10 Questions with ... Aaron Santini
November 18, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started in 1996 doing overnights, and then nights at WKPK "106.7 The Peak," ironically enough, competing against the station that I now program. In 2000 I became the APD/MD/night guy at 94.5 KSBM/Lafayette, LA. In 2003 I took I the reigns as PD of KKHQ/Waterloo, IA, and in September of 2014 traded in the "K" for a "W" in accepting the position of PD/morning host at WKHQ. I was born and raised in Northern Michigan, and always had that dream that someday I would make my way back home, and now after 14 years away, here I am! It's honestly a bit surreal, and incredibly exciting to be at the helm of KHQ.
1) What led you to a career in radio?
My senior year in high school, I was cut from the basketball team. At the time, I thought it was the worst day of my life (oh, high school). But as it turned out, the guy who did play-by-play for the games needed a new color guy, and I basically bugged the hell out of him until he gave me a shot. After I graduated from high school, I attended Specs Howard, and worked weekends at WWGZ in Lapeer at the same time, and landed my first full-time gig at WKPK the week before I graduated from Specs. Who knew that getting cut from the team my senior year would lead to a career 19 years running!
2) What makes your station unique? How would you compare it to other stations you've worked at?
The first thing that makes 106 KHQ unique is the commitment on the part of our ownership to have a full live and local air staff. After spending the past 14 years in the corporate radio world where voicetracking and syndication are the norm, having a full and live air staff gives us an immediate advantage over our competition on every level. Another thing that makes us unique is 30 years of heritage. The phrase "mom and daughter" station is a cliche' consultant term used a lot in Top 40, but it's certainly accurate in our case.
3) What are you doing, social media-wise?
I walked into a situation here in which the staff already had a very successful social media strategy in place. A lot of credit goes to our afternoon guy Fish and our night guy Scotty for continuously providing a wide array of compelling content to all of our social media outlets. Station events, funny videos, trendy memes, contesting, blog links to our website, etc. We also do a morning show benchmark on the morning show Facebook page every day that generates a tremendous amount of interaction between us and the audience that we otherwise would not have. Providing a variety of content though all of our digital assets is key. If the audience sees the same type of content, or content that is days/weeks old, they will lose interest.
4) What is your favorite part of the job?
I still love being on the air more than anything. Writing kick-ass imaging is a blast, doing meet-and-greets with artists is fun, creating promotions that make the market buzz never gets old ... but something about turning the mic on and nailing a break that you KNOW made someone laugh or smile is still the part that keeps me addicted to this business. No matter how old we get, radio allows us an outlet to be a perpetual class clown.
5) What's the coolest promotion you've ever been involved with?
I was at WKPK when the new millennium was about to turn, and all anyone could talk about was the "Y2K bug." Remember that? The Y2K bug was going to bring the world to an end. The creative team we had at The Peak at the time was amazing. (Shout out to Rob Weaver, Brent Carey, and McConnell "Man@Large" Adams). The decision was made to give away the Y2K bug, which was a 2000 Volkswagen Beetle. It was one of those incredibly rare opportunities to capitalize on a world-wide buzz, and we nailed it.
6) Who is your favorite air personality not on your staff and why do you like them?
Adam Bomb. I remember hearing him in Houston when I was working in Louisiana and thinking "wow, this guy is big time." Now he's nationwide with "Nights Live" and the show is killer. His interactions with listeners on the phone, and the content of his show, is always spot-on. And having gotten to know him personally over the past couple years, he is as nice a guy as you'll find in our business.
7) Do you have a favorite hobby outside of radio?
Traveling has been my lifelong hobby. A buddy and I took a Greyhound from Northern Michigan to New York City when we were 19 years old, and after that trip I decided that I would go somewhere new every year. Now that my wife, my baby, and another on the way, our future travel will probably involve more mouse ears than mai tais!
8) What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
I remember sitting in a class taught by Dick Kernen at Specs Howard when I was 18 years old. He told us "The only constant in radio is change. If you can't change with the business, you won't be in it for very long." 20 years later this is the biggest truth I've found in radio. You either evolve with the industry (which is a continuous evolution) or you become one of those old radio buzzkill folks who sit around complaining about how things aren't like they were "in the good old days."
9) What is the current state of the radio 'talent pool?'
I think most of us agree that the talent pool is not nearly as strong as it was a few years ago. Unfortunately, the blame for that falls directly on our industry itself. Years and years of low wages have pushed many of the most talented people in radio to leave our business for more lucrative career paths. There are also fewer opportunities for young talent to "get their chops." It's rare to find live overnight or weekend shifts that eager newcomers can use as a training ground.
10) What would you like to do to save radio from its "dying-industry" image?
I find myself in this conversation often. I can honestly tell you that I don't believe we are a dying industry at all. As mentioned previously, radio always has, and always will evolve. Right now we are in an era where you can no longer look at your terrestrial signal and digital assets as separate. At KHQ we are working to make sure our audience views us as an entertainment brand -- and not just a radio station. Social media, mobile, streaming, terrestrial signal, they are all equal parts to our brand. If you approach programming from that perspective, we aren't dying, we are actually expanding into diversified outlets for our audience to consume us.
What was your last non-industry job?
I've been incredibly fortunate in the fact that I have spent my entire adult life employed in radio. But the summer between graduating high school and beginning classes at Specs Howard, I went out sailing on the Great Lakes ore carriers. My hometown of Rogers City, MI is home to the world's largest limestone quarry, and the shipping industry is a big employer. I spent three months mopping floors and doing dishes for the crew of the U.S.S. George A. Sloan.