10 Questions with ... Michael Cross
February 18, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- 1980-1981: KJJR-A/Whitefish, MT
- 1982: KMYO/Tulsa, OK
- 1982-1985: KISR/Fort Smith, AR
- 1986-1988: KJJO/Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN.
- 1988-1989: ABC Radio Network/Z-Rock, Dallas, TX.
- 1989-1990: WHMH/St. Cloud, MN.
- 1990-1994: KJKJ/Grand Forks, ND
- 1994-1996: KSQY/Rapid City, SD
- 1996-1997: KAZR/Des Moines, IA
- 1997-Present: KFMW/KOKZ Waterloo-Cedar Rapids, IA
1) What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
I was 17 when my father suggested helping him build his new house out in Kalispell, MT in 1979. I had just gotten my 3rd Class FCC license in July, so I hitchhiked from Iowa to Montana that summer to help him. While pouring concrete and doing lots of physical labor, the radio was tuned to AM1400 on this little station in nearby Whitefish and it just seemed I should at least go talk to the PD and see if there were any openings. Fortunately, they had an overnight opening which I was more than happy to do - it beat pouring concrete. My influences were the jocks I had grown up with on radio in Iowa like the late John Arthur at KWWL-A/Waterloo or the late Dic Youngs at KIOA/Des Moines, and, of course, everyone at 89WLS-A/Chicago.
2) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
I was pretty young - like, eight years old, when the radio bug bit me. I was fortunate to realize that radio was what I wanted to do. Growing up with AM radio, stations like WLS/Chicago and KAAY/Little Rock were radio stations that cemented my interest in broadcasting because of the jocks and great programming like "Beeker Street" on KAAY. I was - and still am - fascinated that I can talk on the radio and be heard by so many people in so many places. The past two years, that feeling has been re-energized by streaming worldwide and getting e-mails from Europe or wherever. It's still a rush to be on the air every day. I love it.
3) How long have you been at KFMW (Rock 108) and what makes this station so unique?
I have been here for an unbelievable 17 years this coming September. In radio, as you know, that's a few lifetimes. What's even crazier is that I grew up here and it's still a little bizarre to be working in my hometown. KFMW was running a "beautiful/elevator music" format for most of my youth as "FM108" and then flipped to a Top 40 in the early '80s. It then flipped to a Classic Rock format in the early '90s and a moniker change to "Rock 108" and with a sale in the mid-'90s, it became an Active Rock station.
I think we're unique for a few reasons: One, we've always been owned by small companies, which has truly given us the freedom to be local and has unquestionably given us the freedom to create a truly local Rock station. Secondly, there's never been some corporate playlist to follow or someone in a suit and tie living thousands of miles from here telling us what to program and play for all these years. We've had consultants who have helped us shape our sound and musical direction (Thank you, Ken!) but Rock 108 (and 105-7 KOKZ) still are both being programmed locally - and I feel pretty blessed to have the opportunity to help create and guide two successful radio stations.
4) You have the dual role as PD and midday host ... how do you balance your time so both roles are effective?
Thank God for voicetracking. I used to be very negative about doing that, but found ways to be able to track and make it sound exactly the same without anyone knowing the difference. That was key for me. That really helped giving me the time to be available for so many other responsibilities I needed to focus on. So, now I find it's easy to come in and track my show if I need to meet with clients, my staff, create a specialty weekend or work on scheduling music.
5) You're also the OM for the station cluster. What are the other stations and formats are in your cluster and how are they doing in the market?
I oversee the two FMs but we also have two AM stations. 1330 KWLO is programming ESPN Radio and 1540 KXEL is our 50,000-watt Clear Channel News/Talk station that can be heard in 17 states and seven Canadian provinces at night.
6) What's your take on current Active rock music? Is it as good as six months or a year ago, better, or about the same?
Our format is up and down - as it has always been. There are years when the core artists dominate and there are others - like 2013 - when some of the format's "superstars" are not around. There are always new bands that seem to step up and do really well, like the success the past few years for bands like Volbeat or Five Finger Death Punch. In the past six or seven years, these bands have become staples of the format. Then you have successes like Pop Evil and the incredible job that George Cappellini & Son has done getting them to where they are now. Of course, there are the "baby bands" making their way: Devour The Day, Beware Of Darkness or Eve To Adam. We went thru the "scream-o" era (glad that's over) and I really like the diversity of the format's direction. I think we need that.
7) I know you're a passionate music guy. What is your process for listening to new music and approximately how important by percentage is gut, research, sales, video play, and chart position when determining the status of a record?
