10 Questions with ... Walt Flakus
August 23, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Ok, brief... After college, I worked in Top 40 radio, left to pursue life in a band. It worked out, my band Stabbing Westward was signed to Columbia Records and we ended up releasing 4 albums (2 of which went gold) and I got to tour the world. But all good things must come to an end. When the band called it quits, I went back into radio with stops at WHRL/Albany, NY and XM Satellite Radio (DC). Then another left turn, I went to NYC to work with Q Prime Management doing A&R. In 2010, I came home to Chicago, spent a couple of years doing nights on The Loop (WLUP) when the opportunity to help build a new Alternative brand (101WKQX) came my way.
1. Tell us about the station's brand new studios.
Our new studios are simply state of the art and gorgeous! It was a long road to get here, though. We've had to move twice this year. The station had been in the Merchandise Mart for decades but we wanted to put all four Cumulus stations under one roof. So while these amazing studios were being built from the studs up, we were bunking with WLS FM/FM at their older studios on State St. All stations are now broadcasting from these incredible studios. Not only do we have pristine, digital studios with an amazing view of the lake, we also have a state of the art Soundstage where we can accommodate just about anything... full band plugged in, acoustic, comedy... you name it. Complete with video too. I can't wait to start creating content in there.
2. What is it liking working for Cumulus?
Cumulus has been great for me. Within a week of WKQX becoming part of the Cumulus family, they moved us from 87.7, a frequency which isn't even available in many cars, to our home at 101.1. The culture is very team oriented. We have an amazing wealth of knowledge and talent in the Rock/Alternative field here. It's great knowing that we can share ideas and bounce things off each other.
3. What impressed you most about Lollapalooza 2016?
As far as music goes, Nothing But Thieves blew me away! Conner has an amazing voice with an incredible range. I had seen them earlier this year at a Queued Up Artist Showcase and I knew they were good, but they really shined on the big stage. I won't be surprised to see them playing arenas down the road.
4. How much content did you grab from the event?
The other positive from Lolla was using Facebook Live. Normally, we would record interviews, edit them and get them on the website over the week that followed. It was very slow, not as timely as I would like and engagement was extremely low. This year, we used Facebook Live and did interviews in real time, they were archived instantly and our engagement was through the roof, reaching tens of thousands of listeners.
5. How would you describe yourself as a music director?
I think I have a good sense of what our audience wants to hear, at least I hope so. The Alternative format has been leaning pop over the past couple of years. Nothing wrong with that but I think it's important to keep the balance. One of THE great things about this format is that you can play many different sounds, but you have to keep in mind what the capacity of your audience is, and not stray too far. I give a strong look at the research each week but also use my gut.
6. Explain how you put together your weekly Queued Up New Music Show on Sunday nights.
My Sunday night specialty show is a labor of love. I probably spend about 5 hours planning a 2 hour show. I really want to know what my audience thinks about new music, so I really try to focus on songs that I think could actually be in rotation. I'll take notes during the week, making lists of songs I might want to play and then on Sunday morning, I sit down and put them in iTunes and come up with an order that flows and mixes up the sound of the songs. Without fail, I always feel I have to leave something out. There's just not enough time to play it all in 2 hours.
7. What are music meetings like at the station?
It's pretty straight forward. Troy Hanson and I sit down early in the week and look at the research we have (M Scores, callout) and judge the strength of our playlist. We've had good luck tracking the tune out with M Scores. Every week's score is a multiple week average, and we put them on a spreadsheet so we can track a songs trend over several weeks. That way, we're not making knee jerk reactions every week. Once we find our holes, we look and see what are the best records to fit in those slots.
8. What sort of things make your afternoon show unique?
Probably my unique perspective of the music business. I don't dwell on the things I've done in the past but I have a bag full of antidotes I can pull from. I have been on tour, I have been in the studio making records, I have made a music video, I can relate to the artists that stop by. I know that people come to our station to hear the music, I add what I can but ultimately, I want to stay out of the way of the tunes.
9. Describe the typical workday in the life of Walt Flakus, a.k.a. StabWalt?
Well, they're long. Haha. But I love being busy. I usually get to the station around 8 or 8:30, get caught up on emails, start working on music logs, meetings with the record community, our promo staff... and next thing you know, I need to prep to go on the air at 3p each day. After my show, it's usually off to a show somewhere. Long days and short nights but keeps me in tune with experiencing the thing our audience experiences. What an amazing job!
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _________?
The internet. I rely on it for everything. Maybe it's a little scary but I really don't want to go back to index cards for music rotation.
What are weekends like for you?
I really try to get some time away from the station on the weekends. My specialty show Queued Up eats up a decent chunk of my Sundays but usually if I'm not doing something for the station, I'm in my studio at home working on music. Christopher Hall, my partner in Stabbing Westward and I released a record as The Dreaming last year (Rise Again) and did a short tour. Next month, we will be doing our first Stabbing Westward show in 14 years as part of the Coldwaves Festival in Chicago for charity. The show sold out in 3 minutes so who knows where this goes. But it's keeping me busy.
What are music are currently listening to when you're not working?
Haha. I don't think a time exists when I'm not working. I actually listen to a lot of talk radio when I'm driving. Maybe it's because I don't have Bluetooth in my car, otherwise it would be easier to listen to new tunes without having to change CDs every 4 minutes.
How often do you break out your Stabbing Westward records at home?
Not that often, haha. I do feel a little self-conscience about it. But I'll tell you, I do think the albums hold up. Especially the first one, Ungod.