10 Questions with ... Colton Bradford
June 28, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Colton Bradford is the newest member of the iHeartMedia Boston WBWL "The Bull" team, handling nights. He began his career at iHeartMedia Mobile, AL WKSJ as an intern at the age of 16, eventually moving through the ranks as board op and morning show third wheel before landing a permanent home with a solo night show gig. He spent two years with the local Mobile NBC-TV affiliate, WPMI "Local 15," where he was a segment host for entertainment and lifestyle. Bradford is an advocate for education, having developed the "GradBuddies" program in the state of Alabama and having been tapped in 2011 to sit next to Ann Curry as part of the NBC-TV special "Education Nation" as part of their "Voices Of A Generation" panel. Quite a list of accomplishments for a young man who just recently turned 22. You may remember Bradford as one of the three charismatic winners of the 2015 CRS Rusty Walker Scholarship. Since so much has happened in his career since his first trip to CRS this year, we thought we would check in with him again.
1. Colton, thank you so much for taking time to speak with All Access Nashville! We know you grew up in Mobile, Alabama and went to work in radio at a very young age. Where did the interest in radio begin?
I met [iHeartMedia Country WKSJ/Mobile, AL PD] Bill Black at 16, and then I started almost like an apprenticeship at 17. I was always interested in radio, but I did not have a clue how to get my foot in the door, and then whenever I was 16, I was invited to go to this - man, this is such a cheesy story - I was invited to go to this thing called "The High School Radio Throwdown." It was where all these high school kids were supposed to throw down on their favorite radio stations, and so I went to every single one of the people there who worked for all of the different radio stations and told them who I was and that I was interested in getting in to radio. The only one who gave me his card and told me to call him was Bill Black from 'KSJ. As a kid, I knew I wanted to get in to broadcasting, but I didn't completely know what area. I wanted to test it out and see what I wanted to do. I did have this Amazon toy, though, and I would go in to my bedroom, and the toy would sync to a frequency on my parents' stereo in the living room, and I remember thinking that was the coolest thing in the world. I would sync it up and do talk breaks from my bedroom! I also remember I was obsessed with [ABC-TV's "Live with...] Regis and Kelly," and I think that's where my fascination with morning shows came from, was from watching the two of them. I remember thinking they were so funny! And then, I always listened to morning radio shows growing up. I actually ended up working for the morning show on 'KSJ that I grew up listening to!
2. You've made quite the leap from Mobile to Boston and are settling in as the night host at The Bull. How has that transition been for you, and what has been your biggest challenge thus far?
The transition is obviously very different. I know that everything I am used to and have been used to my entire life is totally thrown out the window, because now I'm in an entirely different world up here. So, there have been some challenges, and I think the biggest challenge for me right now - two months in to all of this - is that I need to get a feel of the city better, so I can localize my show and really win here.
3. I know you've made a lot of connections and friendships throughout the country already during your career, and you are infamous for not being afraid to let any programmer air check you. Who have been some of your mentors early in your career, and who are your go-to guys or gals for advice?
This must have been maybe a year and a half or two years ago now, where this starts. I had a list of program directors from New York City to Los Angeles that was probably 60 PDs long. Of course, I sent an air check to every single one of them, and all I did was ask for advice and for them to air check me and tell me what I needed to work on. There were probably six or seven that got back to me, and out of that six or seven, there's about three that really maintained a relationship with me. One of those was [iHeartMedia Country WQIK/Jacksonville, FL PD] Cindy Spicer, who would let me fill in and track nights whenever she needed some help on WQIK, and the other was [iHeartMedia Country WBWL/Boston, MA PD] Lance Houston. Lance would email me and say, "Hey, let me hear some new stuff from you. Can you put something together?" So, I would make something and send it back to him, and then finally at CRS - CRS 2015 was kind of like the pinnacle for me, leading up to all of this - I used the same line that I used on Bill Black, except I used it on [iHeartMedia/New York EVP/GM] Clay Hunnicutt this time! I walked up to Clay, and I said, "Hi, Clay. My name is Colton Bradford, and I want to be your next major Country personality." And he laughed and said, "Yeah, that's what I've heard!" He told me to send some stuff to him, so I sent him some air checks, and the next thing I knew, Boston was knocking on my door. I woke up one morning, and now I'm literally living here! As far as mentors and people who air check me and who I'm not afraid to ask for advice - well, I'm not afraid to ask anyone to air check me or give me advice, really, because I respect everyone's opinion of what I need to get better at, especially people who have been in this industry longer than I have been alive - the people who keep up with me certainly include Lance. Of course, now he's my boss. But also Cindy Spicer, [iHeartMedia Nashville SVP/Programming] Michael Bryan, and of course Bill Black.
