10 Questions with ... Mike Couchman
November 25, 2013
1. Give me a brief history/synopsis....where you were born & raised, schools, family, etc.
Born and raised in Michigan, attempted my own various pirate radio stations from elementary school through high school. In 10th grade, I got my first chance to go clean and legit on our local Hip Hop station (Lansing, Michigan's WQHH "Power 96.5."); some friends and I won a guest DJ contest. (We did so great, or terrible, that we got invited back!)
After high school, I got my first paid gig at a Jazz/Blues/AAA station. Then spent time at various Country outlets, including the most powerful FM stick in the nation: WBCT/Grand Rapids...a whopping 320,000 watts! I also spent time with their Clear Channel sister in Detroit, WKQI (a Top 40) while also holding down a full time Top 40 gig at WHZZ in Lansing. From there I got my first chance to program, at Christian CHR WLGH in Lansing (now AC). Spent three years there before joining the WCSG/WaYfm cluster in Grand Rapids.
I programmed WAYG/WAYK (Christian CHR) for five years, before joining the SOS team in Vegas in 2008. But thanks to my codependent relationship with Christian CHR, I ditched SOS to spend two years with WAY-FM in Denver (owned by WAY Media, but programmed locally at that time). It was fun and thrilling, but it wasn't home. God gave me another shot at Vegas, so I landed here (again) in May, 2012.
I'm married to a smart, compassionate, beautiful lady named Jennifer. We have three boys: Hezekiah (7), Ephraim (5), and Ezra (2).
2. What was it that made you "catch the bug" for radio? When did you realize that it was what you wanted to do for a living?
I was grounded A LOT growing up. Smart mouth, mediocre grades, runaway attempts, shoplifting, and that's just scratching the surface. I perhaps had the freedom to go out with friends or turn the TV on maybe three months in any given 12 month span. My only forms of recreation were reading, and radio. By the time I was in third or fourth grade, I was doing my own broadcasting, attempting to build my own transmitters, and constantly calling the local jocks to get on their shows. Most of them were great to me...they coached me and answered my questions. As a kid and a teen, it never occurred to me that I would do anything other than radio for a living.
3. What's the most successful on-air bit/break you've ever been part of?
Tough question! I can remember my failures much more intimately than my successes. I accidentally dropped the F-bomb on a Country station (more on that below...stay tuned); I once made a listener think I was racist by backselling "White Christmas" as "Caucasian Christmas." I could go on about my worst moments for many a quarter hour!
Conversely, a guy recently called SOS while I was on and said thanks to some thoughtful break of mine (that I likely copied off Twitter) and the song it tied into, we helped him stay in his car. He's an alcoholic and his life has been ruined by his disease. It's a battle he fights every waking minute.
At this particular moment, he was parked in front of the liquor store. Shaking. Rationalizing with God. And he heard something come through his speakers that settled things for him. He called me to tell me he wasn't getting out of his car. This was back in June. Just the other day, he let me know he's still sober. I won't take an ounce of credit for that.
My best moments on the air are the God-moments. My own attempts at being clever/compelling/whatever pale in comparison.
4. With the advent of "instant everything".....what do you do to show prep? How do you prepare?
I take notes everywhere I go. If something interests me, I jot it down in my phone. And/or I Tweet/Facebook it to gauge reaction and angles. LIFE is so much more interesting than "show prep." So I do my best to have a life (even though I'd rather just live at the radio station).
My life doesn't always provide the right material, so I live vicariously through interesting people/friends online. And I peruse various traditional sources each day: Ross Brittain Report, ShePrep, Relevant's "Slices" section, various Scoop bloggers, and Randy Lane's freebies.
5. What would you categorize as your greatest personal challenge in radio? What are you doing to overcome that?
I feel like I am the "Mitt Romney" of radio. Meaning: I don't know how much depth I portray. I'm all about being tight and interactive, and I wonder if that prevents me from connecting on a more meaningful level. I honestly don't know how to overcome that, aside from being aware of it and looking for opportunities and topics that can help me over that hump.
6. Who are 3 people that you look to as mentors/leaders? What is it about them that grabs & keeps your attention?
My boss and our PD, Scott Herrold. He's wise, but quiet about it. Whereas most of us in radio aren't as smart as we think we are, but our self-promoting nature spurs us to trumpet our limited IQ's anyhow.
Jeff Connell at WAY-FM. He's brilliant, masterfully strategic, and honest about his shortcomings.
Chris Lemke at WCSG/WaYfm in West Michigan. He has taught me that relationships are at the core of what we do, and I have learned how to balance mine with professionalism and love thanks to him.
7. What do you believe is the single greatest factor in building audience share/cume? Why do you believe it's that important?
Find out why your listener comes, deliver on it, and give them more reasons to come back. I saw a Tweet recently that begged radio to "delight me and surprise me, but don't pander!" I took it this way: deliver on their basic expectations with excellence, and (without losing sight of that), explore life wide-eyed with them.
8. Most successful station promotion ever.....details from start to finish?
Marketing budgets being what they are (nonexistent), I like contests that get your brand in front of lots of people. We did lots of these at WAYG/WAYK. The last one executed before I left was "Break the Ice." Grand prize was a central air system. The "key" to it was frozen in a gigantic block of ice. We did appointment listening and prizes to qualify. Lots of great/icy ear candy in the promos & sweepers, an excuse to use "Ice Ice Baby" clips on the air, heart touching stories about struggling families, and so on. Four lucky finalists got to chip away at the ice block (with dull tools of course!) in a highly visible public location. We got tons of viral buzz from doing it, local media coverage, etc.
9. How do you combat the iPod/satellite/online option listeners have today? What are the steps to compete?
Deliver on their expectations and desires excellently, consistently, and in fresh ways. Plus, figure out how to make those most likely to dig what you're doing aware of your existence (AKA "marketing").
10. Radio 101....in 101 words or less, how would you guide/instruct/advise a radio programmer/air talent who wants to get better at their craft?
Be a sponge and immerse yourself with those who are most successful at what you want to succeed at. Listen and be a fan from afar, and don't be afraid to pick brains. Give your life margin too...get out of "radio mode" regularly. Find things to be interested in not directly connected to what your first love is. Those things can often speak into your first love, giving you a unique perspective and boosting your creativity.
1. Most embarrassing moment on air....context and details please.
Well I guess I'll pay off on that F-bomb tease from an earlier question. I was doing live overnights at "Kix 94" in Lansing, MI. (Live overnights in Market 119...remember when that was normal?!?) Our new owners had just switched us over from CD's and carts to an automation system. I was doing a weather jingle donut deal and had just finished with the current temp into the closing jingle. I fired it, and the whole system froze. Dead air filled my ears. With my mic still hot, I let that juicy word fly without even thinking. Making things worse, I saw the board's meters jump at the sound of my voice. Which lead to ANOTHER choice word! I finally wised up and shut the mic off. A few seconds later, the automation kicked in like nothing ever happened. The request lines all lit up, and I was too scared to touch them the rest of the morning. As soon as the AM show got in and settled, I meekly slipped out. Never heard a word about it, thank God.
2. Favorite cereal, favorite cartoon character and favorite fast food choice?
Captain Crunch. Perry the Platypus. McDonald's, if I'm buying; Five Guys, if you're buying.
3. You've got one last live break on air....and then the radio will go silent. What do you say, and why?
"Hey everybody out there in radio land! Make sure to like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!" (You know I am kidding, right?)