10 Questions with ... Laura Gonzo
May 27, 2014
1. Congratulations on your new role as Head Of Syndication for the Two Guys Named Chris Morning Show. How did that gig come about?
Dick Harlow was named VP/GM of Dick Broadcasting Company about a year ago, which is of course home to the 2 Guys Named Chris Show. 2 Guys Named Chris are monsters in the market and are poised for national success in syndication. They were already working with Lisa and Matt at Miller Broadcast Management and Dick wanted to add a full-time Director of Syndication who could be in the building every day. Dick was the GM of my Bob & Tom affiliate in Wichita, so we know each other well, but neither of us knew the other was in Greensboro. It was Smarty-Marty-the-One-Man-Party Lambert who tipped him off. Dick set up a lunch with the guys and it didn't take long for us to figure out that this was a great opportunity for all of us.
2. Before we get more details on your current gig, let's get some background on your history in doing affiliate relations for The Bob & Tom Show. When and how long did you work with B&T?
I was working for Sony's SW Networks in New York when I got a call from Geoff Armstrong at SFX Broadcasting saying they had just acquired WFBQ and they had this "little syndicated show" they wanted some help with (I knew Geoff and the SFX guys from drinking whiskey at the Opryland hotel at numerous Country Radio Seminars - anyone else remember the Pickin' Parlor??). In the early days, it was really just me, the local team, and SFX's Mike Cutchall, creating the syndication piece from scratch. This was at a time when people were still pretty leery of syndicated dayparts and no one outside of Indiana had ever heard of Bob & Tom. While I was there, we went though about a half-dozen ownership companies and ultimately ended up as part of Clear Channel/Premiere Radio Networks. When I left in 2008, I'm proud to say we had taken the initial lineup of a couple dozen stations to a network of over 150 and we increased billing from tens of thousands to tens of millions.
Bob & Tom were great to work for. They really take care of and support their team. The same is true of Premiere's Julie Talbott and (former COO) Kraig Kitchin. They knew I spent almost as much time doing volunteer work in my spare time as I spent at work, so they were very supportive when the stars aligned and I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for a non-profit foundation that aligned with my core interests. It was an agonizingly hard decision but, in the end, I just had to give it a shot.
3. Care to share any precious B&T stories?
How much time have you got? Wow. Where to even start? One of my favorite memories was that every April Fool's, they'd round up the entire staff and take us out by the loading dock to serve as extras for a bit they called "Catch It and Keep It." The set-up is that they're standing on the top of the (fictional) Friggemall Building, dropping prizes to the crowd (played by us) several stories below. If the contestant could catch an item, they could keep it. Tom would say, for example, "OK, here comes a box turtle!" and mic a football helmet hitting the asphalt. Other "prizes" included a salt-water aquarium, a lifetime supply of wire hangars, etc. There were always a bunch of callers who didn't connect the dots and would be incensed that we killed a poor, defenseless box turtle or horrified that we could have killed someone with that set of Ginsu knives.
I'm afraid I can't talk about the annual Christmas videos, crafted by producer Dean Metcalf and some of the writers, but anyone who took part in them knows how brilliantly wrong they were.
Everyone knows that Bob & Tom are hilarious but the dirty little secret is that they are both really, exceedingly good guys. On my first day there, I overshot the lip of the parking lot and got my front wheels stuck in the mud. Of course it was raining. Tom was the first guy out of the building to help me pull the car out. Or there was the time I took a chunk of vacation to volunteer after Hurricane Katrina. Both Bob & Tom were incredibly supportive and, as I was walking out the door to hit the road, Bob quietly handed me a wad of cash that turned out to be a generous donation to the organization I was heading down to help. They're just like that. They are very kind and generous, more often than not when no one is looking.
4. Before you started working with Two Guys Named Chris, you took a break from radio to work in non-profit and digital marketing. Can you give us the highlights of those experiences?
My big adventure away from radio started with a foray into non-profit work for the National Canine Research Council (NCRC), where I worked with the founder and head of research, Karen Delise, to disseminate information on dog-safety studies and dog bite research. It may sound a bit dry but I am a huge nerd about dog genetics and behavior. I'm also on a personal mission to help people understand that nearly 100% of severe and fatal dog attacks are the result of human actions.
At NCRC, I got to work on some fascinating projects and interface with people who are giants in the animal behavior/animal welfare space. I was more excited to meet some of these people than most of the celebrities I met while working in radio! It really was a dream job.
When the economy went south and NCRC had to defund my position, I started doing work as an independent consultant and got to do projects with folks like Mr. Skin (yes, really); Gary Krantz, and (former CEO of CBS Radio) Rob Barnett; and CrossFit Media. Most recently, I worked with Cause Media Group, a company that sits at the magical intersection of major brands and major non-profits, helping them to create digital campaigns of all sizes. During this period, I spent a lot of time around start-ups and saw some very optimistic, creative and innovative thinking. I am inspired to bring that energy back to radio.
5. When you took your break from radio, did you miss it and why?
When I left, I had been in radio for over 15 years and I felt like I needed a change. There was a lot of negativity in the business and I had some frustrations working for a gigantic company. The thing is, when you leave an industry that you've more or less grown up in professionally, you can't begin to realize (or at least I didn't) how much you're going to miss the people you have grown up with. It's like moving away from your home town. I really missed my people. One of the great things about coming back to the business has been reaching out to everyone and catching up. I'm so happy to see so many of my favorite people are still here!