4. You were given the 2015 Rusty Walker Scholarship to attend CRS this past February, and we haven't had a chance to really discuss your experiences. Now that you've had ample time to digest everything from CRS, what were the biggest takeaways for you, and what did you enjoy most about the experience?
I enjoyed being completely surrounded by people who had been doing for their entire lives what I want to do for the rest of my life. That was the coolest part. The biggest takeaway is that there is not a lot of younger air talent out there right now. I've been to a couple of radio seminars where I am always the youngest person in the room, and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing yet. I definitely think that was one thing that struck me at CRS. I thought, "Whoa, I am the youngest person in the room here, and I'm in a room full of people who have done this their entire lives and who are much more talented than I am." It was very cool to ask people for advice and get their input as to what they think I need to work on to further my career.
5. Do you think you will be returning for CRS 2016? And what would you say to those who have never attended CRS? Is it an event you would recommend to fellow personalities?
Absolutely! No doubt, absolutely! Just from my experience alone - especially if there are any young air personalities out there who are really hungry and want to learn and want to do this - that's definitely where you need to be for a couple of days in February. There's no better place to get advice than in Nashville for that handful of days if you are serious about pursuing radio and specifically Country radio. You will not get better advice than while you are at CRS. I would tell anyone to go to CRS, but especially young talent.
6. You are a young man with a great running start in this industry who has many great years of radio in front of him. What do you see as your end-goal, and what steps do you hope to take along the way to get there?
My end goal? I want to hang with the Bob Kingsleys of the world! I want to do what those guys do for as long as they've done it. I know that I have a while before I can ever get to a level like that, but I am definitely very appreciative that I now get to be in a bigger city and see if I can replicate any of the success that I experienced in my home town. I think if I can do it here, then I will definitely feel like I'm ready for the challenge. If I can make it work here, I'll be ready to see what else I can do and how much further I can grow and how much more I can take on from this point forward. I have zero doubt that I want to stick this out and stick with radio, and specifically Country radio. One thing that I have learned is that if you stick with Country radio, Country radio listeners will stick with you. I even see it now - I see Facebook posts from people who are from Alabama who have followed me to Boston and are listening to my show here via the iHeartRadio app and streaming.
7. We always ask retiring radio programmers and personalities where they think the next batch of young talent will come from for radio - but let's get your take on this. There has been much made of the fact that not as many young people are interested in radio, no doubt due in part to the advent of social media and many other platforms with which to express those creative and performance sides. Where do you think the next batch of young radio talent will come from, and how can we encourage those in your age bracket and younger to either enter the field or continue in the field?
First of all, I definitely think that there are still young people who are interested in pursuing radio. I get tweets and Facebook messages from other young people all the time who are asking me, "Hey, how did you get your foot in the door?" or "Can you tell me how I can get my foot in the door?" So I know that until that stops, radio is in a good place. Until other young people stop messaging me on Facebook or Twitter asking me for advice on how to get in to radio, I know that we are still in a good place as an industry. But, as far as the next batch of great radio talent, I think? A lot of them are going to come from the internet. The best example of that is [Westwood One nationally syndicated CHR "Zach Sang & The Gang" night host] Zach Sang. Zach is my age - he's 22 years old. And he was huge on the internet before he crossed over to terrestrial radio, and now he's 22 years old and on over 60 stations nationwide. That's a great example of finding a talent and crossing him over to the actual radio industry. And he's a super-talented young guy, and he will go a long way in this industry.
