10 Questions with ... Mike Karolyi
May 10, 2016
1) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it?"
Radio was my way into the music business. I didn't really strive to be on air. I was interested in exposing new music and the artists who wrote the songs. Connecticut School of Broadcasting gave me a fast and direct path to my career.
2) If you were just starting out in radio, knowing now what you didn't then, would you still do it?
I wouldn't limit myself to just radio if I were starting out today. I would also explore video production and audio engineering. The more skills you have today the better.
3) How many years did you spend at WCCC and what made this station unique?
I spent 28 years at WCCC and in my opinion, there was no better place to work for most of those years. Our staff was allowed to be creative and we had a long leash. Sometimes we would crash and burn but more often than not, our staff would shine. We also developed a reputation for breaking new artists. While the other stations were busy being corporate we were busy actually practicing the art of radio. In 1998 Marlin Broadcasting bought WCCC and with Howard Stern doing mornings, we became a dominant force on air and on the street.
4) Starting out part-time and then eventually becoming PD, you held almost every position possible at WCCC. It must have been a very strange day when the station called it quits on August 1st, 2014. What was that day like for you?
That was a bittersweet day to say the least. To our owners' credit, I was allowed to say goodbye and as we all know, that never happens. He gave me 48 hours to plan a goodbye show for WCCC and that we did. We started the five-hour broadcast with the greatest personality from WCCC's history, Howard Stern. We followed that with interviews with artists who helped make WCCC great, such as Staind and Shinedown, I had Jim Koplik from Live Nation/Connecticut, current and former on air personalities join me on-air. Five hours went by like five minutes. At one point, I looked up to take notice of the studio and it was jam-packed with co-workers celebrating, crying and taking in the weight of the moment. Listeners filled our parking lot with car radios cranked to 106.9 one last time. I had not planned out the last song and with moments remaining I decided to go out the way we came in -- loud and proud! I said goodbye and the opening riff to "Walk" by Pantera took over and the era was over.
5) With WCCC going off the air, there was no Active Rock station in Hartford, CT and beyond. Tell us how iRockRadio.com came about and how it's filled that hole in the market?
Dick Robinson of Connecticut School of Broadcasting invited me to meet him just days after WCCC signed off. In that meeting we talked about a variety of things, including the possibility of doing an Internet radio station. I knew little to nothing about Internet radio, so after much research we realized that not only did we have the opportunity to serve an audience (Active Rock) that was no longer being served in Connecticut, but the potential to grow beyond Connecticut was enormous.
WCCC was a Rock station for 40 years. When it went away listeners needed a place to go. CT has what sounds like 12 Classic Rock stations. They don't need any more Styx and Kansas. Our listeners were craving Rage Against The Machine, Metallica, Linkin Park, etc. so we gave them iRockRadio.com. I have to thank my friends at Live Nation as well as my manager and label friends for their unwavering support. In our first year we have presented Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot, Ghost, Shinedown, Godsmack and many more! The key is that we have shown that iRock is a force. We help sell tickets just as we did at WCCC.
6) Tell us the on-air lineup on iRockRadio and do you do most of the shifts in real time?
Every one of our personalities are former WCCC personalities. We wanted iRockRadio.com to sound as familiar as possible to CCC fans. 6-9a it's Craig Edelson, 9a-2p Mike Karolyi, 2-5p Concert Kidd, 5p-12a Stephen Wayne, Weekends it's Slater. That is over 100 years of combined on-air experience at an Internet station and that is unheard of. Craig works in Savannah, GA. and does his show from home in South Carolina. I'd like to thank Alpha Media/Savannah for allowing Craig to join us at iRock. Stephen and I are live each weekday while Kidd and Slater do a combination of live and voicetracked.
7) Now let's talk about the music on iRockRadio.com. Since it's not a terrestrial radio station and not beholden to ratings, how aggressive is the stream with playing new rock titles, and how much library music per hour do you play?
iRockRadio's playlist features a lot of new Rock, more than we played at WCCC in the final five years. I am not holding iRock to a specific number of currents. The amount we carry depends on the quality of new releases and since we launched December of 2014, the quality has been amazing! Rock is NOT dead by any means. As for our library, we play the artists who fill the hole in the market ... and we don't take as many musical risks as one might think we would. My philosophy is that we may deliver our product via the Internet, but we are still a radio station that needs to appeal to as many people as possible. The difference is that we are trying to get as many of the black T-shirt wearing people as possible.
8) Now that you've been away from terrestrial radio for a bit, what's your take on the Active Rock format overall?
My only real criticism of Active Rock is the name. I don't feel it really means anything. I'd prefer the general term of Rock. The format itself, if programmed properly, can not only survive but thrive. Look at what Randy Hawke does day in and day out at WJJO. Brilliant programming, connection to the listener, NTR, etc. Randy and JJO are practicing the art of radio and are very successful at it.
9) How does iRockRadio.com use social media as a marketing tool?
One of our first hires at iRockRadio was former WCCC IT specialist and engineer Chris Heerema. Chris maintained admin rights to the WCCC Facebook page and that gave iRock access to over 65,000 people. This has been a huge help in getting the word of iRockRadio out to the people that were looking for somewhere to turn after WCCC went off-air. Our own iRock Facebook page has grown to over 7K "likes" in the first year and our YouTube channel is off to a strong start with over 700 subscribers and 280K views.
10) Finally, besides the obvious mode of audio delivery, what are the major differences (including advantages and disadvantages) of running a streaming radio station compared to a terrestrial radio station?
The day-to-day operation of iRockRadio is very similar to what I did at terrestrial radio. One of the biggest differences that I enjoy today is accurate information regarding our listeners. Unlike the estimated information that Neilson supplies, I can see exactly how many people are listening, when they are listening, how long they listen, where they are from, how old they are, etc.
The biggest disadvantage we have as an Internet radio station is breaking the stereotype people have of Internet radio. There are so many people that think "Hey, let's start a radio station!" and proceed to "broadcast" from their kitchen table. iRockRadio is fortunate to have a state of the art facility featuring on-air studio, production studio, video editing room and a performance room for artists. This is a professional facility run by radio professionals that have made a career in broadcasting. The iRock compound is as nice, if not nicer, as any terrestrial radio station I have seen.