10 Questions with ... Reid Mullins
February 4, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Reid Mullins is a 28 year veteran of Oklahoma City media (most recently at KTOK in morning drive until 2013, and now at the new KZLS 1640). He has worked primarily in radio with brief stints in print, television, and internet sales. He spent 12 years as a Production Director at several stations, and is now beginning his 4th morning show. Reid has been married to his wife Michelle for 17 years, and they are owned and operated by their five-year-old Beagle, Ruby Sue. Reid is the youngest of three children in a family who are all educators. He wanted a career with lower pay, worse hours, and less security, so he chose broadcasting.
1. First, what led you to a career in radio? Why radio?
When I was young, I got my first transistor radio. It was like giving me a treasure map. I would stay up all night pulling in WLS, WLW, WHO, and anything else I could discern though the static. I loved hearing spots for local businesses in their respective markets. Of course, I could always pull in 1520 (the former) KOMA blasting out to â€œ22 states and three countriesâ€ from Moore, Oklahoma. When I was 10, I built my first crystal radio. I was hooked. I then got a shortwave set, and later, I earned my Amateur Radio license.
Why radio? Because there is an inherent magic to hearing someone in a booth a thousand miles away. He had no idea I was listening, yet he talked to me as if he knew me. I tried to picture in my mind what the station looked like and what it might be like to live there. Pure escapism. Radio doesnâ€™t give you too much. Thus, your mind is left to fill in the blanks. If you donâ€™t believe me, then listen to someone for years and then finally view a photo of him. He wonâ€™t look anything like you pictured.
2. You've lasted many years in the Oklahoma City market, including an eight year run at your last station. To what do you owe your longevity in the market? Does being in OKC for so long give you advantages other hosts don't have?
Make no mistake - Iâ€™m not that good, I just refuse to quit. Iâ€™ve worked in Top 40, Oldies, Album Rock, Classic Rock, Contemporary Christian, and Country. But it wasnâ€™t until I did Talk that I found my â€œhome.â€ Spending all my life in the same market gives me institutional knowledge that transplants donâ€™t have. My last audience had a lot of upper demos. For some reason, â€œGrandmaâ€ loves me. And Iâ€™m good with that. I respect the wisdom of my elders and contemporaries, and I consider it a compliment. Iâ€™ve never been good at the hype that seems to permeate music radio, anyhow. When you do talk, people can smell a fake a mile away. This allowed me to be myself, and I think the audience picks up on that. Most of the people who have made a career in OKC media are from Oklahoma. Itâ€™s like we know how to talk to each other.
3. You've landed at a new station that's turning to talk and, effectively, building itself around you. How did this opportunity come about, and what's your goal for the new show and operation?
I was downsized in early August, 2013. Just a few days later, I got an e-mail from a former coworker in another state because he saw my story on All Access. He told me there might be a new News-Talk station on the horizon. I got in touch with the VP/Market Manager shortly thereafter. This has truly been a work in progress. Over the next few weeks, the station will transition from an Oldies format to a full-time News-Talker.
My goal for KZLS is to make it the #1 News-Talk station in the OKC market. For that to happen, I will be building the morning show audience basically from scratch. We have a lot of work to do to make that happen, but I have very supportive management who are not bound by the constraints of being a huge corporate conglomerate. This will allow us to be nimble and quick. The company is in excellent fiscal shape with no debt. Thus, I donâ€™t have to go to work every day wondering if it is going to be my last. That worry is a wrecking ball to creative types, but now, Iâ€™m free of it.
4. Over the years, you've had a lot of guests -- what one interview/guest stands out, for good or bad, as the most memorable?
At my last station, I booked more guests than anyone else in the market. We would do 15-25 slots per week, and I booked them all myself. I hand-picked regulars from local, state, and national elected office, and augmented it with several special interest groups. Sometimes, when youâ€™re booking a guest, you try something different. Then when they call in, youâ€™re like, â€œwhat was I thinking?â€
Worst? I had Dee Snider from Twisted Sister on to talk about some promotion for Hornitos Tequila. As we got down to the end of the segment, I asked him if Tipper Gore liked Hornitos. â€œWell, sheâ€™s hor-NY, I can tell you thatâ€ he blurted out. Fortunately, I had a really good producer who hit the dump button in time.
Best? One of my â€œregularsâ€ heads a research and public opinion firm. It was during the 2012 campaign season when allegations of sexual impropriety were being leveled at Presidential contender Herman Cain. This research person announced that he had personally witnessed this activity taking place. It made national news. Days later, Mr. Cain dropped out of the race. I wasnâ€™t trying to get Herman Cain out of the running - it just happened on my show.
5. What role do you see social media playing in talk radio? How do you use it, if at all, and is it a show prep source, a tool to communicate with listeners, a promotional tool, all of the above, none of it?
My former company mandated that all on-air get on Facebook and Twitter. I never wanted to be on FB, and Iâ€™m not that exciting a human, so I never thought Iâ€™d have anything to Tweet. But after being on them for a while, I discovered that I could keep â€œtalkingâ€ to my audience long after the show was over for the day. Given that my audience was older (some have NEVER been online), I found that a lot of 30s-40s were on FB, so I could ask questions, make announcements, etc. immediately. Thus, it is a great promotional tool.
