10 Questions with ... Phathead
September 1, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Hofstra University Radio 88.7 WRHU1995-1997(Program Director/Morning Host)
- Howard Stern Show 1997 Intern K-Rock
- WXXP(now WPTY)Party 105.3/101.5FM-Dance/Rhythmic on Long Island 1998-2002(from vandriver to Program Director over the course of 4 years. Afternoon and midday host.
- WBLI 106.1 Long Island-Top 40 2002-2004(Swing/Weekends. On 5-7 days per week)
- WMJC 94.3 HOT AC Long Island2004-2010 (Morning Host. Promotions and Production)
- WJVC 96.1 Country Long Island (Mornings/Program Director)
- VP/Country Programming, JVC Media
1) All Access last did 10 Questions with you shortly after the station's launch two years ago. Tell us how you think the station has evolved.
By leaps and bounds! At first it was like learning to walk, ride a bike, or even getting ready to jump out of a plane. Everyone in our building, from the President to the van drivers, was learning a new format. Sure this company had launched stations before (I was even part of one back in 1998), but we were learning quickly that country radio was a different animal. It started with getting to know the listeners and their passion. We then became aware of what worked and didn't work, from music to promotions to advertisers. Our station also came along at a very interesting time in country radio. I feel that we were one a handful of stations around the country that understood the change going on musically and how important it was to embrace the youth movement. Just to put this all in perspective, the month we signed on, Luke Bryan was playing a song nobody knew in concert called "Country Girl" and blowing the roof off arenas, and Scotty [McCreery] and Lauren [Alaina] were getting ready to finish one and two on American Idol. Talk about a changing of the guard for new artists and the TV pop culture aspect of country about to take off! We walked hand in hand and step for step with the youth movement and haven't looked back!
2) In a time when Country radio is playing more new music, WJVC is particularly aggressive. How much current stuff can Country listeners handle?
Country fans can handle it all, and they want it all. Holding back new music from a country fan in 2013 makes no sense, especially with technology and their ability to get their hands on it anyway. I hear other stations and companies talk about songs not testing, or not having room on the playlist. Those are all bogus excuses. Every day I hear new music from an unknown artist that, if released by a superstar would be #1 in 12 weeks. A few current examples are Dylan Scott "Makin' This Boy Go Crazy" (Chris Young or Dustin Lynch would have huge hits with this one), Maggie Rose "Better"(Miranda or Carrie would've been #1 already). There are plenty of songs out there that either take way too long for programmers to "hear," "have room for" or just have the guts to play!
3) This format is thriving now, simultaneous with a strong Top 40 music cycle. With your Top 40 history, do you see more of an overlap in the core audience for both formats than ever before?
Absolutely. People just want to hear fun, new music. Genre names and boundaries don't exist anymore. We've had many times in recent history where country opened the eyes of a pop audience. It started in my mind with Garth and Central Park. Shania and Faith then had their moment. Carrie did it again years later. Then came bands like Rascal Flatts and Lady A with their big hits. Taylor Swift completely blew up the boundaries. Bringing us to today where Blake and Keith as judges, and all of these show winners or runner ups being country are bringing in a whole new audience. Guys like Luke Bryan with that smile and personality are bringing in all ages and types of people. However, there is one more moment that to me will be looked back upon as the defining moment of this new generation turning to country music. Florida Georgia Line and "Cruise" have completely changed the game. What they have done in one year is unlike anything we've seen or may see again. If you don't get it or see it, then it's time to find a new job. I like to compare Brian and Tyler and "Cruise" to what Jon and Richie did with "Livin' On A Prayer" back in the 80's. Both groups said the same thing to soccer moms and Madison Avenue, "We don't bite, and you are gonna absolutely love this!"
4) Are there any market-specific musical traits or tastes for WJVC listeners compared to other markets?
I would say there are no boundaries. I know that sounds like a broad answer, but it's the truth. We played the hard rockin' "Kick It In The Sticks" 50 times per week and people wanted to hear it more. The thing we keep in mind on Long Island is that before we signed on there hadn't been a country station here in a decade. The average Long Islander grew up on pop and rock music. That is one of the reasons why we went so strong right out of the gate with the young, hip sound of country these days. If you are going to start a country format in an area that has been without it for so long, you better keep it young and fresh.
5) Your company also owns a concert venue, which puts you in the unique position of exposing Country fans to artists and music on two levels, radio then live. Those two make for really great artist development potential, don't they?
