10 Questions with ... Toby Howell
February 7, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started out as an intern at Citadel Broadcasting/Spokane and proceeded through to the Group Promotions Director job, to mornings on the Sports station, and ended up as PD of 790 the Fan and the afternoon-drive show host. After that I went to work for Jerry Clifton at ProActive Communications, first as the PD of Z107 (Adult Hits), then as the PD of both Z107 and Live 104.5 and the Group OM, which lead to my current position as the PD of NOW 105.7 and SportsRadio 1510 KGA, and the Asst. OM for Mapleton Communications in Spokane.
1) How would you describe your first radio gig?
It's not so much the first gig as it is the first time on-air in radio. I was asked to do a sports update on our Sports station, KJRB, which was housed in an old '50s-style bomb shelter under the regular studios. It was raining outside and when I went down to the studio to do the live update there was water draining from outside the station into the studio through the ceiling. So I went to the engineers' office, broke in, and got myself a tarp. I then went down to the studio, pulled the tarp over myself and the board, and proceeded to speak live on the radio for the first time. It was a blast and no electrocutions occurred. so all and all it worked out pretty well.
2) What led you to a career in radio?
I used to call play-byplay into a little tape recorder at my house as a kid while watching TV with the sound off. That is where the need to be on the radio started. I ran into my first job in a Broadcast 101 class at the community college and a girl in the class turned around one day and asked if I wanted to intern at the radio station. I said sure and that was back in 1997 so it wasn't a bad decision, but I had no idea it would turn into a career on that day. I once thought about trying to do something else with my life, but then I went to work for Jerry Clifton as his OM in Spokane and that showed me that this really is what I'm cut out for. If you could cut through all the madness with Clifton, there are great training lessons to learn from him. He showed me a different way to think about radio which has benefited me every day in this job. Though I don't list him on any of my resumes as a reference, because the odds that he was fired at said station is high, I do consider him my biggest influence in the industry.
3) How would you describe the radio landscape in your market?
The radio climate in Eastern Washington is always exciting. It's a market that can be won in each and every book with one thing: be on the streets... all day, every day... and you will win. As the climate of radio heads towards less people physically, I have always worked hard to make sure the station is on the street, which takes some creativity when you don't have bodies. I have never had the luxury of working for a company that "buys billboards" or does mainstream marketing for the station, even though we impress upon our clients how important it is, which is why you have to put in the hours on the street. That is your billboard and that is where you can shake hands and kiss babies, which is what can make the difference for your station.
4) Are you wearing more "hats" than you have in the past?
If you're not wearing more hats than you did in the past, then you are on your way out of the business in today's' radio climate. You always think about just doing your show, or just managing the station, but in radio today if you can't be an asset to your company in several different areas then you shouldn't plan on being there very long. It's all about multi-tasking and prioritizing. What comes out the speaker is the most important and you go down the list from there.
5) What are you doing, social media-wise?
Social media is the new toy for radio programmers and jocks. It's the newest way to touch your listeners. It has shown me that there's a new strategy to figure out in terms of how to best use this medium to benefit the station and keep in close contact with listeners creating those relationships that will help build your stations numbers in the end without overdosing on it and getting the cold "Unlike." I can't stand when a listener posts a comment and no one responds to it in a timely manner from the station. It's important to keep the pages, be it Facebook or Twitter etc., active and inviting to all the listeners. These pages are based on constant activity and you have to be sure to not cross the fine line into bombardment and in the end lose "fans" of the pages.
6) Could you give us a little insight into your on-air staff?
I have a great staff on NOW 105.7. Most recently we added DJ Kowax from Las Vegas to do afternoons; he has brought the party to that daypart for us. At night we have what I believe to be one of the biggest up-and-comers on the West Coast, in B Mega. Mega does a show that is rare in medium markets these days. He has on-the-street promotions and stunts 5 days a week, and does a terrific job with the listeners, having them interact with his show. We also have another up-and-comer in DJ One, who continues to surprise us with his growth on the station.
7) Do you have a favorite hobby outside of radio?
I love golfing, though as most, I'm no good at it. It's a nice break from the job. I like to travel as much as possible with my wife. I love the Seahawks and Mariners, which also means I like/need to drink Crown Royal a lot as well. I'm also a big fan of hiking with my dog Easton-named after my hockey stick.
8) What is it about our industry that keeps you wanting to do it for a living?
How could you not like this job? The hours vary, the day is different every day, and typically the people are great. I can't punch a clock and I'm no good at sitting in one place, quietly, for very long. We have the ability to attract lots of addictions and most lead to sitting at a meeting to fix it. I am happy to find an addiction that I don't have to go to a program for.
9) What advice you would give people new to the business?
You have to go hard in radio. You can't come in and punch the clock and hold up walls. If you want to be off on your off days, then this isn't the industry for you. This is an industry that is strong in my mind and as the economy goes down, radio listening goes up, due to the cost I would imagine! If you are just starting out, you have to have more than passion these days, you have to have a work ethic. Being able to work till the job is done, not till your time is up, is the most important trait to me. I look for it when hiring and frankly, it's becoming harder find as I get older. Maybe that's the problem...
10) What is the current state of the radio 'talent pool'?
The talent pool nationally appears HUGE. The talent pool locally here in Spokane is weak at best. I put out an ad recently for a weekender on the Top 40 station. The average age of the applicants locally was around 44 yrs. Old. If I'm 44 and think I can still be the cool on air guy on the Top 40 station...please strangle me with the karaoke mic cord. (sorry Keke Luv-your still cool). Medium market has gotten caught up in voice-tracking and now is paying the price with no new young talent to choose from in markets like ours. We at NOW 105.7 are trying to do the opposite with live weekend shifts and actual training with jocks to be live on the air. Not just recorded into the microphone. We fully believe in fostering live talent and taking the time to work with that talent to hopefully turn them into an asset for this company in the future.
For someone vacationing in your market, what one thing would you say they "must see?"
Hit the Rainbow Room. Nothing like a pregnant stripper to keep a Saturday night on fire.