10 Questions with ... Jimmy Steele
September 15, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
After running an AM/FM pirate station for a few years out of the basement where I grew up, I landed my first job on my 16th birthday at WKSN / WHUG, Jamestown, NY.
Since then, additional I have had a long list of jobs that include:
- WBEN/WMJQ/Buffalo, NY - Air Talent
- WKQB/St. Louis, MO - Air Talent
- WZEE/Madison, WI - PD
- WRVW/Nashville, TN- PD
- WNCI/Columbus, OH - Regional VP/Programming
- KHTS/KMYI, San Diego, CA - OM/PD
- CCM+E, San Diego: Director of Operations
- Saga Communications/Columbus, OH - WVMX, WSNY, WNND/WNNP - Director of Operations/Brand Manager
1). What Got You Interested In Radio?
No clue? When you catch "a bug," you probably weren't looking for it to happen. For me, I was bitten by the "radio bug" around age 12. By the time I was 16, I had an AM and FM station out of my parent's basement, with a 300 foot long AM antenna stretched across three house roofs and a 50 foot tower in the back yard for the FM antenna that I constructed at my dad's metal shop. Radio ...its a bit of an obsession for me.
2). Who do you consider your radio mentors?
Guy Zapoleon, Marc Chase, Gene Romano, and Buddy Scott to name a few. Since joining the SAGA family, I am fortunate to have added Steve Goldstein to my list of mentors. He offers fantastic support and resources. Try to ignore the brown stuff on my nose, but our President Chris Forgy is a tremendous mentor. Chris is an impeccable leader who clearly demonstrates that there is a difference between being a great manager and being a great leader. He is both. I have the pleasure of being mentored by Chris daily.
3). What makes the Columbus market unique? How does this compare to other markets or stations you have worked at?
As America's 15th largest city, Columbus modernizes every day and is America's 5th fastest growing metropolitan area. Compared to other markets I've lived in, I find this to be very cosmopolitan, yet based in family values. The city is clean, and it offers much to do for just about anyone.
This is a fantastic place to raise a family. Since my last stint in the market, Columbus has become much more diverse. We have the country's largest science center, and the top rated zoo.
As for the stations, SAGA Communications is very unique in that our parent company is operated by broadcasters who are inspired to create great content. The atmosphere in our cluster is intense and our efforts are collective. Teamwork defines the Columbus Radio Group. Every team member would agree that we consider ourselves an "at work" family. What can I say? I get paid for doing what I love.
4). What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
We've heard the CEOs say it over and over again ..."radio listening is at an all time high." Cume levels have certainly increased concurrent with population growth, resonant of the fact that people clearly use radio.
Digital technology and those evolving platforms have clearly fragmented time spent with radio posing an increasing challenge. This has become evident in formats such as AC, where overall success is dependent on "at work" listening. Despite the challenge which digital technology poses, our own industry has contributed our most pronounced issues.
Radio has lost about a share (of revenue) to digital. This has less to do with a share shift to digital than it does that broadcasters have fragmented their own platforms by placing their focus on less qualitative platforms further fragmenting audience and revenue.
We must embrace what radio does best. Create compelling content that is custom fit to radio as the delivery mechanism. As an industry, we need to reduce and not continue to increase non-content clutter. We need to work harder than ever to give people unique REASONS to listen to the radio. Radio is most effective at helping advertisers sell products and services. We must not dilute our abilities to do so. For example, a talent endorsement is special, unless every other commercial on the radio includes a talent endorsement.
Additionally, regardless of any research which suggests that listeners are acceptant to commercials, nobody is interested in sitting through eight minutes of commercials so they can hear a sponsored traffic report, followed by a sponsored weather report from the sponsored weather center, followed by "studio naming rights," and finally the name and tag line of the sponsor which is bringing you another 30 minutes of non-stop music.
5). How are you using social media to market your radio station?
We use social media to interact, recycle, and invite. We're actively using social media to drive audience to our web sites, to the radio station, generate leads execute promotions and drive revenue.
BUT at the end of the day, none of this can overshadow that we use social media to do what it is intended to do, which is how people also use it ... To INTERACT with our audience. Maintaining and nurturing a "talent to listener BOND" is not just a plus ... it's critically vital! We are engaged heavily in artist and client re-Tweets as a marketing mechanism. We use social media to recycle audience, not by throwing as much crap out there as possible, but rather by providing links that are relevant and inviting.
Additionally, we just launched "Social Solutions" with our interactive team. With "Social solutions," we work with our clients to host our promotions and market our brands on their social media platforms. We are able to generate targeted leads for our clients while keeping our sites (and air) clean.
Social media offers us a tremendous ability to market our assets. Just look at the increasing list of artists who have either launched their careers, or have made millions by selling their music on Social Media. Just ask Beyonce. And what about that PSY dude? We're always searching to identify and take advantage of every opportunity without violating the trust of our fans and followers.
6). What is it about Mix 107.9 that you feel really makes it cut through?
Attitude, energy, and localism. MIX has a localized ability to tap into the mother-daughter connection.
We take an aggressive an energetic approach to format execution. The station has greatly evolved over the past year. As the result MIX is on fire! I couldn't be more proud of MIX's success! All of our key dayparts have been re-cast. The music has changed and our spin counts have greatly increased. We're talking about Class-A market penetration from a stick that is 20 miles north of downtown Columbus. Because of the lack of building penetration, we program the station very aggressively for a HOT AC. MIX 107.9 is a hit music station for active listeners who are past their teens.
