10 Questions with ... Tim Wenger
November 1, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Worked at NPR affiliate WRVO Oswego from 1984-1986, followed by NPR affiliate WBFO Buffalo in 1986. Began at WBEN in 1986 as a Programming Assistant and part-time News Anchor, followed by Traffic Helicopter Reporter, Editor, News Director, Program Director and finally Operations Manager overseeing WBEN/WGR/WWKB in 2000.
1. Let's start with how and why you got into radio. Why radio? What was your path to getting into the business?
I actually went to SUNY Oswego with the intent to study meteorology, and did so initially. After settling in, my major switched to Communications and I continued to study both. As for why radio? I enjoy the immediacy of radio and the intimacy of radio. I've always viewed radio as making a personal connection between the station content and listeners individually.
2. WBEN has added an FM simulcast -- what does having the AM signal mean for the station, especially regarding demographics? Has your programming philosophy changed to accommodate the FM addition, or are things the same either way?
I lobbied hard for the addition of an FM signal for WBEN. It simply makes good long term sense to expose the highly successful product to the largest available audience. While the 107.7 FM signal is good, it has its 'holes' and the AM signal is still extremely important. The addition of the FM signal in and of itself hasn't led to any programming changes; I'm always working to make sure WBEN sounds contemporary and relevant.
3. WBEN is, other than Rush Limbaugh, live/local 5a-7p weekdays, something that is not as common in medium markets as it used to be. WGR is live/local in morning and afternoon drive. How important is local programming to the success of the stations? Do you think the stations could maintain that success otherwise -- does good local beat good syndication?
Short answer, good local does generally beat good syndication. The word "good" is an important one. If you're making a choice between Rush Limbaugh and a mediocre local host? I think you know my answer. Radio is local and always will be. Being locally oriented is the main reason I feel strongly that spoken word formats have a strong future in this industry. Superserve your core audience with meaningful and compelling local content and you win.
4. What do you look for in talent? What qualities do you think make good talk and sports hosts (with your present hosts as examples -- what makes them good)?
What makes a great talk host is a complicated formula in my estimation. But I know they need to be people who live in the real world and observe the real world in a real way. I don't know of many people who spend most of their day talking about politics. So why do so many radio stations scream politics 24 hours a day? When I hear real people talk about sports, they don't cite stats. They talk about the game and issues facing their team. Great hosts recognize what people are talking about, know their audience, and reflect it on the air on a daily basis. Be real. Be compelling. Be relevant. We have some of the best on WBEN in Tom Bauerle and Sandy Beach.
5. Who are your mentors and influences, in radio and otherwise?
There are a few. I admire Howard Stern... for his complete understanding of his audience and what they want. Same said for Rush Limbaugh. Locally? The late Jim McLaughlin, former PD at WBEN. He was a visionary who always thought 'audience first'. And, call me a suck-up, but my current VP/GM Greg Ried 'gets it'. He knows great radio is not just sales or programming. It's a rich mix of both.
6. Buffalo is not yet a PPM market. Have industry-wide trends based on PPM data -- clock changes, for example, or changes in the time hosts take to get to their points -- affected how you program and evaluate shows yet? Or is that a cross-that-bridge-when-you-get-to-it thing?
Although in a diary market, I work hard to stay very up to date on the PPM process and its findings. Seeing how audience flows and moves quickly in PPM markets is a window on any market. Audience behaviors are audience behaviors. That being said, we still need to play the 'recall' game and make sure our on air presentation gives our stations to best chance for successful recall.
7. WGR has the Sabres but not the Bills. How important is having play-by-play for a sports station? Does not having PBP of a particular team present challenges or opportunities? How do you take advantage of Bills interest without having the PBP?
While I won't say it's a MUST. I will say having home play by play is an enormous asset. It's injects cume to the station and feeds content all week long. In our case, the Buffalo Sabres impact at least 80 nights a year. We talk Bills football all week long for 16 weeks, we just don't have the three hour game. I think we are the Bills station.
8. Of what are you most proud?
I'm proud I have been able to remain in and serve the community I call home. And I'm proud I've been able to make meaningful contributions to the Entercom group of radio stations.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ____________.
...my wife, my kids and coffee.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned so far in your career?
This isn't brain surgery. If it feels like it is, you probably should be a brain surgeon. Great content + Great personalities = Great ratings. Just do it.