10 Questions with ... Billy Hammond
June 21, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
From Polka to the Big Apple... I started my broadcasting career at the age of 18 on AM 1240 WIBU Polka Power in WI. From there, I hit the Top 40 format and blazed a trail to Z100/New York City, performing on great frequencies in between like: WZEE (Z104), WSSX (95SX), KDWB, WBHT (HOT 97), WIOQ (Q102) and WKSC(1035 KISS-FM).
1) What do you do to maintain a positive mental attitude and stay motivated?
By believing in my ability and trusting that my love for broadcasting and deep experience will see me through this period of consolidation and change in the industry.
2) Some people get discouraged or enlightened with the business when they actually step out of it for a while. Tell us your observations from the outside.
I won't lie ... I've been discouraged knowing that just because you have a ton of experience and friends in your corner, doesn't necessarily mean PDs, VPs, G's and consultants will open doors for you. What I mean by that is the position you're going for must be the right "fit." In my case, I was on some pretty big frequencies such as Z100/NYC, Q102/Philly and 1035 KISS-FM/Chicago, thinking that I would have no problem in securing a contract again. It's not like I was walking around with a chip on my shoulder and that the world owes me. rather, why not hire me because of where I performed? It's pretty clear, that in this day, the hiring process and criteria have changed.
Well, for some of you starting out in radio, let that be a lesson in humility. Then enlightenment begins. The disappointment and frustration leave and you have a clearer understanding of the process of "why changes were made." You must try to make the effort to understand the "business" side of radio. Do not take it personally because you will be better off if you don't.
3) How are you finding the "courtesy level" at places you've applied? (Callbacks, e-mails, rejection letters, etc.)
The industry pros I contact have busy broadcast/music days and only so much time in that day to respond to you, but some have. This leads us back to question #2. Don't get frustrated because "they" haven't reached out to you. Stay positive (it's really not hard to do). If you're the right person for the gig, good things will happen, but I must add this: You quickly find out who is professional and who is not when it comes to "courtesy."
4) Are you finding salaries/benefits lower than you ever thought, about the same, or have you seen some pleasant surprises?
I'll give you a recent example. I spoke with a PD who knew of my work in New York and Chicago and right off the bat he said, "we probably can't afford you," and I thought since we're not talking about salary or contracts at the moment, why would he bring that up and how did he know he couldn't afford me? I keep reading and hearing about budget cuts that affect performers in our business. Rather than just blow the person out, why not find a salary solution that's fair for all parties ... or has the day come where all that matters is the bottom line and the radio entertainer is equal to the dust build-up on the on-air control board? You'll have to ask CFOs and CEOs that question.
5) With consolidation there are definitely fewer jobs. How do you separate yourself from the pack?
Years ago a morning guy said to me, "If I can win on the air by just being myself, then nobody will ever beat me." It's so true. Like with anything in life, "you have to be born to do it." Here are a few examples of being different: When I was on the air at HOR97 in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, I dyed my hair purple to stand out. The PD named me the Purple-Headed-Love-Freak. We actually made up a theme song to sing to before my show. Listeners eventually remembered the name Billy Hammond but immediately identified me in public as The-Purple-Headed-Love-Freak because of my hair color.
I would get their names and say hi to them on the air that night. When I was on at KISS in Chicago, listeners would call and ask "are you that Billy Hammond guy?" So, when I cracked the mic, I'd start the break off with, "Hey, it's that Billy Hammond guy," and it stuck.
My point is, be organic in your quest to separate yourself from the pack. Remember, you're the entertainer. Radio people have to compete with iPods, movies, TV, texting, tweets, other stations and streams etc., but if you're better at entertaining in general then you will win their attention and that should bode well in the world of people meters.
6) What has been your biggest career accomplishment?
Wow, I've really had great experiences and worked with some exceptional talent, but I would have to say, through all of the sacrifices and ups and downs the most memorable one that really stands out was getting the call from Tom Poleman to broadcast from the top of the Empire State Building on the mighty Z100. I felt that I had "made it" as a night guy in the Top 40 format.
7) What have you learned about yourself, others, or life in general in your downtime?
I really have learned to become more patient and to think in a more precise manner. I'm sure it's a combination of career/life experiences and maturity. After KISS in Chicago, I moved to Frisco, TX (suburb of Dallas) to purse audio engineering and commercial music marketing at Collin College. I successfully completed the program and made the Dean's List for Academic Excellence. What does that mean? I can work at a label to help market an artist or record a band in a studio now. It would be another skill set to have and you need to be good at many in order to move forward. I just want to add that I would not be where I'm at today if it were not for my family.
8) If you were offered a similar position to what you were doing for considerably less money, would you seriously consider taking the job just to stay in the biz?
NO! Just kidding. I defer to my answer for question #2, which is, it's gotta be the right fit. I'm not going to put myself in a position of just taking a gig for-the-sake-of-taking-a-gig. That would be unhealthy for all parties. I'm competitive by nature and play to win, but before I run and jump off the cliff, I'll run and jump off the cliff WITH a parachute when it comes to building a strategy and a winning game plan. I would, however, entertain offers for programming, music director, creative service, on-air and station vehicle washing duties!
9) Having been through all you have dealt with in this biz, what advice would you give people trying to break in?
Well, first, if you wanna be on the air, learn how to run the board, then start to develop your mic personality and stage presence. Tie those together with phone bit interaction and show prep, then graduate from being a "DJ" to an entertainer all the while listening to the pros who have been there before you. Here's one of my favorite quotes from American n
ovelist William Faulkner:
"Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors, try to be better than yourself. "
10) Are you able to slow down and enjoy free time doing things with your family and friends that you probably did not have time to do while you were working?
Yes. Radio people know how challenging it can be to get time off and recharge your performance batteries. In a few months time I was fortunate to visit friends in San Diego for the 4th of July on the beach, visit family in Phoenix, then hit the Grand Canyon and Sedona and finally back to NYC for an incredible time! I'm represented by Chicago and Madison talent agencies for voiceover, too. I love road bikes, as in cycling, and do shave my legs (don't tell anybody). Last summer I completed my first Century which is 100 miles in a day at the Hotter 'n Hell in North Texas. The ride only took 5hr, 45min. I try and ride at least 80-100 miles a week and I'm a member of Mad City Velo, plus look forward to road racing this summer and fall.
Care to contribute a low-cost recipe to our "ON THE BEACH" cookbook?
Are you kiddin'? Radio people don't cook, they order OUT.