6. Now let's talk about your current role with the Two Guys Named Chris Morning Show. Give us a little background on the show and your plans to syndicate?
Like other great national morning shows, 2 Guys Named Chris has a long history of dominating mornings in their local market. They've been #1 Men 25-54 and top 3 Persons 25-54 for as long as anyone can remember. They have been voted Favorite Morning Show by our local alternative weekly every year since 2008. Advertisers adore them and the local audience is amazingly supportive. They're just giants in the market.
And they're pros. They work fantastically hard every day to deliver a consistently engaging, can't-stop-listening morning show. The flow sounds so natural on the air; an untrained listener would never know how much prep goes into it. They make it sound effortless.
We're in a nice position, being part of a small company, in that we can take the time to handpick broadcasting partners with whom we can create successful syndication relationships. The plan is to grow regionally first and then expand out from there.
7. For those who haven't heard the show, give us some highlights of special features and bits that the show features every morning?
One of the most popular features is a daily game called "Put Up or Shut Up," which pits a caller against human-encyclopedia and music-trivia buff Chris Demm in a game of Rock trivia, moderated by Chris Kelly. If the caller wins, they get whatever money Demm happens to have in his pocket that day. The questions, written by Kelly, are extremely tough and, although some of the callers are good, Demm almost always wins (he hasn't lost a game in 2014, but has been tied twice). Callers stand a better chance on Fridays, when the hosts reverse roles and callers are up against Kelly. The listeners LOVE this one!
There's another feature called The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, in which they riff, with hilarious results, on news stories from each category.
One of my favorites, which is kind of sporadic, came about as a result of Chris Kelly's penchant for making outlandish claims. For example, he'll say, "You know, I bet if I had to, I could land a plane," which prompts the rest of the cast to shout, in unison, "Prove it, Kelly!" Most recently, he was obliged to prove that he could fight off a police dog. There's a pretty entertaining video on the Rock 92 website of Kelly wearing a bite suit and getting schooled by K-9 Officer Zena from the local Sheriff's department.
8. With your background in digital marketing, how much does The Two Guys Named Chris Morning Show use social media to interact with its listeners?
Like another well-known rock morning show host I know (ahem), Chris Kelly is a confirmed Luddite. We just got him on Twitter about five minutes ago. That being said, Deidre James is a social media ninja. She's on point for the 2 Guys Named Chris Facebook and Twitter accounts. Our listener base doesn't seem to be as engaged on the Pinterests and Instagrams of the world, but we're keeping an eye on those and other emerging platforms.
9. After spending all those years working with Bob & Tom, what are some of the key things you learned about doing affiliate relations for a syndicated morning show?
The biggest lesson is patience. There's a lot of pressure to get the show on new stations as quickly as possible, but a smart rep will be more discriminating. You want an affiliate that has the right format and a signal that gives you the potential to get their station to #1. You want a broadcaster with whom you can form a partnership, because making a commitment to a new morning show (whether it's local or syndicated) is a big deal.
Typically, it's a rollercoaster for at least the first six months and you need to be prepared to weather the ups and downs together until your show gets them to where they want to be. You want client to be successful in their own right and you want to be able to share that success story as you go out to secure new partnerships.
The other lesson is to let the show focus on doing the show. There will always be pressure to change to please one affiliate or one advertiser, but the show has become successful doing what they do. My goal is to stay the hell out of the way and let the show do what they do best, which is engaging listeners and racking up #1 ratings book after book.
10. Finally, I know you are a huge dog lover and are still very active in helping place pets with the right people. What's the most rewarding aspect for you of being a long time dog owner?
You caught me at a tough time, as I just lost my beloved 13-year-old Heeler mix, Milo, last week. The only downside to having a dog, in my opinion, is that their lives are too short. That being said, the heartache is a fair tradeoff for the joy of life with a pet (or a houseful of them).
Everyone at Q95 knew I was involved in animal rescue and people were always showing up in my office with cats and dogs they'd found. I still laugh about the time (X103 PD) Lenny Diana walked into my office cupping this tiny kitten in his hands and making big sad eyes at me. He said, "He was just sitting outside of a Chinese restaurant; we couldn't leave him there!" Happily, I found someone in the office who wanted to adopt him and she named him Lenny, in honor of his rescuer. A few weeks later, we found out Lenny was a girl but she kept the name anyway.
I've lost count of the number of cats, kittens, dogs and puppies I've fostered. Lots of people say "Oh I could never foster because I couldn't let them go," but seeing a dog go from a sad little mess to a happy, healthy animal and then seeing them find loving homes is one of the greatest feelings ever. I get pictures and updates all the time from people who have adopted pets from me. It brings me more joy than I can begin to express.
You're stuck on a deserted island and you only have five CDs with you. What are they?
ONLY 5???? Okay, fine.
- The Mountain Goats "We Shall All Be Healed"
- Louis Prima "At His Best"
- Public Enemy "Fear of a Black Planet"
- The Clash "London Calling"
- And I suppose the audio book of Pema Chodron's "The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times" would be appropriate...