10 Questions with ... Rob Creighton
January 20, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
(1992-1999) - Loyola University WLUW (88.7)/Chicago - In the early 90s it was an influential dance station called "Energy 88.7." I worked my way up from weekend jock to a full-time University Employee as Asst. Station Manager/PD. I also helped transition the station from a commercially modeled station to a community oriented station.
- (1995) - 102.3 XLC/Waukegan, IL - Weekend personality
- (1999) - C-U Radio/Champaign, IL - Fun and Games Director - I also did afternoons on WQQB Q-96, and a very short stint as midday host on Country station WBNB B-95.
- (2000) Middays then nights via tracking for WJTW Star 93.5 in Joliet, Illinois.
- (2001: PD for CHR WBVS 100.7 the Bus in Joliet, IL. In January of 2003 I launched WRXQ (100.7RXQ), a Classic Rock Station on this frequency.
- (2005) - PD for 94.1 WVIC in Lansing, MI.
- (2006: Weekend jock for WSSR (Star 96.7) in Joliet, IL
- (2007) - PD/Afternoon host for Classic Rock WSHP (95.7 The Rocket)/Lafayette, IN
- (2011) - Night talent for WKOA K105, Lafayette, IN
- (2011) - PD/Morning Host for KLZK (97.3 YES FM)/Lubbock, TX. In 2012, I helped launch a new frequency KLBB (107.7 The Eagle)/Lubbock's Classic Hits."
- (2013) - OM/PD Morning Host for KLZK (97.3 YES FM) and OM for KXTQ Magic 93.7 Lubbock, TX.
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
I was in school at Loyola University Chicago and really interested in pursuing a career in film or TV as a director or producer. I stepped into the WLUW offices and that was it. I was hooked within days!
We were running the Jam Jingle package from Z-100, Mark "Mr. Voice" Driscoll liners produced by MJ Kelli, and the music was scheduled in Selector. All of that sucked me in.
At the time, if you were pursuing a radio career, it was a great place to start. It put me in an environment where there was significant competition between students for shifts and student jobs, but despite that, there was a level of professionalism not found at many college radio stations.
I had an opportunity to work with great people who went on to do great things in the industry: WLS AM 890's GSM Angenette Natkowski; 100.7 WMMS' Alan Cox; RCA Senior VP of Promotion Jeff Rizzo; Jennifer Lizak, publicist at Metro (Very famous club/venue in Chicago); Joe "Jammin' Down JD" Delfin and Rob Austin, who started Jam Traxx Media and continue to dominate the syndicated mix show business; DJ Markski, who went on to be one of the biggest club DJs (and a household name at B-96 in Chicago in the late 1990s); and Jeff Andrews, who started the Sheet Happens prep service. It was a great place to nurture an obsessive love of radio.
2) Who do you consider your radio mentors?
My first radio mentors were Dr. Sammy Danna and Mr. Jim Lemon at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Danna founded Loyola's radio station, WLUW, and gave me a love of broadcasting by teaching me its history and putting me in a position to learn from some of Chicago's best and brightest radio managers through the Loyola Radio Conference.
Mr. Jim Lemon, as General Manager of WLUW, helped me develop my management style while giving me lessons in managing staff and putting me in positions to advance my career.
The late Nick Farella, the PD of 102.3 WXLC in Waukegan for many years, was also a mentor of mine. He hired me (and other greenhorn Chicago-area broadcasters) for my first commercial radio job. When he heard something in your show that needed improvement, he knew how to critique and teach you in a positive way without turning it into a nerve-wracking air check session. Over time, Nick became more than just a boss. He was someone I went to with problems or questions about programming or about the direction of my career. He taught me the value of a boss having your back.
Another mentor of mine is Dana Jang, my Group PD at Next Media Chicago. Dana gave me my first commercial programming job. While guys like Nick and Jim taught me the basics of how to manage people, Dana supplied me with the nuts and bolts of programming. He taught me about internal and external marketing, music rotations, and effective imaging and promotions. Dana also helped me implement my vision for the stations I ran for him and guided me through the experience of building a brand from the ground up when we launched "The Southland's Classic Rock 100.7 RXQ" in Joliet.
