10 Questions with ... Heidi Harris
October 6, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Started my talk radio career in 1998 at KDWN, (paid $0), open lines, no call screening, running my own board. Got first PAYING job at KXNT in 1999, co-hosted morning drive there from 2001-2006, returned to KDWN to host a solo morning drive show for 5 years, recruited to host morning drive on two stations simultaneously in Los Angeles/Riverside, returned to Vegas and now back to morning drive at CBS Las Vegas KXNT. Whew! Its been a fast 17 years!
I’ve won several Electronic Media awards for the show, listed in Talkers 100 many times, named a Distinguished Woman of Nevada 2014, hundreds of cable TV appearances, etc.
1. It’s been five years (!) since we caught up with you, and since then, you’ve changed stations and launched a podcast. Last things first: What’s the podcast about and what prompted you to do it?
In addition to my daily broadcast show, I just launched a podcast called “Vegas Characters”, featuring the most colorful characters in Vegas. Guests have included “Jingle Queen” Linda November, who sang 22,000 jingles, including “Meow Mix” for 17 years. She’s a hoot! I also chatted with Andy Walmsley, set designer for the most famous TV shows in the world including “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, “So you Think You Can Dance”, etc. I’m having TONS of fun. I love interviewing fascinating people, and you don’t always have time in the regular broadcast format.
2. More on the podcast: What differences, if there are any, are there in how you approach doing that show as opposed to your radio show? Are there differences in preparation, style, format, or anything else, or is it just radio with a different delivery system to you?
The podcast is slightly different than broadcast radio because you don’t have spot breaks, (only sponsor mentions) but I have included some very cool intro and outro music, used by permission of my first guest, trumpeter Tony Scodwell. Even if you’re “just doing a podcast”, you have to get right into it and not waste people’s time. I’ve heard podcasts where the intro music is too long and then the hosts spend three minutes saying hello to each other! I’m OUT! Ain’t nobody got time for that! Mine run about 20-25 min.
I also think that unless you’re VERY famous, people aren’t going to tune in to “so and so’s podcast”. They are looking for subject matter that interests them. What’s your niche? My Vegas Characters podcast is not about ME, nor is there anything political in it. It’s just great storytelling.
3. We were in the throes of the deepest part of the recession when we last talked. How has Las Vegas fared since the lowest point of the economy? Do you feel optimistic about how things are developing in the market?
Las Vegas was hit hard in the recession, and I don’t know anyone anywhere who is where they were in 2007, regardless of profession. Certainly, it hit the radio business as hard as any other, which means we have to do more than ever before with less than ever before. Things aren’t “better”, but I think most people have just learned to live with less.
4. Speaking of Vegas, of all the Vegas movies and TV shows — from “Viva Las Vegas” to “Casino,” “Oceans Eleven” (original and remake) and “The Hangover” — which are your favorites, and which are closest to capturing the Strip’s essence?
My favorite “Vegas” movie is “Casino”, which really captures Vegas. Frank Culotta, the personal hit man for Tony Spilotro (played by Joe Pesci in the movie), has been a friend for years, and a guest on my show many times. One of his actual hits was portrayed in the movie. One of my friends played the cop wrestling with Sharon Stone in the driveway.
And I also will always love the original Vega$ TV show, starring Robert Urich. Any other show by that name is sacrilege. The show was filmed while I was a kid and seeing that show reminds me of how Vegas used to look when there was less traffic! The good old days!
5. Obligatory prediction: How do you see the 2016 election shaping up? Will Trump last, will someone else emerge, will Hillary hold off Bernie and/or Biden? Yeah, it’s putting you on the spot, but what do you think will happen?
My prediction for the election is that eventually Trump’s act will wear thin. People have always been distracted by “bread and circuses”, but when it gets down to it, actual voters are going to realize that calling people names when they disagree with you is not very Presidential. And your foreign policy needs to consist of something other than calling your adversaries “losers”. I’d like to see a Cruz/Fiorina ticket, and Dr. Carson as Surgeon General.
6. Gonna ask for an update here: Who was the best interview subject you ever had on your shows, and who’s your dream interview (living or dead)?
