10 Questions with ... Chad Rufer
August 20, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- 1992-1996 KWDM-FM-West Des Moines, IA On-Air Talent
- 1994-1997 KLYF-FM/WHO-AM, Des Moines, IA On-Air Talent/News Anchor
- 1997-2000 WINK-FM, Fort Myers, FL On-Air Talent/APD
- 1997-1999 Advantage Productions, Fort Myers, FL Imaging Producer
- 2000-2001 WSGL-FM/WGUF-FM, Fort Myers, FL Operations Manager
- 2001-2003 WCVQ-FM/WVVR-FM/ Clarksville, TN Operations Manager
- 2001-2003 WZZP-FM/WKFN
- 2003-2006 KKMG-FM, Colorado Springs, CO Program Director
- 2006-2010 WINK-FM/WINK-AM, Fort Myers, FL Director of Programming
- 2010-Present KZZO, Sacramento, CA Program Director
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
My wisecracks got me kicked out of a lot of classes in high school. I was fortunate to have access to a radio station and a fantastic teacher/mentor in Brian Christensen who helped me channel my energies into what has become a career that excites me every day.
2) Who do you consider your radio mentors?
There aren't one or two people that I would consider my "mentor," but rather a list of people who have each shaped the kind of manager, programmer, and broadcaster that I am today.
In no particular order: Greg Strassell, Steve Goldstein, Jon Zeller, Steve Salhany, Byron Kennedy, Ed Christian, Bobby Irwin, Todd Lawley, Bill Figinshu, Warren Lada, Chris Ackerman, Warren Kurtzman, Sean Ross, Michael Flittie, Brian Christensen, Jim Schaeffer, Matt Bailey, Joe Rosati, Chris Corley, Paige Niennabar, Brian Lee, Brian James (RIP), Joe Edwards, Rob Scorpio, Steve Davis, Guy Zapoleon, Jeff Johnson, Alan Burns, Van Harden, Cheryl Pannier, Brian Gongol, Brenda Goodrich, Ted Rusctti, Tony Renda, Mike Donovan, Dave Shakes, Brian Olsen, Mike Preston, Bill Young, Wayne Simons, Steve Cottingim, and Scott Herman.
3) What makes your station or market unique? How does this compare to other markets or stations you have worked at?
There aren't a lot of markets our size that have two Hot AC stations, two Top 40 stations, a Rhythmic Top 40, and a contemporary Mainstream AC all fighting for a piece of the pie with adult females. Sacramento is a crowded market when it comes to stations that play pop music.
4) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
Remaining relevant. In the past decade we've seen the invention of many things that have changed the way successful broadcasters do business. From social media sites, to iPhones, to PPM, they've all had an impact on the business and we've had to figure out how to take advantage of them. I'm always astonished by the number of people who choose to ignore these products and then wonder why they failed. We have to co-exist with these technologies whether we like it or not. So, it's better to use them to help us thrive than to ignore them.
5) What are some of the challenges you face as a programmer in today's radio environment?
Two things. First: you always have to keep your eyes open for the new thing. Remember, Facebook didn't open to the general public until 2006. Today, it's totally mainstream and practically essential. You have to surround yourself by people more in-the-know than you.
Secondly: PPM. It feels like every day a new piece of information comes out relating to "how to program better" to a PPM universe. Honestly, this has been fun. It gives me the opportunity to constantly be on the lookout for new ways to advance our brands.
6) How do you stay in tune with your audience?
Other than being a guy with no children, I live their lifestyle. However, most of the women I've dated might tell you that programming some form or another of AC radio since 1998 has made me more female than them! I go to happy hours, I go to nightclubs, I love concerts, I listen to a lot of music, and I read TMZ.
7) 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?
Stations that are simply "music jukeboxes" should be gravely concerned about this technology. But those of us who are creating brands, developing strong air-talent, and are active in our communities should continue moving forward being the best radio stations that we can be. Remember when iPods first came out? I was shocked by the number of programmers who ignored them. One of the most brilliant things I remember seeing was from Dom Theadore, who knew there was no way he could fight against iPods and instead created cases and wraps for them using his station logo. Brilliant!
Can any of us "out-music" Pandora? Absolutely not! That's why it's so important that we as radio programmers go above and beyond just playing the right music because the audience can get music anywhere. We need to be conducting lifestyle-based promotions that make sense, hire entertaining on-air talent, and be very visible in the community. We must continue to strive to give our audiences things they can't get through some other medium. It's not an easy job, but we can do it.
8) What is the biggest misconception about your station?
I've heard the phrase, "You're not a Hot AC station, you're a Top 40" more than once. The fact is that Sacramento has a pretty competitive pop music landscape. Remaining competitive and building a brand against a smart programmer like Dan Mason Jr. at the legendary KDND, and newly launched KBZC has been no easy task. If that wasn't tough enough, you put one of the most "not by the book" and brilliant programmers in the industry like Byron Kennedy into the mix with KSFM and now with KNCI, suddenly life is pretty damn challenging when you're all fighting for a top slot with adult women.
So the reality remains, we play HITS for adult females. Sometimes a "typical" Hot AC record that is working well in San Francisco may not be the right record for Sacramento even when it is close to Top 10. Sonia Jimenez, who is my right hand at NOW, has some amazing ears and together the two of us make some tough choices every week, and even though it may not be "by the Hot AC book" its right for the Sacramento market.
9) Tell us what music we would find on your MP3 player right now and what is it you enjoy about that particular selection?
My iPod makes a "Jack" station with 500 songs sound like a Top 40 with a really tight playlist. From Dre, to Missy Higgins, to Jack's Mannequin, to DJ Khlad, it's all there. And you can't forget Sinatra! I have all of his live albums and love listening to those on Sunday mornings while looking at the meter counts. Right now I really like the new Paloma Faith album.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant in your career?
That nothing remains constant. The way we program has changed. The way we market our stations has changed. The way we are measure success (both ratings and revenue) has changed. The number of people we have on our teams has changed. The way the music industry does business has changed. The technology we use on a daily basis has changed, and our competition continues to change (both other radio stations and other media). Sorry, nothing remains the same! This industry, just like others, has evolved a lot over the past few decades and if you're not prepared to evolve with it, you should probably find a new line of work.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love to travel and I'm a complete food and wine geek!
What advice would you give people new to the business?
Learn everything you can, and don't say "no." I can't begin to tell you the number of young people that I've met over the years who, for some reason feel entitled to glamorous on-air shifts or even programming positions without working for it. They don't want to work on weekends because it will interfere with their personal lives and they don't want to do grunt jobs because they feel they're above it. If you want to have a high personal "stock price" then you should be able to do anything. You should be able to produce imaging, be a jock, schedule music, and set up a remote. Learn to do it all. And while you're at it, take a writing class. That one skill is so important to have because it comes into play a lot in this industry.