10 Questions with ... Joel Salkowitz
November 18, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
My first radio job was at WTIC-A/F in Hartford, CT working in Production and as a board-op. Went onto WBAB on Long Island as Production Director, then the NBC Radio Network and ABC Radio where I worked for legendary programmer Rick Sklar. L.A. was next to ABC/Watermark where I was the Production Manager for American Top 40, American Country Countdown and the rest of the Watermark syndicated shows. Joined Emmis broadcasting in L.A. at MAGIC 106 and which we later blew up to launch POWER 106. Then it was back home to New York put HOT 103/97 on the air. After HOT 97, I spent a little over a year working in Promotion at Pendulum Records and shortly after that began the first of the television work I've been involved with as the Audio Dir. for the launch of the Fox News Channel. I joined AM/FM Radio, briefly in Dallas to launch JAMMIN 102 and then back to NY as PD for JAMMIN 105 and the Format Manager for the AM/FM Jammin' Oldies stations. Then onto Sirius as VP of Music Programming and Content. In 2004, I launched my own consulting business and also continued to expand my work in live sports TV. I put PULSE 87 on the air in NY in 2007 and eventually moved it onto the Internet as a pure-play in early 2010 where it has lived happily ever since! In July, we launched back onto FM in Las Vegas, PULSE 96.7. And I'm still running around the country doing TV work!
1) You've programmed terrestrial, satellite and Internet radio during your career, what do you see as the biggest difference in these?
The differences are starting to fade away as "radio," however it is delivered, becomes just one of many kinds of audio entertainment. The technology used to be the biggest differentiator and, in some cases, barrier to one form or another. Now, satellite "radio" is also available online; Internet radio is becoming increasingly available in cars and with smartphones, it's now as portable and actually more available than radio was with a transistor radio (remember those??!!). You no longer need a transmitter. Still one of the biggest impediments for Internet radio are some of the ridiculous restrictions imposed on it by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that do things like dictate how many songs you can play by an artist or from an album within a certain time or prevent us from teasing when we're going to play a song in an effort to create some of the same kind of appointment tune-in that terrestrial radio can do. And depending on what kind of rate changes come from the Copyright Royalty Board in the next year or so, they could put a lot of Internet radio out of business. That's a shame because Internet outlets, like PULSE, play a lot of music that never sees the light of day on FM radio or if/when it ever does, it will be in large measure because of the exposure provided to those artists by the Internet guys. It's remarkable that an industry that has complained for so long that radio doesn't give new music or new artists a shot, may kill off a lot of the platform that does!
2) The music for Pulse 87 on the Internet and Pulse 96.7 in Vegas is basically the same; is there a certain strategy or philosophy that you use when deciding what music to add to these stations?
The main strategy is looking for great songs! I have always believed that great radio stations, regardless of the format, are built on great songs. In the world of Dance music, that's concept often gets lost in the quest to be "cool" or cutting edge and programmers get too far out in front of their audience. Remember, a leader with no followers is just a guy (or girl) out takin' a walk! Because it's Internet-only and not hampered by PPM, we can be a little more aggressive with the music on PULSE 87. Often, we'll start a song out on PULSE 87 and then if/when it starts to develop around the format, we'll look at it for Vegas.
3) Do you find more interactiveness with the Internet listeners of Pulse 87, as opposed to Pulse 96.7 in Vegas?
Probably a bit more with PULSE 87 right now. PULSE 96.7 in Vegas is still very new ....just about four months and because it's on FM, there seems to be a bit more passive listening as opposed to people going to it online. Our online presence there helps to fill in for places where the signal has some challenges so people really listen to us anywhere. But PULSE 87 is only available online as opposed to on FM so that audience is fairly engaged because they're already playing on that field. We try to keep our Facebook and Twitter posts very music and artist-focused and we send out a weekly e-mail blast to our database for New Music Monday and to keep our Loyal Listeners informed when we do any kind of promotion. We get a nice response rate to that.
4) What type(s) of research do you utilize when programming music for your stations?
In the initial process of adding music to the station, it's all ears! After that, we keep an eye on what some of the other better players in the format are doing, particularly if they are doing callout or other kinds of research. I rely on my people that are out in the clubs to keep us connected to that part of the audience and to help make sure we get on the biggest club records in a timely fashion. We get feedback from the audience through requests and social media and I've got a great network of people who are wired into this music that help to keep us on the right path.
5) You were at the forefront of Rhythm/Crossover Radio format. Do you see any similarities to that and what is happening now at radio with the Dance and EDM?
Yes. At least as far as the music is concerned. The only real difference has been the lack of any of the big radio groups stepping into the format. Some of that is a function of consolidation. The first wave of Rhythm Crossover stations were game-changers in markets like L.A., New York, Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia ... beating their mainstream competition. Now that just a handful of companies own the biggest stations; they're not likely to launch a station/format that could damage one of their other key properties. And the downward pressure that some of those groups exert on ad rates makes it harder for a stand-alone competitor to come into the market and operate.
