10 Questions with ... Michael Cross
June 7, 2016
1) What was your first job in radio? Early influences?
I was 17 when I got my 3rd Class FCC license - July, 1979. I never went to broadcast school or anything; I just wanted to do radio so I just started applying for jobs. I landed a gig at KJJR-A 1400 in Whitefish/Kalispell, MT. It was working overnights playing Top 40. The station was a whopping 250 watts at night - so you could hardly pick it up in Kalispell, 15 miles south of Whitefish. I didn't even care what it paid. I would have done it for free. Loved that station, and it was a great era for Top 40.
My influences were the jocks I had grown up with like the late John Arthur at 1330 KWWL-A/Waterloo or the late Dic Youngs at KIOA/Des Moines, everyone at WLS/Chicago and Clyde Clifford at 1090 KAAY/Little Rock with his 'Beaker Street' program. Even my first PD in Whitefish taught me much: Charlie Bear (real name: Dave Masters). Kudos to him and owner Benny Bee of Bee Broadcasting for giving me that first shot.
2) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it?"
I was pretty young - like, eight years old, when the radio bug bit me. I was -- and still am -- fascinated that people could talk on the radio and be heard by so many people in so many places. Of course, these days that feeling has been re-energized by streaming worldwide and getting e-mails from all over. It's still a rush to be on the air every day. After 35 years in radio, I'm still really not very good at it, but I still love it. :)
3) How long have you been at KFMW (Rock 108) and what makes this station so unique?
I have been on Rock 108 for an unbelievable 19 years this coming September. In radio, as you know, that's a few lifetimes. What's even crazier is that I grew up here and so it's still a little bizarre to be working in my hometown.
I think we're unique for a few reasons: One, we've always been owned by small companies, which has truly given us the freedom to be local and has unquestionably given us the freedom to create a truly local Rock station. Secondly, there's never been some someone living thousands of miles from here telling us what to play. We've had consultants who have helped us shape our sound and musical direction (Thank you, Ken!) but Rock 108, 105-7 KOKZ and KPTY/107-3 The Party are all being programmed locally - and I feel pretty blessed to have the opportunity to help create and guide these very successful radio stations.
4) You have the dual role as PD and midday host ... how do you balance your time so both roles are effective?
Thank God for voicetracking. I used to be very negative about doing that, but found ways to be able to track and make it sound exactly the same without anyone knowing the difference. That was key for me. That really helped giving me the time to be available for so many other responsibilities I needed to focus on. So, now I find it's easy to come in and track my show if I need to meet with clients, my staff, create a specialty weekend or work on scheduling music.
5) You're also the OM for the station cluster. What are the other stations and formats are in your cluster and how are they doing in the market?
I officially oversee the two FMs but we also have two AM stations and one of them now has a translator at FM 107.3. AM 1330 was programming ESPN Radio, but with NRG Media buying the cluster a year-and-a-half ago, they flipped it to Top 40 as "107-3 The Party" and the station sports new call letters, too -- KPTY-A/F. AM 1540 KXEL is our 50,000-watt clear channel News/Talk station, which can be heard in 17 states and five Canadian provinces at night. It's undergone a ton of great changes since NRG Media bought us. It's in the best shape it's been in since I've been in the building.
6) What's your take on current Active Rock music and the format as a whole?
Our format is up and down - as it has always been. There are years when the core artists dominate and there are others - like 2013 - when some of the format's "superstars" are not around. There are always new bands that seem to step up and do really well, like the success the past few years for bands like Volbeat or Five Finger Death Punch. These two bands have really become staples of the format.
It's refreshing to see bands like Pop Evil get the attention they've earned (kudos to the Cappellinis); and others seem to come out of nowhere -- Red Sun Rising's two #1 hits in a row from Kurt Steffek and the Razor &Tie staff have been impressive -- and then you have bands like Ghost winning a Grammy .... amazing. Overall, there's lot of musical diversity on the chart and I think that keeps Active Rock healthy.
7) I know you're a passionate music guy. What is your process for listening to new music and approximately how important by percentage is gut, research, sales, video play, and chart position when determining the status of a record?
I try and listen to everything and keep an open mind. I follow stations I respect to see what they're up to. I also like looking at things like Spotify/Pandora/Shazam to see what people are downloading or interested in hearing. If I based airplay on sales, we wouldn't play new music. Not many people buy rock records. I still tend to follow the P1 listeners who will react to something. If our requests are fairly 'normal' and then I start playing something and we're suddenly getting big reaction on the phone, which still says something to me. That's what listeners are looking for today. Every Rock station sounds the same to some degree; don't be afraid to be different and stand out from the rest of the radio stations on the dial. It might be your best move in the new era of radio. Give your listeners a REASON to listen besides playing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- again.
8) Rock 108 has backed off a bit in the past couple years on the amount of new music it plays. What is the ratio now between current and library music and why?
We're not nearly as musically aggressive as we used to be. Part of that is due to new ownership; part of that is due to the overall lack of great songs. In the past, I'd be very aggressive with new music and we might be one of a few radio stations playing a band and that either worked really well for us, or it was a waste of airtime if the record flopped. Overall, right now I'd say we're probably 65% Gold-based. There's still plenty of Volbeat, Disturbed, Shinedown and other established Active Rock artists to bridge the vintage Alice In Chains or Tool on the station.
9) How much does Rock 108 use social media like Facebook and Twitter to help enhance the KFMW experience with its listeners?
It's become almost as important as what is on the air than what's on the stations' social media sites to reach our listeners. We sent PM-driver Ned to 'Northern Invasion' in Somerset, WI for three days where he blogged, did over 50 posts on Facebook, interviewed bands, YouTube videos, etc. Our Facebook has approximately 13,000+ friends. Twitter is big for us, too; we've started our own YouTube site and we're getting quite a number of views. We're (like most everyone else) trying to keep up with blogs and interacting with our listeners any way we can.
10) What are your three favorite artists or songs of this past year and why?
- "Cirice" by Ghost. Totally different and cool.
- "The Sound Of Silence" - Disturbed. Like it or not, it really opened doors for the band.
- "No Good" - Kaleo. Just added this. White Stripes meets Black Keys and had a son.