10 Questions with ... Harvey Kojan
March 11, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- 1976-1979: WQBK-FM/Albany
- 1980-1984: WPYX (PYX106)/Albany
- 1984: WGRQ (97 Rock)/Buffalo (6-month cup of coffee)
- 1984-1987: KLOL/Houston
- 1987-1993: Radio & Records
- 1993-2009: WNOR (FM99)/Norfolk
- 2009-2012: WZBA (100.7 The Bay)/Baltimore
- 2013-present: WTKW/WTKV (TK99 & TK105)/Syracuse
1) What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
The main person to blame for me winding up in radio is Marv Albert. In high school, I used to take my tape recorder to games and announce the action from the stands, shamelessly mimicking Marv. While he was the inspiration, my main facilitator/mentor was Brian Lehrer, the longtime midday host at WNYC/NY. I met him in summer camp in 1971. He was the PD of WSUA, the campus radio station at SUNY/Albany. It was because of him that I chose to go to school there. Later he helped me get my first professional job at WQBK, which Jack Hopke had started in 1975.
2) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
The #1 reason I made radio my career was that I was singularly unqualified to do anything else. At one point, I put radio on hold to become a rock star. But I wasn't nearly good enough, and neither was the band. Radio and rock musician - not quite what my parents had in mind. But it's sure beat actually working for a living.
3) Okay, I've got to start with a radio station we both worked at. Even though 101 KLOL in Houston is no longer around, when did you work there and give us your take on that amazing Rock radio station?
It was October 1984. I'd just been asked to leave 97 Rock in Buffalo after six months trying to do a morning show despite the fact I hated getting up early. KLOL PD Denton Marr (former WEBN/Cincy) needed an afternoon guy and rescued me just before Buffalo winter set in. (Three months later, they changed format and fired pretty much everyone.) As a key alum of 'EBN (the self-proclaimed "lunatic fringe of American FM"), he was looking for someone with a creative flair and essentially gave me the freedom to do a pseudo-morning show in afternoon drive. That was just at the time that traffic guy Lanny Griffith was morphing into his infamous and highly successful "Traffic Master/Traffic In Bondage" persona, with his leather, whips and chains. The ringleader was Promotion Director (and de facto assistant GM) Doug Harris, one of the craziest, most creative people I've ever met, who was continuously devising and implementing these huge, off-the-wall promotions. Dayna Steele was a powerful midday personality and supreme self-promoter. Then GM Pat Fant, a creative nut in his own right, hired Stevens & Pruett for mornings, and all hell truly broke loose. It was a classic case of the inmates running the asylum. I had an absolute blast.
4) You also spent many years in markets like Norfolk and Baltimore. Care to share some of your highlights from the stations you programmed in those markets?
Frankly, I never planned on getting into programming. On-air and production was what I loved, and I was loathe to rise to my level of incompetence and actually have to take on some real responsibility. But after nearly six years writing about radio at R&R, and having regular contact with the brightest minds in the industry, PD was the next logical step. Luckily, I'd become friendly with Saga programming honcho Steve Goldstein, and he decided to take a chance and recommend that then-WNOR GM Joe Schwartz (now of Cherry Creek fame) hire me to program WNOR. That turned into a nearly 16-year run with way too many highlights to bore you with. What I can tell you is that Steve, along with Fred Jacobs, helped me become a decent PD. And then Dave Paulus, my third GM there, taught me how to become a decent manager. As anyone will likely confirm, programming's a lot easier than managing.
5) Now let's talk about WTKW (TK 99). This is a heritage Classic Rock station. How long have you been the Brand Manager there and what are the station's strengths and challenges as you move forward in the programming chair?
I joined TK last summer. It had always been my dream to work with Ed Levine. Alright, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration. I'd followed Ed's career, which at first was pretty easy, since he followed me at both PYX and KLOL. Coincidence? I think not! Anyway, I admired what Ed had accomplished as both a programmer and then an entrepreneur. When we spoke it quickly became obvious we were a good fit and that he had a real good thing going here.
The key thing to know about TK99 is that we're really a Classic Rock/Sports hybrid. Ed has forged this close, enviable partnership with Syracuse University, and TK is the flagship for both football and basketball. While the former is definitely popular, with a team that's on the rise, SU hoops approaches religious status. Thus we have a ton of sports-oriented programming. And I'm not just referring to the games themselves, which include the complete slate of lacrosse games. There are daily interview segments with coaches and former players, most notably Hall Of Fame head basketball coach Jim Boeheim.
