10 Questions with ... James Steele
February 4, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started an Internet station on Live365 when I was 14, playing Alternative music and doing a two-hour talk show. My first "real" gig came when I was 16 in Vero Beach FL at WGYL and WGNX. I started in production, and got my first air shift when I was 18, doing Sunday morning. Eventually, I was promoted to nights. I was an 18-year-old night jock on an '80s station. With some big-time help from Mike Lowe, I got hired by Zac Davis at WBVD/Melbourne, FL. I handled production and imaging, and eventually wound up voicetracking mornings, and then doing nights.
Zac left for The Beat in Greensboro, NC, and he brought me up there four months later as APD/MD. A year later they flipped the station to Spanish, so I returned to Florida and landed at The Buzz in West Palm Beach ... WPBZ (thanks Nik Rivers) ... may it rest in peace! I did live weekend overnights, which was an honor for me, because that's the station that I grew up listened to. Next, I got a call from Jay Michaels and joined The Zone in Norfolk/Virginia Beach as Imaging Dir./afternoon personality. I wound up being with Sinclair for seven years, as my role expanded from imaging just the Zone to imaging the entire cluster, to imaging other Sinclair stations out of market, in California, and Austin, TX. I moved up the ranks, and when Jay left for Texas, I became PD of 96X. I left Sinclair in 2012 and got a call from Clear Channel, and here I am!
1) How would you describe your first radio gig?
I couldn't believe that I was doing what I was doing. I'd drive to the station after school, hang out with the afternoon guy and watch him do production. He'd let me cut some spots. They were still cutting commercials on tape. It was a dream come true for me, and a great initial learning experience. I can't believe they gave me that chance. After all, they gave an 18-year-old a shift on an '80s radio station. I realized that I was lucky, and I just soaked it all in. They even let me build my own production room. There was an empty room at the station, and I literally found this production desk that was half-broke. I said, "Hey, if I bring in my computer, can you install that program that's in the production room?" They said, "Yeah, that's fine," and I literally got my own production room. It was great. I was lucky.
2) You spent a good amount of time at Alternative before coming back to Pop. What was the transition like, and what's your perception of how Pop radio changed while you were away?
It did change. I feel like that our market, in particular, changed a lot. When I was at Alternative 96X, we went early on a lot of records that were never played on Top 40 here, although some made it on to the Entercom Hot AC in town. There seems to be more variety on Top 40 now. People are sharing and Shazaming and hearing songs on YouTube and many other online sources, and that has caused a shift in the sound of Top 40. You have a better mix of great artists from all different genres, and Alternative stuff that never would have made it on to Top 40 five or six years ago. New media has helped diversify the sound of Top 40. And with all of these diverse sounds on the station, in a PPM world, the flow of the station is really important. And flow isn't just about the music. It's also about the imaging and the air talent making sure that the station is moving forward and conveying a clear message.
3) What are your favorite imaging "toys" at the moment? What kind of software and hardware are you working with?
I'm excited about a new service out of the U.K., ImagingBlueprint.com. That's one of the best imaging libraries that I've ever worked with, and the people who work there are terrific. Everything sounds crisp and clean, and if you ask them for something - even something obscure - they'll post it. I use Abode Auditon PS6. I like to find artist clips and incorporate them into my production. I love doing theater-of-the-mind stuff, and I don't believe that everything has to be :15 or :30. If you can tell a compelling story, it can be a little bit longer.
4) How would you describe the radio landscape in your market?
Awesome! There's a lot of great radio here, and a huge variety of stations. You have two Country stations, the Alternative station and Z104, which is the heritage Rhythmic Top 40. I think it's been around since 1643. Hot 100.5 has been around long enough to be an established player here. The Point has been around for a long time, too. There are personalities who have been in this market for a very long time. There is not a missing format here. It's very competitive, with the Hot AC, VHT, Z104 and 96X. There's a lot of great radio there. And there are a lot of great people in radio here.
5) What's your favorite part of the job? If you had to become a specialist and choose just one part of your job, what would it be?
I like designing and developing, and that falls into every aspect of radio, whether it be programming, imaging, or putting together a show. One of my favorite things is putting together big concert events. I'm very detail-oriented when it comes to specifics, timelines, where people are going to be at what time ... my girlfriend jokes that I could be a wedding planner. I really can't pick one thing ... I love imaging, and also putting together big events. I'm passionate about the business, and I love it all, because we can affect people's lives in a positive way.
6) What's the most challenging part of the job?
Wearing a lot of hats, and making sure that you're on top of everything. In front of me right now is a whiteboard with times listed. At 2:45p, I have "showprep/web." At 1:45, "Imaging." From 4:20 to 4:30 I have "Walk Outside," because you need to! The challenge is to keep your priorities straight, and to challenge yourself to get it all done.
7) Who's your favorite air personality not on your staff, and what do you like about them?
As cliché as it is, I'll go for Howard Stern. He knows how to captivate an audience, and he's an amazing interviewer. And I respect how well his Sirius XM stations are programmed. There's a flow to them ... always something coming up. Kane has always been a captivating jock. I listened to him back in the day when he was just on FLZ, and he's always been amazing on the air.
8) Do you have a favorite hobby outside of radio?
I really enjoy astronomy, and looking at the stars. I bought this telescope, and the first time I used it, I could actually see the storms on Jupiter. I enjoy hanging out with my dog Khane. I adopted him from a family that couldn't take care of him anymore. I love going to concerts and I really enjoy music.
9) What would we be surprised to find on your iPod?
I don't have an iPod
10) What do you listen to? Are you a vinyl guy?
I do have vinyl. I don't know that anything would be THAT surprising. I like some Styx songs, like "Renegade." I love Queen. I love going to karaoke and singing "Bohemian Rhapsody." I knock it out of the park every time. And I'm in love with Boyz II Men. They came to town eight months ago. I didn't even try to get tickets through the station. I just bought them and got second row. Awesome. I like Garth Brooks, too.