One former employer opened a new â€œbranchâ€ covering digital technology - apparently as a sales opportunity. Some ad schedules included posting promotional comments about the sponsors on your own social media sites. This didnâ€™t set too well with my FB friends, and with good reason. Posting a banner ad on your page is one thing, but being required to do what is tantamount to a â€œbonusâ€ spot in the middle of a social activity made me uncomfortable and feel cheap. After all, you donâ€™t hang out with your friends watching the game and all of a sudden stop and say, â€œyou know - Big Bob's Used Cars has a huge selection at prices to fit every budget.â€ There must be a way to work in this kind of thing surreptitiously. Kinda like the way Rush works a live spot into his show content, but do it online instead.
6. About what are you most passionate?
I love America. I love Oklahoma. I also love discovery. I have learned so much doing talk radio that I never wouldâ€™ve even been exposed to if I had not had the responsibility to learn and disseminate it. I spend hours online doing this. I have also found myself in personal conversation going into â€œinterviewâ€ mode, just for curiosityâ€™s sake. Itâ€™s like being where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf, and working backward to the other rivers that feed it, then the streams that feed that river, and finally finding yourself on a mountain top watching snow melt into water droplets that roll downhill to feed the stream. I have several ongoing projects that I have been working on for years, because there are many streams and tributaries to go through before I find where the source is. I love it. And I get to do it for a living.
7. Who are your heroes and influences?
I have a Mount Rushmore of Radio. Oklahomaâ€™s favorite son is Will Rogers. I share his birthday and have studied him since long before I got into radio. He was a natural. But most of all, he was natural on the air. (Once again, we go back to the audience being able to smell a fake.) He was not only the biggest star in Hollywood when he met his untimely death in 1935, but he was also a prolific columnist. Paul Harvey is my next face on the Mount. Like Will, Paul Harveyâ€™s words outlive him. Last yearâ€™s Super Bowl ad for Ram trucks featured a bit he did on being a farmer. He was a mainstay on what eventually would come to be known as Talk Radio. But he transcended the format. His wisdom - coupled with that unique delivery and voice - resonated with people young and old, like a pipe organ in an historic cathedral. I miss him.
Who could have a radio hall of fame without Rush Limbaugh? Regardless of your politics, his success and influence in this format is undeniable. Some attribute to him the saving of AM radio where most Talk is found. Even Paul Harvey admitted, â€œhe is the best there is at what he does.â€ My final face on the Mount is rather personal. His name is Mike McCarville. This man has forgotten more about Oklahoma politics than I could ever learn. Beyond that, he knows radio. He didnâ€™t learn it out of a book, or use a consultant, or glean it from a webinar like so many PDs do today. What I learned from him is that Talk Radio comes from the heart as much as the brain. He, too, has a distinctive delivery that sounds as if youâ€™re listening to that wise father or uncle. He had some of the highest ratings ever for his station in his time slot. He was the one who gave me my chance to do the morning show. Even though I had a rough first couple of years, he was patient and long-suffering. He was full of encouragement. He knew how to handle a performance ego in others (me). That is why he was my first guest on my first day at my new station.
8. Of what are you most proud?
Iâ€™m proud to be a survivor. Iâ€™m not a â€œcorporate type.â€ Since Reagan deregulated radio, some companies set out to gobble up as many stations as they could get their hands on. These companies are run by corporate types - not necessarily â€œbroadcasters.â€ Many of them have never pulled a board shift, done any production, nor written and produced any bits. At one of my former stations, they had a suggestion box. I was pretty naive then, so I suggested a program called â€œWalk A Mile In My Shoes.â€ This would require employees from one department to spend a day in another department. That would afford an opportunity for salespeople to see what itâ€™s like when itâ€™s 5:00 pm, and traffic has the logs done and they bring in a last-minute order. Then production has to stay late, because there are no longer any evening or overnight people to farm it out to. On-air would likewise get to see what itâ€™s like to cold call, drive all over town, hit quotas and wait for the agency to get the spot done at 4:55pm.
Itâ€™s funny how so many guys like me with a lot of miles behind them started out at Mom & Pop stations and wished to move to big-budget corporate groups where they have stickers and T-shirts and get concert tickets. But after a while, you end up longing for those days when you didnâ€™t have to get 5 management signatures to do something simple that would make the show better. I like the place Iâ€™m in now - a single owner with two stations poised to be contenders without being bogged down in bureaucracy. Iâ€™m proud to have lived through all of that, and still be standing.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ______________.
...Mountain Dew. But after six months of couch-riding unemployment, I could very well say â€œMaury.â€
10. What was the best advice you ever got? The worst?
Most of the good and bad advice Iâ€™ve ever received has been in the aggregate. But my Dad - who was the greatest man Iâ€™ve ever known - told me, â€œson, donâ€™t tell too much about yourself.â€ Good advice.
My bad advice has usually come from what I call â€œanalyst PDs.â€ These are guys who got where they are by being the sharp-dressed, clean desk, back-slapping corporate players. They can sit down with a ratings book and carve it up like a cadaver. Good for them. But put them on the mic and theyâ€™re usually justâ€¦ average. These are the guys who depend on the aforementioned consultants, webinars, etc. to â€œprogram the station.â€ This is like calling the birth of your child a â€œdelivery event.â€ No emotion, no audience connection, no creativity. I will never â€œmake itâ€ to Program Director, because I share none of these attributes. Iâ€™m a weird kid. I never fit in. Iâ€™ve learned to just nod in tacit agreement and go on. My suggestion to anyone in my shoes is to NEVER stop being who you are. Otherwise, weâ€™ll never hear another Will or Paul or Rush or Mike.