10 Questions with ... Randy Hawke
January 7, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- WFSE/Edinboro University of PA
- WRKT/Erie, PA
- WAPL/Green Bay/Appleton, WI
- WLUM/Milwaukee, WI
- WJJO/Madison, WI
1. What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
While at Edinboro University, I got to intern at Rocket 101 in Erie, PA. The overnight girl kept calling in sick. This is the early '90s, so voicetracking and auto pilot were not an option, so if the PD did not get shifts covered, the PD did them. Ron Kline looked at me one day while I was filing CDs and asked if I thought I could keep the station on the air all night. I said yes and the rest is history. I went from intern to overnight guy to morning stunt boy to afternoon drive.
Ron, owner Rick Rambaldo and morning team Mojo McKay and Natalie Massing from that point on were major influences on me. Then I went to WAPL in Green Bay/Appleton and worked under Garrett Hart, Greg Bell and Bob Baron. They gave me a chance to be APD and PD and helped me do that. Willie Davis and Dan Manella hired me at WLUM/Milwaukee and all of a sudden I was a major-market PD. Then Glen Gardner gave me a call and offered me a chance to work for MWF and 'JJO with Tom Walker and Blake Patton. I have been here for over a decade and plan to be here for at least another one or two decades. Everyone I mentioned by name above directly influenced my career and helped me get out of my own way and be successful. Growing up in Rochester, NY and being able to listen to Brother Weese, Uncle Rog (RIP) and WCMF indirectly taught me to be a personality not just a DJ. Also Howard Stern, do I do anything like him on the radio? No. I hate when people try to impersonate him. I do feel like I have been true to myself, not compromised and do the radio I want to do. There are hundreds of Active Rock stations, bands, managers and the entire industry will tell you though, there is only one JJO. That is Howard's influence on me. Be the one!
2. What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
My parents tell me I was four or five when I told them I was going to be on the radio. I only remember that radio was all I ever wanted to do. My brother and our friends would be playing matchbox cars and I would be sitting at my GI Joe turntable playing Kiss, AC/DC and Iron Maiden records for them pretending to be a radio station. My brother will confirm that even at age nine, I had a strict no-requests policy.
3. How long have you been at WJJO and what makes this station so unique?
I have been at JJO since 2002. Ownership, the city of Madison and putting the listener first are the combo that makes JJO what it is. MWF Broadcasting believes in Rock radio and investing in it to do it correctly. Madison is a progressive city that craves things that are not like everywhere else, and they want to experience new things. JJO listens to the audience like no other station that I know of. We have a research platform called MIXER that allows the listeners to rate EVERY song we play and we get the results in real time. We watch LOCAL sales and downloads and we go to and put on a number of shows so we know what has an underground buzz starting. We listen to the listeners.
4. WJJO has long had a reputation as a "tastemaker" station ... especially when it comes to metal? How do you balance that so it doesn't adversely affect the station's cume -- especially during the day?
First off, JJO does not and has never dayparted. If we do not feel the song is good enough for all day, we simply do not play it. JJO is a heavy station and that really goes to our roots. We were born out of the Ozzfest era and being the hard rock station that drives fast and takes chances is what we promise and what we deliver. The audience expects that of us. There is a '70s leaning Classic Rock and a strong Triple A in the market. JJO has broad shoulders and takes up the entire space in between them. It gives us enough cume to compete quite well and our TSL is out of the park because we have a massive and loyal P1 base. We routinely win Men 18-34, Men 18-49 and Men 25-54 and perform top 3 in those categories for persons.
5. Describe your weekly music meeting and who is involved in it ... 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?
My APD Ski and I are always listening to music and telling each other about what we love, hate and are hopeful about. She keeps a master stack of what we're both liking and we go through that stack every Monday. Because of our research platform, we can get real research back on test spins so we have a test record on every week and it gets spun in every daypart. We look at that score and run through the list of finalists on Tuesday morning and make our changes. I feel my gut is tuned to what works on JJO. I depend greatly on that. I have had enough kicks in the gut to know what records don't work. Our gut knows if the song is worth considering, and if we do not trust our gut we test it. Out-of-market research means nothing to us. We evaluate every song on if it will work in Madison. We do not use charts. We generate a chart of our spins and compare that with the rankers of our research and that will tell us the category songs need to be in. Our top-five testing songs with the proper sample are our Heavy songs. Often times there are songs in there that are not even on ANY chart. Like Wayland "Reno." I don't care about the chart. Reno has MASSIVE JJO test scores and they sell out clubs every time they come to town.
