10 Questions with ... Bob Walker
January 5, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started as an air-talent at my hometown station WABK in Augusta, Maine. I was also on-air at WHEW and WCKT in Ft. Myers. I've had PD gigs in Tallahassee, Reno, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee and now Providence.
1) Bob, congrats on your recent win for CMA Large Market Station of the Year! What do you think it takes to be a successful country station these days?
Thank you. We are honored to bring the trophy home to New England. Being successful in any format requires being known for something. If you are a super-niche, that can be the music. Otherwise, I think it needs to be more. We are becoming known as a caring country music station with a sense of humor that does not take ourselves too seriously. We raise money locally, offer our time and platforms to local charity, and we laugh a lot: on the air, online, and in any outside marketing.
2) You started working at WCTK about four years ago. How have you seen the format evolve since then?
Two things stand out: (1) It seems like there is almost never a week where there is not a major going for adds. I don't know if we just have more majors, or they are going deeper on albums. (2) When we positioned WCTK as a landing place for people who don't like hip-hop, I never imagined we'd have actual hip-hop songs to ponder in the format. It's made the position more challenging, but also more definitive. Our core knows we have to make the choice, and so far, have rewarded us for sticking with the position.
3) Before starting at WCTK, you spent years programming a Hot AC station. What are some notable differences in the way things are done in that format versus Country music?
I may not be the best to answer this question as when I left country for pop in the early 90's, I took what worked for me in the country world and applied it to many of the pop stations I programmed. I tried to minimize the hype, make the station approachable and have an over-all sense of humor. Those attributes cut-through in perceptual studies - especially in Reno and Milwaukee. I remember a fellow PD telling me 'KTI's un-hipness actually made it sound hip in the Sarah McLachlan / Train time around Y2K.
4) When people think of Rhode Island, they don't necessarily think of Country music; however, the success of your station shows the Providence area is a great market for the format. Do you notice a trend in the kind of songs that attract your listeners?
Due to geography, Providence is a very under-radioed market for local signals. There is only one of everything locally (bleed-ins in every format, though). Country music is not the 'local currency,' so it's important to define parameters to harvest the heaviest users of radio within the genre and park them at the center. The difference between heavy users and casual users in PPM is stunning - P1 or not. Our heavies like a balance of the singer/songwriter songs mixed with what we call "diddy's:" those are those tunes you can't get out of your head (like Outta My Head by Craig Campbell). The market has a history of stations playing more to the center than you would see on a national level. That tradition is alive at WCTK.
5) Not only do you program WCTK, but you're on-air as well. How do you manage to juggle the tasks that come with both?
I do not do this well at all. My shift has been shortened to only 2 hours and that is voice-tracked too often. Our marketing tactics include creating original content for digital media and being on the street often. Both are time consuming endeavors and we are a stand-alone station. But I have such terrific, engaged local personalities throughout the day that making them do longer shifts seems like a bad idea. I grew up in New England so I 'speak the speak' and I know about happenings in music. I never seem at a loss for content.
6) Speaking of daily duties, what do you view as your biggest struggle on a day-to-day basis as a programmer?
Talking to everyone in-person, every day can be a struggle. I am disappointed when I review the day in my head and realize I never even spoke to this or that person. There is something reassuring about human contact in today's 140-character world. Our brand is about human contact, so I try my best to keep it going at the office.
7) Social media is one of the top forms of communication these days. What are your views on social media as a tool for artists and on-air talent?
Social media and digital platforms are a game-changer. The artists and talent who truly create original content to distribute over these channels are the true super-stars. Our challenge as brand managers and marketers are to make sure our talent understands the difference between creating content and aggregating content. The world has no more room for viral video links and pictures re-posted a thousand times. Talent that podcasts, blogs, chats, shoots their own video, etc. are ruling digital media.
8) Speaking of social media, WCTK has a really cool webisode series called "This is Cat Country". Tell us how this has engaged your listeners.
The webisodes started 3 years ago as 30-second video skits ala "This Is Sportscenter." We wanted to reinforce our sense of humor and how we do not take ourselves too seriously. Once we noticed the amount of YouTube views and shares, we experimented with scripting out 2-5 minute sketches. The views grew with each passing month. Now, we try to crank out at least one new episode each month and incorporate artists whenever we can. We've had Blake Shelton, Lady A, Montgomery Gentry, Joe Nichols, Jana Kramer and more each playing themselves in a scripted role. Justin Moore took it a step further in last year's Christmas episode playing our morning guy's guardian angel "Clarence" in an "It's A Wonderful Life Spoof."
9) Country music has seen a lot of new artists lately. Which ones are catching your attention the most and why?
I like what I'm hearing from The Henningsens, Joel Crouse and Dustin Lynch. Each seem to have a style that is their own, easy to recognize and easy to absorb. I really like Weston Burt. His style is fun, his songs are "diddy's" and the hooks are catchy. I also think Katie Armiger's time could be coming. She is so connected with her fans, and it's all organically grown without a lot of hype. Maggie Rose's "Cut To Impress" is the best album I've heard all year.
10) Looking forward, what are you most excited about for the Country music industry?
Country music is so well defined as a brand; I am excited about exploring the possibilities of that brand via digital media. Just like we turned short video bursts into an Internet sitcom series, who knows what else we can come-up with using this beloved brand. As long as we have songs that are relatable and don't take ourselves too seriously, the future is all-good.
1) If you could take a dream vacation where would you go and what would you do?
I love history. Any vacation that involves exploring history I would find invigorating. I'd love to scour Berlin, Moscow and study WWII up-close.
2) What's your favorite food and where is the best place in your area to find it?
Providence is known for amazing restaurants - many on its fabled "Federal Hill." I have never had a bad meal there and would put the Italian restaurants on par with those in NYC.