10 Questions with ... James Baker "Jim Kelly"
February 2, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
My career has taken me to small, medium, large and major markets from WTBX Hibbing, MN., KZIO Duluth, MN; WNVZ Norfolk-Virginia Beach, VA; to Los Angeles including Westwood One Radio Networks, KBIG Los Angeles, to KIOI and KFRC/San Francisco, and finally here in Saudi Arabia to Saudi Aramco Radio where I have been for 5 years now.
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
What got me interested in radio was listing to the KFRC (Big 610) in the mid 70's through the mid-80's and hearing the unbelievable fun coming out of the speakers listening to Dr. Don Rose, John Mack Flanagan, Big Tom Parker, Bill Lee, Marvelous Mark McKay, Bobby Ocean, Harry Nelson, Sue Hall, "The Duke" Dave Sholin and the list goes on! These were my early mentors and I was lucky enough to work with some of them which was a dream come true! I have the utmost respect for each and every pro who stepped behind the mic at the Big 610!
2) The last I recall you were doing radio in San Francisco. How the heck did you end up doing radio in Saudi Arabia?
Let's rewind back to November 2008 and a few weeks after 106.9 KFRC had changed from Classic Hits to KCBS (All New 740) and eliminated the staff. I was at a crossroads where my wife was pregnant with our son Ozzie, KFRC had changed formats only months earlier and every job out there either did not pay as much as the last, or was in a place that we did not want to live. It took approximately one year from the time I applied to the time I left on a plane to Saudi Arabia. It was definitely a leap of faith (having never been to the Middle East) and I will always be grateful for the opportunity given to me from my predecessor, John D'Angelo who picked me out of the pool of what he told me was 500 applicants.
Saudi Aramco is the biggest company in the world with 55,000 employees at the headquarters here in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. There are many jobs for Oil company professionals from Geologists to Engineers and the list goes on. But there was just one job to be the Supervisor of Broadcast Services, and that became my job! I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of the radio stations that have been a part of Saudi
Aramco almost since the beginning of the company!
Originally, the stations were specifically for the expat community, but more recently they have been utilized as Public Relations tool for Saudi Aramco with an emphasis on Health and Safety Messaging to specific programs like the Ithra Knowledge Program (an annual cultural wellness event put on in several different cities throughout the Kingdom). The stations will also play a big role in helping to promote the opening of the King Abdulaziz Center for Knowledge and Culture which is set to open in 2016.
As far as living here, we live on a compound 5x5 miles with approximately 15,000 residents. The schools are very good and the curriculum is similar to a lot of private schools in the US. There are many other amenities from recreation to shopping and healthcare all located on the compound. The houses are adobe style, the same you'd find in Southern California or Arizona.
3) Please tell us about your position with Saudi Aramco Radio and how this differs from radio in the US?
These stations were the first stations in the region, which began in the 1930's as patio broadcasting, later on AM and finally FM for more than 35 years. The stations are non-commercial and rather than subscribe to a relaxed approach of many non-commercial stations, these stations have a clearly defined commercial sound only they do not play commercials. The stations have jingles, sweepers and show promos as well as Public Service announcements which highlight the many Saudi Aramco organizations which have an imact on employees, their families and the surrounding communities.
4) What makes your station or broadcasting in this location unique? How does this compare to other markets or stations you have worked at?
Studio 1-FM and Studio 2-FM are the original English stations in the region broadcasting programming in block form covering 10 different formats on two channels. These stations are non-commercial, but are run like a Top-40 commercial station. Studio1-FM's primary format is Hot A/C. However, other formats that are broadcast on Studio 1-FM include Classic Rock, Classic Hits, R&B, Dance, and Blues. Studio 2-FM is called Today's Smooth Mix where the formats include Smooth (a blend of Smooth Jazz and Soft A/C), World Music, Classical and Chill.
Saudi Aramco Radio began in 1938, then moved to FM dial in the 70's and continues to broadcast English programming that is heard not only in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. Besides morning shows on both stations that are tracked (by myself and colleague Robert London on Studio 2-FM), we rely heavily on syndicated programming provided through an exclusive agreement with Westwood One. Some of the Shows that we take include the World Chart Show with Lara Scott, the UK Hit Music Chart Show, The Classics with Steve Downes (from the Drive in Chicago), Retro Stars-80's with Dave Stewart (from WCBS), and House of Blues with Elwood are among the shows heard weekly on Studio 1-FM.