I try and listen to everything and keep an open mind. I do follow charts more than I probably should, but they don't necessarily dictate what I am playing. For example, I'll take chances on bands like Starset, which I added in October, Bobaflex, who we first added in 2004 and have had good success with, or even Eve To Adam, which we first played in 2011. So, I'd say that 75% is gut, 10% is chart position, 10% is sales and the rest is research (I don't really have any local research) and video play (is there a TV channel that plays videos? :)). If I based airplay on sales, we wouldn't play new music. Not many people buy rock records. We had the Carnival Of Madness Tour here on a perfect July day in 2010 with a ton of bands and two stages outdoors -- and that drew 4,000 people. Country artist Luke Bryan played here recently with below zero temperatures and snow, and had 21,000 people at the show. That's frustrating.
I still tend to follow the P1 listeners who will react to something. If our requests are fairly 'normal' and then I start playing something and we're suddenly getting big reaction on the phone; that still says something to me. For example, I played Cry To The Blind's "Wrecking Ball" on the air just for fun and the next thing I knew, the rest of my staff was asking me about it because of all of the phone calls they were getting about it. Once I had them spike it in during their shows, then the reactions grew. Now, we're playing the song in regular rotation and getting great response. On a song like that, we also are catching a little heat from some, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
I still love how we're able to "create" a hit record at radio. It's still possible. Just don't be so worried about being different. That's what listeners are looking for today - every Rock station sounds the same to some degree - don't be afraid to be different and stand out from the rest of the radio stations on the dial. It might be your best move in the new era of radio. Give your listeners a REASON to listen.
8) Rock 108 has long had a reputation as a "tastemaker" station ... especially when it comes to playing cool new rock ... how do you balance that so it doesn't adversely affect the station's cume ... especially during the day?
We don't really daypart too much. We play a lot of new music and we make sure we sell it. We pre-sell all of our new rock AND back-sell it right after the song is played. We have all experienced the same things listeners have. We hear a song and wait for the jock to back-sell it and go crazy when they don't. So, we make sure we sell our new rock as much as possible. I think you can educate your listeners. They think we're the cool rock station and they know we're going to be aggressive on new rock - they expect it. We deliver and it hasn't seemed to have hurt our cume or numbers by being aggressive. We have dominated our competitors and they tend to try and copy what we accomplish.
We play quite a few '90s titles and our fair share of Classic Rock titles in our mix, so I guess there's enough variety to create the balance. We might play plenty of new rock, but we hopefully doing a good job surrounding those new songs with strong tracks that the listeners want to hear and they stick with us.
9) How much does Rock 108 use social media like Facebook and Twitter to help enhance the KFMW experience with its listeners?
Quite a bit. We have the staff regularly blog on our website, we have them actively posting on Facebook and Twitter. We're at about 5,000 friends on Facebook now and it continues to grow. It's become part of the brand and it's a vehicle that helps us grow the brand and the product to them. Rock fans are so passionate and it's great to have the ability to reach out to them on a more personal level with social media. We also try and wish listeners' "happy birthday" on our Facebook or on Twitter, re-tweet them if it's relevant. One of our sweepers say, "We're not trying to be everybody's favorite radio station - just yours!" That's the key.
10) What are your three favorite artists or songs of this past year and why?
I'm a big fan of bands like Beware Of Darkness, Volbeat or Bring Me The Horizon for different reasons. Beware Of Darkness brings a real retro sound while still making some really cool new rock, Volbeat is simply unique and I love their sound and BMTH is bringing a different heavy sound. There's always great new bands/music to be heard. I love the variety of these bands - it gives us more than just the same "sound-alike" bands we've all had to deal with.
You're a big New York Jets football fan. When are they going to finally win another Super Bowl?
Considering I was seven years old when Joe Namath guaranteed the win, I'm starting to believe that the Jets will go down as the only team in NFL history to get to one Super Bowl and NEVER make it back again. Hey, it's not easy being a Jets fan. But, at least I'm not a Browns, Lions, Texans or Jaguars fan -- they have never even been to the Super Bowl. The Jets also have a pretty legendary place in Super Bowl history (despite the fact that it was over 40 years ago).
You're stuck on a deserted island and you only have five CDs with you. What are they?
Wow, that's an extremely difficult question for ANY of us to answer. It's like asking a mother to pick her favorite child.
- The Beatles - 1967-1970
- Led Zeppelin - Mothership
- Steely Dan - Best Of
- Tool - Aenima
- Fair To Midland - Fables From A Mayfly