10 Questions with ... Jon Ballard
March 10, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
KISW/Seattle, KZZP/Phoenix, DC101/Washington, DC, BIG 100.3/Washington, D.C., ROCK 103/Columbus, GA (PD), 105-1 The Blaze/Fresno (PD)
1) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it?"
When I was about five years old, I saw "Emperor Smith" of KJR at a car dealership with his scepter and crown, and people were acting like he was the biggest thing in town (which he was, at the time). For whatever reason, that stuck with me, and got me interested in radio. Then, listening to KISW in the late '70s and early '80s ... "Those Dudes" Langan and West, Crow and Hovanes, Steve Slaton ... hearing the stuff they were getting away with, and the fun they seemed to be having, sealed it.
2) If you were just starting out in radio, knowing now what you didn't then, would you still do it?
Absolutely. I've been doing this longer than I probably have a right to, and I still feel that I've only "worked" a handful of days in my life. Being able to do what we do, and to get paid for it, it's still kind of mind-blowing.
3) How long have you been at KKBZ (105.1 The Blaze) and what makes this station so unique?
It'll be two years this month, and I've never enjoyed myself more in a situation. Lotus, and our GM, Kevin O'Rorke, give their people the freedom to do what they do best.
The Blaze is one of the few stations in the market where the plan is to have local jocks around the clock - except for weeknights, where we run Sixx Sense. This gives us the opportunity to go out and be visible in the community, and to impact listeners on a one-to-one level, and our staff is really good at that.
4) You also do the afternoon show on 105.1 The Blaze. How do you balance your time so both your programming and afternoon show are effective?
I stick to a pretty strict schedule, making sure I give both jobs the attention they need. Honestly, it's kind of a nice break from the PD stuff, when I take the time to prep my afternoon show. The prep has always been my favorite part of being on-air, and by maintaining that work ethic, I try to give my staff a decent example to follow.
5) Let's talk about the music on KKBZ. The station used to be a Classic Rock station that rocked quite a bit. Tell us about the transition from playing all Classic Rock to adding a healthy amount of current Rock to the mix?
It's cliché, but it really was more "evolution than revolution." It's a credit to the way Classic Rock has branded itself, that people couldn't seem to wrap their heads around Nirvana and Green Day being considered "classic," despite the fact that their music was 20+ years old. So, rather than fight that perception, we just said "Screw it ... Let's be a ROCK station!" Fresno hadn't had a real Rock station in several years, since KRZR went away, and there were lots of bands who'd never been exposed here, so it was important that we made the move gradually. So, working with Jeff Murphy and the other big brains at DeMers Programming, we hand-picked a few newer songs, and gradually grew the library, until we reached the level we're at now. We're a full year in to the transition, and the response has been great!
6) Tell us how The Blaze stacks up against the Fresno market competition for Rock with the Alternative KFRR New Rock 104.1 and the Classic Rock station KJFX 95.7 the Fox?
The easy answer is that we're a "Rock Station" - no qualifier. We have elements of Classic as well as Alternative in our mix, but overall, we just play "Fresno's Best Rock." If it fits what we're trying to do, we'll play it, regardless of what chart it appears on or when it was released. We're also a little more "up in your grill" than our competition. For example, we do a "Mandatory Metallica" feature, but we do it at 7am\. Our imaging is more irreverent, our attitude is more snarky, and our personalities are more active, than the other stations in town. When you're listening to "The Blaze," you know it.
7) What's your take on current music in the Active Rock format? Is it as good as six months ago, better, or about the same?
It seems like we might be seeing a return to basics. Artists such as We Are Harlot, The Temperance Movement, and others have kind of a "timeless" feel to their songs -- just straightahead rock-and-roll without all the technological enhancements. There's always gonna be room for all styles of rock, but it's kind of nice to hear "three chords and a cloud of dust" again
8) How does your station utilize the KKBZ website and other social media (Facebook, Twitter) as an interactive marketing tool with your listeners?
That's something that I've been really focusing on since I got here. I was fortunate to be in on the "ground floor" giving input to the early versions KISW.com and dc101.com, so I know how vital an online presence is with this audience. Social media is even more important, and I'm lucky to have a staff that embraces the need for a social media strategy, especially our new morning show, Gus & Izzy. We've managed to triple our social media numbers in the last two years, which I'm very proud of. We've still got a long way to go, but we're always thinking "multi-platform" in everything we do.
9) On the promotion front, your upcoming Blazefest Event is coming up April 16th. What are the details?
One of the things I always hear from listeners is "How come no bands ever come to Fresno?" ... so we're doing everything we can to change that, and Blazefest is step one. We've got Three Days Grace, Pop Evil, and Stars in Stereo playing an outdoor amphitheatre in one of our major city parks, and people are stoked! We've had a lot of listeners say they "can't believe" these bands are coming to town, and, hopefully, this is just the beginning! It's also energized everyone in our building. We have a very collaborative family here at Lotus Fresno, and everyone is ready to pitch in for this event.
10) Finally, I understand you're a huge baseball fan. Who's your team and how do you think they'll do this year?
Being Seattle born and bred, I bleed Mariner blue . . . and for the last 10+ years, that wasn't a bandwagon you jumped on. As a Seattle fan in 49ers/Giants/A's country, I've learned not to be too vocal in my support (12th Man flag in my office, notwithstanding), but I think this is the year they get back to the post-season. They have a strong rotation, solid bullpen, and an improved offense. So, now it's time for some Sodo Mojo! And when that happens, I'll do what all real Northwesterners do when their teams win - smile and nod smugly.
- The Who - Quadrophenia
- Soundgarden - Superunknown
- The Beatles - White Album
- Van Halen - Van Halen
- The Sonics - Boom