10 Questions with ... Rich Russo
September 15, 2015
1. When did you get into radio and can you give us your radio history.
I've only done this show, the history is this:
- WRXP/New York, November 2008-July 2011
- WXPK/White Plains, September 2011-present
- WDHA/Morristown, October 2011- present
- THE GAMUT/(Frederick and DC area), April 2013- present
- WRAT/Monmouth-Ocean, October, 2013- present
- WLZX/Springfield, MA, March 2014- present
- WWSK/Nassau-Suffolk, September 2015-Present
2. What radio stations and personalities did you listen to when you were growing up?
WNEW, WDHA, WPLJ (when it was Rock), WHTZ, WHTG, WXRK.
Personalities: Vin Scelsa, Scott Muni, Howard Stern, Curtis Kay, Pete Fornatale, Scott Shannon, and so on, I could go on forever! I listened to a lot of radio growing up.
3. Can you give us the specifics of how the "Anything Anything" radio show originated?
A very lucky train ride where I ended up sitting next to then-Emmis NY GM Dan Halyburton, who had just launched WRXP. We talked music and the station; I suggested to him that he hire Vin Scelsa and do free-form on Sunday nights as it was important to the N.Y. market. He said they didn't want any former N.Y. radio staff, but perhaps I should pitch a show. A few months later Leslie Fram was hired as PD; she loved the concept of my idea of a free-form show called Anything Anything and allowed me to begin that fall.
4. For those who haven't heard the show, give us some highlights of special features and music you feature on the show on a weekly basis?
Well, the show really does change every week; I really don't know the direction it's going to end up until the middle of the week. The easiest way to describe is the title Anything Anything; there's no genre that is off-limits or content restrictions at all. For those who are familiar with Vin Scelsa's Idiot's Delight, Rodney on the ROQ, Little Steven's Underground Garage and the Dr. Demento show, if those shows were a four-corner intersection, with a little alley nearby, that's where Anything Anything falls.
5. Being as free-form as your show is, how is the music chosen on a weekly basis?
Sometimes based on current events, I've stated that there's a song or two that can tie into to whatever is going on, even if it's not directly about it. I'll also check out new music that's out or coming out, and perhaps that will start a theme, and also birthdays, the birthday of some random TV actor who had a single may somehow tie into a new punk or rock song. Even something like this: A few weeks back, I noticed that three birthdays were happening with unrelated people with the last name of Welch (Florence, Bob, Raquel) and was able to play Florence + the Machine into a Bob Welch song into Raquel Welch singing "Bang Bang" ... now that is free-form!
6. As a follow-up to the last question, you've been called the "King of Free-Form Radio." Do you think Rock radio can get more adventurous with new music and still be successful?
Well, "king" is subjective ... and the beauty of free-form is that each free-form DJ curates in their own way, and they are king or queen of their own thing. The most important thing is audience trust. I fully understand that not every listener will like every song I play, but I hope I've earned enough trust that they stick around to find out why I just played what I did.
As for Rock radio and getting adventurous, I'm extremely fortunate that each station I'm on has its own identity and sounds nothing like any other station, and each is focused on the communities they serve and have air staff who breathe that town. I've made a point that even though I'm doing the show in Jersey, I get involved with each station's events and have visibility there. All of the stations have been very receptive of me and the show. They are all adventurous both musically and promotionally. Sadly, there are bunch of Rock stations that aren't adventurous and are cookie-cutter, but those stations will need to adapt soon or they will fade away, but I can't worry about those since they wouldn't be adventurous enough to even consider Anything Anything.
7. Your show primarily runs on Rock or Triple A stations. What's your take on current Rock music?
Rock music is fine; there's a ton of great stuff out there and lots of different directions and textures. The problem for music radio isn't Rock music, although at times Alternative is really not an Alternative to anything, it's down the middle. I feel a big problem is where Top 40 is now and it's avoidance of Rock. I know that the ratings are strong, etc., but the path it's on will lead to self-destruction sooner than later, especially as Millennial artists bypass radio and labels and go directly to the fans, which is slowly happening now.
If the decline of the VMA's audience isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is. Think about it, they had pretty much every major A-list pop star on that show (Taylor, Miley, Nicki, Kayne, etc.) and the show lost viewers. The reason is that these stars are everywhere and the music is all produced and processed to sound the same.If you think back 20, 30 years ago where U2 and Madonna and Run DMC and Springsteen and REM and Prince and, at times, Barbara Streisand may have been in the Top 40 simultaneously and were played on Top 40 radio back to back, something similar won't be allowed now by Top 40. It's a shame and it's going to be its demise unless someone retools the format and at minimum gets rock back on it.
8. Being the die-hard music fan that you are, give us a handful of new Rock bands or artists that you are loving right now and why.
Low Cut Connie: This is a band that I've been playing for three-plus years now. They are a multifaceted ball of energy; the live show is incredible, they have two front men each doing songs in a different style and it all ties together. This band has been on the verge of breaking out, they are a game changer, and were on Obama's summer playlist of 20 songs, the only unsigned non-major label act to have that honor.
Hollis Brown is another band that's been part of my show for a few years. This is a hardworking throwback to the great bands of the '70s but with a modern twist on it. Great lyrics and music, a live show that gets better and better, they've been out on the road with Counting Crows this summer and I think that exposure will help them get to the next level.
Wyldlife. This is the best powerpunk band to come out of the NYC area in the last 20 or so years. Infectious hooks and their third album is due to drop soon, and there's a song on it that if remixed, could be the song that shakes up Top 40 radio. In its current state, it's a great rock song, but with a few tweaks, it's a monster. This is a band that if they were able to garnish a PR effort and a management team, they'd be everywhere.
Prima Donna: This is a Hollywood-based powerpop glam band, who are polished, and mix their killer original material with some obscure covers. Another band that should be all over Rock radio.
There's also a few older acts that I feel have slipped through the cracks. Willie Nile continues to release spectacular album after album that's on par with anything out there. how he's not played more on radio is headscratching to me. Similar with Jesse Malin and James Maddock, I hope that it's never too late for these to get their due. And Dramarama, whose song I use as the title of my show, have a new album ready to be released that is as good as anything they've ever done.
9. How much does Anything Anything use social media to interact with its listeners?
I have a very passionate listener base, I'm active with them on Twitter and Facebook all of the time as well as via e-mail. I feel for a show like mine, the host/listener connection is stronger than other radio dayparts. They can make suggestions and have even used social media to express displeasure at something I play or say. I try to respond to everything as I'm always appreciative of them taking time to listen to the show as well as being engaged enough to discuss it.
10. Finally, I understand you have a collection of vinyl and CDs estimated to reach 100,000 pieces. Where do you store all of this music?
Yes, it's quite the collection and most of it sits in my house. Some are in storage units, and some were destroyed in a flood during Hurricane Irene, as I got nine feet of water and a bunch of things I hadn't categorized yet or some of the duplicates got trashed. It's taken me years to get the collection in some semblance of order. After years of garage sales and people who just give me boxes of records that they would just throw out. The massive organization of them pointed out that I have 70 copies of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, 58 copies of Michael Jackson's Thriller, but on a happier note, five copies of the Beatles butcher cover and a copy of Nirvana's "Love Buzz" single that I forgot all about.