10 Questions with ... Big Ric DeRubeis
August 11, 2015
1. What was your first job in radio and early influences?
My first job in radio came after a summer internship at WDVE and WXDX in Pittsburgh. Those were the stations I grew up listening to and I wasn't leaving that internship without some kind of opportunity to stay. I did what I could do to stand out and came up with a few ideas that went over well and brought in some dollars. I didn't realize at the time that would be one of the most important things I could have learned. The DVE morning show was huge with great personalities such as Jim Krenn, Randy Bauman and Scott Paulsen. Those guys were great to me and occasionally let me be in a morning show bit ... I was hooked after that. I also have to give some love to John Nene, Renee Ravey, Eric Taylor, Alan Cox, Russ Rose for making me a better jock and Kevin Battle who taught me marketing and promotions, you guys are the only reason I was ever employable to anyone.
2. Was there a defining moment that led you to a career in radio?
A concussion, boredom and a fear of all the reading in law school ... I enjoyed sports in college and played hockey and rugby. After a concussion playing rugby in my first, yes first junior year, I was forced to quit playing contact sports. I was so bored and had no idea what to do with my newly found free time so I had a friend recommend the campus radio station. I laughed at first but then agreed to check it out. It was an eight-channel mixer, two CD players, two cart machines in a closet and speakers in the cafeteria. I got out my pen and started writing until I go enough funding to make that college radio station a fully functional radio station that paid for itself and brought in advertisers and shows. I am very proud that the radio station at Pitt-Johnstown continues to help kids find a love and possibly a career in radio. I was lucky to graduate but did end up with a strong finish to college and had considered law school, but that damn part-time job at WDVE made me fall in love with the business and I've never looked back.
3. I understand you worked with the Pittsburgh Steelers Radio Network before you joined WHBR (103.1 The Bear). How did that come about and what did you do for them?
Right place, right time ... After my internship was over and WDVE gave me a part-time job. I did whatever I could to stay useful, even if I wasn't sure what I was doing. One of the producers had just left and they needed someone quick. Since there was nobody better, I got my shot. I went to the training facility on Fridays and recorded the Bill Cowher show, and Myron Cope was the host. I was fortunate enough to eat lunch and chat with the legendary broadcaster and players every week. I helped out on home game broadcasts at the stadium and in studio during away games. I ended up also being a small part on a weekly talk show called Steelers Huddle with Hines Ward and Josh Miller. It was an amazing experience filled with some of the best stories I have.
4. You started at 103.1 The Bear 10 years ago doing middays and promotions. How did you get from there to your present position as OM/PD?
Just when I thought I was out ... they pulled me back in. It seemed like every two-and-a -years, I was ready to leave and advance my career, but something new opened up for me at Results Radio and it made sense to stay. I still am a promotions person at heart and do all the Bear promotions. I have a great promo person here, too, so she and I work closely on all the promotions for the cluster. When the previous OM left, I guess I was again in the right place at the right time. It's a lot to balance but I have some really good PDs who generally do everything their stations require. I get to be hands-off because they are good at what they do so it makes the OM job go way smoother. Still, being a programmer makes me happy. I wasn't willing to give that up when I moved to OM and luckily I never had to do so.
5. Now let's talk about WHBR. Can you give us an overview of the station musically? You're listed as a Rock station, but do you play any current product on the station?
I'm happy to report we are really a current-heavy station. I love new music and I'm glad it's my job to find it and share it with the listeners. I would say pretty much everything we play is 1990 and newer. Having the market's only Classic Rock in-house gives me a chance to program up to where our classic leaves off. They end at Nirvana and that's where we start. When I took over I added a bit of a '90s, early 2000s Alternative base and it really seemed to go well. I feel fortunate that I get to program the kind of station that I would listen to if I did something else for a living. The Bear just celebrated 17 years as a Rock station and I am really proud of that; I don't see that ever changing in this market and that makes me happy.
6. What's your take on current Rock or Active Rock music overall? Is it as good as six months or a year ago, better, or about the same?
I love active rock music overall and I think it will only keep getting better. I love that we as programmers, listeners and fans get exposed to more music than we ever could before. Between the Internet, festivals and the creative record promo people, we get bombarded with new stuff and that's great. Since we don't seem to have walls-defining genres any more, some bands have gotten really creative and stand out. Like-A-Storm uses a digeridoo and not only does it work, they are the only band in rock doing it. I'm not sure if Ghost scares me or makes me happy but I know it's really different and interesting. When I added Zac Brown Band to the Bear, I was scratching my head a bit because it seemed wrong on paper, but you can't deny what a great song "Heavy is the Head" is -- and it worked. I hope we continue to get weird in rock and still have those mainstream bands that bring people in. It's all about balance and I think it's getting better.
