10 Questions with ... Bill O'Brien
December 5, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Funny, as I'm filling this out I'm going back and forth with Brian Check, Clear Channel/ Philly OM. We began our careers together in Philadelphia at CBS. For me it was WCAU, WOGL, Eagle 106, and Q102 all in that market (and obviously right before consolidation set in). I did some work at WHTZ (Z-100)/New York and I continued my trek North up the I-95 to sign on KIX (HOT 106)/Providence and I stayed there to work at WSNE and WPRO (PRO-FM). In Boston it was WZOU/WJMN, WKLB, WCLB and WROR. Then I headed South on I-95 to sign on WERO (Bob 93-3)/Greenville before moving to Los Angeles. I crossed over to the music side, working for Hitmakers Magazine and later I had a very cool job at the legendary Westlake Recording studios in West Hollywood. Every morning I'd walk in and pinch myself as I stared at wall after wall of gold records. Almost every song during my career had been recorded there. "Thriller" also had a prominent spot on the wall.
1) After a successful run on the east coast, why did you move West?
My move to Los Angeles came about because of the media opportunities. Here, everything is really more interconnected than anywhere else on the planet. At Hitmakers Magazine, I spoke to radio people, music industry people, and artists on a daily basis about something I really love... music. I played Classical piano and Rock drums growing up. To borrow someone's favorite station slogan, "That's Real Music Variety!" My taste varies from Hip Hop, to Tony Bennett, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to the Hot AC Top 20 on any given day. I listen to everything from KROQ, KIIS, KBIG, Power 106 and The Wave in my car on a daily basis.
2) How did you land your current position with Dial-Global?
The very first week that I moved here, I was hired to do a weekly national show called "Saturday Night 80's" for Westwood One. The studios were literally right around the corner from where I lived so it fit in easily while working my other jobs. I wound up doing that show and weekends, swing and then more voice tracking for Hot AC, Rhythm and Hot Country. These were all formats that I had prior experience with. Eventually, I was offered the opening to program Hot AC. Although I programmed locally, I was intrigued with the opportunity to direct a national 24/7 format with around 100 affiliates. Although I don't miss the daily commute, I do miss the early morning sites while parking my car in West Hollywood...it's all true.
3) How exactly is the Dial Global 24/7 Hot AC format delivered?
We deliver satellite in real time to each individual station, which creates a time zone/daypart challenge. Everything is based on East coast time which is fine with me, because I'm still not used to the ocean being west of me. The shows are always live, and each affiliate actually runs exactly what we send down to them all day with the exception of a few local morning shows. I'll attached their local calls/dial position to fire individually after sweepers, promos, ID windows and a few other places throughout the hour. It's their chance to brand their station however they see fit.
4) How would you describe the music & imaging on your format?
This is not your mom's Hot AC! This is a great time for music on the Hot AC format with a variety of different sounds and artists, and it looks like the beginning of 2012 is shaping up nicely as well! I wanted to mention a few, but that would just get the phone ringing off the hook! Like any good Hot AC, we're pretty current/recurrent driven. The bulk of the Gold is from 1995 on with just a handful of titles older than that. Like a cluster, we have different formats that'll take care of the rest. I get to be more of a pure Hot AC.
The imaging is all relevant to the adult female lifestyle. If it's a listener testimonial, it speaks to the benefits of listening, the why and the relationship to the music. I try to run emotional statements with meaning rather than "I love your station" etc., which is totally meaningless once you break it down. It's that different perspective that I spoke about earlier. I'm toying with a few male/female pieces relating to the music and relationships. Our promos, besides grabbing attention, are entertaining. I'm waiting for Coldplay to announce their tour so I know where we'll be sending a winner, but I've already got a mysteriously worded teaser cut using the first few notes of "Viva La Vida" to promote that something big is coming.
5) What do you like best about working in this format?
The entire package! I really enjoy the listeners, the content, the music, and having artists stop by. Yesterday it was Snow Patrol who in England and Ireland are playing huge stadiums as they try to duplicate that success here. They have some great stories of when they opened for U2. We usually feature someone every week. Working for Dial Global makes it even better. They encourage entertaining content and personality which makes my job a lot more rewarding.
6) How is programming nationally different than local programming?
We currently have 95 small and medium markets, many just outside a larger metro. For instance, our affiliate near Charlotte, NC has a strong signal that covers most of that market and that station does pretty well against the local giants.
If you add all of our stations together, our weekly cume is 1.2 million, easily putting us in the top ten in comparison to KBIG, WPLJ, WTMX, or KDMX.
That said, musically I try to really ride down the middle, without leaning one way or the other. My rotations fall somewhat in the middle of the Hot AC pack. I have a great staff of major market talent from Los Angeles and Denver, so I'm able to give our affiliates radio personalities that are way above average for their market. And because of the weekly cume, I'm able to supply major promotions that our affiliates would never have access to.
So, add the best music to a great on-air lineup with entertaining content, big-time promotions and special features like live artist interviews and performances, and the Dial Global HOT AC format is ON FIRE!
7) What approach or adjustments must your air talent make to relate nationally?
