10 Questions with ... Rob Wagman
June 21, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- APD/MD: WXRK/ New York, 923 NOW
- PD: WIBT/Charlotte, 96.1 THE BEAT
WEZB/New Orleans, B97
- APD/Nights: WNTQ/Syracuse, 93Q
- Marketing Dir: WFLZ/Tampa
- All Access Music Group, 2000 - 2004
1) Recently, your old morning show from Charlotte moved to Chicago and their former co-host landed in New York. Is this fluke ... or vision?
First and foremost, congratulations to Brotha' Fred and David L. on their meteoric rise to my hometown, Chicago, and of course, to Sarah Lee Owensby, who was their first co-host in Charlotte, who is now co-hosting with Nick Cannon in NYC. I am proud of the three of them.
As for fluke or vision, without sounding cocky, it was absolute vision. I knew I was hiring David L., a comedian who had no radio experience, long before I knew who the other pieces were. The key was to oust a stellar morning competitor in Ace & TJ and the only way to penetrate a well-executed show is to find strengths where they are weak. Ace & TJ had very few weaknesses, but syndication created an opportunity to be MORE local than they could be, so when I found David L, a nationally touring comedian and a native from Charlotte, on the comedy stage ... and I'd watch this African-American gentleman slay audiences of all races and religions and lifestyles with his ability to be funny and local ... I was intrigued.
For the host, I needed a bold, confident jock who could lead the humor and localism from David L., and direct it into fun, authentic banter while stirring the audience to call in and add their stories, their lives. Fred, who was a night jock in Austin at the time, was also voicetracking weekends for me, so it was an easy decision, as he was that guy.
Sarah Lee was my assistant in the programming department, who was a former intern with Ace & TJ and a taskmaster who played a utility role at the station, succeeding in every department from promotions to sales to front desk to anywhere they needed her. Bruce Logan, who was the OM of the Charlotte CC cluster at that time, made the recommendation that Sarah be part of the team. He was dead-on.
2) When you lost your job in Charlotte, were you shocked?
I wasn't shocked because downsizing is what it is ... but I was disappointed. We had built a great team there, and Clear Channel had just offered me a job to be the OM in San Francisco overseeing KMEL and KYLD, but living in Charlotte versus San Francisco means that the base salaries would have to be extravagantly different. They weren't, so I rejected the position. I have never taken a job for money, but I have always taken gigs that were fair. This one wasn't. So, I chose to stay in Charlotte.
It was humorous to me when the GM and OM came to my office and showed me my exiting paperwork and severance, then paused and said, "Also, here's your ratings bonus for the last quarter."
Lesson learned: If people are worthy enough to earn bonuses, you should fire them.
3) What's your favorite city you have worked in so far?
I don't like the tone of your question. "So far" insinuates that you believe there will be more cities, which insinuates that you don't see me staying in New York City. Maybe I want to stay here. Did you ever think of that before you ventured out to hurt my feelings?
Syracuse was the difference-maker, Tampa was the pride and ego fulfiller, Greenville and Charlotte were the best for quality of life. Los Angeles and New York have been the most fun with the greatest of opportunities. Manchester, VT was the greatest for the love of music! HI BROOKS BROWN!!!
4) When did you realize you were good enough for the majors?
I interned for Buddy Scott and Jo Bohannon in Chicago at B96 in the mid-'80s and at that time, I had never been on the radio. However, I was a funny kid and would blurt things out on a daily basis that seemed like they came out of left field. (Ed. Note: So NOT MUCH has changed. :)) I would say something in the hallway at 1p and hear Jo Bo on the air repeating my exact lines in the 3 and 4p hours.
I knew then.
5) What one piece of advice would you tell any talent?
Invest in IMPROV classes ... plural -- one is not enough. Take the series, get the certificate, perform with a class on stage. The rules of improv can be the basis to the greatest radio ever executed. If radio at its best is Theater of the Mind, then the technique to get you to the greatest outcome is also one based in theater. Improv is a game changer for struggling talents and morning shows, and it will make the great shows greater. Print this interview out, take it to your PD and tell them ... don't ask them ... tell them to invest into improv classes for you. When they say NO to you; that would be the time to ASK them -- and at that time, you might want to avoid eye contact, mostly looking at the ground as to say, "I am sorry for telling you and not asking you in the first place."
6) What are the rules of improv? How do they apply to radio?
