My Four Takeaways From The Power Pig; And The Heartache Of KiddChris
July 1, 2014
In the Fall of '91, I left an opportunity to program Alternative WEQX in the Manchester, VT/Albany, NY market to take a weekend overnight job, just to be able to be part of what was the Power Pig in Tampa, FL. With quickness, my weekend opportunity turned into fill-ins for afternoons and nights; and I was a fixture in prime shifts weekend to weekend at WFLZ.
My first takeaway came when I had come out of an early 90's Rap song; could have been The Humpty Dance, and that was the last song of the hour scheduled and my music would have left me four minutes short. I ended up adding a song, and one minute into that song playing, the hotline rang. It was Marc Chase, who was the big cheese at the time. His first comment, "Hey Ragman, you're sounding great," was quickly followed by his second, "But hey, when you fill songs, just make sure you aren't putting two Rap songs back to back." There was nothing about Marc's comments to me that carried a chastisement or negative tone. It was truly constructive.
And just like that, in one comment, Marc had solidified in my brain a strategy and philosophy in programming that I hadn't thought of yet; that I hadn't experienced yet. His words would pay huge dividends in my next opportunity.
My second takeaway came from the midday talent at the Power Pig, Dave Mann, who had a philosophy, that if you can't say it in 12 seconds or less, it probably doesn't need to be said. This mirrored a teaching I had already gleaned from JoBo in Chicago at B96, during my internship under PD Buddy Scott. JoBo and Dave Mann were amazing at making every second count, whether a phoner was included or not. While they both had those "pipes," neither was simply relying on them, as sounding good wasn't the goal; conveying purposeful content was.
TAKEAWAYS FROM TAMPA
My third takeaway came from our afternoon show of Tim Dukes and Tom Steele, (Dukes would later become a programming guru while Steele would later become the 2nd half of the Hawk & Tom morning show in Greenville, SC.)
Tim and Tom's philosophy was "people will hang longer if you give them a reason to," and their Time Spent Listening proved their theory book after book, but there was a specific bit that intrigued me most, and not just because I had found Jesus within the year of being hired at the Power Pig; but because of the entertainment value it produced. Tim and Tom were bad boys on the air, so the polar opposite would be two church going types, which, at least on air, wasn't who they were. So, when they did BIBLE TRIVIA, a reverse trivia game, where the audience would test Tim and Tom's Bible Knowledge, it was always hilarious, whether you were Born Again, or not, because not one person in the audience could ever stump them. Tim and Tom, these two little red suit wearing, chaos causing personalities proved to have an amazing knowledge of the Bible. No one had ever stumped them, therefore they never had to give up one prize that was being offered. It was truly incredible.
My fourth takeaway came when Bubba The Love Sponge had been hired to do nights. Bubba came to Tampa with his own secret language, "BUBBAOPOLOGY," that had the FCC been keen to it, probably would have been shut down immediately, because of what it allowed Bubba to say on the air, in plain sight, communicating his messages clearly, but in code to an audience that he had educated in detecting that code.
While that was not the takeaway, it was part of the brilliant nature that leads to it. Bubba branded himself immediately, taking valuable airtime to simply ask the callers, "WHAT'S MY NAME???" When they knew Bubba's name, he'd make 'em say it again, simply by saying to them, "SAY IT!" When they didn't know his name, he'd tell them his name. He'd say, "BUBBA THE LOVE SPONGE," followed by the words "SAY IT!"... and this was how the first three to six weeks of Bubba's launch was on WFLZ.
BUBBA CHANGED THE GAME
There was a bit of backstabbing going on in the hallways of WFLZ when Bubba showed up, as what was coming out of the speakers didn't sound like anything we had heard before, and because it seemed so self-focused, many of us were betting against its success.
This is still not the takeaway. I had risen to marketing director of WFLZ at this time, and while some of us were questioning Bubba's tactics; if you listened closely, it wasn't as self-focused as it appeared. Bubba was actually branding his name in all of the different corners of the Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater market, including Sarasota. It was subtle in nature, but absolutely brilliant.