This is going to sound like ass kissing, but I consider my current GM and Chief Revenue Officer of Ramar Communications Chris Fleming to be a mentor as well. Working for him is like a graduate level course in radio management. He's a former programmer who has extensive sales and management experience. He is involved in Ramar's radio operations. In the two years I've been here, I feel like I've received a refresher course in everything my other mentors taught me and then some. Chris actively engages us, challenges us, and creates a successful work atmosphere with high expectations. He causes me to want to meet those expectations by bringing out the best in me and making me want to bring out the best in my staff.
3) What makes the Lubbock market unique? How does this compare to other markets or stations you have worked at?
Lubbock's a unique market from the perspective that listeners bond with their favorite stations' personalities. It surprised me because it's something I haven't experienced working in similarly sized smaller markets. Our Tejano station, Magic 93.7, is the heritage station in our group with a talent line-up that has been together for years. The bond the air staff shares with their listeners is inspiring. At any Magic event there are hugs, handshakes, and conversations with listeners. It's like we (the Magic staff) are part of the listeners' families.
A year after we launched 107-7 the Eagle we hired market veteran Kidd Manning to host afternoons and he added credibility to our well-received Classic Hits station. The bonds our jocks have with the listeners is one of the best perks of working in Lubbock, especially after working in markets where people in the community aren't invested in radio.
Tejano radio: Lubbock (and Texas, in general) is unique because there are formats you don't find in most other places like Tejano and Texas Country. Tejano music is folk and pop music that originated among Tejanos (Texans of Mexican descent) with roots in the 19th century. Most of the music lyrics are Spanish, the DJ breaks are English with the occasional Spanish phrase or word, and the commercials are predominately English. As OM, I deal more with the technical, engineering and promotional aspects of the station. PD Jennifer Martinez (known on the air as Chismosa) manages the music, builds relationships with the artists and record labels, and manages the talent.
What I like about the format are the close relationships between the artists, managers, record labels, the station, and the fans. Jennifer Martinez can easily pick up the phone and get in touch with the artists we play, even the superstars. We did a concert this fall with A.B. Quintanilla III y los Kumbia King All Starz at the South Plains Fair and after the show we were on the bus chatting about Lubbock radio with their manager and he's telling stories about how he knew Jennifer when she was a baby DJ. Those are powerful relationships that are beneficial for the artists, the station, and the listeners. It's refreshing to be a part of something so organic. It's not an experience I'm going to have while programming a mainstream music format in a smaller market.
Texas Country is the other format unique to Texas. It's a stripped-down, anti-sanitized version of country, folk and rock mixed together. We don't have a Texas Country format in our cluster, but we do have a competitor in Lubbock with this format. The Texas Country station app on my phone is 95.9 the Ranch out of Fort Worth. Anytime I'm taking the long trip down 114 to Dallas, I can't wait till I can tune them in. The jocks know the music and are allowed to show their personalities, which contributes to the gritty personality of the station that sucks me right in and keeps me listening. While I can't speak from experience, I suspect the relationships between the artists, labels, listeners, and stations that play Texas Country are similar to the relationships I've witnessed as I help manage Magic 93.7. It's great to be in a region that has formats that cater to the culture. While not every region has a specific musical genre they can develop into a format, it's a shame that the corporatization of radio along with the development of technology has curtailed the regional and local flavor reflected in a station's music. I appreciate being a part of a station that does that.
4) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
In music radio: Devaluation of the on-air personalities and what they bring to the station. Jocks are the connection between the music, the station, and the listener. That connection is even better if the personality lives in the city he or she is broadcasting from and is cracking the mic live for four or five hours a day.
Radio is so much more than a device that brings music into the home or the car; it can provide people with a sense of belonging. Radio can be a friend and cheer you up after a bad day. It can evoke emotions of happiness, sadness, and anger while also reassuring you that the world is still turning on its axis. While music also provides some of these benefits, I'd argue that a good on-air personality can provide all of these things to a listener. Music may get them to the station, but what's happening between the songs will keep them tuned in despite a song they don't like or a commercial break, and it might meet emotional needs they weren't conscious of when they tuned in. Music radio is just another music delivery device (no better than a personal music collection) when it chooses not to take advantage of the human element.
5) How are you using social media to market your radio station?
My stations (97.3 YES! FM and Magic 93.7) have web sites, mobile apps, text clubs, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts.
On 97.3 YES! FM we use social networking as an extension of the brand. It's less about promotion and more of a continuation of our content. We try to expand the on-air content by giving listeners an opportunity to interact with us. In many ways, social networking is the 21st century request line.
