10 Questions with ... PJ
November 18, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- 1999-2002 - KMXV/Kansas City
- 2002-2006 - KKRD/KZCH /Wichita
- 2006-2008 - Clear Channel Corporate/Atlanta
- 2008 - WLDI/ West Palm Beach
- 2008-2011 - Tribune Interactive/Chicago
- 2011-now - Merlin Media/Cumulus Chicago
1. What do you remember the most from your first radio job at Mix in Kansas City?
For me, it was the sense of family. This wasn't a job to anyone. The entire staff lived it, hung out together, and genuinely liked putting such a winning formula on the air. I'm happy to still be friends with a big chunk of that group, and have taken that aspect of my experience there to every programming job I've had, not only with the staff/building, but with the audience, too.
2. How would you describe yourself as a programmer?
Relatively relentless, but getting better at having a life outside of the station. Constantly on the search for how to move radio into the future. Frustrated with how behind we are as an industry. Optimistic that we'll figure it out.
I'm good at some things, not good at others, and continue my quest to become self-aware of what those things are. I've worked hard to build a staff around me that makes up for the things I'm not good at, and I feel we've done a great job picking lanes to focus on, achieving a lot of things with fewer people than you'd expect in a market this size.
3. What is the toughest part of your job?
There are certainly challenges everyone faces, like not having enough time in the day to get everything done. But I'd say the hardest for me personally is seeing things in this business that I feel are ripe for change and not having the ability to drop what I'm doing to dive in and help make it happen. I love radio, there is a ton of upside/opportunity, and I want to be a part of what ushers it into the future. Sometimes, though, you can only do so much from inside just one station. Doesn't mean I won't try, though!
4. What makes 101WKQX unique?
I think it's our continued commitment to community and authenticity. We come in every day trying to break ourselves of old habits and communicate with our audience in a way that fits their lives in 2014. Little things -- like signing our names any time we respond to someone on social so they know who they're talking to -- help. And larger things like not being afraid to disagree with the audience when they compliment or criticize. I had a really nice experience with a listener who has criticized the station for as long as I can remember, but recently conceded that he liked who we were as people, and appreciated that we felt comfortable engaging him. It may not lead to him ever listening more, but we still found a way to connect to him when the music couldn't.
We have to be humans in this business, and relate to our audience in a human way. Sure, it's show business, but people don't love following Chrissy Teigen on Twitter because she's an SI model or married to John Legend. They (and I) love her because she DGAF, talks openly about her flaws, and doesn't present herself as a fake image perched atop an ivory tower.
5. What is the strongest daypart on the station and why?
We're very fortunate to be enjoying the best ratings that Alternative on this frequency has enjoyed in something like 15 years, so we have a lot to be proud of. I think first and foremost, the music is fantastic right now, and is driving quality Alternative radio all over the country. We layer in a family atmosphere (that we enjoy internally, too) and sprinkle in a generous helping of not taking ourselves very seriously. I think all of that helps contribute to our success in all dayparts.
6. How much are you balancing gut with research when making decisions on new music?
There's a lot of science in what we do, but anyone that tells you that we do anything other than guess for a living is fooling themselves. Educated guesses, sure, but guesses nonetheless.
Here, we try to find as many data points as possible to try and find a reason for something to move to the top of the stack. Sometimes that's reaction from Walt's Sunday night show Queued Up, sometimes it's sales/streams/Shazam, sometimes it's success other people are having with a track, and sometimes you just say "fuck it" and play something because it sounds great and you really think the audience will like it. But considerably more important than our decisions are the decisions of the audience after we start playing something. Do they love it? Hate it? In the end, they're the only decision makers that matter.
7. What are music meetings like at the station?
Walt and I are constantly talking music, so the actual meeting is relatively streamlined at this point. It is an important part of the week, though, as it's one of the few times we can shut the door, remove distractions, and just listen. Walt's biggest passion is discovering new music, so he is my litmus test, and has an amazing ear. He does a great job trimming the stack down so that we're focused on the most viable options for that week.
8. What's the story with that 101WKQX Big Black Box suspended in the air?
That was a big fall promotion for us this year. Not to bore you with all the details, but it was a huge shipping crate suspended over the city stuffed with about $50k in prizes. Everything from a car, a trip, cash, Bears season tickets (sorry NFL..."Monsters of the Midway" tickets), and a lot more. We gave you the first one, and you had to guess the other nine. Get them all right and you win them all. Lots of clues and appointment setting. But, like any successful promotion in radio, it was important to us to have it be fun and entertaining for the VAST majority of the audience that will never play. I think we accomplished that, with the added benefit of doing a contest that was really great for clients without being intrusive or overbearing on the air.
9. What may surprise people about the Chicago radio market?
This market LOVES this market. Chicago radio fans are incredibly passionate about their city and everything in it. They're cautious when you enter the market for the first time, and it can be difficult to win them over, but they welcome honesty and candor. What you cannot do, under any circumstances, is fake it.
That may not be a "surprise," but it sure seemed more intense here than what I've experienced in other markets.
10. What are you most passionate about?
The audience, almost to the point of fault. Everyone wants to be loved, and with the station being such a big part of my life, sometimes I take things personally when someone doesn't love what we're doing as much as I do. If nothing else, at least that keeps me grounded.
What music do you listen to when you're away from station?
This may be strange, but I don't, usually. When not working, I gravitate more towards podcasts, YouTube channels, and content removed from radio. I think it's important to get out of the bubble we live in every day and explore the things our audience is consuming every day alongside radio.