10 Questions with ... TK O'Grady
August 2, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
KWTO-FM, Springfield, MO (CHR), PD/PM drive, 1984-1989; WFYR, Chicago, (Soft AC), MD/middays, 1989-1991; WAXY, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, AM drive, 1991-1992; KXUS, Springfield, MO (AOR), PD/AM drive, 1992-1994; WYBB, Charleston, SC, (Classic Rock), PD/middays, 1994-1998; WONE-FM, Akron, OH, (Rock), Production Dir., 1998-1999, PD/middays, 1999-Present.
1) What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
Part-time (right out of high school) at my hometown radio stations, 1340 KXEO/95.7 and KWWR. Claim to fame: Was the Board Op for one of the longest baseball games in history, 9/11/1974, when the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Mets 4 to 3 in New York, after 25 innings of non-stop baseball.
2) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
I was fortunate that my high school offered a Senior Elective semester course called Radio and Television. We had two 25-minute shows on the home town AM. Thursday evenings it was school news and a little music prepared by the entire class. Sunday was a two-man music show with requests from the school. Towards the end of the first semester, I told my school counselor that "I think this is what I want to study in college and can I repeat the course in the second semester, too?" He said "Yes," so I repeated the course and ended up starting there right after graduation.
Later on, in 1978, following the death of my dather, I was home and pulled out an old Admiral portable cassette deck that was given to me one Christmas when I was 13. In the box with the deck were some cassette tapes and I found one of me emulating the DJs on the pop station in Daytona Beach, FL, when we vacationed their and I knew right then that radio must have been my destiny.
3) What makes your station or market unique? How does this compare to other markets or stations you have worked at?
Here is Akron, there are four Arbitron-rated markets and the farthest one is less than an hour away by car. Cleveland is 30 minutes north of Akron. Canton is 30 minutes south and Youngstown is about 50 minutes east. We have a lot of great radio in a very small area, so you have to stay on your toes and stay focused on the people that love you. In our case, that's Akron, live and local.
4) What was the biggest gaffe you've made on-air?
The biggest mistake I ever made was in the biggest market I've worked in. Around 1990, I was working at 103.5 WFYR in Chicago and we had a big money giveaway -- $10,000 in Midday, $20,000 in PM Drive and $30,000 in AM Drive. I gave away the $10,000 prize to a young woman and a couple of days later she came in to pick up her check. We had a dozen red roses for her and all the hospitality in the world. Our GM brought her in to the On Air Studio and I congratulated her "live", on the air. She was truly thrilled and she said on the air ... "I want to thank WCKG for the $10,000,". One problem, we were WFYR. 'CKG was Chicago's Classic Rock Station at the time and not affiliated in anyway with 'FYR. Made Robert Feder's column in the Chicago Sun-Times, too.
NEVER EVER PUT A WINNER ON LIVE ... is an adage I live by today.
5) Please describe the best or worst promotion you've ever been part of?
The most satisfying promotion occurred when I was doing Top 40 in the late '8's at KWTO in Springfield, MO. As memory serves, we teamed up with the BMW dealer to give away a brand new BMW 325I. We ended up with 99 qualifiers for the vehicle and on the day of the Grand Prize giveaway, we had loaded the trunk of the BMW with 99 bottles of champagne, each one individually wrapped. One qualifier at a time came up to the trunk and chose their wrapped bottle of champagne and they were instructed NOT to open them until we told them to.
Once everyone had their bottles, we told them to go ahead and unwrap them. There were 98 bottles of cheap champagne and one bottle of Dom Perignon. The person with the Dom won the car.
Well, it just so happened that the woman who won had given birth about six weeks earlier to a premature baby. At that time, Springfield, MO, had no neo-natal intensive care unit, so the baby was being treated at a hospital in Kansas City, a three-hour drive from Springfield. I ran into our winner a couple of years later and she and her husband used that car to travel to Kansas City to be with their baby and ended up keeping it for three years. It was the most needed and best outcome from a vehicle giveaway in my career.
6) What is the most rewarding promotion or activity your station has ever been involved with to benefit the community or a charity?