Having tried it first (and still jumping on-air from time to time), it's a little strange in the beginning. Specific local references can't be made, but there are so many universal topics and so many ways to word your copy. So although it's not local, it certainly isn't generic. Here's how I'd prep for my next network show: universal news, entertainment, daily "buzz" topics, relationships, maybe a show benchmark, and of course personal stories.
Living in L.A. there are just so many surreal and funny experiences to discuss, such as eating dinner next to a major actor (my personal favorite), on set at a movie/TV shoot, witnessing TMZ cameras ambushing someone, sitting in the 2nd row of the American Music Awards behind Black Eyed Peas, and others. We all have ways to present the stories on-air using "friends, our vacation, or a listener call in." I hire people who have strong personalities and I encourage them to go at it. We nip, tuck, trim and edit when appropriate, but still keeping within a format framework.
8) Do network time cues interfere with Dial Global's delivery?
My goal is to run the format as if it were a local stand alone station. Depending on the daypart, the hour allows for a specific amount of "content/talk" time. It affects my job more having to time out music logs using Gold titles after all the currents are laid out. When I first took over the format, everyone was so "technically" oriented and worried about cue and timing that it sounded too "networkie." My goal was to change the balance and have everyone concentrate on content instead of cues. I examined everything "network" and I made appropriate changes in the presentation to allow for a more natural, relaxed presentation. No more network automatons.
9) What did you learn by working outside the business?
I always try to communicate and be respectful by calling people back, responding to E-mail, texts, etc. Some days it's tough but it can be a brief answer, comment or other feedback. We're all just trying to do a job and sometimes it's a quick exchange of information. After working at Hitmakers, I now understand what those in the music business go through.
At Westlake Recording studio, I supplied equipment to post production, TV, music and film. I got to rub elbows with some really creative types on sets and in the field. It gave me a different perspective for this business, to step outside and to see it a bit differently as opposed to being inside the insular day to day bubble.
10) Looking back, what would you say is a career highlight?
I have been fortunate enough to work at so many #1 cuming stations in many major markets including WCAU-FM, EAGLE 106, Q102 Philly, Z100 New York, and WZOU/WJMN Boston. I actually started at CBS, in Philadelphia. And around the same time, not knowing at all what I was doing, I auditioned and got a TV hosting job for a daily music/dance show, live every afternoon. I did that for four years and stories still come back around every so often. Duran Duran recently told me that they did my show and Saturday Night Live the same week. Madonna recently featured a video clip on her web front page with me doing her intro. Bon Jovi laughed at the long haired picture I showed him last year. This summer, while I was watching the Phillies game on TV here in L.A., they ran promos for the old show. Years later, the TV station is actually packaging and rerunning them locally again! I usually find out when my Facebook messages blow up!
What's the most unique day that you've ever had?
Ok, I never made a big deal about this until years later but here's the story: I'm on the air in Boston doing afternoons at Hot Country (at the time WKLB) on the 13th floor of the Prudential Tower. A new company just purchased our station and they already had a Hot Country down on the left end of the dial (WCLB). I knew one was going to have to go. Boston in no way needed two Hot Country stations. Somehow, the deal went down that day and the other station didn't have a night-time personality. I got a call while doing afternoons asking me if I could handle doing nights on the other station. I scrambled from WKLB at the "Pru" to haul-ass across town in Boston rush hour traffic when I learned that WCLB had NO PARKING LOT! So I found on street parking and timed everything the best I could. I left WKLB at about 15 before and arrived at WCLB about 15 after the hour. How many people could say they've done two shows, on the same day, in the same format, on two different station/dial positions in a market the size of Boston? (I'm just sayin').
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy swimming, going to movies, watching The Phillies and The Patriots, going to the beach in Ventura, Santa Barbara or San Diego, hiking with my dogs, and cleaning out my garage.
What is your favorite TV show?
I never miss "Real Time With Bill Maher," "Boardwalk Empire," "Homeland," and "Modern Family."
What's your favorite radio commercial?
The one that just ended that's getting us back to the music.
What career path would you be following had it not been for this industry?
I would definitely be in counseling and psychology. Went I back to grad school for it but just never finished.
Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and many others have recently introduced music in "The Cloud." What effect will these new music services have on the radio and music industries?
I think it has more to do with your personal collection of music and video. "The Cloud" is a great concept...more choice, less clutter. The music industry is still dealing with their end of it. Instead of buying a hard copy, they have to find a way to charge for usage that makes sense. We all have a personal media collection but we use radio in a different way. One doesn't necessarily affect the other.
What do you see for the future of radio?
Hang on, there's a psychic on the morning show tomorrow so let me get back to you on that. Just look at what's going on... it's all about new media and NATIONAL media now. It's what we're doing with the Dial Global live 24/7 formats here with Hot AC. It's what Clear Channel is doing with Premium Choice. People just want the best entertainment possible. I always laugh when I read arguments about radio having to be local. Local weather, I click a mouse. Local traffic, l can get it faster than any radio station can give it to me. Local car dealer remote...well, can't argue with sales. Hit me up here at the network and I can record something to insert right into your feed.
Here's the way I see it: Small and medium market mediocre LOCAL, vs. big quality entertaining NATIONAL? National will win every time. Of course, there are always going to be some small stations that will serve a need and do fine in their local market. I'm talking about the big picture. People have too many options to settle for less than the best.