8. You are part of the generation that has never really been "disconnected." Internet, smart phones, and social media are a big part of your daily life, and that connectivity has been around almost as long as you have been alive! What do you think radio can learn from other forms of media - including social media - and how can we as a format better utilize those methods of connectivity to reach out to your generation and younger?
I'm live-tweeting this interview right now! Radio is not just radio anymore. Radio is so much bigger than what it used to be. I think we have to use all of the platforms available to us now in order to be successful. You'll see me on Facebook talking about what I might be talking about tonight on my radio show. We have to use all of our wide range of media platforms to continue to push radio. I even push the streaming and app aspect. I think that's our best push to continued success. Especially social media - that's where it's at! I am a Millennial. I cannot tell you how many times I check my phone every day. If I'm on Facebook or Twitter and see a reminder of something that's cool that might be on a radio show later today, I'm going to make sure to remember to listen or I'll click the link to go see what's happening right now and find out what everyone is talking about. It's the modern-day appointment listening. We have to continue to push to be bigger than just radio. We have to not be so afraid of embracing other forms of media.
9. You did a significant amount of work in television while you were in Alabama. Is that something you plan to continue in Boston? How does television play in to the radio career path for you?
I would love to have some television presence in Boston! That being said, I know that - number one - the television market here is a lot more cutthroat than the television market in Mobile, Alabama, so it might be a little more difficult to get my foot in the door. But I don't think it's impossible, per se. As far as television goes in the future, I've always had the same stance on the subject: I want to build my career and my personal brand on radio, and everything else can be built around that. As far as television goes, I love television, and it was a challenge that I enjoyed, because I could mix it up every day and go from doing radio to something completely opposite. I enjoyed being able to be that versatile and have that kind of versatility in my career. I am definitely interested in television and how it plays a part in the whole picture. Is it what I want to do as a career forever? No. I want to build my career around radio and have television as another form of media that I can use to support my radio foundation. The foundations in television ties in so well to radio and what we have to do now, if you think about it. The presence of YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all of these connected components to radio - having the ability to play well on camera and interact with listeners, co-workers, and artists in that capacity in front of a camera can really work to your advantage. Doing artist interviews or anything on that level - just as we were discussing earlier, radio is so much bigger than just terrestrial radio - now you're not just doing radio. Now, you're basically a web host. Instead of a television host, you're a social media host. You're a social media personality in conjunction with being a radio personality. That has to cross over and work together. I 150% think that now - and growing every day - radio is not just radio. You have to have the ability to be a radio personality, a web host, a social media personality, an interviewer. We can't just backsell with "...and that was Kenny Chesney!" There has to be a personality, and it has to cross all forms of the media platform spectrum.
10. You have a lot of interests outside of radio, one being education initiatives. Can you tell us a little bit about your work with schools and youth, and how you plan to continue that work now that you have relocated to the Boston area?
When I was in Alabama, I had this crazy experience while I was a senior in high school. We were tasked with coming up with an initiative that would help combat the dropout crisis in the state. We tossed around a ton of different ideas, but I came up with this concept that was almost like a more adult version of Big Brothers Big Sisters, but it included high school seniors partnering up with incoming freshmen who were at-risk or showed high risk of potential for dropping out. It was very successful, and it moved on to other schools across the state. I left and went to college, and my freshman year of college, I got a phone call from New York City. Obviously, I screened the call - I didn't know the number! - and it was a producer from NBC News. She was interested in interviewing me about the concept - which I called "GradBuddies" - and what I had done. So within the next two week, I was whisked away, flown to New York City, and got to meet Ann Curry and explain what I had been working on with education, how my idea had worked, and the vision. Education is definitely something I am a big advocate for, personally. When I was a freshman, I struggled in high school. I definitely wasn't the smartest student, but I knew that if I had have been given that same opportunity when I was in high school, that it would have been much easier on me. I wanted to create that connection for freshmen who feel like they are outside of the box, so I teamed up with other organizations, including Student Voice Live, which is a Washington, DC based non-profit organization that encourages students to raise their voices in education policy. I've also done work with the NFL's "Fuel Up To Play 60" program, which encourages students to eat right and exercise. But the main reason I do it is because I am 22 years old and have had this crazy career. It's a great reminder for me when I go back to high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools that radio is a great platform for change and improvement. I'm not Country radio's biggest star, but I have a platform, and I see it. I know it. I want to use it for all the right reasons. And being young - only 22 years old - it's a lot easier for kids to connect to me. I'm in a really unique position as a young radio personality, and I have the opportunity to use my age to connect with listeners and other young people to promote change.
