10 Questions with ... Jon Ballard
May 3, 2016
1) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
It's the usual story . . . five-year-old kid goes to car dealership and sees local radio celebrity (KJR-A's "Emperor" Smith) wearing a crown and holding a scepter ... kid decides that's what he wants to do with his life. Seriously, that's what got me to start about 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. BUT, and this is for you "kids" out there ... I would've majored in something else in college, and minored in radio -- just in case things didn't work out.
3) How long have you been at KKBZ (105.1 The Blaze) and what makes this station so unique?
It's just over three years now, 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.
We like to think of The Blaze as "the people's station." We're constantly out in the community, pressing the flesh, and we actively solicit input from our audience about what they want from us. Our competition isn't nearly as visible and active in the community, although of late they seem to have stepped up their efforts (Hmm ... I wonder why).
4) You also do the afternoon show on 105.1 The Blaze and have had a long history of being a solid on air personality in markets like Washington D.C. and Seattle. What are some of the highlights of you afternoon show?
Highlights? Hmmm ... I don't have any zany benchmarks or anything like that, just a quick fake news thing on Friday afternoon. People who listen to my show will get quick bursts of pop culture and information, drenched in snark and sarcasm (much like talking to me in the hallway). I try not to derail the musical flow of the show with lengthy segments. My goal is to keep everything moving forward at all times.
5) Let's talk about the music on KKBZ. The station used to be a Classic Rock station but is now playing a healthy amount of current rock to the mix. How has that transition worked for the station over the last year or two?
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, once we decided to be a "ROCK" station, we hand-picked a few newer songs, and gradually grew the library, until we reached the level we're at now. We're two-plus years into 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 more "up in your grill" than our competition. Our imaging is more irreverent, and our attitude is more snarky, than the other stations in town. When you're listening to "The Blaze," you know it.
7) What's your take on the Active Rock format as a whole?
I think it's as healthy as it's ever been, content-wise. Trying to find room to play all the good music that's coming out is difficult. We just need some artists to find a way to cross over into the more mainstream formats, and all this "Rock is Dead" nonsense will fall by the wayside.
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 morning show, Gus & Izzy. We've managed to quadruple our social media numbers in the last three 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) Your latest Blazefest event was last month featuring Volbeat, Black Stone Cherry and Red Sun Rising. How did it go and give us the highlights?
It was AWESOME! As far as radio-fests go, ours is still in its infancy, but we were fortunate to get some top-quality bands to come play for our listeners (thanks to Q-Prime and G&G Entertainment for the assistance). We drank a lot of beer, did a lot of moshing, screamed ourselves hoarse, and are already in the planning stages for next year, which should be bigger and better.
10) Finally, I know you're a huge Seattle Mariners baseball fan. How do you think they'll do this year?
The last time you asked me this question, the M's were the "sexy pick" to win it all, and promptly fell on their faces. This year, no one is talking about them, and, as of this writing, they're leading their division. It's a long season, but so far, so good.
What do you like to do to relax when you're not fully in radio mode?
Here's a shock ... I go to baseball games. I'm lucky to be within a few hours' drive of five MLB teams, and there are several minor league teams within driving range, too. My goal for the summer is to hit all the stadiums in the California League. I mean, who wouldn't want to wear a Modesto Nuts hat?