6. What's your take on current Active Rock music and the format as a whole? Is it as good as six months or a year ago, better, or about the same?
The format is at a crossroads. I am not sure the "industry/labels" believe enough in Rock to feed the monster. As PD, you need to remember that the labels have different goals than you. They need to sell music. You need to get more people to listen to the radio longer. It was nice, neat and easy when 20 label reps a week walked into your office with stacks of CDs that were perfect for you to play. That made our life easy. Not the case now. It is more important now more than ever for you to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Go find what they want and give it to them. Discovery of new music is still a HUGE asset for radio. Who cares if a band or song is not big in every state in the USA -- if your audience likes it blow it up and turn it into an event? If you find something that works for you, grow it. Sitting around and waiting for it to be big on iTunes? I don't give a fuck about that. I want what is big on 'JJO.
Create your own excitement for your format in your city. Waiting around for the industry to do it is both lazy and not their job. Your GM is not going to fire the label rep if you lose your audience. A lot of Active Rock stations were able to expand their audience in these thin times by embracing the goofy banjo shit that is pretty trendy right now, but that would not work on JJO. We did find a nice little niche with bands like Motionless In White and Black Veil Brides that are more true to the JJO sound. We were all doing the same thing, though -- finding a way to stay relevant and grow our audience.
7. Madison is the home of the University of Wisconsin. How much does this college town atmosphere influence the aggressive music position of WJJO?
Because of the college, this is a very liberal city. They want to discover new music and go see new live music. So we do not program directly to the students, but having them here has a global effect on how we program.
8. How much does WJJO use social media such as Facebook and Twitter in interacting with its listeners?
I want personalities on the radio in every daypart. I do not want liner-reading voice-overs. Social media really allows that bond between the station, jocks and listeners to be stronger. Every jock has his or her own page. Ms. JJO has a page, The Morning Show and our festival Band Camp has pages/accounts/channels. Social media allows personalities to communicate with and grow their bond and loyalty with the audience. That is how we use it. I am really into hockey and the NHL; there is not a place for that on my show, but I do quite a bit of that on my Facebook page and the JJO listeners who are into it regularly communicate with me about hockey. It is a bond that I have with that section of our audience thanks to social media. Our goal is to get people to listen to JJO though, not follow us on Facebook. That remains my priority.
9. What are your three favorite artists or songs of this past year and why?
Picking just three is tough. Device and Fight Or Flight were great for us because Disturbed is such a huge band for us. They broke out of this area and seeing different sides of that band was great for our audience and the audience responded. "Leaving" from FoF is in heavy rotation for us right now. I also like up-and-coming bands that live in their van and sweat it out. Bobaflex, Eve To Adam and Eye Empire come to mind. They are doing it old school and have built up a great following in our town and it is paying off. Then I just love the new take on old-school metal that bands like Motionless In White, Asking Alexandria and BVB are bringing. It reminds me of everything I loved about Motley Crue "Shout At The Devil" and everything my mom hated about it. Dads do not want any of the dudes in asking to drive away with their daughter in a Trans Am. That is a good thing!
10. Finally, you are widely known and respected for your candid opinions about Rock Radio in general. As we enter another new year, what one piece of key advice do you have for record labels and Rock radio stations across the country?
Radio is simple: You have a microphone in front of you and people are listening, so say something that people give a shit about. How long your shift is, the weather, and which DJ is on the air next is worthless bullshit. It's just about 20 after six? SHUT THE FUCK UP or do some show prep and have compelling content that you form into forward momentum, teases and payoffs. If you can't, then get the fuck off the air before you fuck it up for the rest of us. For the labels, everything ebbs and flows; people have been prematurely declaring the death of Rock and Roll for 40 years. It wasn't dead then ... and it ain't dead now. Also stop looking for "The next (insert popular band name here)" and find the band that the other labels will be inserting into that line.