My company does own a 7,000 seat outdoor venue called the Pennysaver Amphitheater about 10 minutes from our building. Since we signed on in 2011 we have put on some major shows that I book myself from headliner all the way down to the backstage catering and everything in between involving Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, Ronnie Dunn, Kip Moore, Lee Brice, Hunter Hayes, and our next one coming up this September starring Brantley Gilbert, Thompson Square, and Florida Georgia Line. The minimum amount of acts we will put on a show is four and most end up having somewhere between 8-10 acts, all day affairs. When people ask I usually tell them I'm 50% Program Director and 50% Concert Promoter. It makes for some very exciting days at work. Nothing gets my heart pounding more than building a killer show, getting it on sale, and selling it out. Most of our shows are built 6-12 months in advance. That puts me in the unique position of having to forecast who will be the next star or take that next step in their career almost a year out. Before I put an offer out to a headliner I think about their album cycle and how their songs are working. I think ahead to what the PR and TV future holds for them around the time that we would announce the show. A great example is when we put Eric Church at our amphitheater in 2011. We announced the show and put it on sale just as "Chief" hit stores. That was huge for us. This past summer we announced and put on sale our Hunter Hayes show the weekend of the ACM Awards when he unveiled "I Want Crazy". He went on to sell 7,000 tickets before show day. My biggest achievement to date was booking FGL when Cruise was hitting the top of the charts. We locked them in 7 months in advance for a show with Brantley and Thompson Square. By the time we put the show on sale FGL had a second number one with "Get Your Shine On" and had already released "Round Here" to radio. We sold that show out in 24 hours. You can't just randomly book artists and shows without thinking about the future. That's just the headliner. Then you start thinking about what type of artists and sound would make for a good bill all around, and who will be worthwhile having a year down the road. That's when you start acting like a baseball scout in the minor leagues looking for the next big thing. The one thing I keep in mind when it comes to those acts is that the listeners don't watch the charts. They don't know who of those B and C level acts is really working across the country. They just know two things, the big acts they see on national TV, and the music that they hear on your station. If we believe that a particular act is a homerun and support their music that way, then the listener will believe it as well and want to see them in concert. Some of the lesser known acts around the country that I would consider superstars on Long Island would include The Farm, Maggie Rose, Joel Crouse, and Sarah Darling to name a few. We could put 1,000 people in a venue tomorrow for any of them. This is part of what we do up here. We also put on anywhere from 15-20 other shows at clubs and theaters on Long Island throughout the year that we book exclusively. I'm on the phone with as many booking agents as I am record reps every day of the week. To give you an idea of how far out we book, I already have 4 pending offers in for headliners for summer of 2014.
6) How are you juggling your concert events with other, major tours that come into the area?
That is probably the most interesting part of booking our shows. I'm probably one of the few PD's that knows what all the major tours will look like in 2014. I of course keep that information confidential, but the agencies have no choice but to discuss it with me as I'm targeting artists that will be on those tours. Words and phrases like routing, radius, back end deals, flat fee, and backline are part of my everyday vocabulary. I also have a great relationship with Live Nation and AEG. Sometimes I'll even give them a heads up as to when our big shows are in the summer so they can think about routing their show to another nearby venue not in our radius. It's a lot of work, planning, and crossing your fingers hoping we can all stay out of each other's way. Part of the issue is our 7,000 seat venue is mostly targeting the middle support act on major tours. A perfect example is the Luke/Thompson Square/FGL tour that hit the Nassau Coliseum in February. Due to the fact that the show was in the winter that meant I was able to book Thompson Square and FGL for September. Another big get for me is an act that was a big middle act last year, but is now spending the following year headlining their own tour. As long as the act hasn't blown up to an arena size act, I have the perfect venue at 7,000 seats. Another possibility is a support act that is playing on a major summer tour and that tour is coming close to our area, but not into our radius. Since it's out of our radius we can have that act in the night before or night after if they aren't booked. To top it all off, being that we own the venue, we can book a show any night of the week. A phrase you'll hear a lot from me to booking agents would be "whatever night works for the artist we will take it". The fact that we will book mid- week shows without even blinking an eye helps us quite a bit.
7) Your company recently purchased WTRS/Ocala, FL and WYGC/Gainesville, then re-branded as My Country. So you're basically programming a network now, right?
Yes, in a way. I handle all of the music changes for both. Our playlists are exactly the same. However, the crew in Florida has plenty of freedom to create great promotions and ideas to run with. It all starts with Dave Tyler our PD and filters down to the rest of the staff. They all have plenty of passion and energy for what they do. The one thing we don't want to do is squash the creativity of a station or staff. Our staff in Florida knows the market and the listeners better than anyone up here on Long Island. Sure there are some things we do across the board for the whole company, but every market has a specific audience, and nobody knows them better than the staff that works in that market.