I didn't notice it until about four weeks into Bubba's stint. I had taken the Power Pig Van up the road to Taco Bell, and as I parked to go inside, this car full of passengers yells out the window, "BUBBBBBBBBBAATHELOVVVVVVVESPONGGGGGE!!!"
They didn't yell "Power Pig," but the name of the DJ who had branded himself so quickly into the fabric of the marketplace. The next morning when I got into the office, I went into Jeff Kapugi's office. Jeff was the MD at the time. Our offices were right next to each other; and with a connecting door that was open most of the time, so we could communicate without having to leave our desks or offices.
"Jeff," I said with my eyeballs wide open, "Bubba is going to be massive!"
I had never witnessed a jock being that local, so quickly; and that was the takeaway.
And with those four takeaways, WNTQ in Syracuse came calling to make me their night jock. Immediately, I took two takeaways, being local and the trivia, and I put them into action. Instead of Bible Trivia, I did Syracuse Trivia, where I told the audience that I had just moved there, but before doing so, I spent weeks in the library painstakingly brushing up on the history of Syracuse from the day it was founded until yesterday, and that I was confident that I now know everything that has ever happened in Syracuse and they could ask me ANYTHING about their town.
The phones were lit from an hour before I got on the air, and they kept ringing for an hour after; and day to day, every night, I let them call in to quiz me about Syracuse. Nobody ever stumped me, but it was the most local content ever broadcast in Syracuse until this very day.
When I wasn't doing the long form bits, I stuck to the Dave Mann concept of doing quick breaks, but with content, not just throwing it away. The show was balanced between the quick and the longer, but all of them were crafted to have a purpose.
HOW MARC CHASE SAVED THE DAY
As nights became successful quickly, my PD Dave Edwards (BTW, one of the GREATS, and ONE who I owe most of my success to) invited me to try to become the MD. He gave me no promises, but just the invitation to attempt the job.
Immediately, because of the takeaway from Marc Chase, I was able to compartmentalize each song for sound code, style, era and tempo; and in my second day working with Dave Edwards, he said, "WOW, you really get this."
That was my entry into programming, and Dave and I, as a team, took a station that would go back and forth from number one to number three in the market and made it number one for that long stretch of two years that I was there; and for many years after.
There was a kid named Chris who would carry a Walkman in his pocket, listening to my show nightly while pushing grocery carts at the Wegman's shopping center in Dewitt, NY, outside of Syracuse. He would call the show to tell me that he made a theme song for my show and ask if he could come to the station for a visit.
HOW HEARTACHE CAN FUEL THE FUTURE
One night I obliged, and the kid named Chris, who would later be known as KiddChris, came to WNTQ, 93Q. It happened to be a night when I was executing Syracuse Trivia. He heard the caller ask me the question about Syracuse and Chris was 100% confident he was about to see the master in action, so as I approached the question and got it wrong, Chris was dumbfounded, not believing what he was witnessing.
I told the caller, "Hey, so you win the Aerosmith tickets, but I need you to play with me, what is the correct answer?" The caller gave me the right answer and I told them that I was going to answer correctly, that they needed to play as if I stumped them. I hit record and we went to town on the editing to make it sound like I got it right, right out of the gate.
Chris looked as though the curtain got pulled back and he wasn't supposed to be seeing the man behind the curtain, but he did see, and somehow I believe, the great heartache turned into the greatest lesson on how to entertain.
Just like Tupac, who was an underling to Humpty Hump, surpassed any one-hit wonder success Hump would have, KiddChris' star would shine greater than mine ever did on air. KiddChris, who is presently knocking it outta da' park in Cincy in AM Drive at WEBN, has done the same in Philly, Atlanta, Portland, San Antonio, Wichita, Sacramento and Syracuse.