10 Questions with ... Joe Calgaro & Borna Velic
August 2, 2016
1) What was your first job in radio?
Joe: My first job was doing a weekend show in 1989 on AM Country 1350 WXCL in Peoria, IL. The first song I played on the air was "Tear In My Beer" by Hank Williams Sr.
Borna: I first cracked a mic on WDGC in Downers Grove, IL. Then, off to college and WPGU in Champaign, IL. I do remember getting a paycheck there from time to time. First "real" job was at WAPL, Appleton-Green Bay, WI.
2) What led you to a career in radio?
Joe: I grew up in Illinois listening to guys like John Landecker, Steve Dahl & Gary Meier, Ken Johnson & Jim Tofte, Larry Lujack ... these guys were like rock stars to me. I owned the soundtrack to "American Graffiti," which included all of the DJ raps from Wolman Jack that George Lucas used in the movie. I would sit and play those albums over and over imitating The Wolfman as I prepared for my future career.
Borna: My father was a big Talk radio listener. Growing up in Chicago, the car radio was always on the Loop/WGN/WLS, etc. ...The personalities on those stations seemed larger than life to me. I was hooked at a very young age.
3) How long have you been at WHQG (102.9 The Hog) and what makes this station so unique?
Joe is just beginning his fifth year and it will be three for Borna this November. The easy answer is that it's our truly unique brand that sets us apart. We could go on and on about all of the ingredients that go into defining the Hog brand ... but the two that really stand out are solid ownership and a roster of great talent. It starts with the strong foundation that Saga Communications provides with a shared vision and belief that doing great radio at the local level is what moves the needle. That vision includes an emphasis on the importance of having strong personalities. Bob and Brian in the morning have been #1 in Milwaukee for over two decades and serve as the cornerstone to our lineup. The rest of the day features talent in all dayparts who are great at storytelling and bringing their unique personal camera angles to their respective shows.
4) Bob & Brian have been in the Milwaukee market in morning drive for years with great success ... how often do you meet with them and how do you manage such a major morning show?
Joe: The more appropriate question is "How do they manage me?" We meet formally once per week, but touch base in some capacity almost every day. I am respectful of their time and they are both sensitive and receptive to the needs of the station outside the show. As of this week they are beginning their 30th year on the station. Needless to say they know what it takes to win without being micro-managed. I learned long ago that the best results are achieved by leading from beside rather than from above. I guess that's the best way to sum up the style I apply to working with them as well as with the rest of our team.
5) You guys do the afternoon show together. How long have you been doing that and how is it working out?
Joe: As we just discussed ... Bob and Brian have owned mornings on The Hog since day one, but gaining traction in afternoons had been a challenge. Our GM Annmarie Topel and I shared a vision to create more of a personality-based afternoon show and began the process in the fall of 2013. After looking at a number of options, I realized that the guy we were looking for was 90 minutes to the north working for my former company.
Borna: Joe called me and asked if I was interested in being a part of show with more content and personality than I had ever done, and I jumped at the opportunity. I was impressed that our company hired Randy Lane, a national talent coach, to work with us immediately. I've learned more from working with Randy and his team than I have in all my previous years in radio. Everything from fleshing out your personality on the air to the proper formatics and execution of a Talk/music show. Earlier this year, we brought in Mitch Paget as a third mic on the show. Mitch is a guy who is still known today for his on-air work in the market in the '90s. He adds a much needed layer of humor and unpredictability to our show. We're extremely excited about the future.
Joe Calgaro (L) & Borna Velic (R)
6) Let's talk about the music on The Hog. The station has long been a Classic Rocker in Milwaukee, but you guys have made the transition to Active Rock. How do you balance the station's heritage cume while playing some of the new Active Rock out today?
Joe & Borna: Saga Communications maintains two strong heritage Rock brands in Milwaukee ... The Hog and 96.5 WKLH. The ongoing challenge is to keep both stations healthy and relevant while strategically complimenting each other. We work closely with both WKLH Brand Manager Bob Bellini and VP/Programming Bob Lawrence to maintain that balance. In 2015, WKLH shifted from a Classic Hits presentation to more of a true Classic Rocker. That move opened up the opportunity for The Hog to take a more Active approach and satisfy the appetite in the market for new rock. We maintain the balance you reference by keeping a well-tested gold library based in the late '80s and '90s while simultaneously adding new music that we feel is a good sonic fit with that library.
7) Describe your weekly music meeting ... a) what is the process when you listen to new music? b) How important by percentage is gut, research, sales, video play and chart position when determining the status of a record?
Joe & Borna: We usually start by asking "Is the song any good?" That may sound like an oversimplification ... but it serves two purposes out of the gate. It allows us to consider artists that might otherwise be unfamiliar. It also doesn't guarantee an add solely because it is a well-known artist. The follow-up is always "Will this fit with the overall sound of the station?" We'll then use all of the tools you mentioned to either validate or refute of initial gut impressions.
8) What's your take on current Rock music and the Active Rock format as a whole?
Joe & Borna: We both are of the opinion that Active Rock is slowly getting better at embracing more crossover artists. We've been saying for years that the format is simply too niche. People get way too hung up on labels and stereotypes and fear that the audience will accuse us of "selling out." The Struts, Muse, Kaleo ... all great examples of bands that we feel Active Rock shouldn't be afraid to embrace. The more exposure and success these bands can achieve will ultimately benefit Rock in general.
9) Without giving away any trade secrets, what have been some of the most effective marketing ideas WHQG has instituted to keep the stations cume and TSL strong?
Joe & Borna: We maintain strong TSL by getting the base music product right, giving our audience compelling content, and mastering the art of teasing that content. As for generating cume ... The Hog is one of the most visible, promotionally active stations we've ever been a part of. Our Marketing Director Scott Schubert oversees a creative department that includes an Event Specialist and team of promo staffers who are tasked with exposing the Hog brand throughout Milwaukee. We have a giant "Hog Pen" that we park at every music festival, Brewers tailgate, and Bucks playoff games. We have created community events like "Baconfest" and Sticky Fingers" that continue to exceed attendance expectations year after year. Through appearances by our Rock Girl ambassador, Bob and Brian charity events and international excursions, and weekly "Kegs and Bacon" tour stops with our afternoon show, we are constantly looking for ways to reach out and interact with our fans.
10) Finally, how active is WHQG with social media in interacting with its listeners and do you do anything special to boast your online presence?
Joe & Borna: We do pretty well with social media, but are always looking for ways to improve. We do a solid job with Facebook by following the philosophy of content over self-promotion. Whenever possible, we post content that directs listeners back to the station website. We just began playing around with Facebook Live and are having some really good success with listener engagement. A couple of our latest experiments include live GoPro cams on Bob and Brian during their two-day radiothon and geo-fenced Snapchat filters at various station events. We ran a targeted digital ad campaign to recruit candidates for our annual Rock Girl competition and to promote our $10,000 cash giveaway on the afternoon show. Rest assured, with the speed at which digital opportunities and initiatives continue to evolve, all of this will sound completely outdated by the time anyone reads this.