10 Questions with ... Jerry McKenna
March 30, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- WXKS/KISS 108-Boston-Music Director/Director of Music Research (1986-1991)
- WZOU-Boston= Assistant Program Director (1991-1992)
- Columbia Records-Director of Rhythm Crossover Promotion (1992-1995)
- Billboard Magazine/Airplay Monitor- Hot 100 Chart Editor/Director of Charts (1995-1996)
- RCA Records-Senior Director Rhythm Crossover Promotion (1996-1998)
- WWKX/HOT106 Providence-Program Director (1998-2002)
- WQSX-Star 93.7 Boston-Program Director (2002-2005)
- WBMX-Mix 98.5-Boston-Program Director (2005-2008)
- WXLO/WORC-FM/WWFX-The Pike-Worcester-Program Director (2008-2013)
- WQRC/WOCN/WKPE/WFCC-Director of Programming (2013-present)
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
I was always interested in radio. As a young kid I was addicted to music and Top 40 radio, especially Casey Kasem's American Top 40 and any local Boston countdown. If you were to look at my 8th grade yearbook my career goal is listed as "work in radio". I always knew what I wanted to do and I'm extremely fortunate I got to do it.
2) What makes the New England market unique? How does this compare to other markets you have worked at?
I'm also fortunate that I did not have to move all over the country to program radio. In fact, as unusual as it may seem, I've only worked in New England radio so I can't compare it to the rest of the country.
I can tell you, having lived in Boston and New York City, that despite the sports rivalries between the two cities, the people are very much alike. There is an East Coast vibe/attitude indicative to the North East.
I would imagine one thing that makes New England unique is that many people that live here have never lived anywhere else. People have roots here, they like what they like and are very loyal. Their loyalties even extend to the radio stations they listen to.
3) What is it about your WQRC (99.9 The Q) that you feel really makes it cut through?
Programming and sales people rightfully cite radio as a medium where being local is extremely important. Here on Cape Cod, that is definitely the case. It is a market where most Boston and Providence stations can be heard but Cape Codder's want local radio. They want to know what's happening on the Cape in terms of news, traffic, weather and entertainment.
WQRC are heritage call letters in this market. It is a station with strong community ties that has evolved from being perceived primarily as a softer AC with a very strong local news position into a Hot AC whose music, talent and imaging sounds major market but whose information content remains local. We serve the Cape community and everything we do between the music and imaging is, as they say in New England, "wicked local." This is what differentiates us from the Boston and Providence outlets.
I also think the station cuts through because we have some remarkable people on air and behind the scenes. I'm hesitant to single out individuals because it is truly a team effort. With that said, I have to mention a few people. I think Bev Tilden's leadership as GM has played a major role in WQRC becoming the station it is. She is one of the best marketing minds I've ever worked with. This is my third time working with her. She is a forward thinker who is always pushing. She inspires us all to create the best product we can.
We also have an OM, Wayne White, who may be the hardest working individual I've ever encountered. He is a bright guy, a true problem solver and he has a work ethic that is unmatched. He keeps the ship afloat and contributes to each brand in the cluster.
4) How are you using social media to market your radio station?
In addition to the four stations in the cluster, WQRC, WOCN, WKPE and WFCC Cape Cod Broadcasting also owns the site www.capecod.com. We do a great deal of cross promotion between the stations and the site. Of course, we have a strong presence on facebook and twitter and we do extensive web marketing.
Ironically, the Cape is the smallest market in which I've programmed but we've got a larger more effective digital department, than I've worked with in much larger markets. Steve Seymour and Greg Bone, the owners of Cod Broadcasting are committed to digital! They recognize its growth potential.
5) Please tell us what it's like to work with the legendary morning talents Karen Blake and Ralphie Marino?
Karen Blake and Ralphie Marino are like family. This is my third go round with Karen and my second with Ralphie. I was very excited that I could reunite them on 99.9 the Q. They were the two leads on the successful Star 93.7 morning show when I programmed the station.
Karen and Ralphie are radio pros that really get it. They inherently know what's relevant to the audience and they deliver a funny and engaging show every day.
