it all boils down to. I don’t know if the term breaking fits much anymore. It’s a different ballgame. You try to be as quick as possible to stay on top of all music fronts. If it’s got the right sound and you think it’s going to run and people are going nuts, you can run with it.
SW: We live in the streets. We’re out there in the streets a lot with vans and concerts. Once you get past the music, it’s all about the personality. Personality is not just being on the air. A lot of it has to do with being out there. We go to events, and we create situations to be at. Service Broadcasting, in general, does that for all its properties. We’re not doing television currently, nor are we doing billboards.
SW: If you’re looking for a definition that fits all of Urban AC, you’re not going to find it. Musically speaking, the demos, their musical tastes are changing, potentially opening up new musical formats. There are now niches within niches.
Moving On Up?
It appears the format is healthy in terms of having more tools available. The talent is there, but it needs to be nourished, and the music is hotter than ever – and will, hopefully, continue to be as long as the record industry can survive its business woes. But are there greater opportunities for those programmers and talent coming out of Urban radio? Weaver says, "There seems to be more grooming within each company now than there was previously. In other words, if you’re at Clear Channel, you’re more likely to be able to move up within that structure than to try to move up by moving to another company. "Look at KPRS/Kansas City, where my old interns have moved up to be promotion director and morning co-host. Look at Myron Fears, who was just a jock. He’s moved up to be MD, then Asst. PD and now PD. I think companies are now trying to grow their own."
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