10 Questions with ... Howard Monroe
January 4, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Public affairs show on WOMP-AM in Wheeling in the 60's. Part-time DJ, Board Op during college. Planned to attend law school but WOMP was tinkering with some early talk and asked if I would host a community-oriented show ("The Party Line"), so I took the gig. Worked thru talk host, reporter, ND, PD.
During that time (early 70's), we did 6 hours of local news every day, plus 2 local talk shows and filled out with things like delayed LP's of "The Merv Griffin Show" and those giant bicycled tapes of the Barry Farber show. I think we were one of the earliest small market all news/talk stations in the days before satellites and networks made it easy.
Left to run a TV Newsroom, back in radio as ND at a classic rock station, then WOMP asked if I would come back and act as Station Manager. Another decade, a half dozen owners, and thought it was time to try to run my own place. Bought a 5 kw station from a church that had let it deteriorate so badly I was afraid to walk into the transmitter building. Tore it down and built from scratch.
1. How and why did you get into broadcasting?
As a high school student in 1968 I approached local station about doing a "teen talk show". They allowed me to do an hour on Saturday mornings called "Teenline: Teens Talking on Teen Topics". Also did a public access cable TV talk show ("It's Your Bag") and a second PA show on the big Top 40 in town ("Mind Over Music".... we played hot songs and weaved conversation between and over them on a Sunday night show).
2. As a talk host who can be characterized as "progressive," how have you been able to succeed for years where others haven't? What would you say has been the most important element in your long-term success? And your station mixes liberal and conservative talkers with news and sports -- do you think that the future of talk radio will include that kind of mix or will all-conservative or all-liberal talk lineups continue to be the way things are done?
Longevity and equity. I've been around since before Rush, so my audience had gotten to know me. I've been surrounded bv Rush, Sean, O'Reilly at different times but have always been able to fit in because I have familiarity and equity with the audience. I also know to do this right. I am among those who think good radio is good radio.... regardless of ideology. The problem is that the conservative line-ups are the ones that have the equity now and sticking something new in the mix is hard to do if it's not ideologically consistent. We have no farm system any more so there are few -- if any -- well-prepped generalists or even progressives who can build something creative and compelling that isn't just a conservative clone.
If you're a station with the big guns (Rush/Sean/etc), conservative talk is still a major success. If you have a market that will financially support a progressive station and can find good local progressive host(s), I think progressive tallk can work.
But the real next phase of talk radio is something different. I think we're working towards it here at WVLY. I'm a liberal. Hoppy Kercheval (who hosts 10-Noon) is a conservative, but we both come from a journalism background. We both play well with members of the opposite party and both have brand equity with our audience as reasonable and entertaining guys. I run Gayle King at Noon and Doug Stephan at 2. Both provide a good well-paced blend of news-oriented topics while being easily able to hop off into the "water cooler" stufff. And we're doing 2 hours of news-information in PM Drive which has been extremely well received.
I think folks are weary of the left-right-I'm right-you're wrong yelling and shouting brand of talk. Or at least there is plenty of room for a station that offers something else as an option. But it still needs to be based on strong personalities who can tap into their audiences, stay topical and provide strong doses of information.
3. You own your station. Is it difficult to compartmentalize -- do your concerns as a business owner affect how you do your show? How do you find the time to run the business plus do the show?
My standard answer about running your own small operation is that I used to wonder who changed the toilet paper -- and now I know! Time managment is critical. There are plenty of days when I wonder how I can possibly get everything done... but most of the time I've got if figured out.
Biggest problem as a talk host is that there is no one to be my heat shield. It's always easier if a GM or owner can step between the host and a complaining sponsor (or listener) and sympathize ("Yeah, I know he can be a real problem sometime, but he does draw an audience"). Here, when they complain to the "boss" about me...they complain to ME.
And yes, there are times when I'm saying something on-air and wondering how this is going to affect the business. And once in a while, I admit, I hold my tongue.
4. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the near future of the nation's economy? Why?
2 years ago when the economy collapsed, the bottom dropped out of my business. Honestly, for a small station like mine, it would have made sense to close to the doors. We were in trouble. But that is past now. This has been a pretty good year (even without the political, which has been a Godsend). I think the economy has turned the corner and we'll continue to rise.
5. Of what are you most proud?
Personally, my 3 sons. All are grown. Doing well. My oldest built his own business which was cool to watch.
Professionally, that I have managed to survive for so long in this business. That I can get up every day and still do what I love to do. That I've built a little reputation in the industry and in my community. That I gave a lot of young broadcasters their start and they have gone on to do some bigger things and still keep in touch.
6. You compete with a big 50,000-watt Clear Channel talker and another locally-owned station with local shows all day. What approach do you take to competing with those stations? What makes WVLY different?
It's fairly simple: pick your own focus and do it better than they do.
You can't out-Big-One "The Big One", so I don't try. You want the Fox-News-And-Conservative-Talk? Head to 1170.
We are focused on being an information-oriented talk station for people who want something different. The hottest political topcs of the day (local or national) when that's important. Who's the next Idol judge when people are talking about that. Stay in touch with your audience, don't get pigeon-holed to the point the listener knows what you're going to be talking about and what you're going to say. Give them an "A-Ha" every day. I'm on the road to conventions, inaugarals, Capital Hill events, etc. Try to take the audience with ME (not some network host) to the biggest news events.
7. Who are your mentors and inspirations in the business?
Way back when, David Susskind and WIlliam F. Buckley, Jr on public TV made me realize there was a "job" that let you talk about issues. Used to dial at night to Larry Glick on WBZ, Roy Fox on KDKA. Loved the style of KABC's Michael Jackson. All were smart and entertaining, not didactic ideologues. Dick Rakovan (now a VP with RAB) constantly gave me great advice and kept me on track when he was my owner.
8. What do you do for fun?
Some local theatre, read as much as I can. Serve as a church elder and on the City Planning Plannng which actually are "fun" for me.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______________.
...one cup of coffee and at least one "Law and Order" rerun.
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
BEST: Understand what you really want before you jump at what you think you want.
WORST: No one will listen to a radio station to hear people talk about the news all day.