10 Questions with ... Troy Hanson
April 15, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
KQRS/Minneapolis, KQDS/Duluth, WKQZ/Saginaw, WLZR/Milwaukee, KAZR/Des Moines, WRIF/Detroit, WZTA/Miami, WBUZ/Nashville
1) What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
Answering request lines for Wally Walker at KQRS. This led to my first paying job, which was driving the KQ van around town for then-Promotions & Marketing Dir. John Lassman ... $4.25 an hour and on top of the world! Early on-air influences were Tom Barnard, Garth Kemp, Johnny Rock Lassman, anybody on Z-Rock out of Dallas (it was on 950AM in Minneapolis) as well as anyone at Hot Rockin' 104 KJJO.
2) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
I wanted to be a rock star growing up, but you need to be able to do two things, either know how to play an instrument, or sing - I am unable to do either. When I pointed that out to my mom, she suggested playing music on the radio. A light bulb when off ... enter Brown Institute & an internship at KQRS. Defining moment: Lassman hands me a mic and tells me to go out on stage with the KQ Fabulous Babes and introduce The Steve Miller Band to 18,000 fans at the Target Center for a KQ Birthday Bash in 1991. At 18, I was instantly hooked. All the while, not knowing how this business would both reward me and simultaneously kick me in the nuts at times to keep my ego in check.
3) You spent quite a few years in Detroit at WRIF. How did that experience prepare you for your years in Nashville and now Atlanta?
Big radio station. Great radio station. I have to give Doug Podell credit for showing me how to do "Big" radio, to think big. They do stuff on a different level at WRIF and still do to this day. Mark (Pennington) has done an amazing job of steering the ship into a new era with air talent and the right music, while maintaining the core elements of what makes it a great Rock radio station. To that "Big-ness" and how it transcends to what I'm doing today, I try to get our programmers to think in that big sphere - create that listener experience that cannot be purchased or duplicated elsewhere. Be it a unique interaction with their favorite band, or the listening experience compared to all the other outlets anyone can hear any number of our artists in these days. What is the standout?
4) While you were in Nashville at The Buzz, you were aggressive in playing new music from not only Active Rock artists but some Alternative artists as well. How did you balance these two diverse formats so it didn't adversely affect the station's TSL?
We focused on playing hit rock songs regardless of whatever term the industry chose to give rock music, be it Active or Alternative, or Flugendorfin. Zigz is continuing that philosophy as the new PD (proud of him!). We made the decision to let the guitar, and the power of mass audience reach to be our main indicators of success for airplay. After the initial shock of the Five Finger Death Punch crowd hearing Young The Giant "Cough Syrup," they got over it because we were playing strong songs that many people like, instead of a chosen few. They also realized that their favorite songs were still part of the mix, that we had not stopped playing rock, only adding more to the mix to create a broader based that more people could enjoy. Not every Alternative track made sense sound or feel wise, but then again, neither did half the Active songs we've been getting. More on that in question 8.
5) How long have you been at WNNX and what makes this station so unique?
I started here on September 1st, 2013. We focus on putting a premium on the entertainment listening experience as a whole; it's not just about the music or a positioning statement. The Regular Guys are a staple in the market place and have been since the late '90s. Lyndsey Marie is one of the strongest female air talents I've ever had the pleasure of working with, and best of all she's still in the growing stage of her career. We have one of the best music personalities in the country in Axel Lowe. Couple those elements, with strong imaging from Adam Schneider and a top rate Promotions Department that out hustles everyone on the streets... that gives us a unique position to grow stronger in 2014 and beyond. We pride ourselves on being great partners with our clients and achieving results oriented takeaways from their doing business with us both as a station and as a cluster.
6) Besides your programming duties at WNNX, you have corporate responsibilities for Cumulus working with many of their Rock properties. What are some of the primary areas you work with these stations on?
It ranges from idea starting or brainstorming imaging concepts and research feedback to big-picture thought process planning in planning quarter to quarter from both a programming and promotions standpoint - everything you would look to a consultant to aid you in. We have various corporate initiatives that each Corporate Programmer disseminates to their respective stations on our weekly calls. I work with a great crew of Format Captains in Val Garris, Derek Madden, Scott Jameson and Aaron Roberts. Each of us brings various strong skill sets to the table that the others can learn from and bounce off of each other. Strong group! I'm really excited about our next initiative, which is RDIO, our digital play for the future. 2014 has been a great year for this!
7) I know that Cumulus does weekly music calls with its programmers. In your opinion, how important by percentage is gut, research, sales, video play, and chart position when determining the status of a record?