There have been a variety. When I first took over the PD chair, I got us involved with the biker community (even though I don't ride) and we began an annual food drive for the Akron-Canton Food Bank. It was very rewarding to see a hundred motorcycles escorting tractor-trailer rigs loaded with non-perishable food items. Another more recent benefit has to do with me personally, as I am a four-year prostate cancer survivor and two years ago, in a program with Akron General Hospital, we began to offer an evening of free exams for men that features barbecue and a classic car show at the Akron General Wellness Center. Last year in just two hours, we had over 90 men take advantage of the exam and PSA Test. Forty had made appointments, but another 50 showed up and we had to call in more doctors. From a personal standpoint that was extremely rewarding.
7) How do you stay in touch with the latest music trends?
It helps to have a 35-year-old fiance and she has an 11-year-old daughter. Between the two of them, they keep me up to date with Top 40 and Country. For my format, Rock, well, that is a different story. I'm listening to new rock and trying to find the right songs that will meld with our Classic Rock-based library. I recently had a listener ask me, "where did all the great guitar solos go?" I told him, "There are still some artists who deliver, but you have to look harder to find them." The new Kenny Wayne Shepherd track "Never Looking Back" is an example of a great guitarist teamed with a great vocalist, that fits right in with WONE.
8) How often do you do remotes and which work best for the station?
We do a lot of remotes. In Northeast Ohio, you have about three-and-a-half months of good Spring and Summer weather to get in a year's worth of outdoor fun. We just figured it up recently and as it stands now we are approaching 120 remotes in 125 days, from May 1st to September 3rd. Since Memorial Day weekend, we have a "Bike Night" every Tuesday evening at a Sports Bar & Grill; every Wednesday evening we have a patio party with live rock at a different club in the area; every Thursday evening, we are on the water, at a Restaurant and Bar in south Akron, dockside at the Portage Lakes; and every Friday, we host a live concert event in downtown Akron called "Rock The Lock," that features a local band opening and then a rock tribute band headlining. The Friday night events have had single-night attendance of over 7,000 people. It's free to get in and there is beer, soft drinks and food available and everybody brings their blankets and lawn chairs for the almost four- hour show every Friday.
With our Rock audience, we definitely do well with the live rock and beer remotes. We try to have great lifestyle prizes at every one, too. Concert tickets, amusement park and event tickets. At two of our weekly events, the "Bike Night" and "Rock The Lock," we qualify people for end-of-season Grand Prizes, every week. This year it's six-person hot tub spas.
9) How do you interact with your sales staff?
We have a great Sales team. They are all veterans of the streets and they deliver the goods. In fact, without their help, a lot of promotions for our listeners would never had made it on air without their help and cooperation. WONE's Promotions Department is the go between Programming and Sales. We have an idea in Programming for a great promotion, we take to the Promotions Department, who in turn takes it to Sales. Nine time out of 10, we get the promotion done and we usually make money in the process. Good for the listeners, good for the salesperson and good for the company. Can't go wrong with that.
10) As you look back over your career ... any regrets? Missed opportunities?
It's been a whirlwind. Thirty-nine years since I cracked the mic for the first time as a paid part-time disc jockey, back in June of 1972. The markets I've worked in, the stars I've met, the friends I have made and the people who have listened to me over the years have made it humbling. It's been one great big thrill ride. No regrets, either. If I had it to do over again, YOU BET!
If you were just starting out in radio, knowing now, what you didn't then, would you still do it?
In a heartbeat
What career path would you be following had it not been for this industry?
My father owned and operated a grocery store and he wanted me to know how to cut meat, so I trained as a meat cutter in my Dad's store. He said "you can always find a job as a butcher." I haven't had to fall back on my meat-cutting skills, but you never know.
Of all the skills you have gained through the years, is there an area you'd like to improve?
Still trying to improve my social networking skills. I've told friends before that I have spent most of my career away from the radio staton protecting my privacy and now, we are encouraged to participate in Facebook and Twitter. It's a tough mindset to change, but I continue to be very careful about what information I give out, because privacy is still very important to me and my family.
What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
If anybody knows this, certainly radio people do: "Change is Constant" ... and with the onslaught of the Internet and the digital platforms, the speed of change is increasing dynamically. It is all about "NOW."