1. When I asked you to be a part of our "10 Questions" feature, you responded by telling me this had been on your "Radio Bucket List." I have to know - what are the other items on that list? Artists you'd like to interview, awards you hope to receive, career milestones to achieve? Inquiring minds want to know.
Definitely an interview with Shania Twain. That's definitely on the Bucket List. I'll be seeing her in concert in a couple of weeks, and I can't wait. She was my first crush when I was growing up. Since I won the Rusty Walker Scholarship as a young, up-and-coming radio personality, I would love to be inducted in to the Country Radio Hall Of Fame at some point and have that come full circle. I think that would be such a cool story to go from being a Rusty Walker winner to being someone with a career that spans enough time and makes enough of an impact to earn a place in the Hall Of Fame. That's definitely on the Bucket List, too.
2. Not everyone is aware, but I happen to know you have a special place in your heart for John F. Kennedy. Have you hit up any of the Kennedy "attractions" in the Boston area yet?
Okay, so funny story. Our mid-day host, Jessica, knows where the Kennedy Compound is, and she was telling me about how she snuck around to the Kennedy Compound this last winter while they were all away. Unfortunately, right now while it is summer, they are all here, so I haven't hit up the Compound yet. But, it's definitely on my to-do list! I will wear all of my camouflage so they can't tell I'm sneaking around over there. Before I left Mobile, my aunt gave me one piece of advice. She said, "Colton, whenever you get to Boston, if you meet a girl and her last name is Kennedy - marry her on the spot!" I think that's the best career advice I've gotten yet!
3. For a young guy, you have a great grip on the format and its evolution. Who do you see as rising stars in our format - who do you think you'll still be spinning tracks for when you turn 40?
Oh my gosh, easy! This is the easiest question you've asked me yet! Kelsea Ballerini! I have a good handful that I'm really pulling for right now. Kelsea is someone that I think is definitely going to be a superstar. I just have this weird feeling that she will be. I also am pulling for Dan + Shay. And I've very recently been listening to everything from Old Dominion. I am really enjoying every single thing I hear from them, so they are on my list, too. And last but not least Maddie & Tae.
4. I know you love Country music, but I'd venture to guess you have more than just Country at your fingertips throughout the day. Let's play a game, shall we? Put your iTunes on shuffle, and list the first five songs - title and artist - that come up, and tell me one thing you love about each of the songs or artists.
Okay, let me get my phone. Here we go! We're starting off good, here! First song is Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours." Fast fact - when I was a kid, I watch "The California Raisins," and the Raisins performed this song, and I became a Stevie Wonder fan at seven years old - from watching "The California Raisins!" Ready for song two? Okay, it's Queen and David Bowie with "Under Pressure." What can I say? I went through a phase in high school where I was obsessed with '80s music, and I still jam out to this song in the show every single day. Song three is a good Country song! Miranda Lambert's "Holding On To You." Her "Platinum" album was one of my favorite from 2014, and that was one of my absolute favorite songs off of the album. It reminds me of an old Soul song. So, song four is Flo Rida with "I Don't Like It, I Love It." This is definitely my jam on a Friday night if I'm ready to go throw down and stir up some trouble. I'll put on some Flo Rida then, for sure. Final song! Let's see what it is! Number five is Taylor Swift's "Eyes Open." I love that song! I think Taylor Swift is THE singer-songwriter for my generation, and I think she is perfect. I am ready for her to return to Country music, but I know it will take a hot minute for us to get her back. When she's ready to come back, though, I will embrace her with open arms upon her return - if she returns.