I’ve interviewed everyone from Gene Simmons to Dr. Ben Carson, community leaders to backpack wearing drone protestors. One of my favorite recent guests was George Green, KABC radio guru for 38 years. He was there at the beginning of what we now think of as a “talk radio station”. His instincts about what makes a great host are spot on, and should be heeded. Anyone can read headlines. People read them for themselves now on their phones. Why would I bother to tune in if you’re just going to do that?
We need to get back to what made talk radio great. Let’s get back to storytelling, interaction and people on the air who are just plain interesting, even at a lunch table. If no one wants to sit next to you at dinner, you probably don’t belong on the air.
Everyone thinks they are fascinating, and their book/life story is fascinating. You have to be discerning. And you always have to be mindful of who your audience is. I avoid the D-list celebs only known in Vegas. They don’t add much, other than self promotion. People who will show up to the opening of an ENVELOPE are not “special”, and we have way too many of them in Vegas.
When I interview someone, I like to actually learn something. Tell me something I don’t know. Make me laugh. That’s why I don’t put right wingers on who write boring, predictable, 200 page “Obama sucks” books. Why bother? So we can sit there like bobbleheads, agreeing with each other? ZZZZZZ
I’d rather talk with a former prostitute like Annie Lobert, gounder of “Hookers for Jesus,” than a boring politician any day. SHE is making the world a better place, rescuing women from trafficking by telling them that God loves them. Most politicians are just mucking things up.
I’m happy to hear different perspectives, and welcome those who disagree with me. Spirited dialogue is always fun. If I really despise someone, I don’t invite them on the show. What’s the point? That’s different than disagreeing with someone.
I once got a 1,000 word email from a guy who saw me on MSNBC. He ranted and raved about Iraq, called me every name in the book, and put his phone number in the email. My producer called him in Arizona and we got him on air. My first question: “You sent me that because you don’t have Dick Cheney’s email, right?” “Right.” We had a great discussion, I made a friend, and it was great radio.
Dream guest? Benjamin Netanyahu.
7. Where do you see talk radio heading? Do you expect it to be revived, do you expect it to go away, do you see podcasts as the next stage… is talk radio alive and well, terminal, or something else?
Local talk radio in some form will always survive, as long as you maintain that connection to your listeners and community. But with more and more stations being brokered, its harder than ever to create or maintain a bench. I think that will be the biggest challenge in the immediate future. I started on air in the middle of the night, (for free) and worked my way up. Those opportunities are non-existent now.
I’ll tell you what the of future of talk radio is NOT: 30 year-olds regurgitating the same right wing “Daily Outrage” stories we’re all tired of, and some PR person calling that a “new take.”
You have to be more nimble than ever to survive. For example, in my case, I have always edited audio at the radio stations I’ve worked for, and edit all my own interviews and music for my podcast. The more skills you have, the more likely it is you’ll stay viable. If you wait until you’re “on the beach” to frantically learn some additional skills, you’ll be left behind.
8. What’s your impression of social media — do you see it as important to your radio/podcast work, is it a show prep source, do you engage with listeners there… what role do you see Twitter and/or Facebook playing in your life and in talk radio? How do you use it?
Back in the day, you could sit on a “throne” and have people throw $100 bills at you. Nowadays, you have to WORK to engage your audience, even off air, and social media shows them that you care about them and what they think. Callers are great, but lots of listeners prefer social media as a way to interact. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, etc, and use them in different ways.
Twitter is great for posting, but also great for watching breaking news from all over the world, especially while you’re on the air. I’m new to Periscope, but I find that people appreciate the “behind the scenes” stuff when I post it. And when you’re out at a car show or some other “normal” event, its fun to show your listeners that yes, you do “normal” things, too. Obviously social media should be used for promotion but in broadcasting, the primary focus should be connection.
9. True Confessions: What’s one thing the general public doesn’t know about you that would surprise them?
What the public doesn’t know is that when I was 19, I was a singing telegram girl! I did one in the cockpit of a plane for the pilot’s last flight, at UNLV at noon in the cafeteria (terrifying), and even sang a few telegrams with a beautiful redhead named Marilyn, who would dance topless while I sang. She had the body, but I had the voice. I am NOT kidding!
10. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
Although your talent is a matter of opinion, your work ethic isn’t. You can’t control everything at a radio station, but you are completely in control of whether or not you’re LAZY. I’ve also learned that although every PD has a different opinion of how you should do your job (and of course we never lose the need for coaching), you have to be true to yourself, objective about your strengths and weaknesses, and trust your gut.