10 Questions with ... Randy "Bubba" Black
March 22, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Randy "Bubba" Black launched KSTN (105.9 The Bull)/Stockton, Ca. one year ago this month, following a three -year absence from day-to-day programming. Previously, he'd spent 18 years at crosstown KATM/Modesto - 13 as PD - starting with Citadel and continuing through the early transition to Cumulus. During his time at KATM, the station was a fixture at the top of the market rankings. Black is a 30-year radio vet who was born in Modesto.
1. Hey Bubba, thanks for taking the time for All Access 10 questions. It's been about a year since the launch of KSTN (The Bull). How is it going?
It has been very exciting to incept, create, and execute a sign-on from scratch with no playbook. I only knew one way to do it - that was the Citadel way. That is the way I was taught to program. If you recall, I was taught by the best programmer in America, in my opinion, Ed Hill (KMPS) along with Rusty Walker programming (RWP) and Bob Glasco. These are people I really respect, and their philosophies are with me daily. I know how to execute a plan. As far as "The New 105-9 The Bull," our station is way different musically as far as sound, younger as far as target, and delivery. We just celebrated our first birthday March 17th. What a year it's been. In this short amount of time, we have managed to deliver one of the biggest 12+ top-line rating hits to a market leader. We cut close to 10 points off the 12+ mark in Stockton of Country leader KATM. We are so close in the ratings right now it was actually a shock to us in our first rated book to have this success. With that noted, we have created a buzz in town through our community service. We feel KATM has gotten old (debuting in 1994). So, we are the 'New' station now, doing something different, from image to music to delivery to the 'Message.' It's really one of the best Country stories of the year. In the latter days of deregulation, this is a true David and Goliath story. We're in a diary market, so in six months we'll get tested again and we hope to maintain or grow at that time. Maintaining would be great for a lil' ol' translator like ours.
2. When you fired up "The Bull," it was on KSTN-A, supported by a translator at 105.9 FM; you have seen some impressive results but is there enough signal strength to really compete in the Stockton-Modesto markets?
There is no such thing as a "Stockton-Modesto" entity. Many over the years have this market combined, or hyphenated, from trades, to labels, etc. These are two well defined markets with completely different metros. To clarify, Stockton is Nielsen #86 and Modesto is #118. Years ago, Citadel inquired and tried to get these markets combined together. It was rejected by Arbitron. The problem is, there are really only two stations (50kw) that hit both Modesto and Stockton; they are former Citadel/Cumulus owned KHKK(Classic Rock) and (Country) KATM. They are the only two stations that really have to be everything to everybody hitting 9 counties amongst them. With that said, Modesto is too far away for us, it is its own entity with its own set of city grade stations and ratings books. Equally, Stockton stations are exclusive to Stockton. I am competing and super-serving the Stockton market exclusively, as it's our city of license. To answer your question, our translator covers Stockton, like all other Stockton stations, and is a competitive signal on a translator on a tower in Downtown Stockton. That gives us some great building penetration in the downtown area, and there a lot of people working down there. We are also lucky to hit all points Country, due east of Stockton, almost 50 or so miles into the foothills and farming area of Stockton. Our target will always be Stockton.
It's why we're licensed, here: to super-serve this city. Translators are not necessarily pea shooters, especially if on a large tower in the middle of your city of license.
3. You left KATM in 2011 after 18 years - 13 as PD, so a lot of your DNA remains with the Kat. Is it difficult to now compete with it?
Not really; they are too big of a station to street fight. I stayed a tried-and-true line while there, continuing Scott, Ed, and Rusty Walker's plan from sign on. The difference here now is, this is not Citadel. It's Cumulus, and they must be sticking to the old adage - although I don't know it works in our business - the ol' "If it ain't broke don't fix it" doesn't really work as the music and age group has changed dramatically. It's been three years, and the station hasn't evolved. 80% of what's on air as far as image and verbiage and everything were things I put on-air, before I left. I think that I am the last guy you would want coming at you, as the the DNA you mention is still there and running unchanged. I know how it runs, it should have changed by now. Or evolved, I should say. It hasn't; I'm not scared of 'em. I know what they are gonna do - they're still doing it. It is predictable; that plays to my hand fortunately, not theirs.
4. Tell me about Modesto and Stockton as Country markets. What are core Country fans there all about?
Well, I can only speak of Modesto from my KATM experiences, as The BULL is strictly a Stockton station. Modesto and its surrounding cities are very much Caucasian and Hispanic. The Hispanic population listen is almost exclusive to the market's Hispanic stations. In Modesto, and its neighboring nook-and-cranny cities within 50 miles of Modesto, spells KATM and their success story. (There are a lot of them.) All of these cities are small town agriculture based cities; we just counted them as Modesto listeners. Most of the popular hot-zips in the Modesto book, for country did not come from Modesto. The hot-zips are cities like Oakdale, Ceres, or Turlock, and just too many more to name. In Modesto and those cites, the listener is a more traditional listener steeped in Country music tradition and really only one radio station serving them. There is room for another new Country station in Modesto.