APD/MD Joe "Ogre" Kelly and I had worked together back in my days programming WNCI. We are great at playing off each other's strengths and weaknesses. We are like a married couple, as we make it a daily effort to challenge each other. In our music meetings, Joe's role is to get records played on the air, while mine to keep records off the air. It brings balance. At the end of the day, we work in concert.
7). In your opinion, what is that "special magic" that makes a "hit" record a hit?
When all the ingredients come together to instill emotion, and punch you in the gut! To quote Diane Warren, "Each song is like its own country...each having its own unique set of rules."
There is no set magic because the magic changes from song to song. That is what makes picking the hits fun! One thing which all hit songs share in common is that each possesses its own magic.
Life is about learning from our mistakes. Without music, life itself would be a mistake!
8). Pandora, iHeart, Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and many others have recently introduced music in "The Cloud." What effect will these new music services have on the radio and music industries?
Let me start off by saying that radio needs to be a part of it. More accurately stated, radio needs to make its best content available on the cloud. Otherwise, radio's reach will only become increasingly fragmented and become less relevant.
As broadcasters, we provide content. We need to make our content able to be consumed on all of the delivery vehicles which people use. Every content delivery mechanism comes with something it does best.
The same can be said of radio. For example, the content that we provide on the radio should be tailored differently than the content that we provide in the cloud. If you have a morning show with big market equity, you could package their blogs, podcasts, and "Best Of" content and put it out there. Embrace the opportunity to drive your audience back to the station.
9) How do you stay in tune with your audience?
Because we staff MIX 107.9 with local talent, we are completely wired into the communities which we serve. Our local focus has increased greatly over the past year. We can, and do, get out of the studio to shake as many hands and kiss as many babies as we can (just like politicians).
Of course, we research the lifestyles of our desired life groups. But most of all, we listen to our listeners and work hard to give them what they want from us. We're very active on social media. Our talent is constantly engaged with the audience. We study ALL feedback offered from our fans and followers.
10). What is the one truth that has held constant in your career?
The fire in my belly for what I do! It simply drives me! It has led to many challenges and even heartache during times in my life. That fire has also led to much success. I am proud of the work I've invested to get to where I am in my chosen career. I am grateful to be able to make money doing something I love!
What do you do in your spare time?
I love to spend time with my son and daughter. I am also an avid landscape photographer. My work can be seen at www.Lamarpics.com. Wait a minute, Steele isn't my real name? Sorry, out of time, See ya'!
What was the biggest gaffe you've made on air?
Switching the monitor from live program audio over to "actual AIR", so I could hear the last eight seconds of the break I had just completed. Only to FORGET switching back from the actual air-feed! Any talent will tell you it's probably happened to them. You hear the song fade and you start to talk only to hear nothing. The song already ended eight seconds earlier. Eight seconds later, you hear yourself trying to talk, and then you stumble as you try to figure out why the microphone isn't working? It's INSTANT EMBARRASSEMENT!
If your air feed includes an 8 second HD-matching delay, and you switch the monitor to "air", switch it back!
Please give us an example of a great promotion that your station recently did?
We blew out a bunch of tickets to an upcoming Katy Perry concert, and we threw in her limited edition vinyl record. The grand-prize-winner flew to Tampa to attend her concert there, along with tickets to Disneyworld and Busch Gardens. We are almost always executing exclusive artist listening parties. We frequently execute artist jock takeovers on the air where the artist is "In Control".
We're not reinventing the wheel, but in a recent perceptual we learned a lot about what our audience cares about most. Our job is to offer our listeners mass doses of what they want from a radio station.
What type of features do you run on the station?
"My Mix 3 at 3" where a listener gets to pick his or her three favorite songs. PM Driver Andre Styles gets the listener on the phone so they can guest host.
We run Billy Bush in the evening and carry Carson's Daly Download on Sunday.
We've recently added some new features to our new morning show "Joe & Trish, including "Joe's Wisdom from the Man Cave", "Fun in the 614" (reflecting our area code), "Trish's Trash", and "Trish's Health 411."
What is the most rewarding promotion or activity your station has been involved with to benefit the community?
We often cross pollinate MIX 107.9 with our sister AC station WSNY (Sunny 95). We try to think of most community engagement efforts in terms of the cluster to better market our efforts while increasing effectiveness to the events that matter most.
Each year MIX teams up to help promote "Sunny 95's 95 hours for Children's Hospital". We also work with clients to raise awareness and drive funds throughout the year. Our efforts are specifically targeted to the children, to provide toys, learning materials, iPads, interactive rooms, etc. I personally make time to read stories to the children at the hospital. It is a tough atmosphere, especially as I have two children of my own. It is also very rewarding. The children at the hospital certainly put life's priorities into perspective.
What advice would you give people new to the business?
It depends what you want to do, but assuming you want to be on-air, be true to yourself and do what you can to learn whether or not you have talent. If you do, ask yourself if this what you want to do, or is this what you are GOING to do?
Back in the old days, the vast majority of people that entered the business eventually got out. They will tell you it didn't pay well or that the hours sucked. Today, the excuse is that there are too few jobs, or that voice tracking has replaced the air personality.
Remember, it takes an air personality to voice track. The best talents get those jobs. Our business has always been competitive, but has become more-so than ever. You have to be competitive and driven. It takes time and dedication. You need to have a long-term action plan and be thinking about which path you are willing to take to reach your goals.
During the six months that I was out of work prior to landing here at Saga, I faced every day wondering if I would work again. During that time, I never considered changing careers. I remained focused on what I would do.
Avoid things that will limit your growth, such as the inability to re-locate (especially early in your career). You will likely need to relocate to get to where you want to be in your career.
Finally, learn as much as you can about the business. Learn marketing, social media digital skills, and learn the business end of broadcasting. After all, we are business.