10 Questions with ... Scott Gurstein
November 10, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- KWNK-A (67 K-WINK) Simi & San Fernando Valleys, CA - Intern/Sports Board Op/Weekends (1986 to 1987) (January, 1987 - First time ever on the air! Actually signed on the transmitter at 5:30am that morning, since at that time 670am in Simi Valley had such a power reduction after dark that it may as well have been a daytimer). (1986 to 1987)
- KMYX (K-MIX 106) Oxnard/Ventura, CA - Weekends/Swing/Overnights/Nights/PM Drive newscasts (still had afternoon news breaks in the late 80's) (1987 to 1989)
- WTHZ (Z-103) Tallahassee, FL...Late nights 10pm - 2am (1989 to 1990)
- WFHT(Hot 101.5) Tallahassee, FL...Weekends/Swing (1990)
- KFXY (Power 96) Morgan City/Houma, LA - Middays/PM Drive (1990 to 1991)
- KKMG (Magic)/Colorado Springs, CO - Weekends/Swing (1991 to 1992)
- KIKX 102.7 FM Colorado Springs, CO - Part time Weekends/Overnights (1992)
- Jones Satellite Networks (Hot AC) Nationwide - Weekends/Swing (1993 to 1994)
- KQKS (KS-104)/Denver, CO - Weekends/Swing (1993 to 1994)
- WCHZ(Channel Z-95) Augusta, GA- Production Dir./Nights/Middays (1994 to 1996)
- KHTO (Hot 106.7)/Springfield, MO - Morning Drive (1996 to 1998)
- WKSI 98.7 FM (The Point) Greensboro, NC...Nights/Middays (1998 to 2001)
- WTHZ (Hitz 94)/Greensboro/Winston-Salem/Charlotte - Nights - (2002 to 2005)
- WKZL/(107-5 KZL)/Greensboro, NC - Weekends/Swing - (2007 to 2010)
- WUHU/Bowling Green, KY Imaging Producer/Afternoons - (2010 to present)
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
Well, I'm going to have to break a promise I made to everyone a long time ago, that as long as I still got paid to sit behind a microphone, I would not turn to ditch-digging.
But this requires digging of a different type ... into the distant past. I had always been fascinated listening first to AM radio growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s. It was an odd combination of second-hand listening to KGIL-A (my mother would play it throughout the house with the radio-intercom system built into every room during weekday mornings getting ready for school), then we'd listen to KNX news radio on the way TO school, (yes, we carpooled. I know that's a dirty word today, but some pinko commie hippie tree-hugging America-hater has to say it; may as well be me) ... and of course, 93 KHJ on the weekends and any other time it was left up to me. I thought, "now THAT's how to get people's attention and get them talking about me!" The idea of getting into this industry was actually suggested to me by a Tower Records sales associate in the early 1980s. I was shopping for a couple of 45s (does ANYONE still know what those are?) I'm starting to feel a bit old now, so on to the next question ...
2) Who do you consider your radio mentors?
Here's another one that goes back 4 decades so I'll throw names out there chronologically: Steve Smith (yes, THAT Steve Smith, the current Cox VP of Radio Programming). He brought me on board as an intern at K-WINK/Simi Valley, CA while he was programming there in the mid 80s).
The late Howard "HT" Thomas (K-MIX 106 Oxnard/Ventura, CA PD). Brian Douglas (now VP of Operations at Entercom Greensboro). Michael Hayes (now PD at 96.9 More FM)/Fort Myers, FL), former Z-104 Norfolk, VA PD Mike Klein (he's a great PD and coach, if anyone's looking to bring in a new PD), and consultant Lee Logan of Shane Media.
3) What makes the Bowling Green market unique? How does this compare to other markets or stations you have worked at?
The most obvious trait that comes to mind is that Bowling Green has no audience measurement services or ratings data. Not because of size, but unique business conditions here resulted in a decision across all ownership entities to not buy ratings services since 2009.
Compared to rated markets, it's a double-edged sword. As in, live by the sword, die by same. We don't have volatile ratings data rolling in annually, bi-annually, quarterly, or monthly which can lead to sudden changes before a format, morning show, personality, or feature has had time to build momentum.
