10 Questions with ... Hal Fish
June 17, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
My "Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit" (which I believe was required by the FCC at the time) is dated May 1st, 1981. The same year I started doing overnights at an AM AC station in Jackson, MI. Within a year I'd moved to middays and then, soon after was offered a morning-show gig on a similarly formatted AM station in Lansing, MI. Within a year or so the station was sold and my services were no longer required (my "welcome to radio" reality check). In 198, I began doing mornings at "Fun Lovin' 94 Gold" a Jackson, MI-licensed station that also served the Lansing market. I began programming the station about a year or so into a four-year stint with the station. In 1988 I moved to Columbus, OH to program "Classic Rock" (Magic 99.7). We put "The Blitz" on the air in July of 1992 and I've been like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day ever since.
1) What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
It's been so long since I've updated my resume that I literally can't find it and don't remember the call letters of the first station I worked at. I do remember how hard my heart was pounding the first time I cracked the mic and how pissed the guy who came on after me was. You see, we actually played records that had to be located and queued up and all of our commercials were played from "carts." It was common courtesy to pull the first hour of music and commercials for the jock that followed you, but I sucked at my job so badly that it was all I could do to find my own songs and commercials and get them on the air. The next jock arrived to find me in a cold sweat surrounded by stacks of records and carts that I couldn't seem to find the time to put away. His welcoming words were, "Who the hell trained you?"
Ken Calvert is my all-time favorite jock. Ken was doing middays at WRIF around the time I got into radio and I wanted to be just like "the casual one." He didn't "sound" like a disc jockey to me. He sounded like a real person who just happened to love the same kind of music I did. One of my favorite things was listening to Ken "cross over" with other jocks on the station like Arthur P.
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. I really wasn't particularly interested in being on the radio. In fact, I majored in Broadcast Journalism at Central Michigan University and never set foot inside the college's radio station. I started playing in rock bands after college and made a serious effort at making a living from music. When the most serious of these bands broke up, I came off the road and started living in a house with two other musicians, one of whom knew the PD/morning show host at a radio station in Jackson, MI. I was complaining about low wages from the "wedding band" that I'd hooked up with for the summer when he suggested I give his PD friend a call. He was pretty sure they'd "train me" and I could pick up a little extra cash. I wouldn't have hired me. I remember sitting in the PD's office during the interview telling him, "My first priority is my music so, we'll to have schedule around that." Apparently, the station was desperate for help because they hired me and since my musical career wasn't exactly taking off, I wasn't too hard to "schedule around." My "Ah hah" moment came when they offered me middays. I'd already started to fall in love with radio but the mid-ay gig made me realize I might actually have a knack for this thing. My priorities soon shifted from "my band" to "my radio station."
3) You've been programming WRKZ (99.7 The Blitz) since 1992 and it is considered one of the original Active Rock stations. What else makes this station so unique?
Blitz jocks are living, breathing, human beings that connect with people who live the rock lifestyle. I can't do it with voicetracks. I won't say we haven't tracked some weekend shifts out of necessity in the past, but I think it's important for the person on the other end of the phone, text response or post to be the actual person who is on the air. Listeners respond to that and it's one way we can be better than the conglomerates across the street.
4) You are also the VP/Programming & Operations for all three Columbus stations (The Blitz, 103.9 Jack FM and Adult Standards WMNI). How do you balance all of these responsibilities?
My job is probably easy compared to some of the programmers I talk to and read about who are responsible for twice as many stations. In terms of the balance, clearly I devote the lion's share of my time to working with The Blitz. It's our biggest signal and largest revenue generator, so it demands a lot of my attention. There are no local jocks on WMNI and imaging only on JACK FM so, while there aren't a lot of human resources to manage, I enjoy working on the imaging and promotional aspects of those two stations.
5) Columbus is also the home of Rock OnThe Range, which has become arguably the biggest Rock festival in the country. I know that The Blitz has a huge presence there, but how beneficial has it been for your station to have ROTR in your own backyard each year?
It's our biggest event of the year. We think of it as our show and plan for it as such. Right Arm Entertainment and AEG have done a fantastic job building ROTR, but we like to think we've played a big part. It certainly helps that they basically hire our entire playlist each year. We take an "all hands on deck" approach with our staff that weekend and while it may be tough to quantify from a ratings standpoint, we think it's important for the "Rangers" who see us there to know we take this music as seriously as they do.
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?
We're in a similar place to where we were a year ago, but I don't think that's a bad thing. The most popular music on the format comes from bands that I consider to be the most "mainstream." Bands like Chevelle, Three Days Grace and Pop Evil come with edgy guitars, but plenty of melody that makes them accessible to a wide audience. Our format needs that to survive. We have to acknowledge Metal, but it simply has never been able to drive the ship.
7) You are also a strong proponent of research. We'll discuss Radio Traks next but in determining the songs to play on The Blitz, approximately how important by percentage are gut, research, sales, video play and chart position when determining the status of a record?
I won't put percentages to it, but gut and research are the two most important factors. Sales and video play metrics are influenced by factors that don't always apply to the audience that drives your ratings so, just because Imagine Dragons is blowing up doesn't mean it should be in heavy (though we do play Imagine Dragons). "Gut" is your experience telling you that a record that sounds like it does could be a hit on your radio station backed (or refuted) by the research over a period of time. Chart position is the most suspect of all the indicators, given the lack of local research that gets done on a regular basis and how much charts are affected by big groups. I do look at the charts every week, though. I probably spend as much time at the bottom as at the top. It's a useful tool for finding songs I may have missed.
8) Now let's talk about Radio Traks, which you founded in 2000. How many radio stations are using it and explain some of the basic features the service provides for its clients?
Our radio station client base has fluctuated between the low 100s to over 200 during the past 10 years. We're primarily an Internet-based, P1 music research company that provides survey software to radio stations and song perceptuals to record labels. We've developed an extensive database of radio station P1s primarily from Country, Rock, Alternative and Pop formats and do a lot of surveys for labels to help them determine the best single for release. It's a very effective tool. If radio station P1s love it, you've got a shot ... If they don't, well, let's just hope they do.
In 2005, we rolled out Equest Alert(r), a listener engagement tool that alerts listeners when their favorite songs are scheduled to play on their favorite radio station. We recently debuted a new version of Equest that includes a really cool request/alert widget for your website, an "artist alert" feature, that allows listeners to request alerts simply by texting an artist's name to a short code and our RequesTrak(r), studio request management system that aggregates all of the requests that come to your station via phone, web and text.
All RadioTraks services are available for barter through Envision Networks.
9) How much does WRKZ use social media like Facebook and Twitter to help enhance The Blitz experience with its listeners?
A ton. It's just another way of making sure we're everywhere our listeners are, communicating with the tools they use to communicate. We require social engagement from our jocks but we don't have to push them very hard. It's already a big part of their lives.
10) Finally, how does a Michigan native live and survive in Ohio State Buckeye country?
I'm a spy. I get a bunch of Buckeyes to love the music on The Blitz and all the while I'm broadcasting a subliminal message underneath 24/7 ... "Go Blue... Go Blue... Go Blue..."