7. Besides your role as OM/PD, you're doing afternoons for 103.1 The Bear. How do you balance all of these roles effectively?
I have a great staff in my building. They only way I can balance all this is because the people here are doing it for me. I don't spend a ton of time worried about their execution so I can worry about my own as a jock and a PD and the OM. I do work a lot of hours and try to do some of that at home so I can have time with my dogs and friends in the evening. I actually like going 100 mph in life so the time spent working actually makes me happy. I'm miserable and more likely to get in trouble if I don't have multiple projects to juggle. Surround yourself with good people is the only way to make this job work.
8. How active are you and the station with social media in interacting with your listeners?
Honestly, not active enough. We are still trying to find the most effective ways to use social media. In my opinion, social media has so many forms it's like a shotgun blast. When you post something, you are hoping it hits someone. We do really well as far as Facebook goes, but I think everything else could be done much better. I also believe that on the street is the most important "social" time you can get with your listeners. I put the Bear logo in front of everyone I can as often as possible. I don't want to sound like the "get off my lawn" neighbor but I still believe that old school street marketing and being a part of your community is the best connection you can make with you listeners.
9. I understand in your 10 years in the market, you and the station have raised over $75,000 for local humane societies. Can you give us some of the highlights of this very worthy cause?
I love dogs and have been a dog owner my whole life. The best thing about my dogs is no matter what I have done or where I have been, they are always happy when I get home. The fundraising started really as a "when in need" type thing. Unfortunately, this region is notorious for puppy mill breeders and when the Humane Society goes in and closes one down, the local shelters are in huge need very quickly. The staff and I would do live broadcasts sometimes in the bitter cold if needed to raise money and supplies. I love that nobody on my staff has ever said anything except, "Let's do this," when I've called on them to do this. About six years ago, a friend of mine who is in the wrestling business asked if I would help him get a local indie wrestling show together so the proceeds could go to the shelter. We are now on the 12th show and well over $50,000 raised just from these events. I would have to say this is one of my proudest accomplishments in life, not just radio.
10. Finally, you and WXQR/Greenville, NC PD Tina Smash are great friends and started Big Smash Radio last year. Tell us what Big Smash Radio is and how we can hear it?
Big Smash Radio is the most fun I've ever had being on the radio. Tina and I met at the first Carolina Rebellion and became instant friends bound by stupidity. Let's just say we put on the cleanest yet dumbest webcam show you've ever seen. Wes Styles has seen it ... ask him. We weren't really sure what to do with this instant chemistry since we lived so far from one another ... but always had the idea of doing a show together. A few years ago, we decided to do joint interviews at festivals and such and it really seemed to take off. At the Rebellion two years ago, while chatting with Five Finger Death Punch, they asked us if we would introduce them on stage and, of course, we jumped on it.
After that Rebellion, I started making trips to New Bern and we would turn her Afternoon Riot into Big Smash Radio for a few days. The listeners seemed to really like it and we had our rock star friends calling in so we started to get into a groove. At one point, I may have made fun of the way Chris Jericho texts ... let's just say he loves emoji's and I called him out on it on the air. A listener tweeted him right away that we were making fun of him and within 10 minutes, he was on the phone threatening me with a Lion tamer. He was a really great sport about it ... and I think it's the lasting relationships we have made with the artists that make our Big Smash Radio opportunities so fun for us.
Last year DWP and our friend Clay Busch put together the Louder Than Life Festival and Big Smash jumped all over it. It was the first "official" time we went out and did something that was just ours and not Rock 105 or The Bear. Since then, we have covered all the festivals we attend as Big Smashm and all that audio can be found at bigsmashradio.com. Big thanks to my brother Jeremiah McKenzie for making all that magic happen.
You're stuck on a deserted island and you only have five CDs with you. What are they?
I love all different kinds of music so I'm going for variety here.
- Social Distortion, Live at the Roxy
- Beastie Boys, License To Ill
- Dr. Dre, The Chronic
- Metallica, ...And Justice for All
- Gary Allan, Greatest Hits