10 Questions with ... Zack East
July 18, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Ferris State University Student Radio (Webcast) (2002-2006)
- WGN Radio/Chicago, Intern at "The Sunday Papers" (2003)
- WIRX/St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, MI (2004-Present)
- WCNF/WCXT St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, MI (2004-Present)
- WYBR/WWBR/WBRN/Big Rapids, MI - OM/Production (2005-2006)
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
As a kid, I could hear Chicago, South Bend and Southwest Michigan radio all from my bedroom. I loved music, specifically rock, and I spent nights when I should have been in bed just searching the FM dial for something weird. Graduate forward to My First Tape Recorder, stealing answering machine tapes from Grandma to record "shows," and an overwhelming need to perform in front of my family members.
2) What makes the market unique? How does this compare to other markets you have worked at?
I work in a weird market. We're in a small market (Benton Harbor, MI) within a bigger market (South Bend, IN) and we can be heard in the Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids markets as well. And even weirder ... we own four huge stations in South Bend IN, too. So this makes "standing out" difficult sometimes. But our stations were created to super-serve our three county area, so that's what we do ... Hyper-local, fun stuff! I wouldn't trade it for a bigger market, ever. It's awesome!
3) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
Our lack of compelling and competitive content, and (...can I choose two issues?) the lack of mentor/mentee relationships in this business. I've been lucky to have a lot of mentors who taught me the ropes and encouraged me to the do the same. This led me to learn to create compelling, fun, local content. With corporate-ness overtaking our industry, I hope we can one day return to relationships with our employees. They're our best asset!
4) How are you using social media to market your radio station?
Our company decided to build an app to serve the market with news, sports, business news, events and video newscasts to make sure people got what they couldn't get from the newspaper or the TV stations who think of us as an afterthought. Social media seems to have waned for us since algorithms keep changing, but any time we can post a photo or video of something LOCAL and HELPFUL that people would share because they found it, then we become heroes.
5) Today's listener can now access music on their mobile device and stream customized radio and music-on-demand. What effect are on-demand music services such as Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Slacker and others having on the radio and music industries?
As a user of Spotify myself, I get the excitement around "customization of experience." I think radio still wins because of how accessible we are. Radios exist lots of places in our lives and in front of us (and now as an app, too). But, we'll start losing the day all of these services become way MORE accessible. The only thing we'll never lose is our ability to be hyperlocal. We produce the news, the photos, the videos, the stories of living in our community. No computer can live that experience like a human can.
6) How do you stay in tune with your audience?
I love data. We read through insights from social media, Google Analytics, we ask people to fill out feedback forms, we use Civic Science to poll the audience and best of all...we do at least 5 remotes a month on each station that put us in front of people where we can talk one-on-one about how they "use" us. Try asking your ex why they used you ... it ain't easy.
But P-1s are always happy to tell you what you're good at ... and what you suck at, and what they want from you. Be willing to listen, or find someone on your staff who is! For us, it's our receptionist. She is the THE BEST at taking feedback when we're not always "in the mood" to do so.
7) How are you using new technologies in your personal life to listen to music, and what observations have you made about how today's listeners use technology?
I notice myself thinking a little more about what data I have available on the road and outside, whereas I used to just bring a portable radio. My listeners have said the same thing. So, I've started "reminding" people on the air how they can "use" us. Try the app at the gym since you can't bring a radio, etc. It's a simple liner or promo we rotate to keep radio top-of-mind.
8) Who do you consider your radio mentors?
Wow! Let me tell you, I have a lot of them. But, I wouldn't be where I am without a late mentor in my life, Devereux Bowly. He hired me for some computer work, told me I shouldn't be doing this since I hated it so much (after throwing computer parts across the room one day in a fit of Windows 95-related rage). He encouraged me to use my love of music and radio as a career, go to college, learn to be a manager, and move forward.
Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly before I ever got to say a true "thank you" and show him where I ended up. Always thank people who gave you their time, do it often and try to pass on the favor.
9) What is the most rewarding promotion you've ever been a part of?
Recently, our morning show co-host on our Hot AC was brutally murdered by her husband, leaving behind young children. We had our radio station staff torn apart, and a very hurt community. Since April's difficult events, we've turned it in to an opportunity to encourage others to pick up where she left off, as a major champion for causes like Susan G. Komen, Relay for Life, and great journalism. So far, we've been a part of or helped promote numerous events or causes to raise money for the future of her children, and we've encouraged people to start fighting for a cause they find important to themselves.
10) What advice would you give people new to the business?
Start small. Small markets are one of the best places to begin your career the right way by learning from the right people who aren't here to make a big buck or talk to millions of people. They just want to be a part of their community, give back, and teach others how awesome this job can be and what it does to touch people when it's done right.
What do you do in your spare time?
When I do have spare time, I do a bunch of hipster crap: ride a moped, go to shows, eat vegan and vegetarian, camp, and sit at the beach on Lake Michigan. Did I forget to mention our market is in one of the most beautiful & popular parts of Pure Michigan? Plug! Plug!
Who is the most amazing talent you've worked with?
Fred Winston of WLS fame. I had the honor of recording him for spots for a local heating and cooling place here in town which he endorses. Damn nice, sharp guy, and a huge huge talent.
What was the biggest gaffe you've made on air?
We've all done it ... Voice-tracking while still in Program, watching the phone lines light up as they ask why I'm talking over the top of the song ... then being dumb enough to answer the call on the Telos so it, too, is also going over the air.
What sound do you believe will be the "next big thing?"
The collective "sigh" everyone will make when the elections are over this year. Calvin Harris remix featuring Rihanna called "It's Over, Sweet Jesus, It's Over."
What career path would you be following had it not been for this industry?
I would be doing computer/IT work. I hate fixing this crap, but I have been told I'm good at it. If you hate it, don't do it!