10 Questions with ... John Thomas
May 4, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
John Thomas joined Boomtown in February of 2013 following a long and successful career in radio that included Lincoln Financial Country KYGO/Denver. Before moving to the Mile High City, Thomas served as Dir./Operations for Entercom/Rochester, NY, which includes Country WBEE. Recently Thomas added cancer survivor to his resume, after undergoing October surgery for a soft tissue sarcoma in his right leg.
1. John thanks for taking the time! Let's start with what's really important: You were diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma in your leg back in October. We recently saw a Facebook post saying that three months after surgery, you're cancer free. That is terrific news! Can you share more details of how you're doing and what the last few months have been like?
The last few months have been challenging at times but in the end I'm blessed, thankful and a bit relieved. February 6th I had surgery to have a large soft tissue sarcoma removed from my right leg, just a month prior to that I was told to be prepared to lose my leg if need be and on 2-14-2014 I was told that I'm Cancer FREE! Best Valentine's Day ever!
2. Since leaving radio, you've served as VP/Marketing & Entertainment for Boomtown, which owns and operates 15 "Toby Keith I Love This Bar and Grill" venues. Tell us more about your day-to-day responsibilities.
I oversee the National and local marketing for all of our locations which includes creating the marketing and advertising campaigns and working directly with radio, print and media to ensure our local stores and supported on this level.
I also book all of our markets in regard to National acts and then once booked work with a team to make sure we sell as many tickets as possible to each show.
One of the other parts where I spend time is working with our beer, wine and spirit providers. These national and local branding partnerships are key to us and we ensure that these partnerships are mutually beneficial.
3. I would imagine being that close to artists and hard ticket sales give you a great front row seat on the "boots on the ground" part of Country music. So, what are you seeing out there? And, do you think trends in the clubs come before, or after what radio sees?
I think in you have a knowledge of both and are insightful you can see it on the ground first. When you sit in my chair you see the power of radio coupled with a real #1 record driving sales. There are some records that are manipulated into a #1 slot and there are real #1's it's those that move people to buy a ticket, the other are disposable! I think trends definitely happen in the clubs first - since I've been with Boomtown Entertainment I've seen several artists sell respectable numbers of tickets without airplay and then they get record deals.
4. If you had to pick one or two artists who you think will blow up in the next 18 months, who would they be?
Dustin Lynch WILL go to the next level without a doubt. From the first time he sat in my office at KYGO and asked me to play Cowboys and Angels till now I've studied him, the strategic design of his career and have gotten to know him as a person. He's poised, disciplined, gets it and the music is GREAT and his live show has gone to a different level. Last week he played in our Phoenix location to a packed room and after the show signed and took pictures with every person in the place! It's his drive and desire to be the best he can be that will propel him!
I'm a Frankie Ballard FAN! In part cause he's a GREAT guy, puts on a great live show and Helluva Life had a personal meaning to me during my battle. His music is GREAT, he's disciplined and people react to him! I think Frankie is due this year!
5. You recently shared with me that being out of radio for 15 months has given you the chance to listen as a listener, instead of a programmer. So, what are this (your) listeners observations about radio right now, from someone who travels around the country a bit?
I'm still a student of radio and a fan of great AM Shows and Programmers. We have partnerships in most of our markets and so I get to know these stations and the competitors in these markets intimately. I talk to radio guys all the time and there is definitely a concern that radio is going through struggles but as an outsider looking in I believe radio is in a great position for future growth. I think Country radio has to totally understand that there aren't format lines any longer. You don't just get to keep a listener into the next quarter hour because you are a "Country station." I remember while in Denver I heard Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood and Hunter Hayes on Alice 105.9. It made me realize that listeners who like Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton LOVE Maroon 5, Rhianna and Pharrell Williams. This doesn't mean that you can play these artists but you have to look at every element on your station and know if it's for the core or the cume and balance the two. I hear stations that balance this well and they are still at the top of their core demos and then there are stations that sound like an 18-24 station one quarter hour and a 35+ the next.
6. The format has seen a steady, substantial growth 18-34 in the past five or six years and Country has accommodated their taste and style. Has it - or will it - come at the cost of the traditional engine for the format: 35-44 females?
If you don't balance your music and presentation it has and will continue to hurt the 35-44 females. As I mentioned before there aren't any format lines and 35-44 females will find product that is appealing to them in or out of the format. Music style is cyclical and we are going through an infusion of music that targets the 18-34's. I think you have to play the BIGGEST records to play to the 18-34's but still maintain a base that is core to the 35-44's.
7. The format has also seen an increase in pop and Top 40 PDs in the last five years or so. Faster rotations; Top 40 mechanics and younger personalities. Has this been good for the format?
Great to have the PD's in the format and you can tell when they understand that there are a ton of similarities but many differences. I gotta be honest and say I don't love it when I'm hearing a Country station and the jocks are over the top from a top forty presentation. Country music tells a story through a song and I believe that the audience looks for someone that is tangible delivering it to them!
I listen to [WSIX] The Big 98 on iHeart and I feel like I know Bobby Bones, Amy, Lunchbox and that crew but what really enforces the point above is that I also feel like I know Amy Paige and she plays 12 songs an hour!
8. If you were still in radio we'd ask this and maybe your current view gives you a unique take: Why is it so hard for females to break through, when the format has so many talented ladies making music?
Because there aren't enough female PD's and MD's running or intricately involved the stations. I remember a few years ago on the Sony boat at CRS standing in the back with a major market male PD and Andie Summers from XTU. Miranda sang "The House That Built Me" and the major market PD looked at me after she was through and said, 'I don't get it' - I pointed at Andie and said but she does - tears were streaming down her face!
9. A couple years ago while at KYGO, you started seeing what became known as the trend toward "Bro-Country," when baseball caps replaced cowboy hats at live events. Are you surprised at how much this sound has been driving the format and what is it's life span, in your opinion?
Not surprised at all! I remember the day I was in Foxborough standing next to Mike Brophey and JoJamie [Hahr] watching Brantley Gilbert and they were early into the single, but he had 1500 singing every word of every song! I think it's gonna be here for the long haul but I also believe that there are true #1's and there are manufactured ones and PD's have to know the difference and not take a chance on something that's disposable!
10. Before joining Boomtown, you'd spent many years in radio. Is there any part of it that you sorely miss and have you ruled out any potential return?
I had the privilege of leading many teams and AM Shows. I always loved walking into a new cluster or station on day one and knowing that we were going to make a difference! There is something about helping someone get beyond what they think their potential is-that's what drives me even more now since dealing with cancer!
I'd NEVER say NEVER and the last year has truly developed me into a different person both from a personal and business side. I think I'll be more effective because of this no matter what path I'm on!
1. Years ago I was in the Las Vegas "I Love This Bar" location and saw a fried Bologna sandwich on the menu. Is it still available and have you tried it?
Yes it's still on the menu and one of our BIGGEST sellers! I haven't had it but it's Toby's favorite and I've been talking to him as he's devoured a few!
2. You have been a real trailhead for a few years ... assess the hiking in Denver vs. Phoenix, where you now live.
Not even close! Denver has the BEST hiking I've ever seen or experienced. Phoenix is a great place to move to if you're leaving Denver as the weather is AMAZING but in regards to hiking it's DENVER by a landslide! My doctors are saying that I won't walk till next year but I'm sure I'll be hiking Denver, Phoenix and the Machu Picchu in 2015!