Likewise, Studio 2-FM has syndicated programming that includes Chill with Mindy Abair, Jazz Variations with Tonia King, Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis, and the Score with Edmund Stone. The programming partnership with Westwood One (in place for over 20 years) is what, makes this possible and a team of people who continue to support us include Susan Stephens, David Felker, Scot Kirk, and Music Director extraordinaire Teresa Cook, who are an integral part of the team. They help us to deliver consistent programming to the region on a weekly basis.
5) What is it about these stations that you feel really makes them cut through?
One of the things that helps us rise above the other stations in the region is the audio sound following a studio and equipment upgrade in 2011. We also have great processing and an audio chain that gives us a consistent and clear sound!
6) How are you using social media to market your radio station?
We have a Facebook page for both Studio 1-FM and Studio 2-FM. We use them similar to a website because there is not current website for both stations; however that is in the works.
7) How do you stay in tune with this diverse audience?
We just concluded an employee survey using the Saudi Aramco internal survey department. They asked a variety of questions of the 55,000 person workforce which demonstrated strong usage patterns: 35-60 for Expats, and 18-34 Saudi. The number one preference for Music with Expats was Classic Rock followed by Classic Hits. Saudi's preferred Pop/Hot A/C.
8) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
The number one issue facing radio today is relevancy. How important is radio to the listener especially when there are so many Internet choices and radio genres.
Fortunately, there is a great deal of passion for the kind of radio programmed on Studio 1-FM and Studio 2-M. While music is the star, how it is packaged is what gets listeners excited, whether it's "Good Morning Saudi Arabia" or the "World Chart Show" on Studio 1-FM or "Fresh Mornings" or "Today's World Music" on Studio 2-FM! Music, Pop Culture and as most stations do, we use Social Media to create a portal for communication and feedback which helps to reinforce the bond with listeners and the stations.
9) Who do you consider your radio mentors?
I have worked with many radio professionals over the years and several stand out in my mind.
Jhani Kaye and Michael Martin are at the top of the list. Jhani taught me the importance of eliminating the negatives and accentuating the positives within the organization both internal and on air. Michael Martin taught me how to grow a radio station and keep it relevant within the changing marketplace. Both are great managers and I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work with them day to day.
Another mentor who helped me to grow as an air talent is Craig Roberts (KFRC, KYUU, Westwood One Radio Networks).
Finally, my current Division Head Osama Alkadi, has a media background including video and graphic design, so he comes at the business from a different angle. His passion for the radio stations comes from a listener perspective which is a benefit. He also has the ability to approach the radio stations from an objective point of view. His suggestion to develop the World Music format has been one of the most positive progressive features for Studio 2-FM in terms of growing the audience. My colleague Rob London and Teresa Cook from Westwood One crafted a unique sound that has been embraced by the Expat and the surrounding Saudi communities.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant in your career?
Know many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe!
What's one thing that would surprise many people to learn about you?
The one thing that would surprise people is that I used to sing from the time I was 7 to 13 with the San Francisco Boys Chorus. I was even invited to the White House for the 1976 Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony with President Ford.
Also in 1976, I sang with the Chorus in the San Francisco Opera presentation on Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci with Placido Domingo. Then in 1977, I sang with Luciano Pavarotti in Turandot.
What do you do in your spare time?
I un after my son Ozzie! He teaches me about animals, dinosaurs, drawing and how much I appreciate being a dad, his dad!
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
From the time I was 12, I knew I wanted to be in radio, first on the air, then as a PD.
What is your favorite Video?
The flash mob of people dancing around in the Dubai International Airport Terminal A because I was just in that terminal last week before the video was taped.
How did you get your on-air name?
I have had two different air names during my career. Besides my real name, some people know me as "Hojo/Howard Johnson" which I used up to 1995. Wayne Coy named me Hojo (Howard Johnson) at WTBX just before he moved to WIXX.
Once I got to LA though, my PD Bill Michaels (one of my best PD's ever) said, "I'm not having a hotel work for me, so you have one hour to come up with a new name before I let the affiliates know." So I went down to the jock lounge and sitting on the desk was the USA Today Sports page and in the headline, Jim Kelly (QB for the Buffalo Bills at the time), his name was front and center on the page and I said to myself that's it!
In Arabia, I get a lot of questions from non-radio people, why Jim Kelly? I could change it, but I have so many artist ID's, I don't think I would be able to duplicate them with a new name, so I will forever be known as Jim Kelly!
Saudi Aramco: Public
Saudi Aramco: Public