10 Questions with ... Bob Bellini
May 13, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- WWWM (M-105)/Cleveland 1977-79
- KFMQ/Lincoln, NE 1979-88
- WIBA/Madison, WI 1988-89
- WKLH/Milwaukee-Racine, 1989-present
1) What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
I was attending the Ohio School of Broadcast Technique and completing an Associate program at a Cleveland area college when I met the sister of Eric Stevens, PD of M-105. I begged her for an interview with her brother (which did wonders for her self-esteem) and was assigned an internship doing phones, go-fer, production, whatever in afternoons with Bill Stallings.
Cleveland was fertile territory for a radio dork ... early influences were the Boss Jock Top 40s such as WIXY-1260, WHK, WGAR and of course, CKLW/Detroit. That evolved into the "free form" FM stations that eventually became WMMS with great talent like Billy Bass, David Spero, Kid Leo and so many more.
2) In looking at your early years in radio, how does a kid from Cleveland end up in Nebraska?
It was an airplane ride in Beckley, WV. I sent audition tapes everywhere wanting to be on full-time, all the time. One interview was for a station in Beckley. When I arrived, they sought to impress me with a ride in their Cessna traffic plane. Traffic plane? In Beckley, WV? I got the impression one of the good 'ol boys who owned the station just liked to buzz the mountains. I heard Nebraska was flat. Done.
3) Congratulations on 25 years at WKLH/Milwaukee. In today's age of consolidation, that's quite an accomplishment. Can you share with us some of the key highlights of your 25 years at the station?
Pardon the smoke, but no one lasts 25 years without a core nucleus of passionate, talented teammates whom I will mention. That begins at Saga corporate, having worked most closely all these years with EVP/Programming Steve Goldstein, our CEO Ed Christian, Warren Lada, Sam Bush and so many more who have grown this company wisely with a strong emphasis on content and talent development. Locally our GM, Annmarie Topel, herself a Milwaukee radio industry veteran, has been a wonderful mentor and tenacious leader. That tenacity is key to maintaining the hunger and urgency that can sometimes diminish over time.
4) Having seen lots of changes at WKLH, can you give us your take on the current health of the station today? What are its strengths and challenges as you move forward?
From Day 1 when this station flipped from AC to a little-known format dubbed "Classic Hits," our mission has been to present the music component of our product in creative, innovative and unique ways. You know about the early days of library events like A to Z, No Repeat Workweeks and such. That ethic continues today as we have evolved to a truer Classic Rock approach over time, including '80s icon artists such as Van Halen and Def Leppard. Through it all, we have established a lineup of local icons to provide the entertainment factor and color that breathes life into the music. Our strengths continue to revolve around content delivered by our morning show and air staff, strong writing and theatrical production. Our challenges mirror those of the greater industry, developing content worthy of listener loyalty no matter the platform on which we're consumed, being brilliant in the social media and digital sphere, and remaining a compelling music source amidst the competitive world of pure-plays and other sources of consumer empowerment.
5) Can you give us a rundown of your full time on air lineup? Who is on when and how long have they been at WKLH?
Dave Luczak, Carole Caine and Kevin Brandt 5a-10a, 25+ years of mornings, Dave began 30 years ago prior to our flip to Classic Hits. Marilynn Mee, 10a-3p, another 30-year Milwaukee music/radio veteran with stations including WLPX and LAZER-103, Downstairs Dan Hansen, 20+ years at 'KLH, veteran of one of Milwaukee's earliest "free forms," WZMF. Steve Palec, (is this getting repetitive?) longtime Milwaukee air talent, morning host (WQFM) and host of THE most amazing specialty show, the original Rock 'N Roll Roots. We air Nik Carter and VH1-Classic's On Tap evenings, music, excitement, interviews, specialty performances ... and a host of superb part-time air staffers with equally distinguished pedigrees.
6) You're working for Saga Communications. They seem to have a rich tradition of being very programming friendly. Can you give us your take on the company?
We can use the scale of our combined operations to provide terrific contest/promotional opportunities while still maintaining strong locally-developed content minus the cookie-cutter feel of larger operators. That creates better communication and content/resource development from our corporate team through to the local operations. Saga maintains a fine balance of corporate involvement and distance - easily accessible, not smothering, and no "ivory tower" vibe. Of course, few ivory towers are left standing in suburban Detroit. Hey, I'm from Cleveland, I can joke!
7) You've had a long and successful career programming Classic Rock. What's your take on the format as a whole? Why do you think the Classic Rock format is so PPM-friendly?
This music was born out of the most turbulent, changeable time in our culture, during times both good and bad. This music gave voice to the more serious issues of the time. Those "Camelot artists" like Fabian or Perry Como spoke to a time that ended with JFK, the Cold War, Viet Nam, Watergate, racial tensions and so forth. The music and the artists became important reflections of cultural shift. It also began so many genre-variations like blues-influenced British rock, and conversely the British Invasion artists being influenced by early American Rock 'N Roll. That has staying power because it's bigger than music as a catchy melody and delves deeper into personal experience and emotion.
8) One of the programming challenges of the Classic Rock format has always been how you keep the station sounding fresh and relevant while playing Rock music that's sometimes 30 or 40 years old. Your thoughts?
The new playing field of digital entertainment, new and ever-changing mobile devices, pure-plays and so forth has forced us to grow beyond playing well-researched music, tweaking a few clocks and adjusting rotations. It's incumbent upon us to be big and bold, having a louder voice in the marketplace with edgy, compelling ways to present the music. There had better be a "'KLH Brand" component to our music presentation or we - and other music stations - will fade to background noise. Fortunately, we have a long history of developing interesting features presented with interesting talent. Remember, MTV wasn't just non-stop music videos; we loved those video-jocks too, such as Martha Quinn or JJ Jackson.
9) How interactive is WKLH with its audience via your web site or Social Media like Facebook and Twitter?
One of the biggest reasons Saga re-knighted the programming team as Brand Managers was because of the new and expanding role of PDs. Much of my day is consumed with DEVELOPING social media-friendly (and compelling) content, using those platforms to entertain or simply create buzz ad awareness. We challenge the staff to tweet or post effectively and our Corporate IT team has done an AMAZING job developing our platforms.
10) Finally, being originally from Cleveland but working in Milwaukee for so many years ... are you a Cleveland Indians or Milwaukee Brewers fan and why?
Look, here's how I explain my Cleveland fan infection. It's an entertaining comedic soap opera. I have a large picture of Cleveland Browns Stadium that I've used as a diorama of post-game frolic. And hey, they grabbed Johnny Football, so stay tuned! Despite that I'm a huge Packers fan, always will be, love the Brewers too. One can balance both.
What do you like to do to relax when you're not in "radio" mode?
Gym ... books ... coffee. Exciting, eh?