And the sports quotient is about to increase dramatically, because we recently became the market's new home of the New York Yankees! We'll be airing all 162 regular season games, as well as plenty of brand extension programming. With the addition of the 27-time world champs, TK99 may very well stand as a unique station. Are there any other Classic Rockers which also air major college sports and major league baseball?
And I haven't even mentioned our heritage morning show, Gomez, Dave & Lisa. They seamlessly integrate all the sports into the myriad usual elements you'd expect from a top-flight a.m. drive show. They're both funny and eminently likable, and really a pleasure to work with.
6) Who are your main competitors in the market and how would you access their strengths and weaknesses?
Naturally I'm aware of the competition, but my main focus is on TK.
7) You've had a long and successful career programming Active, Mainstream and now Classic Rock. What's your take on all three of these genres and the Rock format as a whole?
All of them present opportunities and challenges. Classic Rock is the most easily defined, and thus the easiest to program. Its main challenge is this utterly ridiculous notion that our audience is becoming "too old" - that once someone turns 55 they're of no use to advertisers. It's both absurd and maddening, particularly because I endured the reverse prejudice 30 years ago. Back then Rock stations were "too young." All our listeners allegedly wore black T-shirts, had no money, and were similarly of no use to advertisers. The desire to somehow "youngify" (actual word used by one of my former employers) the Classic Rock audience and make it more attractive to sales is understandable. But I have serious doubts that it's actually doable.
Active Rock's main challenge is the music. With a couple of notable exceptions, it's never been particularly mass appeal. Its core artists appear to mainly be the same ones WNOR was play as new 10-15 years ago. Most are somewhat faceless and interchangeable. Few ever achieved (or maintained) true stardom - the type of popularity so many classic rockers enjoyed (and still enjoy). The good news is that while its available audience is traditionally smaller than more mainstream formats, its listeners are, well, active, which can lead to profitable promotions.
Mainstream Rock may be the most challenging because you're constantly trying to find that "sweet spot" in between the more focused approaches of Classic and Active Rock. The heritage of a mainstream rocker - the biggest tend to have been in the format a long time - and the manipulability of a market's competitive situation are key. Oh, and having a great morning show certainly helps. That's true with all the Rock formats.
8) One of the programming challenges of the Classic Rock format has always been how do you keep the station sounding fresh and relevant while it's playing Rock music that's sometimes 30 or 40 years old?
I've never found this to be a significant issue. You simply make sure you're involved in current activities. Our music may all be old, but our personalities are hardly stuck in the past. They talk about things that are happening today. This is especially important for the morning show. And our sports programming really helps with that here. By nature it's fresh and current.
9) How interactive is TK99 with its audience via your website or social media such as Facebook and Twitter?
As is the case with most stations, our social media efforts have been hit and miss. It's a continual learning experience. We're better at it than we were when I arrived eight months ago, and we'll continue to improve. We try our best to post things that are both relevant and that invite listener comment. One thing I've always insisted wherever I've been is that anytime a listener initiates any type of interaction with us, he/she receives an immediate response ... usually from me.
10) What is the future of the Classic Rock format in the next five to 10 years?
I long ago stopped responding to any requests to prognosticate such things. As Cracker's David Lowery sang in "Teen Angst" - "Think I'll leave that up to someone wiser." There are plenty of pundits far wiser than I am who make predictions. And most of the time they're wrong.
I know you're a fairly accomplished keyboard player. Are you still playing and who are your major influences playing that instrument?
Since moving up here I've had precious little time or opportunity to play. I haven't gigged since my old buddy Tom Schuh let me crash a gig in Buffalo last fall. I hope to rectify that situation shortly, because there's no greater joy than playing and performing
The biggest influence on my style has to be Donald Fagen. The "mu major" chord, which was so key to the Steely Dan sound (particularly the earier stuff), is my favorite. Gregg Rolie is also up there. There are many, many others from whom I've stolen.
What was the first album or single you purchased on your own?
Speaking of Gregg Rolie, one of the first couple of albums I bought was Santana's debut. The purchase that may have predated that was Chicago II, after which I quickly bought Chicago Transit Authority. I wore those suckers out.