Stockton is a port city that connects all the way to San Francisco by water and its Delta waterways. It was a beginning stop for the Gold Rush as folks traveled in by water to head to the hills to mine for gold. It is a much more culturally diverse city. There is a lot more history here; Stockton is the county seat for San Joaquin County. Its traditions go back to the 1850s when the Chinese started settling here, east to the hills for gold mining. Stockton is a melting pot and culturally diverse and much more of an urban city than Modesto. I almost think about it as a Detroit due to its feel. The two markets couldn't be any more different, separated by 30 + miles. I'd compare it to you doing Country in L.A. when you were at KZLA. Some of the same things you dealt with, I am dealing with, except I have country and farmland on the edges of the signal.
5. When you launched "The Bull" you were one of many stations adopting that moniker. What is it about "The Bull" that can make it appealing - and, is its strength as a brand potentially stronger for younger (18-34) Country fans?
In 1997, I programmed Citadel's KBUL/Reno, NV and took a fancy to the Bull moniker. I am not sure I wanted to be a 'Big Dog' going against a KAT... or an Eagle or any other animal-related moniker. If you are not in a city in our area, you are amongst farmland, and cows and bulls are the leading farm animal in these parts from meat to dairy. It is a little more of a Country-related mascot. I am not sure that answer gives you what you are looking for. Our delivery, moniker, music, image, social feed, etc. all focuses 18-34. We had great numbers in those cells; I'd have to say yes, it's been the right choice for us, and the demo we are targeting. No Bull, or maybe some Bull!
6. Speaking of 18-34 Country listeners, there has been a lot of discussion about whether this format can continue to grow that audience. For example, as of January, National shares among 18-34s are back to 2013 levels. How do we keep these younger fans interested?
Country music will be what Music City delivers; we are not in control of that, never have been as radio stations. I always hope the A&R people in Nashville are putting their finger on the pulse and know what the next big Country thing is going to be. It seems right about the time Country starts feeling stagnant or national stats say there's a trend down, the Music City community seems to pull a "cool" left turn and straightens itself out to gather interest from old and new-to-the-format listeners alike. I think staying near social is a big help to attract that demo. Not just any ol' social media, but things that seem to trend with our Country crowd that interacts with us at social media.
7. You were in Country radio during the format's boom in the 90s, and now it's bigger than ever again. What's similar to back then and what is different?
I believe that during the boom there was a large hug for the core, and that is what 90s Country was built on. Garth, Reba, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Alabama, Strait, Clint Black - it used to be a spotlight. A familiarity with those names married to the core. For example, an artist like John Michael Montgomery, who had a number of hits, was never a core artist, and I am not sure anyone ever took away from a JMM song, "Hey that's JMM." And there were a lot of those, through those years. The core remained unchallenged for a number of years, if not a full decade, to where they knew the artists in the 90s core that built many a great Country station. There was a familiarity. Over the next decade, the core changed slowly into McGraw, Faith, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts. Now Blake Shelton, Taylor (was), Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, and Dierks Bentley are the cool kids. All of these names are household to Country fans. But does a non-Country follower know the artists' sound now, like they did when a Reba song came on and was distinct? I believe now the sounds are moving so fast in the format that the fans of these artists and this style of Country are keeping us popular and alive and tinged with a Pop feel. The format is more about the single and much more hurried up the chart. The difference to me is the listeners aging cycle and listening preferences as they grow old. In the end, radio is radio. The product coming out of the 615 will always be great, and radio will always be here to praise its core zip code, for right or wrong.
8. Anything we can learn from our 90s boom here in 2015 that will enable Country to sustain its format dominance?
Not really. I still believe you can't be hurt by what you don't play. As long as we run all of this music through some sort of check and balance system/research of some kind, we'll remain America's most powerful format to listen to. I believe research rules. In the end, we are one of the only two or three formats that still play "music" with instruments, although it is helped along now with digital tools, fx, and styles. Americans will still gravitate to our format, as it's ours as a country. America's true music.
9. Where do you see the music going in 2015? More traditional? Getting better, worse? Who are the future stars?
There is no telling. I think we have a lot of flavors out there. Sure, there's the Bro Beat and feel. But the bro attitude is its own thing, and it isn't the whole list of music that a station plays weekly. I like the music now and appreciate its Pop feel for growth, even though I am a traditionalist at heart. That is probably just due to my age. I do enjoy this feel of the format now, and new youth and young adults join us daily - and that's my target - so Nashville just needs to keep bringing it. Future stars for me as the format is headed now? Sam Hunt, Dan + Shay, Dustin Lynch, and RaeLynn could have great years in 2015-2016.
10. What about female artists? Will 2015 be the year that at least one emerges as a star?
That Taylor girl surely has something going! (LOL) I like Raelynn, Kelsea Ballerini, and I really enjoyed seeing Ruthie Collins and I think she is a great talent. History tells us that it's a hard row to hoe for females. On this question, I plead the fifth. I think it will be a rough road as it has always been for women in the format.