10 Questions with ... Joel Raab
June 21, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Joel Raab began his radio career as a 15-year old air personality at WTHE/Long Island, NY. After serving as air talent/Student GM for Northwestern University's WNUR, Raab went on to programming and on-air positions in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and New York. For the past 30 years, he has successfully consulted more than 200 Country stations spanning all market sizes, while working for broadcast companies such as CBS Radio, Entercom, Greater Media, Journal, Digity, Saga, and many others. Raab will be inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame Wednesday, June 24th at the Omni Hotel in Nashville.
1. Joel, thanks so for taking the time for 10 Questions. Let's begin by asking what induction into the Country Hall of Fame means to you and what you think it says about your radio career.
It says I've been around a long time! It means the world to me. I'm still processing it. To be honored that way by your peers is truly special.
2. OK, so exactly where were you and what were you doing when you got the news?
I was at my desk when I got the call from Beverlee Brannigan. Hearing the news from another Hall of Famer was special. I couldn't wait to tell people, but of course, I had to hold the news for a week or so. That was tough.
3. What station or personality did you listen to most growing up and how did either influence you in pursuing a radio career.
WABC. Dan Ingram. Every other station sounded slow and boring by comparison. The lesson I learned from that (to quote Valerie Geller) "Never Be Boring." Like a lot of kids growing up on Long Island, I wanted to be Dan Ingram. Lee Arnold at WHN had an easy compelling style that also influenced me.
4. Tell us about your first radio job - and your first-ever live break on the air. Certainly, you remember both, right?
I honestly don't remember my first break. I was so nervous. I do remember the first show did not go well. The station was WTHE on Long Island which at the time was the only radio station playing Country music in the New York area. I worked there all through high school, and eventually got to work with the music and talk to label reps.
5. Mentors - everybody has a few of them. Who was it for you that helped you, challenged you and made you believe you could actually make this a career?
My first boss, Lee Philips, believed in me, and gave me three chances to get it right. Craig Scott and Bill Hart gave me a big break to do radio in Chicago, and Ed Salamon opened doors that changed my career and my life. At my first PD job, Barry Mardit was my assistant PD, and he taught me a ton about programming. George Toulas was a strong influence on my consulting career.
6. You started in local radio, of course, but have been behind-the-scenes as a consultant for most of your career - and you're not what we'd think of as a headline seeker. So this recognition must be especially satisfying in that regard?
It is. And it's humbling.
7. What was it that drew you into the consulting side of programming? Was it the ability to be in many markets and gain a more global perspective?
I wanted to control my own destiny. As you know, you can be hired by one person; that person leaves and your new boss wants to bring in his/her own people. As a consultant, you have many bosses and while things sometimes change, you have many avenues to explore. I'm proud that my kids have grown up in the same house.
8. I know you are very protective of your client's privacy, but is there a particular market or station you think back on with great pride for the work you've done in helping them attain success?
You're right, I prefer not to name names, but one that comes to mind is a former market leader that had lost its way. They were being beaten by an upstart. During my first visit, they asked, "do you think we can tie (the other station)?" My response was that not only would we tie them but we would beat them by two shares within a year. We did in less than a year and within a year after that, the other station was out of the format.
9. Country has traditionally been an adult-targeted format, specifically25-54 but we seem to have moved more into the 18-34 arena recently. Long-term, is this the core audience for Country radio, or do you see us shifting in emphasis and appeal, back to mature listeners?
We're in an interesting time. The format's appeal has never been younger than it is right now. Yes, there has been some erosion in the upper part of the 25-54 demo. Yet every day, a 34 year old turns 35. Long-term, it's anybody's guess where this is going. The listeners will take us there. That's what makes it so interesting.
10. There's also industry-wide concern about the thin on-air talent pool and its lack of development. How will we get younger talent ready for prime time, and where will we find younger creative types, in a time where radio isn't seen as cool as it once was?
Radio is competing with other media as never before. I'm optimistic that good young talent are out there. They are hungry for opportunity and guidance. It's up to us an industry to give it to them. I don't care how busy a PD is, he/she needs to work with their talent. Working with young talent is one of my favorite things to do. When I worked with Mike Krinik at Froggy 101 in Wilks Barre, he found talent by putting interns on the air (in late shifts). Not all would stick, but several really good ones did. The audience (even the younger audience) still thinks talent matters. Last year's CRS Edison study said that listeners think it's cool to meet the DJ. As long as that's true, we'll be in good shape.