Our weekly call is more focused on initiatives and brainstorming. I try to talk music more one-on-one with PDs via phone or e-mail as each market has its own unique elements. Everyone should have a gut for how they feel a song could or should do for their station and for the format. I do like to look at research and sales as part of the overall garnering of information. Shazam has become an incredibly valuable tool in pinpointing what we find most important - Zip Codes, Inquired Song Discovery, and ultimately sales. You're not Shazam-ing a song you dislike. What's important to me when listening to music today more so than ever for airplay is - what is the mass appeal of this song? Who does it reach -- small reach or large reach? What is the return on investment in an artist or song? If it is ultimately minimal, that is concerning.
8) 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?
I'm saddened by what has happened to this format. It's not developing artists that can play in other sandboxes. When I look at a station playlist that has 10 of the top-12 most played tracks as 100% exclusive airplay of songs to said station in the marketplace - are you broad-based or worried about what someone is going to say about you on Facebook or Twitter? If you are the latter, you are losing perspective on what our goals are.
Saying you have a #1 song at Active Rock just doesn't mean what it used to mean. As we made our transition in Nashville early last year, I can maybe count on my hand the number of #1 songs on the AR chart we actually played or made their way to recurrent. That's not a strong track record. This tends to point to strong promotion, as opposed to actual strong songs. A case could be made or debated that independent record promotion has been part of Active Rock's perception problem - working irrelevant bands to a small part of the panel, then ultimately working the remainder of the panel after a song has charted. I've long since grown tired of being asked to devote large amounts of time to an artist or song that has zero potential of crossing over to a mass appeal of listeners.
The AR format has a reach of five million for the #1 song. Five million? There are over 330 million people living in the U.S. and the best we can come up with is five million in reach!?!? Look, I get it, it's a Catch 22; how do you develop a band if you don't give it time to do just that - develop. But while we are out here on an island being the only format playing your band, we are watching other formats enjoy audience growth while we are declining. Anybody see a correlation here or am I just the asshole you blame for your band stalling at #8? When we start becoming a cume format that caters to our core, while working to bring in more cume through mass-appeal artists, we will start to grow again. Look ... what do The Black Keys, Muse and now Imagine Dragons have in common? They fill arenas. U2? They fill stadiums. I got the third degree over e-mail last week because I didn't support a band that sold 300 tickets in my market that apparently is researching "huge." Do the math. Look, the lack of AR stations in NYC, LA, Chicago and San Francisco speaks volumes to the challenges the format has with how it is being presented right now. I'm about getting people, more to the point, programmers, to change how we are presenting that to get a larger share of the marketplace.
9) How much does WNNX and the Cumulus properties you work with use social media like Facebook and Twitter in interacting with its listener's?
We utilize a wide swath of social media outlets of which Facebook and Twitter are among them. They are a good communication tool for solid back-&-forth interactivity. That interaction is not always going to paint the station in a positive light, but we look at those more as opportunities to have a dialog, change some views, and change some of our views at the same time. You have to be careful not to base any decisions based solely on posts though, cause get this, and here's some shocking news, the Internet can be somewhat negative in nature. (I know. Don't tell anybody, I wouldn't want it to go away.)
The only time we delete a post is if it's vulgar towards a personality. Otherwise, we try to hit constructive criticism head on by explaining where we are coming from. They may not always agree with or like our answer, but we are coming from a place of honesty, respect for their listening habits/taste, and general communication with our customers. Our ultimate goal is not so much to have them on our social sites so much as it is to get that initial interactive stickiness where they want to spend time on our respective websites and products. That is the relationship we crave, so we have that brand bonding - every day.
10) What are your three favorite artists or songs of this past year and why?
Alt-J Awesome Wave - My favorite CD of the last year-and-a-half, start to finish. Great CD, great band to see live.
Arctic Monkeys - Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High. Excellent groove.
Beck - Morning Phase. The right album at the right time in life.
What do you like to do for fun and relaxation when you're "not" in radio mode?
I love sky diving; it's become an obsession in the last few years. Surfing, reading, comedy clubs, a quality meal with good friends trumps just about anything cause the laughs will always ensue - always. I've gotten into collecting salt water fish in the last year. I find a lot of Zen staring at those tanks ... then again maybe it's just the Merlot talking.
You're stuck on a deserted island and you only have five CDs with you. What are they?
- Rush - Moving Pictures
- Screaming Trees - Dust
- The Beatles - Rubber Soul
- Radiohead - OK Computer
- The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan