10 Questions with ... John S. Foster
September 10, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started as on-air and music librarian at KAOS at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in the summer of 1975. I was the first 40-hour a week employee at said station and the recipient of the type of help (federal funding for job training for low-income youth in this case) that Obama has taken so much shit for. This led to me going to college, which I hadn't planned on doing, and pursuing radio, which I did. KAOS 1975-1981. KXXO 1989-2012.
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
I was raised without TV in rural Connecticut and was in love with music, sports, and the great unknown, all of which were found by adjusting the radio antenna on the roof of our house. I was lucky to hear stations like WTIC-AM in Hartford with Bob Steele, WABC with Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie, WOR with a very young Marv Albert "announcing" baseball games from the ticker tape, WKBW in Buffalo, and later early FM experimenters like WHCN and WWUH in Hartford, WRPI from Rensselaer Polytechnic somewhere in upstate New York, WBAI Pacifica in NYC with speeches by Black Panthers. My favorite was WGRG-AM in Pittsfield, Mass., where I actually moved after high school in 1974 just to be near enough to hear. It mixed in-depth local news with bartender David Pitt and a woman whose name escapes me with the hip rock, singer-songwriters, and jazz (Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, etc.) of the moment.
2) What makes your station or market unique?
How does this compare to other markets or stations you have worked at? While lumped into the Seattle metro, we really serve the Capital area and those to the south, east, and west of us (ironically, not part of the metro) who identify Olympia as a destination for shopping and services. We are very attentive to serving the needs of our listeners and go for results for our clients rather than playing the ratings game. This has been very successful for us, as we are still Mixx 96.1 "Soft Rock for the Great Northwest" after 22 years.
3) What is it about your station that you feel really makes it cut through?
We're a locally owned and operated mom & pop station and that personal approach and commitment to our community really resonates with our listeners.
4) How are you using social media to market your radio station?
I'm not sure you'd call it marketing; we use Facebook and Twitter as another way of reaching our listeners and giving them another way of communicating with us. We like to be very accessible to our listeners.
5) How do you stay in tune with your audience?
I have an informal relationship with our loyal listeners, which extends to the weekly E-mail that I send them, and they seem comfortable telling me what they like and dislike about the station.
6) What is the biggest change that you'd like to see happen in the business?
I'd like to see advertisers use us as the nexus of their marketing.
7) Are new technologies like on demand music, videos, TV, streaming, and mobile smart phone apps replacing consumer's interest in traditional media such as radio, the CD, or even the MP3 player? Or are these new technologies actually enhancing traditional media?
A little of both. It's easier to explore music than ever before but there's more of everything. This creates the opportunity for more distractions and static, so it can be overwhelming, frustrating, and harder to forge a genuine relationship with that which one accesses.
8) Most of us have known or even worked for a "colorful" owner/GM/air talent. Care to share a story?
I wanted to put our very talented but unstable afternoon drive announcer (male) in the mornings but was concerned about the chemistry with our news director (female) who realized his talent but didn't care for his interpersonal skills. I shared with her my concern that they would enter into a tempestuous affair and that the on-air breakup would destroy the station. She assured me he held no personal attraction for her and that my fears were misguided. We tried it and a sure enough a short time later they embarked on a tempestuous affair. What I didn't anticipate was that they would become so obsessed with each other that they would have nothing whatsoever to do with anyone else at the station, to the point that they put newspapers over the air studio window! When the GM tried to discuss this with the male announcer, he had a tantrum, stormed out of the station, and the two of them were never to be seen again. Her ex-husband still works at the station, and he says they're still together (15 or so years later) and last I knew they were both 911 dispatchers.
9) What is the most rewarding promotion or activity your station has ever been involved with to benefit the community or a charity?
We do two 6am-6pm live broadcasts from outside our studios, one collecting school supplies during August and the other collecting Christmas gifts for needy kids just before Christmas. They're both extremely successful and re-energize the staff when they see what we can achieve.
10) What do you consider the key to your success?
Paying attention (particularly to the details) and trying not to be a jerk.
Who do you consider your radio mentors?
Lorenzo Milam, author of "Sex & Broadcasting," Click and Clack from "Car Talk," Ira Glass from "This American Life," and Jerry Graham of WGRG.
What has been the best performing record on the station so far this year?
Nianell "Until I'm Home." Nianell is a Namibian artist of Afrikaner descent who I can only compare to Celine Dion. Based on the popularity of her songs here over the course of many years , I'm amazed that she hasn't been snatched up by an American label. Thanks to Eric Norberg at the Adult Contemporary Music Research Letter for turning us on to her body of work.
What are your hobbies?
Reading, playing basketball, watching women's basketball and baseball, listening to music, walking
Do you have any good stalker stories? Misty requests? "Fatal Attractions?"
No stalkers, but I had a suicidal recording artist on the phone while I was trying to do a show - ended up talking with his wife at work, who offered to show me a good time if I ever got to LA. The good news, I guess, is that I heard he moved back with his parents in NYC.
What do you like to read?
I read mostly historical mysteries or novels from other countries. I like learning about other times and places. I just read the Italian novel about Arab immigrants called Divorce Islamic Style and an American historical novel about Jews in the Wild West among other things, Magic Words by a radio guy named Gerald Koplan.
Tell us what music we would find on your MP3 player right now and what is it you enjoy about that particular selection?
I don't actually have an MP3 player, but I've been listening to Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and mid-period Beach Boys, Pet Sounds to Sunflower. I admire iconoclastic geniuses, a bit of creative dissonance, and a nice tune!
Favorite artist you have met?
Have you ever thought about jumping over to the records side of the business?
I worked at a record store when I was a kid, which was great, and did promotion-distribution for a small label, which was extremely frustrating.
Please describe the worst promotion you've ever been part of?
We do a 96-cent movie promotion on a weekday night in a nearby city for a really good format-appropriate movie that no one had ever heard of. Our DJ and his number one fan were the only ones in the theater.