I am presently working with a master of improv, David Razowsky, and the two of us are putting on weekend clinics for radio teams, talents, stations and shows, to help improve content on morning shows and get teams focused on how to be available, fun, authentic and mostly real, simply by being confident of what comes out of your mouth, and the mouths of the others on your team. David Razowsky has a long history with Second City, the touring company, the theaters and the training facilities.
You can Google the rules of improv, but if you'd like a one-on-one with talent, hit us up.
7) What's the biggest error you hear on-air talents make that you believe will hinder their ability to get to a big market?
Some talent believe that the audience cares about their lives, what they think, drink, smoke and do, so you will hear random facts about their day or habits in their on-air banter. But the audience doesn't care. A listener ONLY cares about our lives when our lives reflect their lives; their feelings, thought process or share a similar life experience that they've had. By doing this repeatedly, talent will eventually build loyalty and rapport with an audience and will stand out amongst the rest and next thing you know, they're in a Top-10 market, and soon enough they cross a line where the audience really DOES care about them. Few have made it to this point.
8) Going back to Charlotte for a second, you had two employees go from part-time jobs to full-time PD jobs in good markets. How does this happen in today's climate?
Dave "SupaDave" Jackson was my mixer in Charlotte and Todd "Chase" Gore was a part-time on air talent. Since SupaDave was doing my mix shows week after week, I decided to train him into understanding how to be a step-and-a-half more aggressive than the station in his mix shows, but not two steps beyond, as that is too far ... then your mix shows sound like they are on the wrong radio station. After a process of about a year, doing weekly checks on his mix shows, I noticed he completely understood the process.
Cox Radio certainly understood that he understood as well, as Dave is presently the PD at Hot 98.1, WHZT/Greenville, SC.
Todd "Chase" Gore was a diligent part-timer who learned all the ins and outs of all of the station's systems, mostly on his own, because he was a curious guy. He wanted to know how it all worked. He started asking the right questions, and at the same time, downsizing eliminated my music director's position, so the task of daily logs was falling back solely on my plate.
The timing just worked, and Todd stepped up, so I trained him in Selector and introduced him to programming philosophies and saw that he had it instinctually. He took to the systems like a fish in water ... and what few know is that when WIBT had the resurgence to gain the Top 40 victory in Charlotte towards the end of 2008; it was Chase who was at the helm, musically.
It wasn't long before Todd was tapped to program WQBT, 94.1 The Beat in Savannah, Georgia.
Both of these former employees are now great friends of mine, and both will have long, solid, prosperous careers.
9) You have a knack of finding and nurturing talent and future programmers. So, who's next?
I believe Dom Theodore and I recently hired the best unknown weapon in radio, when we had an opening in our production department. We hired Will Calder, formerly of WXSS/Milwaukee to take on the role of Production Director, but what we got was someone way beyond what the job description called for. Not only did he have our production department work flow designed, implemented and working flawlessly within a week, but from there, he took on a weekend air shift, sounds amazing, and is now beginning to master the art of music flow and programming philosophy. Will is the same guy who used to program iParty Radio on the Internet and still produces nationally syndicated mix shows for JamTrax.
Other programmers to keep an eye on: Dan Hunt at WWKX, Hot 106 in Providence and Ron Roberts at WWXM, Mix 97.7 in Myrtle Beach. Listen to their stations to hear well executed programming, great branding and marketing and consistent, yet not predictable music flow.
10) Describe Nick Cannon in thre words.
Working with Nick Cannon, you can quickly see that there is no question to why he has succeeded in so many other platforms, and why he will also have this medium mastered soon enough. I say responsive, because Nick Cannon is that rare talent that if you can show him a way that will lead to a successful outcome, he will self-correct on the spot.
I say responsible, simply because he has 8 million things going on from a wife named Mariah, to babies named Moroccan and Monroe, to movies to comedy to TV, to music and beyond, yet when 5:30a rolls around each morning, Nick Cannon is there and ready. I went to a movie one Sunday night, came home and watched a little TV and was late to work the next day. I couldn't imagine how late I'd be if I was actually in a movie or on TV.
I say engaged, because Nick gets intrigued by the process. He's fully aware that radio isn't just getting on and acting a fool; there is a template, structure that when followed, you can add the fool part with a result that will bear fruit. He's intrigued enough by this medium to hone this craft until he's got it mastered.
If I were a betting man, I'd be putting all my livestock down on the fact that Nick Cannon will go the distance in radio. Wait! I AM a betting man. That's the reason I have nothing to wager on this thought with. Drats!
Are there any top-10 markets that DON'T have a full-time employee that you've personally trained?
Atlanta and Boston! Peace out.