10 Questions with ... Jon Ballard
May 24, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- KISW/Seattle '87 - '97
- KZZP/Phoenix '97 - '98
- DC 10/Washington, D.C. '98 - '06
- WBIG /Washington, D.C. '06 - '10
- WVRK/Columbus about a month ago - present
1) What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
My first experience in radio was as an intern at KZOK/Seattle, working under Larry Sharp, but since I didn't get paid, I guess it wasn't a "job." However, the schooling I got from Sharpie, Phil Strider, Mark Edwards and Carl Palmer was invaluable.
2) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
When I was a kid, I saw "Emperor Smith" of KJR at a car dealership, and people were acting like he was the biggest deal ever (which he was, at the time). That got me interested in radio, and then listening to KISW in the late '70s ... Langan and West, Crow and Hovanes, Steve Slaton, Sharpie ... hearing the stuff they were doing and saying, that sealed it.
3) If you were just starting out in radio, knowing now what you didn't then, would you still do it?
Absolutely. This industry will break your heart as many times as you'll let it, but there's nothing like the good times.
4) What career path would you be following had it not been for this industry?
I actually considered a career in cartooning for a while, but then Berkley Breathed and Gary Larson came along, and, well, after that, what's the point?
5) Describe your weekly music meeting ... a) what is the process when you listen to new music? b) approximately how important by percentage is gut, research, sales, video play, and chart position when determining the status of a record?
A good song is a good song, first and foremost.
I try to listen to as many songs as possible, both in my office and, if possible, in my car. It's amazing how much better some songs sound when you're blasting down the road with your windows down.
Once I've thinned the herd a little bit, then I check out chart position, research and sales. I also try to look at iTunes sales figures and YouTube hits, which can also be good indicators.
6) What is the biggest change that you'd like to see happen in the business?
I'd like to see the industry make an effort to re-engage with the community they serve. Radio is all about relationships, and you can't beat one-to-one contact with your listeners. It's hard to make that happen in 21st century radio, but if you can, the benefits are worth it.
7) What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
Listeners can smell a phony a mile away. Be who you are, on and off the air.
8) Please describe the best or worst promotion you've ever been part of?
My all-time favorite was the annual summer promotion at KISW, the "Miss Rock" hydroplane. In Seattle, the first weekend in August, there's a huge party on Lake Washington, with unlimited hydroplane races (think NASCAR on water), and an aerial display by the Blue Angels.
For years, KISW sponsored one of these boats ... and it was never a contender. But that didn't matter, because the fans loved it. It was loud, it was slow, it usually sank or burned, but it was ours.
We'd take the boat around to various events, and have listeners sign the bottom, we'd have a "celebrity driver," with theater-of-the-mind segments on-air. It was a lot of work, but that was the most fun I've ever had in radio.
9) Most of us have known or even worked for a "colorful" owner/GM/air talent. Care to share a story? (The names can be changed to protect the innocent).
I worked for both Sky Daniels and Joe Bevilacqua .......... you can imagine the rest.
10) As you look back over your career ... any regrets? Missed opportunities?
Maybe, but I'm having too much fun to notice.
What is your favorite TV show?
I think "Community" is brilliant ...and I'm not just saying that because Joel McHale is a fellow Seattleite.
You're stuck on a deserted island and you only have 5 CDs with you. What are they?
Excepting "Greatest Hits" or "Live" albums:
- Cheap Trick - "Heaven Tonight"
- The Who - "Tommy"
- Pearl Jam - "Vs."
- AC \ DC - High Voltage
- Lyle Lovett - "Pontiac"
In your opinion, what is the greatest song ever that never made it as a hit?
The first one that comes to mind is "Bad Boyfriend" by Garbage. Great riff, and Shirley Manson singing "I know some tricks, I swear, will give you the bends . . . " Dude.
What's the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you? The worst?
When I was doing overnights at KISW, I was up for a job in Minneapolis, and was a little worried about leaving my hometown. Our morning news guy, Kampy, was listening to me whine, when he raised a hand, took a big drag off his cigarette and said, "Ballard, no matter where you go, you're gonna get laid." And he was right.
You just won the lotto and you have your boss on the line. What's the first thing that you would say?
Well, you don't have to worry about getting me that raise, anymore . . .