On the other hand, the absence of all measurement data leaves programming and airstaff scratching our heads, and guessing about how well we *think* we are doing in reaching our demographic targets consistently. This market-wide condition puts programmers and talent at a disadvantage for purposes of career advancement in larger, rated markets since many decision makers want to see a ratings track record when considering candidates for job openings in programming.
4) What is it about your show that you feel really makes it cut through?
Even though my show is on in a small market, this particular small market is very well serviced only 60 miles away by a high-profile medium market known as Nashville. Though I consider local and regional material to be "low hanging fruit" AND gold standard (most desirable) when it comes to content decisions for my non-benchmark breaks, I always apply the large market standards of delivery I learned from the mentors I named above. Enough information to leave my listener with a fairly complete picture (we ARE still talking to ONE person when we're on the air, right?)
At the same time, get it delivered in the simplest, tightest way possible and keep things really moving along. I consider it high praise when someone accidentally calls me during the afternoons when they actually intended to reach one of the contemporary music stations in Nashville for a contest or feature. She must be confusing us with one of them. Should I be irritated or feel like she "cheated on me?" Nah! Channel-flipping during drive time is just part of life in our business, in spite of our best efforts to keep a listener with us continuously. Both stations are probably on her speed dial, so she's probably a P1. If my PM drive sound is at the same level as theirs, we must be doing something right, besides occupying a spot on the dial adjacent to them. So, my phone gets an occasional contest call during one of their contests or benchmarks. I wonder how many listeners mistakenly place a call to them during one of ours.
5) How are you using social media to market your radio station and your show?
Our BG Morning show with Kirk & Brooke uses Facebook to reach out to users during their interactive program feature at 7:20 each morning. Our midday guy, Brady, uses it to promote "Throwback Thursdays" and "90's at noon."
I do contesting to randomly give away prizes from time to time; typically movie passes when we have extra pairs of those to give away as a result of promotional campaigns we do with the two movie theater partners with whom we work. Additionally, our PD Kirk Patrick introduced a "Selfie Sunday" feature earlier this year, which asks listeners and social media users to send us their selfies via FB, Twitter, and Instagram on the one day when voice-tracking reins supreme.
We then pick three winners the following morning at 8:50 for popular prizes. During the summertime, the prize which drew the most creative selfies was that coveted pair of passes to "Holiday World & Splashin' Safari." At this time of the year, that happens to be passes to popular haunted houses and trails in the area. On top of all of that, we use social networking for a variety of community service functions, everything from taking requests to re-tweeting lost pet alerts, to keeping followers up to date on community events!
6) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
The struggle to stay relevant, and offer content that REALLY compels today's tech loaded listener to choose local, terrestrial radio instead of satellite, and increasingly (and more critically) instead of Internet radio. Like most other terrestrials today, WUHU streams online in high quality audio, and we are accessible with the latest apps and via major platforms such as Google Play, Tunein, Streema, and from our website.
Going forward, terrestrial outlets with Internet streams will have to find a way to compete hardball-style online, given the FEROCIOUS amount of options a digital listener has. We also make use of all major social media. But we must not neglect our FM or AM signals while we're pursuing new frontiers on the digital battlefield.
7) How do you prep yourself for your radio shift?
One of the advantages to my show, is that I voice-track the 6-8pm evening period before going on the air live at 2:00. It's just before the daily voice-tracking that I go through not only prep sheets that our morning show staff copies for the rest of the airstaff, but also MSN, Yahoo, Facebook trend feed, local newspaper web sites, listings of upcoming concerts, and a calendar of local events.
During the voice-tracking, the simplest way to pull the latest artist information is Google news search. For the core names we play, such as Taylor, Katy, Maroon, Ariana, etc. (see? I didn't even have to use their last names; you know exactly who I'm talking about), the stories on them can break and change more than once per day. I try to get the very latest. By the time a two hour voice-track shift is done, I have a fairly good idea of what's going on and what I want to mention during the live show.
8) What do you like best about working in the Hot/AC format compared to other genres?
From a music standpoint, even though we have a secondary gold library with titles from the 90s, and in a few cases even to the early 80s, we are still a current music-driven format. The day-to-day presentation feels much fresher as new music makes its way through the nighttime and new programming categories and into medium or power ones. I've even noticed in some cases we're banging (no offense or infringement intended with that word, Miley. OK, maybe a LITTLE infringement intended. Don't C & D me, just call and we'll set up an interview to talk about it).