We've also brought some of this social networking aspect to our website and our mobile apps by utilizing a chat wall that allows people to post Twitter-like content and have conversations with us and each other right from our website or mobile app. The wall also integrates and lets us cross-post content on Facebook and Twitter. The chat wall is part of our brand, which is much cooler than if it was our brand living on a social network's brand.
6) Do you have a Social Media Director on your staff? If so, how does this person interact with your programming staff?
Todd Howell is our Interactive Director. Our group consists of 12 distinct radio and television brands in Lubbock and Todd's responsible for executing website design, managing our app development, troubleshooting issues with our digital products and when it comes to radio, posting and implementing some of the content we need on the site. It's a big job, and only part of it is interfacing with programming. He's also responsible for implementing and ensuring any digital marketing efforts sold by our sales team get posted.
Todd's relationship with each station and each programmer is different based on the needs of the station. Our talk station, our sports station, and our Fox Television station require consistent updating of news and Sports stories generated by station personnel, so he does more training and teaching with those staff members so they can post more of their own content.
Vince Carrillo, Magic 93.7's Morning Co-Host, learned a lot about how to post content through our website's back end when we didn't have an interactive director, so he handles a lot of that for Magic 93.7. I have a working knowledge of Photoshop, so I'll handle a lot of the web banner creation for promos and shows that get posted on 97.3 YES! FM.
Because we own TV stations, we also have a graphic designer, Damon Wiseman, who primarily handles television graphics, but he'll jump in and work on graphics for some of our bigger projects like our concert events, logos, etc. and much of his work ends up online. In addition, our engineers Tee Thomas and Chris Sizemore and our Promotions Manager Nikki Heverly work with Todd on various aspects of our digital initiatives. It's truly a collaborative effort.
7) How do you prep yourself for your radio shift?
I do a three-hour show from 6-9am each morning. I'll get up about 4am, shower, shave, dress and then take care of walking and feeding my dog. After that I'll grab a bowl of cereal or oatmeal and watch part of an early local newscast to get an idea of local things might be worth talking about during my show.
When I get to the studio I'll grab some coffee and look at a couple of local websites to flesh out any local items I want to talk about. Then I'll look at some prep services and see what kinds of things my Facebook friends are posting. Facebook is a good resource to gauge what's going to be popular in social media feeds throughout the day. I try to do a mix of content that's compelling water cooler talk, celebrity gossip, local interest and bits that will save our audiences' families time, money or keep them healthy.
Between syndicated shows that are mostly talk, and heritage shows in town that spend a lot of time chatting, we've positioned my show as "more music mornings." So I really try to stick to one topic per break: content, a contest, or station business that pertains to a promotion, event, or feature on the station. I'm also at my best working from a detailed script of what I want to chat about. I don't read it verbatim, but scripting it out allows me to have a solid grasp of what I want to say before I say it. It also helps me hit all the elements I want to hit in a break: time, weather, content and tease out.
Lubbock is a small city. Morning listenership doesn't pick up until right before 7, and by 7:45, many moms and dads are busy dropping kids off at school. Combine that with a relatively short commute time, and there's a small window of time to grab people's attention and get them to interact. I gear most of my listener interaction on the phone and online between 6:50-7:50.
8) How do you feel terrestrial radio competes with the satellite radio, Pandora and Internet Radio, (iHeart), and Streaming services such as Spotify, MOG, Deezer, etc. for today's music listener?
I sold cars a few years ago while I was on the beach, and one of the upsells I talked to guests about was satellite radio. Largely, people perceive satellite radio as paying for something they currently get for free and already enjoy.
However, there is a market for satellite radio among folks who spend significant time in their vehicles and don't want to surf the dial to find stations away from home that match their tastes. It also appeals to people who enjoy the types of music that terrestrial radio isn't programming (and probably couldn't make money doing so).
Many of the other services are essentially appliances that help us listen to our music collection or access an unlimited virtual music archive. The differences between these appliances and a CD player, cassette player, or an 8-track are that much more of our own music collection can travel with us and it's easier to curate our collection digitally than having to make mix tapes or change CDs. These services give music lovers more options, especially on-the-go.
I think listeners choose radio versus listening to their own music collections for a variety of reasons. They want a human connection, they want to change their mood, they don't want the hassle of maintaining their own collection, and they want to belong to something. In other words, they're seeking something they can't get from their music collection.
