10 Questions with ... RJ Curtis
May 26, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I spent 30 years in radio, 27 of which were exclusive to Country. Three different stints at KZLA/Los Angeles for a total of 17 years included mornings, APD/MD, PD and OM. In between, I programmed KNIX/Phoenix for six years (1987-1993), also handling afternoons and mornings. I served as OM for KCYY & KKYX-AM/San Antonio from 1996-2000. Following KZLA's format flip in 2006, I was named Country Editor for R&R, before joining Arista Nashville's promotion team (2009-2011). I had been VP/Country for Country Aircheck since January 2011.
1) Hey RJ, welcome to ALL ACCESS! What intrigued you about taking this post?
I'm excited about all the moving parts to this job, which require us to touch every aspect of this format. We're close to radio, covering its news on a daily basis but also learning what music is working for listeners in their respective markets. Talking about music with PDs and MDs was always the most enjoyable part of my job at Arista. I really look forward to working with the labels too, so we can help them achieve success for their songs and artists. I have so much respect for the passion and effort promotion and marketing teams are willing to exert in order to break artists or advance their careers. Promo people are extraordinary personality types, who time and time again we've all seen turn themselves inside out for the benefit of their roster. Additionally, this job requires multitasking and chainsaw juggling. Those are things I have missed since leaving radio.
2) You have loads of experience at other publications-what do you think separates ALL ACCESS from the others?
Well, I think it's all of the above plus the fact that All Access as a company has such a large footprint in the radio and label industries. The awesome thing about this role is seeing how the business ebbs and flows from a 30,000 foot perspective. It's one thing to witness a single format in that context, but experiencing the entire broadcast industry as a panoramic view is not only educational but thrilling.
3) As the industry changes, do you think the role of 'trade publications' also evolve, and if so, how?
We have to be in lock-step with every part of the business so we can maintain our understanding of it. I still credit Lon Helton with teaching me the forest ranger approach to this role, which is to always fully comprehend the environment in order for us explain and interpret it to everyone else. There's a real responsibility from a credibility standpoint that goes with that. Also, we have to continue learning how our constituents want information, perspective and the ramifications of all this evolution delivered to them. I learned quickly while in promotion and at trade publications that PDs, GMs and other busy people in this industry are not on our timetable for anything. The on-demand mindset is not limited to entertainment and amusement, but information-gathering and education as well.
4) How did you get into radio in the first place?
It was a career goal that started when I was about 11 and I never let go of it. Out of high school, I got involved in college radio right away and started visiting (Ok, stalking is more like it) radio stations in LA hoping to just get in the door. I started by answering phones at KBIG/Los Angeles, which was a Beautiful Music station at the time. From there I networked as much as possible and landed weekends, then fulltime on-air gig at an AM/FM combo in San Bernardino. After about two years I landed weekends at KZLA one week after its flip to Country.
5) Who have some of your mentors been throughout your career?
There have been several but it all starts with Bill Mayne, who is now CRS Executive Director. I was doing mornings at KZLA when he was named PD. Bill's philosophy with on-air talent was, "You either got it, or you ain't." He quickly determined I was one of the "aint's" as a radio star but that I might have potential in other areas. He gave me music and programming responsibilities and personally supervised a critical period of my career development. He also instilled certain ethical beliefs about doing business. He remains an important friend and advisor to this day. And importantly, he sort of handed me off to Larry Daniels and Michael Owens at KNIX. Larry referred to me as his "project" during my time in Phoenix and was relentless in transforming me into an actual programmer. I will always thank he and Michael for sticking with me because there was a pivotal moment at KNIX when they could have simply cut bait, as it were. They hung in there and it made my career.
6) You're very involved with Country Radio Seminar-how does CRS stay as successful as it has been?
I think as an organization we've challenged ourselves to be competitive and to stay relevant as the industry changed. We have sought out diverse board members who demand that in their day jobs. When PPM was just becoming current in the top 50 markets, CRS made sure it provided information and education for radio to understand the game-changing nature of this measurement. I think as you look at the agenda for the past few years, CRS has reflected the emphasis on digital initiatives that are moving so quickly and have become part of a PDs day-to-day responsibilities. A benchmark of CRS is providing a major research project for the industry each year and we've remained committed to that. Joel Raab and his research committee have done an amazing job of coming up with projects that challenge the research vendors while giving attendees some groundbreaking and actionable information. Finally, where else can you be exposed to so much exciting new music for our format than at CRS?
7) Will Nashville's brand new convention center play a role in the future of CRS?
You can never say never, but we don't see that in the foreseeable future. We have agreements with the current facility, which will continue to be used as a conference center. We like the idea of taking complete ownership of the space so that wherever you go, it is branded as CRS. The new Convention Center is so big it can accommodate several events at one time, similar to when CRS was held at Opryland. We like being an exclusive event and think that's a better experience for attendees.
8) You moved to Nashville from Los Angeles-that's quite a change-do you love living in Music City now?
I do. Yes, LA is home and I miss many things there, specifically the ocean. But this is a very hip and cool city which is easy to move around in and great for a family. Also, I'm not saying the two are connected, but did you notice that Nashville became the "it" city where everybody wants to move, shortly after I came here? Coincidence?
9) What kinds of activities do you partake in with your family, outside of the radio/music world?
I would call us avid movie-goers who are willing to stay up and see a midnight showing of the latest, hottest movie when necessary. We like to eat out a lot and try places that serve exotic, micro-brewed high-gravity beer. I'm not sure what that says about us, but there you go.
10) It seems to be an exciting time for music-what new acts are you excited about?
I know this will sound generic or "Switzerland," but honestly? Just about all of them. Being an old guy now, I was around for the Urban Cowboy and the class of '89 era so I think I have a historical perspective on this. I would say the current crop of new artists is deeper and wider than the early 90's explosion. I know The Band Perry isn't a baby act anymore but they are on the verge of exploding into the mainstream. I just watched them on the American Idol finale last night and said out loud, "this band is more than arena-ready." Among the many new favorites for me are Kip Moore, Hunter Hayes, Charlie Worsham, Kacey Musgraves, Jon Pardi, Eric Paslay, The Henningsens, Dustin Lynch, Thompson Square and so many others I'm forgetting. And I think we're witnessing a passing of the baton for top-tier artists too, with Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Blake Shelton, Zac Brown and others becoming the face of the format. All of this is an indication of why it's a great time for Country.
1) As an avid cyclist, how does Nashville compare to LA as a cycling community?
It's very strong and supportive. I've ridden with clubs in several states now and cyclists as a breed are very similar. They're reliable and the kind of people who have your back in the most vulnerable moments, like getting a flat, cramping or being spotted by a business associate while wearing spandex. This is a sport of extreme suffering and when people go through that together it's a bonding experience. What we need work on in Nashville is the motorists, who compared to other cities, must acquire a greater awareness and tolerance level of us.
2) What don't you get about Bob Dylan?
I know his music speaks to many people but it just doesn't speak to me lyrically or sonically. I can't get past the voice and the singing, if you want to call it that. Give me Merle Haggard any day.
3) What's your 'go-to' junk food when you need a guilty pleasure?
Easy answer: Blue Bell coffee ice cream and trust me when I tell you, it's something I "go-to" quite often!