Another byproduct of consolidation is that formats get put on the air just to "block" another station or often just to provide clearances for company-owned Network shows sometimes with little regard to whether they can really compete in the ratings. PULSE 87 had the same weekly cume as NASH-FM in New York, on a really bad signal and a frequency that 20% of the radios in the world can't even tune to. But NASH doesn't have to be a big ratings winner. It's part of a national platform that has to have a New York outlet for the network to be viable.
I also think that the Dance music that is out there today is much more mass appeal than what we had available for the last iteration of the format so the opportunity for win with it is really there.
6) How do you utilize the mix shows on your stations?
We have our weekly Saturday Night Dance Party that has been a staple of the station since it was on the air in New York. It's a great vehicle to let the station "stretch out" a little bit musically. We have three people --, DJ Serg, Scotty B and Frank Cee -- rotating every three weeks.
7) You have a feature called New Music Monday where you expose new music; how often do you see songs breaking from here, or moving into rotation?
It really varies depending on what music is coming down the pike at any given moment but we've had some pretty big ones come out of New Music Monday. Lana Del Ray's "Summertime Sadness," which we played for months before it was "discovered" by mainstream Top 40 was a good example. Same with Armin Van Buuren -"This Is What It Feels Like" was another one. Lilly Wood and Robin Schulz, Zhu, Mr. Probz, Alesso and Martin Garrix are some other good fairly recent examples that got played on New Music Monday and then in rotation weeks or sometimes months on PULSE before they "hit."
8) With Vegas being such a big club market, how do you work with the major clubs and the major DJs that come into town?
That has been a challenge in Vegas mostly because we just didn't have people in the market. But we've been able to do some good on-air promotions to hook up listeners for VIP nights, dinners, meet-and-greets, etc. when some of the bigger name DJs play in town. We are working toward being able to do live broadcasts out of the clubs on the weekends. We're open to talking with managers of any of the major DJs who have residencies or even one-off dates in Vegas to work with them when they're in town. We're able to put those kind of shows on in both Vegas and New York ... either individually or as a simulcast in both markets! That's what can get the biggest bang for both the club and the station.
9) There are so many different sub genres of Dance/EDM, is there a particular style or sound that works better for the stations you program?
The format is the healthiest when there is a good mix of different styles and sounds, male and female vocals, different tempo, etc. available to include in the mix. The record companies seem to flood us with a ton of whatever the last thing that seemed to work and all of sudden the stations can sound very repetitive. We went through that for the last year or so with the so-called "big room" or "festival" songs. They all had the same snare/synth build-up and then came the "drop." We actually edited that bridge from about a dozen different songs together to play at a conference and see if anyone could pick out a song. Didn't go well! And then, at least according to some people, if it wasn't "that sound, it wasn't EDM." It gets a little either scary or ridiculous (take your pick) when the name we give it can drive what happens and it really sends the whole discussion into the weeds.
Now the House sound seems to be coming back in a big way so we're being overwhelmed by those songs. While, in my opinion, those kinds of songs can be a little more "musical" and thus more radio-friendly, it's getting harder every week to separate them in the mix so the potential for the same problem, just with a different sound, emerges. It also exacerbates the problem when the labels try to take these songs to Top 40 and get told that "the slot for that kind of song is full." Refer back to question #2. Great songs are always gonna win out.
10) Six months to a year ago there was not much Deep House music being played on the air, now not only are the Dance stations leading the charge, but Mainstream Top 40 and Rhythm stations are playing this sound. Is there an emerging sound in Dance that you see coming?
See question #9! :) I'm also starting to hear a few more records out there that harken back a bit to the Disco sound. We'll see. Similar versions of this same question inevitably come up at different music conferences. I'm not sure anyone can really predict the future! You just have to keep your ears and mind open and listen to your audience.
You do audio for a lot of sporting events, what got you into this?
I started almost 20 years ago at FOX because there was a good opportunity and radio was starting its first wave of consolidation. I had a friend who lost his job at Clear Channel (after more than a decade of top ratings!) around the same time I did. He went to interview for a position in another market. Essentially while he was on his way to the interview, the position was eliminated! At that point I decided I really wasn't interested in relocating for another radio job! I've done varying amounts of TV work as other opportunities in NY came up ... AM-FM/Clear Channel, Sirius, PULSE ... but I've always kept a hand in it. I have to just to stay current with the technology. But as radio continues to cut, TV... especially sports TV, seems to keep growing so there's a lot to keep me busy. I can pretty much set my own schedule so it allows me the flexibility to continue working on PULSE, other interesting radio projects and for radio clients.
As a wine connoisseur any recommendations for someone who needs to attend a family function, and has to bring a bottle of wine and is on a tight budget?
For white, I would suggest a wine called Conundrum. It's made by Caymus which makes some great wines. For red, check out Hawk's Crest, a second bottling from Stags Leap or Hess Select, the second bottling from The Hess Collection. If you can find it, try a red called "If You See Kay.". :) They're all around $20.
What would your dream bottle of wine be?
That's a tough call. I once had the opportunity to try a 1964 Haut Brion. That was pretty amazing! If I could get my hands on that one again, it would be pretty close to the top of the list.