Some of the hotter tracks on WUHU even as many Top 40 stations in the region still have them rotating in only nights or overnights. Fresh is important, and familiar is important. The Hot AC listener gets both. From a content standpoint, the 32 year-old professional mom or WKU student is best served by more than just liner card reading or TMZ material. Certainly the Perez and TMZ current stuff is mainstay, but for young, educated adults it goes beyond that. That listener gets something out of hearing about the relevant, current, interesting, funny, or ironic as long as the material is delivered directly. With this format, I can get local material on the air over song intro's, not just with a "What's Happening" benchmark. I can pull material that addresses current stories in technology, relationships, fashion, office issues, or the latest scandal somewhere in public life. The list goes on and on. If it's trending, it's probably a good candidate to talk about on this format.
9) What is the most rewarding promotion or activity your station has ever been involved with to benefit the community or a charity?
From my standpoint, I would have to say that's a tie between our annual "Radiothon for the Center for Courageous Kids" in Scottsville, KY; and our supporting activities for the Bowling Green/Warren County Humane Society (Brooke Summers and myself appeared on cable TV yet again in late September for their 2014 "Adopt-a-thon," an effort to raise money and locate permanent homes for so many wonderful, beautiful, innocent fur babies).
10) What advice would you give people new to the business?
Stay out of my way. I don't need the competition. OK, the real answer? Recognize that the digital revolution has changed OUR game every bit as much as it has changed nearly every other business in the early 21st century. Understand that we are way more than just radio shows and call-in contests now. Social media, posted video, Skype-meeting listeners, and live video streaming with services such as U-Stream have every bit as much impact on building our brands and our personalities as doing traditionally great radio. But then, someone new to the business is probably young and more capable of recognizing the multi-platform realities than older veterans like me. This doesn't mean you put LESS effort or quality into your audio product. It just means you have to do these digital things just as well, and just as consistently.
Who is the most amazing talent you've worked with?
I would have to say Phlash Phelps, morning host of XM-Sirius "60's on 6." I still have DOZENS of bits we did together while we both worked at Z-103 in Tallahassee. He was doing evenings; I was late nights. And some of the crazy stuff we came up with... well, HE came up with ... wow!
What are your thoughts on the current season American Idol, The Voice, etc?
The impression I get is Idol has been displaced by The Voice in terms of hot, trendy, and talked about. Sorry Seacrest...but the ladies are cooing over Adam, Blake, and Pharrell 10 decibels louder than they are for you. But at least your AT40 show still has a home Saturday mornings on WUHU from 6-10am!
What is the biggest change that you'd like to see happen in the business?
I could probably name half a dozen, but I'll name the biggest overall change that encompasses several supporting changes: radio needs to re-focus on being live, local, hiring and supporting trained, ambitious talent to make radio across all markets FUN again!
I realize I'm echoing plenty of other long time veterans of this business, some with career paths boasting higher profiles, higher pay, and bigger markets. I have no interest in begrudging investors a solid return in a legacy business like ours, but at the same time, a shift in paradigm is badly needed if terrestrial radio wishes to bring those investors results in the long term, not just the short one.
How do you market your radio station? How are your reaching the target demos?
Kirk Patrick sends me out to the campus of Western Kentucky University wearing a sandwich sign that says, "Listen to this man wearing this sign this afternoon starting at 2:00 PM ... doing so counts as 3/4ths of your final grade in each class."
Actually not (although I'm concerned now that I've hatched the idea, he might actually go through with it). Actually, this market does not appear to lend itself to TV or billboard campaigns. That may be related to the absence of official audience measurement by Nielsen audio. Instead, as a regional signal in a college town, we rely heavily on "mobile prize window" stops, and appearances at events such as Hot Rods baseball games and the annual "Welcome Back Western" exposition for incoming students. We also have "RuHu" the "WUHU Ru," our mascot out there meeting, high-fiving, hugging, and dancing with people at events. Of course, on social media we employ heavy use of "share" protocols for contests we hold there.
What is the one truth that has held constant in your career?
They lied to me! Being on the radio IS NOT a sure way to get dates with girls and women! It never has been and it is not now, and never will be. You've got to be a rock star, actor, or an athlete for that. Or a VERY attractive inmate! That will earn you a reality show and/or a modeling contract as well.