10 Questions with ... Bernie Mack
February 17, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- WCYO/Richmond, KY (Country) 2000-2002
- WKRQ/WGRR/Cincinnati (HAC/Classic Hits) 2002-2004
- WNDV/South Bend (Top 40) 2004-2006
- KLUV/Dallas-Fort Worth (Classic Hits) 2006-2013
- Westwood One Radio Network (HAC) 2013-Present
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
There was never any question what I'd do. When I was a kid, my grandmother gave me a Slimline tape recorder. That was the day that I fell in LOVE with the sound of my own voice! But, seriously... out of that tape recorder grew another tape recorder to me playing "radio" in my basement until I was 30.
2) Who do you consider your radio mentors?
There are ones I don't know... like the Howard Sterns or the Bob & Toms of the world.
And of the ones I do know... Peter Zolnowski is the man who hired me in 2002 fresh out of college as a board-op at WGRR. Then again in 2006 to produce and co-host the morning show in Dallas that was to follow radio legend Ron Chapman after his retirement. We're still great friends and I still bounce most my professional decisions off of him.
I also had the pleasure of working at the station I grew up listening to (Q102)/Cincinnati. Working at that cluster, I got to know Brian Douglas and Grover Collins (now at WUBE) and I really look up to their longevity and accomplishments.
3) What makes doing an nationally syndicated show like Hot AC ???? unique?
I tell people that I'm on 90 or so radio stations in places you've never heard of: great stations, owned in large part by great local owners. It's a totally different experience than working in a corporate environment. Westwood One's 24/7 formats beam into all kinds of markets via our automation technology called "Storq." It's an amazing, reactive technology that allows me to interact with local weather and events.
4) What do you like best about working in the Hot/AC format compared to other genres?
My goal was to do Top 40. And I did... for a little while. Then, I got the call to be on this Classic Hits station and I stayed for eight years. While I was there, I became a different type of radio guy. I went from jock to morning personality. I went from 18-34 to 45-54. I went from a music-based show to personality-based show.
One day, I woke up and thought that pretending I'm 25 was getting tougher and tougher. Not that I can never do Top 40 again, I love the music... but, I have a wife and I'm not partying six nights a week anymore, thankfully.
Right now, Hot AC is the format that is most in tune with the life I'm living. For the first time in my career, I'm doing a show for my age demo. My wife is a few years younger than me, and it's right in her wheelhouse of lifestyle as well.
5) How are you using social media to market your radio station and your show?
Social media has become a way to insert yourself into the listener's lives outside of the four or five hours you are on the air. Live Tweeting major television events or passing along important information via social media can have as much impact as passing it along on the air. Not to mention, the daily activity on Twitter and Facebook have become a shared experience to chat about with our listeners. "Did you see that meme that said _____ going around Facebook yesterday?"
6) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
The lack of intimacy. We've all heard that "radio is dying." I mean, television was going to kill us too? Then the Internet? Then, satellite radio? Now, Spotify and Pandora? Guess what? If radio dies after being tested so many times, we are doing it to ourselves.
The one thing that all of those other mediums can't offer is intimacy. It's the ability to reach out and connect on a personal level with listeners on weather frustrations, or the big sports team losing.
The dirty little secret is that you can be intimate with the listener and not be local. Sure, it helps. But, there is a lot of great syndicated programming that beats local programming by connecting in a better way. As an industry, we have utilized voice-tracking and show shifting technology... but are we using that technology to the best of its ability?
7) How do you prep yourself for your radio shift?
I prep the night show differently than we did the morning show. Mornings are more active listening, information-driven. I treat the night show as background listening or companion listening.
Everything on the Internet is keyword driven. Thus, I prep the night show (sort of) by keyword. I ask myself, "Am I hitting the keywords I want to hit this hour?" The morning show has shaped the narrative of the day. And the night show reacts to the narrative of the day.
8) What can we be doing with our station web sites to better our stations as a whole?
If radio doesn't fully embrace digital, it's going to leave us for dead. For example, iHeart is doing a great job of it. Others are catching up. The game is definitely changing. When Wi-Fi arrives in cars, AM/FM is going to see its first true challenger. That's when Spotify and Pandora and podcasts will compete on an even plain. Are we ready for that?
Quick story: I listen to my favorite morning show every morning via podcast. I have it set to download to my phone. That show has become a part of my daily routine like a show that was on traditional radio. When the technology crosses over to non-geeks, they will utilize it. That is what our business will be. We will go from the broadcasting business to the content production business.
9) What is the biggest change that you'd like to see happen in the business?
Honestly, I'd like the big conglomerates to sell off their bottom end stations (markets 30 and down). Clear Channel has five stations in Lima Ohio. Does it make sense to be the dominate player in Lima Ohio when you are also one of the dominating companies in Los Angeles? In that scenario, the big city station's problems trickle to Lima. Not sure that's fair for anybody. I'd love to see some local ownership rise out of those types of clusters.
10) What advice would you give people new to the business?
I once heard someone compare doing radio to learning how to fly. The best way to become a better jock is the number of flight hours. The more hours you put in on the air, the better you'll get. There's no way to rush it. If you have radio in your blood like many of us do. It'll drive those first few terrible years in Nowheresville, Oklahoma. But, you must do it to be better.
Who is your best friend in the business?
Otis at Kiss 95.1/Charlotte. Otis and I met at U93 in South Bend, and we have been close ever since. I met him the same week I met my wife. He was a groomsman in our wedding in 2010.
What's the best sweeper you've ever heard?
Not to throw my friends at Q102 in Cincinnati under the bus, but back in the late 90s, they got some competition from (then-Jacor) KISS107FM. It was Randy Michael's personal goal to topple Q102. It was brutal. It took Q many years to find its way in the market again. But, it was summed up by one KISS FM sweeper... "If Q plays All of Today's Best Music, why aren't they playing this?" And then... boom... they would drop "Mo Money, Mo' Problems" or some Rhythmic record that Q had been ignoring. It was strong and it branded the station's position perfectly. That always stood out to me.
Tell us what music we would find on your MP3 player right now and what is it you enjoy about that particular selection?
Because I'm a radio nerd, you'll find several playlists that are divided up like musical formats. Because listening to uncategorized music messes with my borderline OCD, my two favorites are my Triple A playlist and my Classic Alternative playlist. But I also love hip-hop. I like that some hip-hop artists are breaking out of the "bragging about rims and hoes" style of writing. That was getting tiring and derivative.
What has been your station's biggest accomplishment?
When I was working at KLUV in 2010, the morning show I was on were nominated for a Marconi in the "Classic Hits Station of the Year," and "Major Market Morning Show of the Year" categories, respectively. In 2011, the station was nominated a second time. We didn't win, but it was an honor to be nominated.
What is your favorite TV show?
I binge-watched "Breaking Bad" this past summer and caught up before the final eight episodes aired in real time. What an unbelievable show! It's a Masters' course in storytelling! The show was written and crafted with so much discipline. They established the direction and went in that direction. It is the best dramatic television show ever.
How did you get your on-air name?
It didn't have anything to do with Bernie Mac the comedian. He was an amazingly funny man. My buddies always called me Bernie Mack. It was catchy and it stuck. Every PD hates it. I could change it, but I have equity in it now.