10 Questions with ... John O'Connell
May 17, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
(Prior to Kiss, I worked at a number of smaller stations prior, with my first in 1979..Ouch!)
- WKXS-FM (Kiss 108)/Boston 1982-1991
- WZOU/WJMN 1991-1993
- WEEI/WBMX 1994-1995
- WPBZ 1995-Present
- WMBX Mix 102.3 1998-2001
- WIRK 2008-Present
- WEAT 2008 Present
1)What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
My first job in radio was a combination of on-air, production duties, engineering assistant, board op, etc. From there I became the Continuity Director and APD. My earliest influences came from the signing on of Kiss 108 in my home town. I was already spinning records in clubs around Boston, but wanted to get more involved in the music business and I saw this as an opportunity. My dad, on the other hand, was only fine with it if I went to college -- and that's when I enrolled at Emerson in Boston chose communications as a major.
2) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
As I said, Kiss 108 was a huge part of my life and people like Sunny Joe White, Matt Segal, Dale Dorman and Richie Balsbaugh really enhanced my desire work in radio. I learned a lot from these people and to this day I believe that they are responsible for motivating me to learn every aspect of this business. When I was at Kiss it was my job to set up remote broadcasts, learn the traffic system, voice and produce commercials, climb towers, help out with transmitter maintenance, write copy, drive the station vehicles, etc. In short, I was everywhere trying to learn everything -- and to this day I believe that it was crucial to becoming a program director.
Was there a defining moment? Yes ... and it came when I was out of radio for a year after being laid off. I was driving down the road and I heard "Found Out About You" by the Gin Blossoms come on the radio and I thought, "That's it, I'm going to get back in this business if it kills me." I drove home to my studio and cut a demo that eventually landed me my next job."
3) If you were just starting out in radio, knowing now what you didn't then, would you still do it?
Yes! Absolutely yes, but looking back I think that I would be even more aggressive than I was. Sure I wanted to learn. but I did let people get in front of me and I would never let that happen today!
4) What career path would you be following had it not been for this industry?
I would be a carpenter. There is nothing that I like better than working on a project and seeing it come together. I particularly like to build furniture.
5) How do you feel terrestrial radio competes with the satellite radio and Internet these days?
I believe that we offer a "local" angle better than any other medium. Anyone can play music, but it's what you put between the songs that really count. For example, if there is severe weather in our area, a traffic tie up on the interstate, or a local breaking news story we can get it out there fast. We keep our listeners informed and that's what they want.
Also, we are super-focused on our Internet product and are currently one of the leaders in Internet radio. We are very proud of our websites and the content we put forth on a daily basis. The CBS digital team is the best out there and they assist us in keeping these websites entertaining, informative and fresh. The content that we place on the web works in tandem with the content we deliver over the air. This in turn allows us to be a multi-dimensional media platform and super-serve our audience. Our listeners thrive on the ability to hear something on the air then learn more about it on our sites and because of importance that we as a company place on our digital assets we are seeing growth in the revenue, ratings and web traffic.
6) Where do you see the industry and yourself five years from now?
Radio is a very viable medium and it is only going to get stronger. People still depend on radio for new music, information updates, and they want to be able to connect with personalities on a local level. Currently, the radio industry is capitalizing on technologies like smartphones, iPads, etc. This type of interaction allows us to increase our listenership based on accessibility. It's my guess that as even newer technologies arrive in the coming months and years, radio will figure out how to be a part of those as well. Personally, I hope to continue doing what I am doing now because it's what I love and more importantly, what I know best.
7) What's the best concert you've been to so far this year and why?
Hands down, Kenny Chesney! The guy is a star and his shows will blow you away. And for those close-minded people who won't give Country music a chance, "You have no idea what you are missing!"
8) Tell us what music we would find on your car or home CD player (or turntable) right now and what is it you enjoy about that particular selection?
This is where it gets embarrassing but to answer your question, Disco! I love disco music! In the late '70s and early '80s, I worked in discos all over New England and had a ball doing it. Just this past Saturday night, I was spinning records on my "Wheels of Steel" for about an hour while my 21-year-old son watched and as expected, he laughed his ass off.
9) What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
"Never ask anyone to do something that you would not do yourself"!
Twenty-five years ago, while I was working at Kiss, I was asked by the engineers to go out back and bury copper ground wire from our AM station that was exposed. Keep in mind that there were about three miles of wire out there and hundreds of places where it was above the ground. About an hour into this tedious task, I turned around and there was the OM Brian Stone rolling up the sleeves on his dress shirt with a shovel in hand. When I asked him what he was doing he said, "Never ask anyone to do something that you would not do yourself"! I was blown away when he said that and since then, I've lived by that line.
10) What is the best advice you would give to young programmers/promotion people?
Become a sponge and do your best to learn everything that you can. I hate to sound like my grandfather, but kids today want everything handed to them. They need to get up off of their butt and do it like we did. The ones who do will win and those who don't won't be around long.
What is your favorite TV show?
I think that The Voice is a damn good show with a great concept. Overall, though, I am a huge fan of The Deadliest Catch!
What do you do in your spare time?
I love to fish on our boat, The Fin and Tonic, with my son Matthew as much as possible. We target dolphin, kingfish, tuna, wahoo, snapper and gouper and will fish anywhere from three miles to 25 miles offshore. Whether or not we catch anything, it's always a great time because there is no such thing as a bad day of fishing!
Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _________?
A 20-oz. Coke Zero ... or two, or three.
What is a typical day like in your position?
It's crazy from start to finish but I love it -- and if it was any slower I'd really be disappointed.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A great dad like my father ... and I think I'm almost there.