I think we forget that not everyone who enjoys music is sampling the unknown artists popping up on the iTunes charts or the free offerings from Amazon's MP3 store. Many people still find out about new music from listening to the radio even if they can find it online first. That's the difference.
If, as an industry, we perceive music radio as nothing more than a music delivery system that offers nothing but a music stream people can listen to. Why should we bother when other appliances do the job more efficiently and can deliver listeners exactly what they want? When we realize that it's the music plus the "X" factor that entices our audience to listen, then we have a product people will listen to whether they get it over the air, on their computer, or through their smart phone.
9) What are your thoughts on the growth of digital radio and how are you promoting your online brand?
Most people today live at least part of their lives online, so radio needs to have a strong presence there. Adding in the fact that you can download songs, curate your music collection, watch videos, movies and TV shows on your phone or computer, it's imperative for stations to have their piece of real estate on the web and on listeners' smart phones.
We drive listeners to our social networking sites and our website by trying to engage them in interaction. We strive to take a lot of what we're chatting about on the air and put it on Facebook, Twitter or The YES Chat Wall on 973YesFM.com.
Much of our promotion of our online brand revolves around mentioning that people can communicate with us there. We also try to sell the benefits of our online brand. For example: you can listen on your computer, find out what we just played, or post on the YES FM Chat Wall at 973YesFM.com. You can listen on your smart phone or post on the YES FM Chat Wall from the 97-3 YES FM Mobile App.
10) What advice would you give people new to the business?
If you want a broadcasting career, you can never give up. I came out of a highly competitive collegiate broadcasting environment and worked with some creative natural talents. Some of these folks got jobs in the radio and record business and found success quickly. It took me longer and at times it was frustrating for me. If you keep banging on doors, eventually one will open. Once one opens, the sky's the limit. If you give up and do something else and change your mind, life has a way of making it hard to restart the process. (It's not impossible, but life and commitments makes it harder and that stops many people from doing it.)
Find good friends and mentors in the business. Good friends in the business will pick you up when you're down, motivate you when you need it, and reassure you that you don't stink. Good mentors will be honest with you and help you improve. They'll assist you with career and job choices and help get you to the next level. Both friends and mentors can help get you jobs.
Enjoy the process of searching for your first and every job. It's easy to forget when you're trying to land the job while money is tight and you're hearing a lot of "no" during your search. Yet I've met many wonderful programmers, managers and talents, and I've learned something from most of them just by engaging with them in the interview process.
In addition, I've gone to many wonderful places I wouldn't have seen if not for job interviews. I saw the dam on the Mississippi River in Keokuk, IA. I drove down the main drag in Myrtle Beach in a rented Mustang while going to a job interview in Wilmington, NC. Many times I've felt the thrill of something new while stepping on a plane to interview somewhere I've never been. All are wonderful experiences I treasure.
Who is the most amazing talent you've worked with?
Kraig Karson at Kiss 103.7 in Milwaukee. He's a natural talent with strong opinions and a great sense of humor. He is always fun to listen to when he's on the air. He could be on any station in any market, and sound amazing! We worked together at the beginning of our careers at 102.3 WXLC in Waukegan, and he did weekends and imaging for me at 100.7 the Bus/100.7RXQ later in our careers. Off the air he's a great buddy who can pick you up with his silliness, but he can also have a serious conversation without turning everything into a joke. For me he's the guy in the business who picks me up when I'm down. He motivates me when I need it, and gives me perspective when I need it.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
As a little kid it was the usual: policeman, fireman, paramedic, DJ ("CHIPs", "Emergency" and "WKRP in Cincinnati" certainly influenced my imagination). In high school I was involved in theater, I was a student athletic trainer, and I played guitar, so I had interests in athletic training and movies, television and music. The first time I walked into Loyola University's WLUW, I think I had focused my interests on working behind the scenes in film or TV. I had no idea radio would be so influential in my life. It was just a communications class I had to take.
Who is your best friend in the business?
There's a group of five of us that all became buddies working together at Next Media in Joliet: Kraig Karson (now at Kiss in Milwaukee), Matt DuBiel (who now owns WCKG-A 1530), Chris Tarr (Director of Operations & Engineering at 88.9 Radio Milwaukee), and Ryan Snow (Operations Supervisor for HERE Traffic).
These guys are my best friends in the business. We try to get together a couple of times a year and have a blast just screwin' around and talking about radio, life, kids, and our families. We're going out for Malört and fruity drinks with umbrellas the next time we get together!