10 Questions with ... Spike Eskin
June 4, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started as an intern at 94WYSP. I then became a street team member. Upon graduating from Syracuse, I became the late night (11-2) DJ at WYSP. Then there was a whole mish-mosh of middays at WYSP, late nights, Don and Mike producer, and Music Director. I then got hired to be APD/MD at Q101, and then I got to be the PD but never got the title (WHY I OUGHTTA!). Then I came back to WYSP to be the APD/MD and midday host. Then WYSP went away, and I returned to CBS as a sports writer and radio show host.
1. What was it about radio that made you want to do it as a career (apart from, or despite, your family history?
It's funny, I hadn't really thought about this until I was speaking at a middle-school career day recently (and full of fear when I did it). I think what I realized is that I loved two things about it; first, I loved having a place to put all of the things I have in my head. Not in a "I have voices" crazy way, but in a way that is a release for the jokes, for the theories, for the "isn't that interesting," sort of stuff. But second, and maybe more importantly, was that one-to-one connection you have with the person listening to the radio. I realized over time that the topic, whether it be pop music, rock music, sports, or whatever, was secondary to the connection. That the topic is just a way to reach the listener, and then have an opportunity to create that connection. Radio is special in that way, people listen every day, and listen alone, and the relationship a host has with a listener is very important and exciting.
2. Your career, up until more recently, was spent in rock and alternative radio, including both on-air and programming. Now, both on air and online, you're in spoken-word radio. How difficult was that transition from being deeply connected to music radio to doing radio that isn't music-related at all?
Not really all that difficult, to be honest. Like I mentioned before, you're still figuring out what is important to listeners, what happens to be important to me personally, and finding a way to combine those two things.
The last few years of WYSP, I did a lot of sports podcasting and writing on my own, so I had a good base of who I was as a sports writer and broadcaster before I did it.
The biggest change for me, in both a challenging and exciting way, at least on the air, was the amount of time you have to make your point. When the commercials end, and the mic turns on, it's just you. There's no song there to save you, or to be the rimshot after the joke you made. It's a pretty awesome feeling, and can be very scary at the same time.
3. Regarding the digital side of your job, how easily did the transition to writing for the web from doing things in audio form come to you? What are the biggest challenges of writing and editing for the web?
It's been a process that I'm still learning. When I was in college at Syracuse, I was taught that the most important skill you can have is to be a great writer. This is whether you're a journalist who writes, or who broadcasts, it all comes back to writing. So even when I was just a broadcaster, I was writing a lot, whether it was writing for my shows, or just writing for the hell of it in blogs, etc... So the one thing I believe I have is my voice.
The biggest challenge in writing and editing for the web is finding a way to provide meaningful content that can at the same time compete with a lot of the "click bait" stuff that's out there. I can be pretty verbose, so for my own writing it's about looking at a finished product and deciding "do I need all of this?" Nothing I write will ever be as instantly entertaining as a silly cat picture, but I'm aiming to rank somewhere just under that.
4. Part of your job is to manage social media for WIP, and you're tremendously active both personally and with WIP's account in social media. Obviously, social media has become important to radio, but how receptive do you find various colleagues in embracing Twitter and Facebook for the station and their shows -- are hosts and management taking to social media as rapidly and enthusiastically as they should? If not, how do you convince someone to do it?
There is a very broad spectrum of interest from hosts and personalities as far as social media goes. From very enthusiastic to absolutely no involvement at all.
The biggest misconception from those who are not involved is that their involvement has to be a specific amount, or that it must include tweeting what you had for breakfast. At the very least, it is an opportunity to give people who are interested in you an opportunity get more of you. Even if it's just tweeting out a quick reaction to a game, or something you have coming up on your show.
To convince someone to do it, who isn't at all interested, you have to really break down what each platform is, show them exactly how it works, and give them a game plan of do's and don't's. It sounds simple, but that's often times all it takes. Most of the wall that they build up is based on what they think social media is, not what it actually is.
