10 Questions with ... Steve Warren
November 3, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
2013 marks Steve Warren's 50th year in broadcasting and he's literally done it all: Radio personality, programmer, producer, author, actor, entrepreneur and host of "The Country Oldies Show" since 1994. There's nothing Steve Warren hasn't accomplished successfully in the world of radio. You could add visionary to the mix of accomplishments, as Warren designed and implemented five Country channels for Sirius Satellite Radio and was the first voice ever broadcast on Sirius, in 2001. To list Warren's complete bio would literally take pages. See more for yourself here.
1. Steve, thanks for being our 10 Questions feature and congrats on 2013 marking your 50th year in radio. How old were you when you broke into the business and how did you get started?
My dad was actually a radio personality in Louisville and coincidentally my high school in New Albany, Indiana had the first student operated FM radio station in the United States. Every classroom in the school system had an FM radio in the windowsill. Growing up, we'd listen to radio programs produced by the high school radio staff that I eventually became a part of as a senior. My first paid job was after graduation when I got a chance to work for the summer at WKLO in Louisville promoting their "Summer Fun Festival".
2. You've been a successful air talent, programmer, consultant - you name it. Has there been one aspect of the business more satisfying than the others to you?
It's all about the listeners. I have always enjoyed the relationship with the audience and being on the air. I guess that's the performer in me. As a PD I always continued to do a daily air shift, hopefully leading by example. Dozens of times as a consultant, I did a few air shifts at my client's stations to put myself in the same environment as the air staff in order to make practical evaluations of their situation. I couldn't wait to get on the air every day. I had stuff to tell people.
3. Another part of your resume lists "Talent training & development." There are many in our business who say we're not developing future radio stars. Would you agree with that?
I totally agree. You can get some interesting voices, some knowledgeable people and teach them how to operate a studio and a few broadcasting basics, but the live interactivity with an audience is the best teacher. For economic reasons, so many stations now have outside-market announcers piped in, that the personality to audience relationship doesn't exist. Another great teacher is the "personal appearance" where the personalities interact with the audience in-person. Now the "street team" does all that and most listeners wouldn't recognize their favorite radio personalities if they fell over them.
4. Also, how do you think we can make being in radio attractive to younger people these days, many who don't really use it and/or have passion for it like previous generations?
First, we have to establish what radio is. Are we talking AM & FM or are we talking about a whole spectrum of audio entertainment? AM & FM was for many years the lone electronic conduit for music and entertainment. As technology burgeoned we got portable radios, tape players, CD players, then the Internet came along and then Satellite radio, and smart phones. I think the better question would be whether younger people are interested in working within the audio entertainment industry, whether or not there is a transmitter in the back room and a tower in the back yard. And to that I say yes.
5. Staying with air talent for a minute, what changes has PPM meant for personalities in the last seven years and what kind of personality will successfully survive this transition?
I never liked PPM. Still don't. I remember trouping to Arbitron every year for the Consultant's Fly In and year-after-year they'd show us the latest version of PPM and tell us how and when it is to be used. Face it. The PPM only "hears" it doesn't "listen." As radio professionals, we want people to "listen" to what we have to say and our advertisers want us to "listen" to their messages. I think it is a gross misrepresentation to the advertising community to suggest that if a meter "heard" a certain station playing and that the audience was in any way listening, comprehending, or reacting to the message. Because I think that it is a flawed technology, I wouldn't advise anyone to try to adapt to it. Let's wait and see what Nielsen comes up with.
6. You host "The Country Oldies Show" which is syndicated in 100 markets and eight countries. With Country music blowing up among younger listeners currently, how do you keep your take on familiar music fresh?
That's actually pretty easy. There so many country "oldies" to choose from. We've got 50-plus years of country records lying around here. I could never play all of them in a year, let alone on a three hour weekly show. I think every song we play is an "Oh Wow" song for someone, somewhere. Sure, some artists were more prolific than others and may come up in our rotation a bit more often, but you'll never hear the same songs from week to week or hour to hour as you would a new country station or current-based syndicated show. I just announce the songs and get out of the way.
7. And, the definition of an "oldie" keeps evolving over the many years you've hosted the show. How do you define a Country oldie?
That kind of depends on the ebb and flow of the audience. Our audience is probably 45-64+. Most country listeners came from country listening families, so mom and dad's music is just as familiar as the new music. I think the "oldies" are the songs and artists that remain familiar over few generations. As a general rule, I never play anything from less than 20 years ago. Just this year we added a few of the top songs from the class of 1993 and will probably add a few more during the rest of the year, particularly songs by artists we are already playing from the 70's and 80's like Reba, Dolly, Alabama, George Strait, George Jones, We've just recently added some Brooks & Dunn, Garth, Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Clint Black, etc. but only their early, signature hits. By the way, we never remove songs from the oldest categories to make room for newer songs. Our library just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
8. As one of the architects of Sirius Satellite radio, you must be pleased with its growth since launching it.
When I think back to the Sirius pre-launch days, I remember walking up and down Music Row giving demonstrations to each of the record labels who'd invited me to explain the new-fangled satellite radio thingy. I told them how much greater exposure their artists would get on a national level rather than in a market-by-market basis, how we'd have country listeners in every city where there were no existing country stations, and how we could expand the range of playlists and artists by having multiple country channels, each featuring a slightly different format, new Country, traditional Country, a mix, alternative, and Bluegrass. All people had to do was buy a new radio, drill a few holes in their car, pay a monthly fee and voila! I can almost still hear the eyeballs rolling back in their heads as well as my friends at AM-FM radio stations treating me like I was the Anti-Christ. Hey, guess what? Today 25 million subscribers and growing. Every little satellite antenna I see on every car in every parking lot, in every city, in every state makes me feel very, very good and very, very vindicated.
9. You've worked many other formats but it seems Country is your favorite. Why?
As someone who started in radio very young, I got to work many formats with persons older than myself as mentors. I always liked a wide variety of music. Some of my first stations were Adult Standards or Country. Those stations had large record libraries and big playlists. As an on-air personality, the more artists and titles there were in the library, the more I had to talk about, and the more information I had to know or learn. I never really got into the repetition of Top 40. I couldn't think of anything worse than going on the air every day to play the same songs I had played yesterday. Until Country adopted a more Top 40 approach in the 60's and 70's and thereafter, it was still a wide variety format. My on air presentation has been about the same over the years whether I played Steve & Eydie or Conway and Loretta. Finally, I think some benchmark things happened to me while working at Country stations from launching WHN, to being the PD who resurrected 50kW WPTR in Albany from its Top 40 ashes, to winning as PD with 50kW KKYX in San Antonio, working on the air at WKHK and WYNY in New York, starting Sirius, and the past 20 years as host of "The Country Oldies Show". Good times all. Positive reinforcement.
10. Having seen many cycles in this format, both up and down and thinking about our current huge musical advantage, what must Country radio do to maintain its strength?
I think the format needs to be wary of too many new artists. The audience is potentially going to achieve overkill on unfamiliarity. I also think the record labels are in too big of a rush to get songs up the chart and an even bigger rush to get them off the chart after peaking. Many of the "oldies" that have been revered for the past 5 decades or more were on the charts, the radio, the juke boxes for 13-26 weeks or more each, allowing the audience to get familiar with them and build some anticipation for the next release. And like I said earlier, getting back into some physical one-on one contact with the audience goes a long way because it's still all about the listeners.