10 Questions with ... Walter Flakus
May 28, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I was just starting a great career in radio when my band mates in Stabbing Westward said, "we're all quitting our jobs to give the band a real push. Are you in or out?" Odd since I started the band, but I didn't want to live my life saying "what if." So I quit. It turned out to be a good choice. I rode that wave for a decade.
When we called it a day, I went back to radio, made my way to XM where I was the MD of Fred and Ethel. Then I had a detour through A&R and Management at Q Prime for nearly five years. I finally made my way back home to Chicago working at WLUP for a couple of years until we launched Q87.7.
1. What do you remember most about growing up and listening to radio in Chicago?
At an early age, I got the radio bug after listening to WLS in the late 70's. I lived about 200 miles outside of Chicago so I couldn't pick up any FM stations but I could get WLS! They still had a classic lineup: Lujack, Tommy Edwards, Bob Sirott and John "Records" Landecker. That was amazing radio.
But in 1980, I started coming to the city more frequently and I became fixated listening to The Loop (WLUP). I remember getting turned on Peter Gabriel and Billy Thorpe ("Children of the Sun", anyone?) and they played a ton of Van Halen. I was hooked! One way or another, I was going to play music in a band or on the radio.
I got to intern at Z95/WLS in the '80s after it turned into a talk station. I came back to produce the Barsky Show and went through a classic CHR battle between Z95 and B96.
Then, I was around to hear Q101 find its legs in the early '90s. I had a sense of "finally, a radio station for me!"
2. What do you love most about working at Q87.7?
It has to be working with people like Jim Richards and and PJ. I look forward to coming to work every day. It never feels like a job. Collectively, we share a vision for this radio station and each day we work at making that a reality.
3. It's been one year since Q87.7 signed on. What has been the station's biggest accomplishment so far?
Our biggest accomplishment is how quickly we've built an audience that feels connected to Q87.7. Our Christmas show, The Night We Stole Christmas, sold out in about a week! We had only been on the air for about six months but the sense of community was already there. It was amazing to hear the entire audience singing along to the Foo Fighters and Radiohead songs we programmed for in between bands. It felt like the event was bigger than any one band. It was a special night!
4. How would your weekly Sunday night show, Queued Up?
This show is another example of finding an audience rather quickly. We started Queued Up at the beginning of the year and each week, the response to the songs continues to grow. It's much like the specialty show I did on Alt Nation for several years, Submission Transmission, only I can focus on events that are happening locally, such as bands that are playing in town on any given week or I try to expose local bands when I can. Turning people on to music is definitely a passion of mine.
5. What is most important to you when championing new music for regular rotation on Q87.7?
Music is so good right now; a song has to be at a certain level to work in the overall mix of music on the station. So it has to sound compatible and ideally, has proven to get a response.
Songs usually start on Queued Up where I can gauge the reaction from the audience. If something spikes, I'll give it another spin on Queued Up see if it happens again. That's what happened with Trapdoor Social, an unsigned band from L.A. I played "Away" several times on Queued Up and every time, it had a great response. So, we listened in the music meeting and we all love the record, especially as we head into summer. The consensus in the room was to give it a shot. It's easy to picture a whole crowd singing the chorus of this one.
6. What are some of your biggest new music discoveries in the first half of 2013?
I mentioned Trapdoor Social "Away". I'm also thrilled with the success of The 1975. I'm a fan of the EPs they put out last year and now they're opening for Muse and the Rolling Stones! It's fun to watch that one grow. I also really like "Cannonball" from Diamond Youth. The band is from Baltimore but the singer, Justin lives here in Chicago. Their whole Orange EP is good listen.
7. What is the arrangement with Q87.7 Underground Lounge and JBTV?
I can't believe no one has partnered with JBTV until now. Jerry Bryant has been exposing Chicago to music for the past 28 years through JBTV. They have an amazing performance space with a stage, lights, and PA... oh yeah, and 8 HD cameras. We help bring in bands and an audience and give our listeners an experience they won't get anywhere else. Bands come in and play a 5-6 song set, plugged in, full electric. And JBTV gets great content for their show which is carried nationally on Tuff TV. We just had Fall Out Boy in the Underground Lounge. Everyone wins here.
8. Tell us about Q87.7's PIQNIQ on June 29th?
It's our first summer show and we're throwing PIQNIQ at the biggest joint in the market. Jim has been able to put together a rather impressive bill considering we have bands who were unavailable to us due to Lollapalooza. So the lineup looks like this: Yeah Yeah Yeahs (yeah!), Bush, AWOLNATION, Silversun Pickups, Atlas Genius, Cold War Kids, Twenty One Pilots, New Politics, Capital Cities, and Maximum Headrum. Two stages with hardly any overlap. It's coming together nicely!
9. What was the reaction to the Church Of Mars at the Chicago Cultural Center?
Incredible! Thirty Seconds To Mars played under the world's largest Tiffany glass dome at the Chicago Cultural Center. We had to have a decibel limit of 100dB, which we could control. What we couldn't control was the volume of the screaming audience. In the end, the glass held. We gave away about 230 tickets through on air giveaways, Tweet Seats (tweet a photo of a location where we hid tickets) and to our loyal junkies.
I cannot tell you how impressed I was with the band's organization. From the label to the band, everyone was pro and it was a great event! More bands should look at these guys as an example.
10. What surprises people most about you?
Honestly, probably that I used to be in Stabbing Westward. It's not something to brag about. I'll talk about relatable experiences but it's not something I beat my chest about. Or people are surprised that I'm shorter than I sound, whatever that means.
What is your fondest memory of Stabbing Westward and tell us about your StabWalt website?
There are so many great memories from my Stabbing Westward days. There was the month in 1996 where we opened for both Kiss and the Sex Pistols on their first reunion tours. We also did two consecutive North American tours with Depeche Mode, which never got old. But my favorite was playing HFStival in RFK Stadium in 2001. Sooo many people and Dave Grohl watching from the side of the stage. Definitely a highlight.
Over the years, I've developed an archive of unused and discarded musical ideas. Since they didn't make it as songs, I thought maybe there are some licensing opportunities for this stuff. So I created Stabwalt.net as place to highlight these pieces. The site also offers a little background and a way for people to contact me.
How much music do you and your kids have in common?
Not much. Last year, I was playing Alex Clare's "Too Close" at home and my son said, "You're just now listening to that?" I guess he had been a month ahead of me on that one. I took my daughter to see Passion Pit and Matt And Kim. She loved the show so we share a little bit there. I'll sometimes bounce songs off her although she has yet to say she doesn't like something.