8) And you added Bubba the Love Sponge's syndicated morning show on both Florida properties. That's a bold, completely out-of-the-box move. Can he connect with Country fans?
Not only do we believe he can connect with the country fan, but we are sure that country is something he wants to completely immerse himself in. For our company it was a no brainer. The first thing we did was re-brand the station to make it young and hip like Long Island. Then when we found out Bubba was interested it seemed like the perfect match. Here is a guy that lives in that market, owns businesses in that market, and is very well known in that market. Advertisers are already lining up. The market of Gainesville/Ocala has been run by one very old and stale country station for a very long time. It's time to make some noise and give them something to think about. At JVC Broadcasting we consider ourselves a marketing/promotion/radio company. We don't just own and run radio stations, we create! That includes events, concerts, promotions, and making radio fun again. Bold move...yes! That is what we do!
9) We should point out that in addition to handling 'JVC, The Florida stations and booking concerts, you still do mornings on WJVC. What's the secret to handling so many tasks?
Don't forget the 3 kids, 3 dogs, and wife who is active duty military police in the U.S. Air Force. To be honest, mornings is the easiest part. I love getting up in the morning, getting my coffee, being the first one people hear on their drive to work, and breaking all the big stories first. It's the rest of the day where you really have to manage your time carefully. One of the things that makes it easy is the way our company is run. We are a close knit, open door company where the President and Vice President work 10 feet from me. It's also a place where we don't punch time cards. Don't get me wrong, we all have 5 jobs and work all day, but as long as the jobs are getting done nobody is standing over your shoulder. A good working environment helps everything.
10) We mentioned your aggressive music stance earlier. Look into your crystal ball and predict the next two or three superstars in Country.
Hang on a second! You can't ask me a question like that without expecting a drawn out, in depth answer. I'm a music guy! I have to break this up into 3 groups. First, the middle act on major tours that will blow up to be the next arena act, then the younger openers and acts that are just having their first big hits, and finally the mostly unknowns that look good. As far as those mid-level big tour acts there are two guys that come to mind immediately. Lee Brice and Kip Moore. Lee is the most dedicated, passionate artist I've met in all of country music. He looks to be on pace to have four straight number ones from his album "Hard To Love", and another huge album on the way next. I've heard some of those songs for the next album. WOW! Just WOW! Kip Moore in my mind is one monster song away from the next level. He has that Luke Bryan swagger and live show to compliment it. I'm excited to see what his next single is. I'm not including Hunter Hayes in this because I believe it's already evident that he is well on his way to selling out arenas full of screaming girls! As far as the newer acts with a big hit or two I think Thomas Rhett leads that group. He certainly has the genes and pedigree. His songwriting is insane, and he is a monster in the making. That man is a stud! Dustin Lynch is another with a great live show. We've had him out here a lot and the fans can't get enough of him. Amazing guy! Eli Young Band is surely making their way. The passion for them is huge! Randy Houser is also a star. Maybe the best voice in the business. Then you have the real new or unknown acts that I would like to invest in on the ground floor. They include Tyler Farr, The Farm, Maggie Rose, Joel Crouse, American Young, and The Brothers Osborne. Those last two are on my radar to blow up huge! Let me also say Cole Swindell is in the top 40 with his debut single and has the back story that screams "Superstar in the making!" For the record, I left alot of incredible artists out and it hurts me to do so. I pride myself most on my close relationship with all country artists. For a company like ours my biggest role is to become tight with them and make them all superstars out here. That's how our business model works best!
1) OK, we have to ask: How does a guy with a radio name like Phathead end up in Country?
Long story, but it goes back to the dance station I helped launch with this very company back in 1998. Someone in passing said, you have a phat head (of course very old slang for cool!), and it stuck. The girls thought it was funny and the rest is history. I've been in radio for 18 years at four different formats all on Long Island. Since I never left the market, I never thought about changing my name.
2) Put together your ultimate, dream concert lineup in the venue you book.
Is price a factor? If not then Luke Bryan with anyone is fine by me. First I have to tell you that I had been trying to book Brantley Gilbert to headline for almost two years and finally got it done. Then to get our great friends Thompson Square on the bill, and the hottest group in the nation Florida Georgia Line to sign on, this coming September 7th is as close as you can get. Something I have thought about and would like to make happen in 2014 is creating the first ever "Redneck Rat Pack" show. If you don't know, that is the nickname of Lee Brice and his crew. Someone even made a twitter handle about them. The show would feature Lee Brice headlining with Kip Moore, Randy Houser, Jerrod Niemann, Thomas Rhett, and Tyler Farr. We would have to order more beer for sure!