10 Questions with ... Yisa Var
April 15, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started doing middays at KHWI in 1999, which was a Rock station at the time. Under Big Island Radio, I helped launch a Hawaiian music station called KAPA FM and even designed their award-winning slipper bumper sticker. I moved to New West Broadcasting in 2000 and worked the midday shift for over 11 years on their Classic Rock station B97/B93 (KNWB/KMWB). I balanced an on-air shift with traffic, billing duties and production. It was a great experience to learn so many facets of the business.
Now working at Hawaii's Wave, I feel my well-rounded experience will be an asset to my radio career going forward. After so many years doing middays, I am excited to have achieved my goal of live morning drive radio, and to come full circle with KHWI makes the story a fun one to tell.
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
I have always been a performer. I do a lot of community theater work, and I am a professional singer. Those two areas of training have set me up to succeed in the radio world. I love to talk, gossip, share information with the community, and basically put on a show. What better outlet than radio, where I can completely be my eccentric self!?
2) Who do you consider your radio mentors?
Radio can be a very competitive field. Finding someone willing to take you under their wing is tough to do. My mentor, the person who taught me everything from the ground up, is Kaohu James. He fought on my behalf for the bosses to give me my big break. He is a long time radio personality on Hawaii Island. He saw the hunger and talent in me and nurtured and fed my passion for radio. I owe my success to him!
3) What makes your market unique? How does this compare to other markets or stations you have worked at?
I have always worked in small market radio stations, but Hawaii in and of itself is very unique. From a music standpoint, the strong Hawaiian culture directly affects the music people play. Most stations focus on local island and Reggae music. Since those areas are well covered, our station is focused on sharing what is hot and new around the country, not the island. We play the songs you hear on prime-time television and topping the charts. We go out on a limb to play the stuff we think will be the next big hit. Sure, we go against the norm, but that is our strength. The positive feedback we have been receiving proves we are doing something right!
4) What is it about your show that you feel really makes it cut through?
Well, there is certainly no one else like me. I have lived on Hawaii Island for most of my life. I even attended college at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. I am in touch with the culture and the community, but I have always been involved in the entertainment field too. I don't just attend events. I am usually a part of them somehow, whether starring in a play or headlining a concert. I take all those experiences and share them freely. I think being open and honest lets people know the real me. It is not a character or performance. It's me being me... the good, the bad and the ugly. I think that realness is refreshing for our listeners who like to have a friend in their radio and not just a voice.
5) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
Across the board, staying relevant is the biggest challenge. With technological advances in just the last decade, people have many choices as to how they receive their news, information, and music. We are tasked with finding ways to be available on a variety of platforms without compromising the product. I think this is where real people and real conversations make the difference and give the listeners a reason to keep tuning in.
6) How are you using social media to market your radio station and your show?
Social media has been an interesting challenge. I make it a point to remain completely transparent on the air, on my own social media pages, and on our station's page and web site. I share my personal life, my family life, and whatever is going on in my world. I don't filter anything out so social media has been a great extension to a live radio show. It is a way to keep the conversation going when the show is over. We love to ask questions and polls to keep that interaction going. We don't use it as promotion as much as a means of connecting with the listeners.
7) What do you like best about working in the Hot/AC formats compared to other genres?
Well it is nice to be somewhat cool in my kids' eyes for a change! I have worked for "Oldies" stations in the past and my boys always teased me. Now I can sing along to the hot new tunes and even introduce them and their friends to up and coming artists. Yeah, I have some street cred with my kids now! But seriously, this format is great! Especially here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We are so far removed from the continental United States that we tend to feel a bit isolated. Connecting with the current hit music helps connect us to the culture of the country as a whole and not just our island.
8) How do you stay in tune with your audience?
We like to ask a lot of questions and ask for feedback online, on the streets, at events, or any chance we get. We want to know what our listeners like and what they don't. We know there is always room for improvement and you will never know unless you ask.
9) What has been your station's biggest accomplishment?
We had some growing pains in the beginning. Starting a radio station from the ground up is not easy task. Even through all of our challenges, we managed to build a solid listenership and that is a huge accomplishment. It proves that we have found a model that works for our unique community and we are thrilled to have very loyal and supportive listeners. Now that we are moving ahead without all the hiccups, we look forward to building our fan base even more. We are really putting the effort in to strengthening our business model and giving our listeners the quality programming they want and deserve.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant in your career?
"Fake it till you make it!" That is my mantra! You never know what you can do until you try! And once you try you will eventually find a way to succeed. With passion, knowledge and commitment, anything is possible. My mom used to always tell me, "If you think you can't, you're right." So I just think I can until I do!
What do you do in your spare time?
I am a theater junkie! I love musical theater, whether I am the star or in the chorus, it is fun to play dress up and be someone else for a while.
My hobbies have morphed into jobs, but I still call them hobbies because they are so much fun! I sing and perform with a few local bands and I also do a lot of voiceover work, everything from phone systems to audiobooks.
What was the biggest gaffe you've made on air?
The one mistake that will haunt me forever happened on my very first radio shift. I completed my training and was ready to voice track my very first midday shift, which was only four hours long. It was my audition, as the job was down to me and one other DJ. I spent about an hour just staring at the mic. I was terrified to speak! I finally hit the record button and pre-recorded the shift (yes, it was a voicetracked show). Somehow as I finalized the tracks, I must have hit the wrong button and recorded a track of me just giggling. And yes, it aired as the very first break on my very first show. Fortunately I still got the job, but I have not lived that one down yet.
What is the most rewarding promotion or activity your station has ever been involved with to benefit the community or a charity?
I recently had the opportunity to emcee the Hope Gala for the American Cancer Society. I not only represented our station, but I represented other cancer survivors. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31 and also fought through two recurrences. I used many of the services offered by the American Cancer Society throughout my diagnosis and treatment. Being able to bring public awareness on the radio to an event that is so near and dear to my heart, and participating on such an intimate level was satisfying personally and professionally.
Tell us what music we would find on your MP3 player right now and what is it you enjoy about that particular selection?
I am a Billy Joel super fan!! My iPhone is filled with every one of his albums. I was raised on his music and listening to it now transports me back to the very beginning of my love affair with music. Billy Joel is the reason I sing and his music taught me harmonies, modulations, chord progressions and his lyrics are just incredible. He is a musical genius! Other than Billy, I have everything from Metallica to Raffi to the Les Mis soundtrack. I love music in all forms. If I can sing along, I am happy!
What is your favorite TV show?
I love reality shows about tattoo artists. "Best Ink" is certainly a favorite because of the competition aspect, but I like to watch "NY Ink," "L.A. Ink" and "Miami Ink." Anything with the word Ink, I guess? I have a full back piece that extends down my right leg, and a half sleeve. Watching the tattoo shows is my equivalent to watching the Home Shopping Network. I get to see tattoo designs and think about what I want to get next.
What advice would you give people new to the business?
I always tell people to decide what they want and then put themselves there. If you show others you want it badly enough and are willing to work for it, eventually someone will take a chance on you. When I started in radio, I was the receptionist. I had just graduated from college and dreamed of a career on the air. I figured if I was in the building then I had a chance down the road. Within months of getting hired at the front desk, the station's midday personality abruptly quit. I was there, I was eager and ready to learn, and I eventually got the job. I put myself where I wanted to be and worked hard until I made that dream come true. So my advice is, if you want it, prove it!