At the very least I tell them "I've got 12,000 followers and you've got none, there's no way I should have more influence than you on Twitter." That usually gets the job done.
5. You were at WYSP (several times, in fact) until the bitter end, the flip to the WIP simulcast. Having been at legacy music stations like WYSP and the original Q101 in Chicago that ultimately bit the dust, what's your perspective, long-term, on the survival of music radio? Most FM music stations are still doing OK, but with competition from Pandora, Spotify, and people's own music files, what do you think music radio will be like, say, 10 years from now?
Am I a jinx? I sure hope not.
I love what I do, but I do love music radio and miss being a part of it. I want it to survive, and I think it will.
I really don't know the answer to this. Ten years from now is almost unfathomable for me, as I think it's tough to figure out what two years from now will be like.
Ultimately I think it will be about deciding what your station's mission is, whether that is desirable for people, and how to execute that mission. It sounds like stupid brand-management type speak, but it's the truth.
I think radio stations that claim to be tastemakers must go out of their way to do that. They can't just say they're tastemakers, they actually have to be tastemakers. A station like WXPN here in Philly is so wonderful because that's what their mission is, and they deliver on that every single time I listen. As well, stations that have the mission of just delivering tons of music need to do that with very little interruption, and an incredible understanding of what music they should be delivering, beyond simple auditorium testing, WRFF does an excellent job of that here.
6. Right now is an interesting but unhappy moment in Philadelphia sports -- the Phillies are in decline, the Eagles are in transition, the Flyers missed the playoffs, and the Sixers are a mess. Does that make your work in writing and talking about them and drawing an audience easier or harder? Is it easier when everyone's in complaint mode ("Fire Ruben Now!") or happy like with the Phils in 2008?
It's funny, because many listeners/readers/followers assume that the job is easier when things are bad. That we thrive off of complaining and ranting and raving. That's not true.
It's different for every sport, the Eagles are very popular and very easy to draw an audience, good or bad. The Flyers and Sixers can be very difficult to talk about unless they're doing very well, or the bad stuff is newsworthy bad stuff (Bryzgalov supporting Stalin, Bynum dancing). The Phillies, we're going to find out very soon. A decade ago they were difficult to talk about if they were bad, but after this run of success that may change.
I would say that quite simply, a great team *always* draws interest, even if the storylines aren't wonderful. The same does not go for a bad team.
7. Who (other than your dad (WIP host and Fox 29/Philadelphia Sports Director Howard Eskin) are your primary influences and/or mentors in the radio business?
Howard Stern made me love radio. I have never loved a show and felt as connected as I did to that show. I remember sitting in my car outside of my high school waiting until the last possible moment to go inside just so I could continue to listen to Stern. As far as air talent, I'd say Golden Boy at Power 99 and Couzin Ed at 94WYSP were must influential when I was young.
Tim Sabean, who was my PD/OM at WYSP gave me a real chance, and gave me the sort of opportunity to believe in myself and develop as a programmer. Without Tim (and then Marketing Director), none of this happens.
Neal Mirsky (WYSP PD) gave me some great advice as an air talent when I was just starting that I held on to for a long time.
Mike Stern is probably the smartest programmer I ever worked with and his hiring me in Chicago changed my life for the better.
Finally Jeff Sottolano (WYSP, WIP) navigates the waters between the suits and guys like me about as well as a human could.
I'd also like to thank the academy.
8. Of what are you most proud?
My final show on WYSP, and the respect we gave the end of that station.
And driving all of the people we drove nuts at Q101. We did some pretty special stuff there, even if it was a touch out of control.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ___________.?
...Valerie, who is my fiancee and the love of my life.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
Do not ever let anyone tell you that you can't do it. If you're honest and passionate, it'll work, eventually.
I've made every transition that many doubted I could. From heavy metal Slipknot guy, to alternative Jack's Mannequin guy, to suit and tie sports guy. They all seem very different, but they are all a part of me and I've gone full speed ahead on each one.