10 Questions with ... Ryan Hatch
June 28, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
This is probably way too formal, and I'm sure too much for 'brief', but....
"Ryan Hatch joined Bonneville International in 2006, and is currently Vice President of News and Sports at the Bonneville Phoenix cluster. Hatch spent one year as Operations Manager at Bonneville Seattle, overseeing product strategy for three radio properties (KIRO-FM, KIRO-AM and KTTH), and an award winning local website (mynorthwest.com). Prior to his time in Seattle, Hatch launched Sports 620 KTAR as Program Director of Arizona's first major league all sports radio station. During his career, Hatch was Program Director for 1280 The Zone KZNS, the top rated sports talker in Utah, and hosted the top rated sports talk show in the Beehive State. Hatch began his radio career at KISN-AM in Salt Lake City in 1995, before helping to launch KFNZ-AM and the Utah Jazz Radio Network."
1. What inspired you to go into radio? Why radio?
Ever since I was a kid, I remember sneaking my radio into school to hear a ballgame, and staying up late at night listening to DJ's talk about music and life. There's always been something inherently unique and powerful to me about the relationship you can develop through a listening experience. When it's good, it's magical, and there's no other medium that engages the imagination like great radio.
2. You've returned to Phoenix and KTAR, this time as PD, after a stint at the company's Seattle stations. What would you say is the biggest lesson you've learned from your year in Seattle? What's the biggest success you had there?
One of my biggest "aha's" was being reminded that there's no such thing as a plug and play spoken word format. I went into Seattle thinking I could model KIRO-FM almost entirely after KTAR-FM, and I was wrong. While there were definitely some similarities and valuable best practices that I took with me to Seattle from Phoenix, I quickly was reminded of the critical importance of recognizing opportunities and building product strategy based on the local market conditions and competitive landscape.
I think one our greatest success stories in Seattle was the reinvention of the legendary Dave Ross. Dave had been hosting a talk show for almost 30 years and was the consummate news man. I can say I've never met a talk show host with such high community esteem. Yet, we were at a crossroads, as KIRO-FM was looking to evolve and we were dealing with significant ratings challenges in that daypart. We completely reconstructed the content and presentation on the show to highlight not only Dave's intellectual side, but also his incredible ability to entertain and perform. After three decades of hosting a solo show, we even added a co-host in Luke Burbank. "Ross and Burbank' is now one of the highest rated programs in the Seattle market, and, in my very biased opinion, one of the most enjoyable talk shows to listen to in the country. And the credit goes to Dave Ross, who was willing to make a bold move and reinvent himself late in his career, and is now having more fun and success than he's ever had before.
3. What are the differences and similarities in programming philosophies between sports and talk radio? Were there differences and/or surprises about doing talk when you went to Seattle to oversee both the AM sports and FM talk stations?
I actually don't get lost in the debate over differences in philosophies between sports and news. The fundamentals are identical -- learn everything you can about audience, find out what they want, and super serve them!
At the end of the day, it's all about the talent. Our goal is to have station lineups full of hosts and contributors that create must have content that listeners can't live without based on the value that we provide in their lives on a daily basis. Whether it's news or sports, the formats are just the vehicles for interesting and compelling information and conversations delivered by entertaining pros.
4. How do websites and social media figure into your job these days? What's your philosophy as far as what works best for a website connected to a radio operation -- is it best as a stand-alone product, a reflection of the radio station brand, or something else? How much time and effort does it take on your part?
Our digital strategy plays a huge part in my job -- probably more than half my time. We have a digital content team of eight in Phoenix, and are looking to grow that number by the end of the year, with an emphasis on unique content generation and video production.
I can make a compelling argument that the right digital play for many stations could be a stand-alone, brand extension, or even an agnostic content vertical. This may not put me in the best light, but, honestly, I don't have the answers in this space; I'm lucky to have these conversations regularly and absorb mass amounts of information from digital gurus much smarter than me. We're going to continue to take chances and innovate in this space until we find something that really sticks for our users. And then, we'll do it again, and again....
5. You've been part of the growth of KTAR-FM and KIRO-FM, which both appear to have adjusted their programming to be more compatible with the FM audience. Other stations have taken their AM programming and transferred it without adjustment to the FM dial. Do you think that talk on FM needs to be different from the older AM style to succeed on FM (or, for that matter, on streaming audio)? What adjustments need to be made, if any?
We all know the available audience on FM is much more contemporary and diverse than the older, male driven audience that's living on AM. From my experiences in Phoenix and Seattle, I believe one of the primary challenges most groups will face is the harsh reality that a show that was wildly successful on AM will most likely have a difficult time garnering strong numbers on FM. It's a different, more diverse audience on FM that wants a new kind of news product that is relatable and relevant in their lives. I strongly believe the most successful FM news/talk stations in the future are not going to be built around politics. Also, if you're first in your market to deliver a news product to FM, I strongly suggest you treat it as a new product launch. The majority of the new available audience, especially the younger demos, have probably never listened to a news product on radio, and you need to build a content and marketing strategy with that in mind. Don't fall into the trap of "how could they not know who we are and what we do? We've been on the air for 75 years." To the majority of the FM audience, you never existed because they never heard you on AM.
6. Who have been your mentors, influences, and heroes?
I've been lucky to work for a number of incredible General Managers and corporate execs who have taken the time to mentor me, but there's no question that my mother Melanie has been the strongest influence in my life and is my hero. Her ambition, creativity, strength and work ethic has helped shape me into the person I am today personally and professionally.
7. In the era of "no farm team," where do you think radio will be finding new talent? Do you look outside the business? Where? Or is there still sufficient talent in smaller or feeder markets to fill the slots you might need to fill?
Radio used to be a hotbed for creative and entertaining personalities. Now, I'm afraid, we're often an afterthought . From the surge of digital media opportunities to our industry being hit as hard as any with mass firings and consolidation through the recession, the most talented people just aren't flocking to radio like they used to. We need more women in this business. It's still way too male heavy on air, especially when you consider the greatest growth opportunity for FM news/talk stations in with women.
Since we've all been trimming our expense lines, there aren't the weekend and overnight slots to develop talent. Add to that, many smaller market stations have given up entirely on local programming and instead have moved into full syndicated formats, the "farm system" that once existed, is officially gone. We have look outside of our own industry as we search for talent. It might be a local blogger or a newspaper writer, it may be a local comedian. It could even be the barista at your local coffee shop. Point is, it could be anyone. The traditional feeders are all gone and we need to be looking everywhere for interesting people who are strong communicators and have the ability to connect with an audience.
8. Of what are you most proud?
That I continue to be able work with such talented and inspiring people on influential stations with formats that make a meaningful difference in the lives of their listeners and community in an industry that I absolutely love. How many people are lucky enough to say that?
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______________.
...mass amounts of coffee.
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
Best - Don't ever forget we're in the relationship business. With listeners, advertisers, community partners, team partners and our staff, it's about the people and relationships.
Worst - Talent doesn't matter. It's all about the station brand.