10 Questions with ... Matt Cundill
July 26, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I caught the radio bug in the 80’s and started working in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in 1989 doing all nights while studying for a political science degree at Acadia University. After graduation I went on to do overnights and weekends at CHOM 97.7 in Montreal until 1994, then an 8 year stint at 100.3 The Bear in Edmonton as APD/PM Drive. In 2002, I went back to Montreal in that same APD role and in 2006, I was lured to program Power 97 in Winnipeg. While at Corus, I wore a few different hats including interim PD for a year at News/Talk 680AM and launching 99.1 Fresh FM. After being restructured in 2014, I found myself with enough interest across the country to start consulting, coaching talent and launching brands.
1. You were a PD, MD, APD, and host for several years in Edmonton, Montreal, and Winnipeg, and now you're consulting and hosting a podcast about -- drum roll, please -- radio. First, what do you miss about the day-to-day of being at a radio cluster, and what don't you miss?
I call it a Podcast about Broadcast so it can include those who enter and exit radio. The first thing I miss is having a producer in-house to bring audio to life. One great advantage radio stations have is the ability to get a half dozen creative types around the table and brainstorm. I miss having meetings and announcing coming up with new ways to do what we think is the same thing. The one thing I don't miss about radio is having to champion ideas that I know won’t work - and then attempt to invigorate staff who also know it won’t work.
2. You're podcasting now and you were at Podcast Movement -- what are you finding as the most appealing aspects of podcasting as opposed to radio broadcasting? How long do you think it will be, if, that is, it ever occurs, before podcasting overtakes broadcasting as the primary vehicle for spoken word radio?
When you start out with a podcast, there are no clocks, rules, or format instilled; you have to create it yourself. That’s appealing for a lot of people. When I was little I used to want to push every button just to see what it would do. I would turn on stoves in people's homes and an elevator ride with me sucked because it involved a stop at every floor and ringing the emergency bell. I love trying new things and making every mistake possible so I can write the book on making every mistake in the book.
Radio talent can become better broadcasters by podcasting. There's also a whole new audience to connect with, and that should be exciting for anyone in the radio business. That audience is in the gym, on commutes, or doing housework. The tipping point for podcasting vs. radio will be played out on the car dashboard when we can access our podcasts in the same number of button pushes it takes to get to my local station. When that happens, the talent from podcasting and broadcasting will find that it's no longer good business to exclude one another.
3. How do you think radio stations can best incorporate podcasting into their business? What's the best direction -- repurposing on-air content, creating exclusive content, doing branded content for clients?
The answer is different for each radio station because the podcasting canvas is blank. Unlike traditional social media which sets the rules for everyone to operate under, podcasting has no rules; just a few best practices.
When I programmed Power 97, we launched a podcast in 2009 which was really the morning show, time shifted, without the music. Time shifting is podcasting if the listener is downloading it and taking it with them. I learned to leave everything in the show. Listeners want to be able to find their favourite feature, listen to it a second time, or play it for a friend. If you're doing a "Best Of" podcast, you're only delivering what you want, not what the listener wants. They want to listen to the show - so give them "The Show."
There are opportunities on every station right now to do podcasts. Talk radio has the most obvious opportunity with the ability to time shift a show. Talent on music stations can use podcasts as brand extensions. Let's say your CHR drive host loves cooking. There's an opportunity to have a local chef on (e.g.: client) to talk about local cuisine, share a recipe etc. The only cost to the station is some cross-promotion and it's a great way for listeners to engage after the show. I learned at the Conclave from Greg Cypin, Chris Cruise, and Drake Donovan that video has a higher payoff but comes with a few more rules and is more laborious; It really comes down to extending who you are known for and want to be known for on the radio and beyond. Two things that need to happen: The station needs to promote it and make selling it a priority, and the host needs to provide a podcast weekly. Release it Friday morning at 10 am when the show is over and give your audience a reminder to listen this weekend. (You can also run off-air contests inside the podcast) There's also an opportunity for talent on music stations to become highly nvolved in a sports podcast if another station in the cluster has the rights. Podcasting is also a great way to develop talent; instead of only introducing songs, they acquire editing and interview skills.
4. What are your favorite podcasts right now, and why?
"The Herd with Colin Cowherd" is radio time shifting but was the first podcast that I actively downloaded. I listen to it in the evening. Another radio show, CBC's "Under the Influence," is one I download but rarely listen to terrestrially. While it airs at 1:30pm on Saturdays, I prefer to listen on the airplane. And that's where podcasting is going. If you ask people how they listen to it, they will probably say that they listen to (insert podcast) while they are (insert action). My favourite non-radio podcast is "Canadaland" with Jesse Brown. That podcast was responsible for expediting the fall of Jian Ghomeshi, and is largely crowdfunded now.
5. You, in effect, reinvented your career when you left Corus in 2014, moving into consulting, podcasting, and voiceovers. To those who might find themselves in the same position, what, in retrospect, were the best and worst moves you made after leaving Power/Fresh?
