10 Questions with ... Neal West
March 10, 2015
1. All right, first, what got you into radio in the first place? Why radio?
Some of us get lucky, and just sort of fall into the right place. Thatâ€™s my story.
As a kid, I spent some time in the Cub Scouts when we were stationed at Griffiss Air Force Base. Our troop took a trip to the local Country station, â€œFroggyâ€ something or other at the time. I remember the cart machines in the center of the room. It was so BIG! And COOL! Those radio guys could have very well been astronauts to me, same sort of reverence.
As a military kid, we moved around a lot, and I remember the magic of following Steve Sharpâ€™s "Love and Desperation" from Upstate New York to Southern California. I had to know how it was done! I was hanging out in radio station parking lots by about 15, and I was on the air before my 16th birthday. They let me read the Saturday morning news!
2. As someone who's produced some major syndicated shows, what, in your mind, makes a great producer? What kind of person does it take, and what does that person provide to the talent?
A great producer is one who can wear many hats. A talk show isn't just compelling stories and topics, itâ€™s not just great audio, itâ€™s not just the big Rolodex, itâ€™s not just research and writing, itâ€™s all of those things and more. The best producers are the most humble, because you wonâ€™t always get your way. The best prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. A sense of humor doesn't hurt either.
Itâ€™s all about providing the talent with whatever environment they need in order to perform their best work.
3. As we write this, you've JUST left your job- so it's perhaps appropriate (or, maybe, wildly INappropriate) to ask you: Are you optimistic about the radio business nowadays? How do you see the next, say, decade going for radio- will there be changes, will digital rule, will radio hang in there?
I have no shortage of optimism. Dr. Savage is fond of the term â€œraconteurâ€; it means â€œstoryteller,â€ and when you consider what we all do in THAT light, weâ€™re going to be fine. The job in radio is to provoke our audience to interact with us because we reflect some part of the life they live.
Sometimes we do that with the music we play, sometimes through our observations and opinions. But fundamentally, it is that interaction we are expert at, so while radio itself may change around us, what WE do wonâ€™t change much.
The only thing for certain in the next decade for the radio industry is dramatic and constant change, and everyone regardless of position, tenure, or paycheck had best be ready to adapt or die, but radio will hang in there. They just did a survey that shows people want the knobs and buttons left on their car radio, it makes them more comfortable than little in dash apps. Thatâ€™s HUGE.
Those who are the most successful in the next decade are those who have a comprehensive strategy for creating synergies between digital and radio. And now, more than ever, content is king.
4. You've produced live events, so you're more than qualified to judge: How do you think radio is doing these days in promoting itself with live events? If you were running a major market station, what kinds of live special events would you want to produce?
Live events are HUGE! The opportunity to be face to face with your audience is more important than ever in this cluttered media landscape, and if well-crafted and executed, these events present significant revenue opportunities. Nothing better than getting paid to promote your brands in public.
The sort of events you would produce should be both relevant and interesting to the audience. A News/Talk station might host live debates or a speaker series, a Rock station might throw a raging beer carnival. The point is to engage your audience and interact with them.
Iâ€™m also a big fan of being a community advocate. We donâ€™t have to be in the public just because weâ€™re getting paid. Nothing will endear your brand more to the audience than being the rally point for some topic the community cares about, all of which equals ratings and revenue.
5. Let's look at social media, too. How should a radio host or producer be using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram? How have you used social media in conjunction with your radio work?
Honestly I might be addicted to social media. Itâ€™s an integral part of everything I do. Weâ€™ve all heard the phrase â€œwater cooler talkâ€ at one point or another, and that is what social media is, the digital water cooler. How nice that I donâ€™t have to eavesdrop in line at the grocery story anymore; and yes, I really used to creep on others as they talked. Iâ€™m not proud...
I can rather easily size up what people are (and will be) talking about based on what my feeds look like. Social media gives me the ability to be WAY out on the edge of the knife. Iâ€™ve broken national news more than once based on something from my Twitter feed, and I consider it to be an essential tool.
Social media is also critical because it allows people to interact with content, and following along with those interactions can yield many types of benefits. Itâ€™s almost like crowd sourcing a topic. Go read along with the comments of any story on a major publication and youâ€™ll see what I mean. Itâ€™s a plethora of comments, facts, opinions, all of which can be used in various forms throughout the broadcast.
6. Who are your mentors, inspirations, and/or heroes in the business?
Marcello Corona, VP of Talk Radio Network: â€œYou can be right, or you can be happyâ€¦â€ There is a LOT of wisdom in those words. Ron Escarsega, former PD at KGO, was a huge influence on me. I've never met someone who handled himself with such professionalism, poise, and humility. A man of good cheer worth emulating. Chad Perry was my Ops Manager when I was starting out in Chico, California. He set me on the right path and taught a young kid I could handle whatever came my way.
And one of my biggest heroâ€™s isn't even in the business. My high school English teacher, Shelly Priddy, was a huge influence on me; still is, as a matter of fact. Sheâ€™s the person who taught me I might have something to sayâ€¦
7. Of what are you most proud?
Two things stand out. I worked at Z-Rock in Chico, California early in my career. The economy had taken a hit and Toys for Tots was running low on supplies that Christmas. I badgered the Market Manager and Promo Director into arranging for a man lift, and permission to broadcast from the parking lot of the Toys R Us, which happened to be across from the Mall. I went on the air and promised to strip off a piece of clothing for every parking space we could fill with toys.
Chico accepted my challenge. 4 hours later I was standing high above the street corner on my man lift, in nothing but a pair of lime green bikini briefs. We had raised something like $10k in toys in the 4 hours I was on the air. Here these folks are, not sure what the future may hold, expressing such generosity. It was a reminder of how powerful radio is, and a truly humbling experience.
And then there was Matty the Dog...
Spc. Brent Grommet had served with his bomb dog Matty, and had the right to adopt the dog after the two were injured by an I.E.D. Grommet slept on top of Mattyâ€™s crate as they flew back to the United States. Upon landing at an Air Force base in New Jersey, the two were separated â€” standard operating procedure. But he never got the dog backâ€¦
Dr. Savage saw the story, and I started working with a colleague at the N.Y. Post to get Brentâ€™s dad Don on the show. After being separated from Matty for 16 months, and several attempts by various news outlets to breathe life into the story, Brent was reunited with his dog less than a week after the show got involved. There are the stories Iâ€™ll rememberâ€¦
8. Okay, say there was no radio, or at least you couldn't work in radio or the media. (Let's assume that's not the case now, considering what's happened in recent days, but this is purely a fantasy.) What do you think you'd be doing for a living now? What was the other path?
Iâ€™ll tell you, but you have to promise not to laughâ€¦ I was going to be an Opera singer. No joke. I was recruited by a couple of big programs, including the Opera Workshop at Chico State, to sing on full scholarship. Iâ€™ve also been a part time club dj for a long timeâ€¦ I know, a strange thing for a news producer to admit, but I can love music AND politics, right?
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ______________.
10. What's the best advice you ever got? The worst?
The best: donâ€™t let the job become your lifeâ€¦
The worst: we aren't paying you to think about it, just read the scriptâ€¦