I often tell people that listening to them is like hearing a conversation between, siblings, best friends and a married couple. Their relationship on and off air have some of the dynamics of all three. I know they are both going to cringe at the married couple analogy but my point is that they are very comfortable with each other and that comes across to the audience. Their interaction is inviting ... and listeners want to be part of their banter!
6) Who do you consider your radio mentors?
I would say my original mentors were legendary Kiss 108 PD Sunny Joe White and Boston DJ, Vinnie Peruzzi. Although they are both gone, I am forever thankful, that while I was still in college, they each recognized the passion I had for radio. I learned a great deal from both individuals, especially about how radio can be larger than life, but still offer true companionship to listeners.
I've been fortunate to have worked alongside some of the best programmers in the business, people like, Steve Rivers, Steve Smith, Pat Paxton, Guy Zapolean, and Mike McVay. I've learned something from each of them that I've been able to meld into my own programming philosophy.
I should point out that although I've never worked with Tom Poleman or Michael Martin in a programming capacity, (I worked them both on records when I was on the label side) I think they've both proven themselves to be talented and successful radio programmers.
7) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today
I would say the most important issue is staying on top of emerging technologies and applying them toward strengthening the relationship between a station and its listeners. This has to be done through the filter of remaining local. Serving the local community is the best thing terrestrial radio has going for itself!
8) What is the biggest change that you'd like to see happen in the business?
I've been doing this since 1986 so I would say consolidation is the biggest change I've witnessed. I'd like to see the industry get back to more local ownership.
The funny thing is, despite consolidation I am back working at a locally owned cluster of stations and I am enjoying it. It reminds me of the early days when I started at Kiss 108. It was locally owned. If you need an answer, you can walk upstairs and speak to an owner ... It's so refreshing!
9) What advice would you give people new to the business?
I would advise someone new in the business that this is a fluid industry with a great deal of movement. I believe that an individual must have a true passion for radio in order to be successful. You have to be able to adapt to change.
I would stress that it is still an industry built upon relationships. It's important to have mentors and to treat people with respect.
I would also suggest that they embrace emerging technology and learn how to do everything. The larger your skill set, the more valuable you become.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant in your career?
My one truth that has remained constant is that I am truly fortunate that I've been able to have a career doing something that I love and I've met some great people along the way!
I am a firm believer that you can do anything that you want to do. Unfortunately many people never figure that out and get stuck doing something they don't enjoy.
What's the best hire you've ever made?
I don't know if I could single out one hire. I am proud of the success of many individuals that I've hired over the years. DJ Buck and Jenny Boom at WZMX were two individuals I hired at Hot 106 early. Buck was a club jock at the time and I was looking to help create the Funkmaster Flexx of Providence radio. He's a very talented and passionate guy who easily transitioned to radio and has gone on to be very successful.
I would also mention Bradly Ryan, who was programming in Palm Springs and Frankie V, who is doing extremely well in San Diego and L.A. I believe I gave both of those individuals their first shot.
I am very proud of all these guys and happy for their success.
What do you do in your spare time?
I live in Boston and commute to the Cape everyday so I don't have a great deal of spare time. I like spending the spare time I have with friends, family and my dogs.
The things I am passionate about outside of radio are my dogs (dog rescue), politics, and travel.
What's one thing that would surprise many people to learn about you?
That after living in Manhattan for several years, I moved back to the neighborhood where I was raised. I'm a family guy whose family dynamics are similar to "Everybody Loves Raymond, with me being Robert, the goofy brother!
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a radio Program Director and I wanted to live in NYC and work for a record label...I got to do both!
What do you like best about working in this format?
I love the format because it is basically CHR for adults. I love the music and the contemporary, always evolving nature of the format. I also find it easy to relate to the demo since most of the people I interact with on a regular basis fall within the Hot AC target demo.
Besides your own, what format would you like to program and why?
Alternative ...I've programmed, Top 40, Rhythm, Hot AC, Oldies, Rhythmic AC, AC, Country Classic hits but never alternative. It's kind of odd considering I love alt music.
What do you consider the key to your success?
Having a passion for what I do and treating people with respect. Never losing sight of where I came from and what I value.