10 Questions with ... Dennis Foley
November 25, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Started in high school dabbling in news a little with WKBK in Keene, NH. Went to Hofstra University to study journalism and political science and worked at WRHU-FM where I would eventually rise to News Director. While at Hofstra, interned with Cox Media Group Long Island (WBLI and WBAB) and worked at New Hampshire Public Radio (Concord, NH), WRIV (Riverhead, NY) and ABC News Radio (New York, NY). Moved to Shreveport, LA, to co-host KEEL Morning News on Townsquare Media's 710 KEEL, where I also anchored mid-day newscasts and reported in the field. An opportunity arose to move back northeast to become the News Director at WGMD-FM in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and I made the trek back to where I am today.
1. What got you into radio? Why radio, and when did you decide it was what you wanted to do as a career?
In a way, I kind of fell into a radio career. I was originally considering a career in either television production or some aspect of media business. Got to Hofstra, got involved in radio and WRHU's news department and the rest is history.
2. You're a product of one of the more active and prominent college radio programs in the country, Hofstra's WRHU. How important was what you experienced at WRHU to working in the industry?
Incredibly important. College radio stations often get written off as being sandboxes and not considered to be "legit" experience. But I have to say, I spent three years working side-by-side with New York TV and radio reporters at news events all across Long Island and at major news events like the 2012 DNC and the presidential debate at Hofstra University. I did everything that a major market reporter from a station like WCBS and WINS did on Long Island and that experience goes a very long way in getting hands-on training in becoming a professional radio news broadcaster. There is a reason why WRHU-FM, as a college radio station, is a Marconi award-winning station and continues a strong relationship with the New York Islanders. Honestly, if it weren't for my time with WRHU-FM, I would not be where I am today.
3. You have been key in redoing WGMD's website. What were the primary elements you focused on in revamping the site -- what did you think were the most important things to accomplish in the finished product?
There were a few things I focused on with the website. When I joined WGMD, the station was using a third-party provider to set up and maintain the back-end of the site. The design was stodgy, it was not flexible, and was inefficient at maximizing a user's interaction with the site. The main point I wanted to focus on was bringing the website in-house which actually made it cheaper to operate. I also focused on developing as many sales opportunities on the site as possible. With those two goals in mind for the site, I went in and designed the site to make it more visually appealing and encourage more clicking on the site to boost traffic. The site was also built to be extremely flexible for our needs, whether it is to run a breaking news or school closings banner or rearranging the front page for it to focus on our Election Night coverage. The new WGMD.com also features On Demand content, which is incredibly important because we have a large stable of local programming for such a small market and making it available online just expands its reach into social media circles and ears. The website overall is more flexible, adaptable, visually appealing, and more geared towards the next generation in small market news radio.
4. Who are your mentors, influences, and heroes?
I don't want to give away too many of my secrets! Most of my mentors are former colleagues and supervisors from WRHU, ABC/Disney and Townsquare Media who have tons of experience in both news and music broadcasting, from backgrounds ranging from network-level news professionals and major market radio programmers to smaller market programmers. I admire the work each have done and greatly appreciate their advice when they offer it. In terms of influences, I look at a broad array of stations across the country to see what is working for other stations, whether it is a news/talk station like Bonneville's KTAR-FM and KIRO-FM, Cox Media's WDBO-FM, or Townsquare Media's WKXW-FM, or all-news stations like CBS Radio's WINS, WBZ, KRLD, or KNX or Hubbard's WTOP-FM.
5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What's your career goal?
Not sure where I'll be in 10 years. Ten years ago, I never thought I would be working in radio or even in media. Ideally, I would like to be in a large or major market working in some news capacity. As for my career goal, I would eventually like to get into management, either on a station, network or corporate level.
6. Do you use social media in conjunction with your work? Twitter? Facebook? Or not? How, if you use them, do they tie into what you do at WGMD?
Yes, yes and yes. Social media is a huge form of marketing for radio stations, both to introduce yourself to new audiences or to continue engaging established audiences. While I built the new WGMD website to be more click-friendly, social media is what helps gets people to the website to begin with. From a news perspective, social media helps with gathering and investigating information about a news story. It also helps deliver that story to both our regular audience and to new audiences. Effective use of social media means people are clicking through to get the meat of a story on your website. Tease a news story on social media with a link to a good story on your website and you will see better results than ignoring social media.
7. You're from Long Island and have lived and worked in some disparate places like New Hampshire, Shreveport, and now Delmarva. What have been the highlights about working and living in each place, and what have you found to be the biggest similarities and differences among them? Are people really the same all over?
I have loved the experience! I love traveling and being able to see different parts of the country and working in these diverse markets has been a rewarding experience. Being able to go back "home" to work at WRHU and WRIV was wonderful since I was able to take what I have known my whole life and applied it to broadcasting. Working at New Hampshire Public Radio allowed me to broadcast to a lot of my friends and neighbors across New Hampshire. Working at ABC let me get a taste of radio news at the network level and get a taste of working in New York City (there is no place in the world like New York). Working in Shreveport gave me a great taste of Southern life plus some extensive exposure to Texas, experiencing a Mardi Gras parade (on a float!) and lots of crawfish! And working in Delaware and Maryland has brought me has given me a lot of opportunities I likely couldn't have elsewhere, like covering NASCAR and having fantastic access to area politicians. Oddly enough, in Shreveport, I was only jokingly referred to as a "Yankee" at work, but in Delaware, someone flat out called me a "Yankee" out in public!
Working in each market has helped me learn more about the issues that affect these cities and what can be learned from each situation. Looking back, it's interesting to compare Long Island or New Hampshire to a place like Shreveport because in many respects, they are completely different, in terms of socio-economics, culture, and day-to-day issues, but lessons from each can be applied to each other. By living in each place I have so far, I have been able to spend time on these areas to get a deeper understanding of these communities than most other people. I can see how race still plays a role in the Southern economy, how elitism and NIMBYism can stifle the once idyllic Long Island, how a unique tax setup and New England Yankeeism has made New Hampshire a unique political and economic specimen, and how Delaware's unique position in terms of geography and economy greatly affect how its politics and issues are handled (plus how these unique strengths can be squandered through persistent sloppiness). Who would have thought that building a dog park would be a major political issue in Shreveport?
People are people. Everyone and every place has its unique problems and solutions, just like radio stations, and no place is perfect. What I've learned the most is to look at each problem uniquely and help provide some additional perspective on news stories based upon my travels and my studies.
8. Of what are you most proud?
I am most proud of the relationships I have been able to build across the country both in the industry and with newsmakers in each of the markets I have worked in. I have always tried to maintain good relationships with those I have worked with because you never know how your past connections can help you later in life or even if you have something that can help them.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______________.
...my smartphone. Not that I can't survive without it, but it plays a big role in my day-to-day work life.
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
The best advice I have ever gotten was from a former supervisor at WRHU who said to get out of the New York metro "bubble" early on in my career to get a broader foundation on how news and radio are done in other markets.
The worst advice, which I thankfully did not take, was from a college professor who said that if I left to take the job in Shreveport, I would end up being a used car salesman.