10 Questions with ... Mike Hammond
August 24, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Mike Hammond is a native of Hawkins County, Tennessee. He graduated from the University of Tennessee and has been in radio broadcasting his entire life. Mike and his wife Vivica have four children, all of whom are married, and six beautiful grandchildren. Having been in broadcasting for well over 40 years, Mike has decided to step away from the microphone at the end of this month. He has been elected to the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk position, which is a full time role, after having served over ten years as a Knox County Commissioner. Not only is Mike a highly decorated and awarded Programmer, but he has many friends in the Country Music Industry. On a personal note, I would like to thank Mike for being a role model, mentor, and friend to myself and many others in the business. It is safe to say he will be missed by many, but we are thankful he took the time to chat with All Access before hanging up his headphones.
1. Hi, Mike! Thank you for taking time out to speak with All Access today. You are a legend in Country Radio programming. You were named Associated Press Broadcaster of the Year in 1980, won the Country Music Association Programmer of the Year in 1987, earned the Edward R. Murrow Award in 1996, and were inducted in to the Country Radio Hall of Fame in 2010. Your awards and accolades could fill an office, Mike! But can you tell me what moment in your career you are most proud of when you look back?
I'm a bit intimidated when you say 'legend.' To some that could mean old, useless, has been. I feel I am still sexy and manly and ready for my next adventure. However, most women would not agree. Ha Ha! While I have many, many memories if I had to pick one I would say there are two. First, when Kenny Chesney filled Neyland Stadium for his very first stadium show and he asked me to introduce him on stage. What a rush! The second would have to be Taylor Swift inducting me into the Hall of Fame. An incredible night.
2. You're a native of East Tennessee and have had the pleasure of working in the area that you call home. We know you are leaving programming to serve full-time as the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk, and we know you have been involved in local politics for years. But what led you to the decision to leave programming and move in to the world of politics full time?
I love this community and this city. Radio has been not only my job but my passion since I was 15. In radio and politics you get to give back. While I am not a lawyer, I have learned from the best in the business regarding business and management. People like James Dick and Larry Wilson. I feel I am well prepared to take over the office which has 80 employees and revenues of over 5 million annually. Radio and music will always be in my blood. But at age 61, this is a great opportunity to straighten out an office that has numerous problems and still keep my finger in the radio pie. I tell people that being the criminal court clerk means I have to cut back on my drinking and womanizing. They say, 'Heck, you are a politician that means you have to up your game.' Ha Ha!
3. It feels like everyone in the industry knows you, Mike! When we have mentioned your name to other programmers, label executives, or artists, everyone agrees you're a great programmer and - just as importantly - a great guy. Can you share with us what the key is to making great friends in this industry?
There has been no greater enjoyment in my career than seeing artists come to the station when they are nobody and become huge stars. There have been many from Randy Owen coming in his yellow Camaro pitching his new song from Alabama to seeing a young Kenny Chesney talk about his dreams of becoming a star and doing it. Brad Paisley played to ten people in our parking lot on his first radio tour and the joy of putting Taylor on the air at age 15 when she did not even have music out and see her now as an international superstar. I tell people, I don't play music; I help change lives. I truly care about the artist and the music and want them to succeed. If they succeed, my radio station succeeds, and my friends on Music Row buy new houses and cars.
4. Speaking of being considered a great guy, we know you have a lot of ties to charitable causes. Your "Mike Hammond Concert For Charity" is coming up at the end of August. What inspired you to start this concert, and do you plan to continue it once you leave radio?
I always wanted to do this. Journal Broadcasting allowed me to do it. Since we started it, we have donated thousands of dollars to local charities. This year Randy Houser and J.T. Hodges will perform with the money going to the Pat Summitt foundation. And yes, I plan to continue it. My hope is that it will continue to grow. We have many needs in our community.
5. We know you're a legendary, hard-working, charitable guy. But anyone who knows you also knows what a fun-loving guy you are! What part of your career do you consider to be the most fun you ever had in radio?
That's easy. Going to concerts and hanging backstage, or going to the Cotton Eyed Joe and hanging with the artists and the record reps. There is something special about moonshine and Country music. People have asked if I plan to write a book, and I tell them yes... but it cannot be published until I am dead!
6. There are a lot of sides to you, Mike. You've led a very public life, for the most part, between your 40+ years in radio and your time in politics. What is one of the sides of Mike Hammond that not everyone knows?
I love to play with my grandchildren. I can also be found in the audience at Shakespeare plays; my favorite is 'Macbeth.' I also enjoy chilling with a cigar and watching an incredible sunset in the Smoky Mountains.
7. You spent almost 40 years at WIVK before you began your time at cross-town rival WCYQ. How was that transition for you, both personally and professionally?
It was very hard to be called into the manager's office and told you no longer had a job at the station you had worked at for 40 years. No going away party, no gold watch, not able to say goodbye to the staff I had worked with and mentored for all those years. Told you had to leave the building in five minutes. HOWEVER, looking back I know it gave me an opportunity to re-energize, refocus, and re-direct my creative energy. I will always be grateful to Journal for giving me a chance. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and it has been some of the most fun I have had with my boots on! The management, staff, and audience have embraced Q100.3. We are setting ratings and revenue records, and now the Journal cluster is the number one cluster in Knoxville 12 plus. That has never happened before. It is a great feeling to see the audience respond to your programming ideas.
8. You've had a lot of success in radio, Mike. How do you make the call on what to play? Is it a formula, a feeling, or both?
For me, music is a gut feeling. I have listened to music ever since I can remember. I grew up in the mountains of Hawkins County, Tennessee, and Country music is in my soul. To me, the joy of being a Program Director is hearing a song, knowing it is a hit, and rushing to the control room to get it on the air so the audience can hear it. I have been wrong on some songs, but I always feel the marketplace needs to help decide and not just a couple of people in a corporate office somewhere. That's why I look at sales, phone activity, and I am out a lot and watch people at concerts and honky-tonks to see what songs they dance and drink to. That's how I became a huge fan of Colt Ford.
9. We've keep asking PDs featured on 10 Questions to answer the same question for us: What's the deal with female artists? There seem to be so many good ones. How come at least one or two can't break through on the radio?
Wow, if I had the answer to that, John Esposito and Scott Borchetta would hire me and give me the big bucks! I truly don't know. I hear some songs from people like Rachel Farley, Danielle Bradbery, Cassadee Pope, and Kacey Musgraves and love the music. Somewhere, there is the next Miranda or Carrie. But I'm at a loss for what's going on with the females.
10. If you could leave lasting words of wisdom to current and future programmers, what would you tell them about how to be successful on-air and win on the streets?
Know your market! Know your audience. Program to your listeners, and not to your own ego. Always ask the question, 'What do my listeners want?' and give it to them. Make your station sizzle through the speakers with great imaging, music flow, and on air talent that does real show prep. On the streets, have promotions people that engage the listener and not sit in the van trying to pick up girls. Shucks, I should become a consultant!
1. We know you're a big supporter of University of Tennessee athletics and the school as a whole. What is the most unique piece of UT memorabilia that you own?
I do the public address announcing for the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Coach Pat Summitt gave me two championship rings and championship pendant. I will always cherish them.
2. You've seen a lot of songs, artists, and sub-genres come and go during your career. Who would you tout as your favorite Country artist of all-time, and who of the up-and-comers do you think has what it takes to become a legend?
Trying to select one artist is like trying to select one of my grandchildren. I love them all. I really do.
3. We know you're a regular at the Cotton Eyed Joe in Knoxville. What is your drink of choice?
My drink of choice is anything with alcohol in it!