10 Questions with ... Paul Varga
March 3, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Radio Disney/Albany & Boston - Promotions Assistant - 2005 to 2010
- WMLN (91.5)/Curry College Radio - Asst. Student News Director /Host of AP Award Winning "Hey You Talking to Me" 2006-2009
- WSLP (93.3) Mornings/PD/Sales/Social Media (North Country Radio) 2010-Present
- (Duties included on-air and programming duties for sister station WPLB (B100.7)/ Plattsburgh 2012-2013
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
Looking back on it now, I was a full on prize pig obsessed with listening to Don Weeks on WGY-A (810) in Albany. The man had a way of elevating you and your mood that was infectious, not a fake positive, but a real enthusiasm for your day. That experience made me want to bring to people into my own career choice just as Don Weeks and his personality brought light into some pretty dark days in my life.
2) What makes the Lake Placid market and WSLP unique?
Where else can you go for snowshoe in the morning, take a run on a mountain that hosted the Olympics twice at lunch and then take a bobsled ride in the evening? Nowhere! The stories and the people here are truly some of the most unique, from Polish immigrants opening up a restaurant named "Redneck Bistro," to Olympians training for the next games, to the celebrities that sneak into town to take in the mountain air. The Tri-Lakes plays home to some amazing people, who work hard to call this area their home (plus two million tourists yearly who wish it was theirs. Add a few million more stories and you have one of the most unique markets in the world.
WSLP is an exciting station, built on an A/C format. We are a small market radio station, but we do big market things. We do a lot of work for the community and our passion creates this wonderful bond that's unlike anywhere else. We have evolved into a station that truly has something for everyone (within reason). With such a small audience we do our best to make our sound diverse so we barrow from A/C Hot A/C some Classic Rock, and AAA to really achieve an independent sound.
Our promotions are unique and executed proudly. We've done the promo trip/live broadcast. We've built the brand and everyone works hard to push for greatness no matter if it's three or three million people listening. And we do it all on a shoe string budget too. It's cool to look back and appreciate this sometimes.
3) Who do you consider your radio mentors?
I am so grateful to have some amazing radio people in my life that have pushed me.
James Boniface who now is the GM of Radio Disney in Philly and he taught me the importance of never saying no when the answer can be a yes. Greg Tanner from KBZC in Sacramento, Zack Morse (a great prod guy in Philly), Paul Cubby Bryant out of New York City, D-Scott who does afternoons on Kiss in Albany, Adam Drake in College Station Texas, BJ Shea and his crew in Seattle, D Scott Meyers of the Tesh Media group, Dr. Alan Frank of WMLN/Curry College where I gladly call my Alma Mater, Lori Lewis and Stephanie Winans (can't forget those awesome ladies) and a dozen other awesome talents and industry people who have really been open to discussion, sharing and learning.
Having a mentor is tough these days and even a moment worth of their time is precious. Thanks to social media, I owe a lot to these people and want them to know it!
4) What has been your station's biggest accomplishment?
In 2011, tropical storm Irene flooded parts of our listening area pretty bad. Our small staff makes it really hard to do drives and other things because we don't have the manpower.
With Irene, we knew we needed to respond. So we set up a drive not expecting much. We ended up bringing five truck loads of items to the impacted areas and we were able to stock relief centers to the point that after the emergency, they were able to bring in another organization with a whole truckload of items that they then used (and I am sure are still using) to help those whose houses have caught fire or experienced other tragedies. The ball keeps rolling...
5) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
The next generation: These days, radio is so worried about streaming strategies, HD Radio, and Pandora stepping on their toes, etc. that there's no push for young people to get into this industry.
I'm 27, and I was lucky enough to find my opportunity to break down the door four years ago. But the industry uses, abuses, and then eats it's young. You say the word "Intern" at a conference and some industry vets vomit in their mouth. Passionate part-timers see no future in this business especially in the current culture where they're treated like less than dirt and seen as expendable. Where is the incentive to keep that passion?
There are the other outside issues too. The cost for higher education now greatly exceeds the standard salary. God help you if you want to earn a four-year degree and go into radio. I owe over $100K! Where in radio is the opportunity for a grad in that amount of debt to practice the craft in order to usher in a new golden era? Hardly anywhere?
The bottom line is that attitudes need to change. Granted, the next generation needs to play it right and pay their dues. But no one should be told, "Don't go into radio." No one should downplay other people's dreams and goals before they're even fostered. Let's be honest and realize that the best way to beat Pandora is to not end up like it a generic juke box.
6) How do you prep yourself for your radio shift?
I take about an hour and half to two hours prepping the show the night before in a relaxed state. In the morning I review the prep and make changes to see if anything else pops up. Then I listen to a good song I can just groove to before I go on air to get the blood flowing when no one is around to look at me weird so that's fun. "Happy" by Pharrell has been played just before 6 AM several times this month!
7) How are you using social media to market your radio station?
Because of our staff size we use Facebook to be that unifying voice. It's not just one person updating, it's the entire station reacting and reaching out. This creates that bond with the brand that people take with them when they go.
8) What are your thoughts on the growth of digital radio and how are you promoting your online brand?
Digital allows us to break through the mountains that curtain us in. But it starts with terrestrial branding and focusing on the community. Online streaming and our app are a vital second step because they act as that connection to an event. For tourists, it's the connection to the moments they had in the area. We see many using our online properties to relive and stay active in a community they really love.
9) How do you stay in tune with your audience?
We volunteer, we try to do longer remotes in more relevant locations, and we also engage through Facebook both on our business page and our personal pages. Nothing substitutes for the random encounter in person.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant in your career?
Be a radio good "Guy" or "Gal." The old saying the nice guys finish last says otherwise. But I heard a story on the radio the other day about a study of baboons where the idiots and jerk baboons fought over the women the good guy ended up with the girl.
There's this thought that in order to be successful you have to be egotistical, that you always have to gain something monetarily or publicity out of everything. This is simply not true. The ability to empathize, and have the best interest of not just yourself, but those around you will help elevate you as a talent, and as a person to incredible levels. What's the point of being at the top if you got there by burning down the building?
What's one thing that would surprise many people to learn about you?
I ran a half marathon in October of 2013. It was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. I hope to do a full marathon in 2015 and an Olympic length Triathlon by 30. Up here, we have the Lake Placid Ironman competition. Those people are crazy! I will not be doing that! More power to anyone who wants to but not me!
Do you have any good stalker stories? Misty requests? "Fatal Attractions?"
I had a listener by the name of Gino...Who I believe passed but he would listen to the Radio 24/7 because it's better than Tinnitus (Which is a huge compliment) Gino would call me every week and give me the names of women who he met. He would bring these awful muffins that tasted like they were made with a healthy dose of Windex and would send me random comic strips (some questionable jokes) and a very nice framed picture of Faith Hill with the note "To get you through the cold mornings..." These are my people.
What would you tell Young Talents looking for employment or underemployed?
Be frustrated. If you're not frustrated you're not giving yourself enough credit. That's when the doubt pushes through. Apply for positions that best fit you, fit your demo, fit your skill set and most importantly set up boundaries with yourself. It's ok to say no. This is not your last opportunity so don't be afraid. Most importantly, make the most of every opportunity. You never know how a moment can change your life.
Where do you see the industry and yourself five years from now?
The industry is still going to be focusing on the wrong things, I'd like to think there's going to be more regional owners...More space for young talent to grow and thrive.
As for myself, honestly I just want to be able meet my financial obligations, take my family on vacation once a year, and live in some modest digs that don't have black mold. If that's here in this community or another then time will tell, and the opportunity will tell!