The best move I made was choosing to not make a move. I had a few offers but I had been employed every day since I was 18. So I gave myself some time to watch, learn and listen. It was apparent that while radio was cutting, the demand for audio was increasing. So I applied that logic and advertised and networked my voiceover business more aggressively. I also asked for help from people. In turn, a few companies were asking for help and reached out with consulting projects, the most exciting being a rebrand of 97.5 The River in Kamloops, British Columbia. My worst move actually happened before I was let go, and that's not listening to Tom Leykis' advice. In 2013 I recall hearing him on a podcast telling radio people that you need to have your web domain and business plans in order for when radio cuts ties with you -- essentially, a place where people can find you while you make your next move.
6. Who have been your mentors, inspirations, and/or influences in the business?
I grew up listening to Ralph Lockwood in the '70s on CKGM and Terry Dimonte in the '80s on CHOM in Montreal. Terry and I met the first time in the most Canadian of ways, as hockey referees in a high school hockey game. I was fortunate to work with great people along the way, especially at Standard Radio with Blair Bartrem and Rob Braide at CHOM and Eric Samuels, Greg Diamond and Marty Forbes at 100.3 the Bear. What I really loved about Standard Radio was that anyone could ask anyone anything at any time. When you're the APD in Edmonton and you have access to Pat Holiday or JJ Johnston at CFRB/CKFM, you pick up the phone and call. A number of those people wound up over at Corus later on. Ross Winters was someone I crossed paths with a few times over the years. In 1990 I was sending him tapes for an overnight show to 92 CITI in Winnipeg. I am not sure if he remembered that when he and Garth Buchko hired me to work at Power 97 in 2006.
7. Of what are you most proud?
There's a certain excitement to launching or re-launching a product. Being a part of the team to restore CHOM to its rock heritage in 2002 was exciting. The station had veered off course under previous ownership and our work led to doubling the ratings overnight. The station was strong for the rest of the decade. In 2009, the Power 97 Morning Show of Wheeler & Hal had come to an end with Hal Anderson shifting to N/T 680 CJOB. Dave Wheeler was paired with Phil Aubrey and Rena Jae for the next installment of the morning show. The first year did not go so well. The recession was still lingering and there was banter about dismantling the show. It was not easy to run against the grain and convince senior management that we need to invest in the station and talent, but Ross Winters, Dave Farough and the rest of Corus' head office listened and gave Power 97 and that morning show the time and resources to develop and be great.
8. I see a lot of stations using social media purely to directly promote what's on the air; not to ask you to give away what you advise paying clients, but in brief, what should a station be doing with its social media to get the best effect -- what kind of posts should be going up, and who should be doing it?
I don't mind sharing what I know, because when a station brings me on board, it's the ongoing teaching and evaluation they are buying for their people. The same way we all get the same music, we all operate under the same social media space. As a medium, we need to share all innovations and ideas to be viable in the future.
The rules that apply to doing a great on air break go into creating an awesome social media post. You can get everything you need to make a great post by following Valerie Geller's rules of "tell the truth", "make it matter" and "never be boring". Where stations fail in social media is not having everyone on board. At the Conclave, there were social media and digital directors who told me stories of stations where jocks won't or don’t post to social media. There's no excuse for that anymore. We have the ability to teach and they have the ability to learn. Last year, I did a one hour session at a N/T station about the importance of social media to their brand. The average age of the newsroom was about 55. We could have spent the time debating the merits of social media but instead, their resistance disappeared once I showed them how the analytics worked. The staff immediately bought in because they were empowered. Their radio brand is now a player locally. I think that’s another mistake we make with social media, thinking we have to be number one or be on every platform. You really just need to be a legitimate contributor, create posts that are on brand, and be great on air too. Stations that post a ton of memes and celebrate the shares are actually hurting their brand. In turn, the Facebook page looks like it is run by Sanford & Son.
Digital directors need to provide guidance and feedback to those who post. Yes, I know, you just muttered, "Where am I going to get the time for that?," but teaching will save you time in the end.
The other part that is precarious for program directors is determining the right time to use an on-air break to send people to Facebook. Listeners do not need another instruction in their day. Talent needs to repurpose their breaks so the listener will want to find the content on their own. There is no payoff for the listener when a jock says, "And you can see more at our Facebook page." You've actually given them a task, one whose end result benefits the station and not the listener. The best use of on air time to promote social media is when there is exclusive content involved, with the end goal of the listener arriving on your website. Remember, when anyone goes to Facebook, the first thing they generally see the most popular content which is generally a cat meme. Your listener then shares it and then they interact with someone else and have forgotten why they went to Facebook in the first place. Facebook is in the content business like we are, and they push the best material to the front. I always remind morning shows that the Facebook algorithm can work in their favour if they get their best material posted and shared early enough.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ______________.
... Thinking about when my next yoga class is. The irony that a station I grew up listening to has its call letters named after the yoga chant OM is not lost on me. I go three times a week and started about 6 years ago. Yoga was a part of rehabbing my knee after a soccer injury and it wound up being a super counterbalance to working in radio. No smart phone, no visual distractions, look in, not out, and it's a joy to have someone teaching me for an hour. A lot of people find their release at the gym, but everything comes with a TV, a button to push, the option to plug in my iPhone, or a radio is playing. That works for a lot of people, but I find myself air checking, evaluating, and critiquing in the middle of my workout.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career so far?
Patience -- certainly preached more than practiced. In all the times I wanted to move at lightning speed to accomplish something, someone told me to slow down and be patient. Great things take time to grow. And 100 percent of the time, patience will pay you a dividend when you least expect it.