10 Questions with ... Jim Richards
March 11, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Started in 1982 at 15 years old in Jeffersonville playing "Music Of Your Life." First full-time gig was at WLRS in Louisville in 1988. Got to Jacor in '94 as PD in Knoxville and rose through the ranks (Cincinnati, San Jose and San Diego) until I left radio and went to Tribune Interactive. Got back into radio in Seattle, and now here in Chicago.
1. Explain the decision to re-brand the stations as 101WKQX?
Q101 had been so many things to so many different types of listeners throughout the years. We didn't want to come back as "Q101" (assuming that intellectual property were available to us) as a result of that. The version of Alternative PJ, Walt, our staff and I built as Q87.7 was quite different from Q101 (especially its last incarnation). We felt simplicity was the best course of action. Let's put the format and the call letters back where they belong, and simply call it what it is.
2. How did the station's cool new headphones logo originate?
We have a terrific "Designer Princess" here, Sabrina Cesas. She creates outstanding graphics, logos and campaigns for our stations and events. My all-time favorite was the logo for the resurrected WRXP/NYC. It SCREAMED New York City without saying it. So for 101WKQX, I wanted the same thing - how can we represent we are Chicago without splashing the city's name in it? We incorporated the colors and star from the city's flag (and, btw, of all the towns I've lived, nowhere has there been so much pride for a city). As for the headphones...when PJ and I were both at Tribune Interactive, we were working on a music website. One of the logos there we liked had a similar use of headphones, so that was our inspiration for this one. It's really cool you singled out the logo. I've been a part of many station launches in my past, and in only two instances have listeners and industry people talked about how cool the logo is - our WRXP and 101WKQX.
3. Why was it important to retain the WKQX call letters since the station no longer uses the Q101 handle?
To me, it's the same, but different. Whether it's Superman, Superman Returns or Man Of Steel, it's a guy in a cape who's faster than a speeding bullet - same characters, same basic story, but told in slightly different ways. Alternative + WKQX + 101.1 + Chicago...we now have all components back where they belong. The main pieces are where they should be, but 101WKQX is NOT Q101 - this is our interpretation of what we think it should be.
4. What has been the immediate impact of moving back to the station's original 101.1 FM frequency?
The most immediate reaction was seen in the ratings. Cume went from 750,000 to over 1.26 million (December-January). Boom!
5. What are you most proud of from what you were able to accomplish as a Low Power TV station at 87.7 FM?
With the handicap of not being on every dial, we did a remarkable job of cultivating a very passionate audience. Now we get to see the number of fans grow because the signal issue has been eliminated. While great to see, the thing I'm most proud of is how this staff works together for the common good. This is a terrific group of people who have all contributed significantly to create an exceptional radio station.
6. What will be the biggest change under Cumulus?
We're still in the transition phase, so the biggest change at this point has been stuff like email address and healthcare provider. Operationally, everyone I've dealt with, John Dickey, Mike McVay, Jan Jeffries, Val Garris, Dave Crowl and our Market Manager, Donna Baker, have all been great. They've all been very welcoming.
7. What are your expectations for 101WKQX in 2014?
The first expectation is to beat every stat that Q87.7 achieved in 2013. Beyond that, I don't really know what to expect...meaning, I need about three months to see where the natural range is for our station on this frequency. Once a baseline is established, we can reset goals and expectations. But so far, like with Q87.7, we've exceeded initial expectations.
8. Tell us about adding Brian Phillips to mornings?
I met Brian when we signed on WRXP. He came in as a part-timer to track breaks, and I quickly became a fan of his delivery style and twisted take on common topics. Shortly after we sold WRXP, I hired him to come to Chicago to fill an on-air position on i101. The plan was to move him to WKQX when I had the opportunity to do so. He's just begun his second week (on with Lou Lombardo), and they're quick, funny and share great chemistry. I wish I had made that move sooner.
9. What do you love most about your job?
The vibrancy, creativity and unpredictability of it all.
10. How much new music are you listening to each week and how is your music meeting structured?
I try to keep up, for sure. I won't listen to as many tracks as Walt, but I do get through most of the All Access Download page on a regular basis. Typically, we meet Tuesdays at noon and start by making sure everything's where it should be. Then, we go down the list and listen to a lot of songs and everyone gets to state their opinion. It's a collaborative meeting and we all leave in total agreement. Then, we take the rest of the day off and get our hair and nails done at the shops next door in The Mart. It's exhausting, but we somehow manage...
What excites you as much as NASCAR season?
The list is small - woooo! What's exciting is seeing the connection an audience makes to your ideas, creativity and convictions. That could be selling out a show you created, seeing positive ratings or a crowd's reaction to the song you're playing when the band sings it live. Stuff like that is pretty cool.
Tell us about your ties to Southern California and how you make it work?
In May 2010, I met my fiancée Vanessa while living in Marina del Rey. In February 2011, I moved to Seattle, then in April 2012 moved here. For some reason, she's decided to stick with me. In a typical month, I'll get to LA once or twice to spend time with her. It's hard for her to come to Chicago much, but I don't mind flying there...I can work via the plane's Wi-Fi and I get to take a break from the Chicago weather to see the Pacific Ocean. It's not our ideal scenario, but beats the alternative. I'm grateful that she's patient.