10 Questions with ... John O'Connell
December 8, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Boston - WXKS (KISS 108) 1982-1991; WZOU (Jammin' 94.5) 1991-1993; WEEI/ WMBX 1994.
West Palm Beach - WPBZ (103.1 The Buzz) 1995 Production Director & APD then OM/PD (1996-2011); WMBX (MIX 102.3) 1999-2001 PD; WEAT (Sunny 104.3 & 107.9 WIRK OM/PD 2008-2012
Tampa- WHFS-A/F (98.7 The Fan)/Tampa PD 2013-2014 WSFS (104.3 The Shark) PD as of 8/1/2015
1. Congrats on signing on 104.3 The Shark! How did you get reeled in by VP/Market Manager Doug Abernethy to launch a new Alternative station for South Florida?
My wife Patty and I own two retail stores in Stuart Florida and after leaving Tampa last Christmas I told her that I was done with radio and wanted to work with her managing the stores. In July I received a call from Paul Jacobs of Jacob's Media and he told me that he was involved with a particular "project" that I might have an interest in being a part of. He knew that I was pretty much over the whole radio thing but asked me if I would have a conversation. I told him that I was indeed done but that I am always open to listening. I was then told that someone would reach out to me in the coming days. After about a week of not being contacted I reached back out to Paul who told me to sit tight and be patient. Keep in mind that I had no idea who was going to call or for what reason. A few days later Doug Abernethy called from Entercom Miami and asked me about my background and each of the formats that I worked in over the years. According to Doug he was looking for someone to be based out of Miami and help work on a number of research projects for the company. After a call with VP of programming Pat Paxton, I received and other call from Doug who brought me in and made me an offer. Again, I wasn't clear on the position but it was related to programming so I accepted. It wasn't until I signed the agreement that I was told that they were actually hiring me to program a new Alternative radio station here in South Florida. At that point, Doug asked me if I was still in and I said, "Hell yes!'
2. After working so many years at CBS Radio, what is it like working for Entercom?
It was hard leaving CBS. They were an awesome group of people who treated me exceptionally well for the 20 years that I spent with them. I was almost sure that other companies wouldn't be as welcoming but I was wrong. Entercom is awesome! Since I arrived I have been blown away by the professionalism and kindness of the people who run this company. They are extremely smart, passionate and when they believe in something they go for it. From day one they have gone to the wall to market this radio station including a two month, 30 board campaign on every major road in the area, t-shirts, stickers, tents, a series of 3 viral videos featuring Sharknado stay Ian Ziering as well as social media campaigns. I feel right at home here and I love coming to work every day. Although I have only been with them for four months I feel like I have known these people for years.
3. Entercom's Alternative stations have been fairly aggressive with new music. How will this new music discovery approach play in South Florida?
Our plan is simple; play the hits! We aren't here to break bands; we are here to fill a huge hole in this market. A lot of people think that Miami can't sustain and Alternative radio station but it most certainly can if it's programmed right and tailored to the people who live here. That's the goal. Keep in mind too that there hasn't been an Alternative station in this market since Zeta signed off 11 years ago which means that a lot of music was never exposed here. Our goal is to educate our listeners and expose them to the best music this format has to offer without becoming too hip for the room or too edgy.
4. How would you describe yourself as a programmer?
Old School. I am not a numbers guy. I am not a graph and chart guy. While I appreciate research I also program with my gut. I see programmers who sit at their desk all day staring at spreadsheets and pie charts. Not me. I spend my day in the prod studio, air studio, sales area, GMs office, etc. I talk to people but more importantly, I listen. Get out of the office and get in the trenches if you want to win.
5. How is programming an Alternative station in Miami different from when you programmed The Buzz in West Palm Beach?
Miami is different from Ft Lauderdale and Ft. Lauderdale is different from West Palm Beach. In West Palm the audience for the Buzz was primarily white but here the Hispanic population is much higher and because of that The Shark has to be different sonically. We are purposely staying away from the harder titles that were successful at The Buzz and looking for songs that fit the landscape. Also times have changed since The Buzz signed off and with alternative music being more pop driven it's a perfect fit for us and for the Miami listeners.
6. What sort of things makes The Shark unique and standout in Miami?
Miami has been a Top 40 driven radio market for the last 10 years. With stations like Y-100, Hits, Power, even Hot AC, My939, all sharing records there hasn't been much in the way of variety for radio listeners. When we signed on The Shark we became the only radio station playing music from artists like George Ezra, Weezer, Florence + The Machine, The Foo Fighters and so on. There is a huge appetite here for Alternative music and with this massive signal that we have we can reach from the Florida Keys to Northern Palm Beach County and service hundreds of thousands of Alternative music fans, something no one else is doing.
7. Tell us about the on-air lineup you have put together at The Shark?
We just recently announced the hiring of morning show talent Ashley O. Ashley comes to us from Cox Miami where she worked for the past 8 years in a number of different positions including production director, PSA director, and morning show producer. and part-time air talent. For months the only person on The Shark was market vet Deena Lang who spent time on ZETA and at WRMF in West Palm Beach. Deena is an extraordinary talent who can attract both male and female listeners with her quick wit and humorous sarcasm. From a social media standpoint she is one of the best I have ever worked with. It is crazy to hear how many people in this market remember Deena from her days at ZETA which was about 11 years ago. Spam just joined us in afternoon drive from 98 Rock in Baltimore. Prior to that he was the PD of WHFS in DC. Spam is a music head and a great person to have in a music director positon because of his knowledge of the format. On-air he is definitely unique in his delivery and because of that he is quickly becoming popular with our audience. At night Toast is making some noise. He was also a veteran of ZETA and Big 106 where he worked for years in Am drive alongside Paul And Ron. This guy is dedicated and I feel very fortunate to have him here.
8. What is the most challenging part of your job?
Strangely enough getting to and from work. I live and will continue to live in Stuart which is about 100 miles north of here. I commute daily and at times the Miami traffic can get on my nerves but for the most part I just deal with it. I do however listen to my station and the market more than other PDs by default.
9. What would surprise people most about you?
I love disco music. For year's I DJ'd in clubs in and around Boston; yes during the '70s, '80s and '90s! When I was in high school I got paid to DJ my own prom. On weekends I would work in clubs, at weddings, and every other event you can think of. To this day I still love disco because it takes me back to a time in my life that ultimately influenced my future, if that makes sense. I still have all of my vinyl and my turntables and every once in a while I get the itch to sit and mix.
10. What are you most passionate about?
Family. Nothing means more to me. From my wife and kids, to my mom, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, I love these people. My wife Patty is my best friend. We do everything together and I never take one minute with her for granted. Now if we could only have a grandchild...
What stands out the most from your first job back in Boston at WXKS?
That I got to work at one of the best radio stations in America with some of the greatest jocks ever. I learned from Sunny Joe White, Dale Dorman, JJ Wright, Ed McMann, Lady D, Matt Siegel and others. Yes radio was much different 35 years ago but it was that foundation that made me want to stick with this crazy f'n business and make it a career.