10 Questions with ... Runyon
August 18, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
My incredible radio adventure started in 1989 with an internship at WXLC and WKRS in Waukegan, IL. They taught me a ton about promotions and radio in general, and let me goof around in the production room making demo tapes.
One of those demos got me a gig working for PD Ted Burton Jacobsen at KKRQ in Iowa City while I was in college at the University of Iowa. I did weekends for a little over a year, and then in my last semester of college the full-time overnight job came open, so I did that and somehow still managed to go to class enough to graduate.
From there, I was in the right place at the right time, as people in better time slots left and I ended up moving through evenings into middays in the space of a few months. I also got a chance at KKRQ to do a little bit of everything, from promotions to music to production, which serves me well as a PD/OM. When Bob Cady was PD of KKRQ, he was gracious enough to make me Assistant PD, which gave me my first taste of a management role. When he left in 1998, I became the PD.
In 2005 I was offered the PD job at KZIA, just up the road in Cedar Rapids. Coming here really reinvigorated my love of radio. Instead of working for bankers and laying people off, I now work for broadcasters and get to do radio the way it was meant to be done.
1) What led you to a career in radio?
I've been interested in radio probably since I was eight or nine years old. By the time I was 13, I knew it was what I wanted to pursue as a career. I grew up in Chicagoland, and got to hear great, great radio in the '70s and '80s. I idolized John Records Landecker on WLS, Smokin' Joe Dawson on B96, and so many other superstars that I was able to hear there. I was a huge Steve & Garry fan. I got to know their traffic reporter, Don Nelson, a little bit. He would do traffic during the week on WLS and jock on the weekends. I would call him all the time to Talk radio, and he was very gracious to humor me, include me in bits he was doing on the air and so forth. My mom was always worried that it would be a rocky career path, but I proved to her that you can indeed have a stable career in radio, if you want to and you get a little lucky to find great people to work for.
2) How would you describe the radio landscape in your market?
It's interesting. Not only do you have the local stations in Cedar Rapids, but you've also got stations in Iowa City 25 miles away that are essentially home to Cedar Rapids as well. And we have some competition from 50 miles up the road in Waterloo, with a couple of big sticks there (NRG's KFMW and KOKZ in particular) making waves in the ratings here. We're one of five Top 40 signals that can be heard in the market, which certainly keeps us on our toes. Defending your market-leading position in Top 40 when the other guys keep flipping formats to try to chip away at your numbers is certainly a challenge, and it's a credit to my bosses Rob Norton (President) and Julie Hein (GM), as well as all of my on-air and promotional staff that we've been able to continue to not only withstand increased competition but indeed keep growing our product.
3) What makes your station unique? How would you compare it to other stations you've worked at?
Twenty or so years ago, most radio stations looked a lot like how we look now. These days, having live jocks 24/7/365 like we do, having a promotional budget, having "street presence" ... that's what makes us unique. It's to radio's detriment as an industry that it is this way. I know some companies way overpaid for their radio stations. I know they're crippled with debt. But disc jockeys just aren't that expensive in the grand scheme of things, and they are an important part of the product. Radio won't survive by being a music-and-imaging service with 16 minutes of commercials an hour.
4) "Local local local" has always been radio's mantra. How do you keep your station visible and involved in the community?
We're essentially everywhere. We find ways to weave ourselves into what the community is up to. We do the usual paid remotes, of course, but so much beyond that. I have street team people out on the streets at least six days a week all summer. Jayme Hunter, our Promotions Director, does a great job at coordinating that. I've always looked at radio as a political campaign. You're looking for votes in the ratings diary. You've got to go shake hands and kiss babies (and definitely not the other way around!) There's a farmer's market in Cedar Rapids that draws over 10,000 people eight times a summer. We'll have three vehicles and 12 people there and give out a thousand or more logoed balloons. The other stations are invisible by comparison, if they're there at all. If "local local local" is radio's mantra, I think a lot of radio has forgotten what it means to be local. Just because your transmitter is local won't mean a thing if your audience can't interact with your station. That means having people to answer the studio lines, and people out on the street.
5) What is your favorite part of the job?
I've got my fingers in so many things around here that I'm down to doing a two-hour air shift most days, but those are my favorite two hours of the day. I enjoy much of the PD and OM stuff I have to do, and I get to be involved in so many cool things in those roles, but being on the air is still the best part of radio for me, no question about it.
6) What's the coolest promotion you've ever been involved with?
I'm not sure I'll ever top our flood-relief efforts after this area suffered a devastating flood in 2008. Downtown Cedar Rapids and lots of residential areas were under many feet of water. Thousands of people were impacted. We had custom flood T-shirts printed up and were on the street every day "selling" them. We asked for a $5 donation per shirt. We had people come up and give us a $100 per shirt in some cases. People would come and cry and tell you how they had lost their home, but still wanted to give us five bucks to help other people. In the space of a couple of weeks, we raised over $100,000 and gave it to a local community foundation. When your community needs you, that's when you earn your license, and there is no excuse for doing nothing. You don't have to sell T-shirts, but do something local that people can be involved in and rally around.
7) Who were your mentors? Who would you say has influenced your career the most?
From a "book learnin'" perspective, I'd go with Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon and the other pioneers. It's amazing how far ahead of their time they were with their thinking, and many of their lessons still apply today. KKRQ was owned for a while by Jacor, and those were good days, with a guy like Randy Michaels who is all about the product running things at the corporate level. Rob Norton and the late Eliot Keller, who founded KRNA in Iowa City and now own KZIA and KGYM, have been great to work for. Broadcasters through and through; I've learned so much from both of them.
8) What advice you would give people new to the business?
Don't be obsessed with market size. I've made one great 25-year career out of market #205 or whatever we are this year. Find people who really deeply care about the product that is going on the air and work for them if you can.
9) What is the current state of the radio 'talent pool'?
It's certainly shrunken over my career. We as an industry have run a heck of a lot of talented people out of the business. We also have regrettably gotten rid of the "training ground" of having weekend talent who may grow into future full-time employees. We still have these things at KZIA, of course, and that's why of late I've been doing a lot of promoting from within. I take weekenders and turn them into full-time overnight hosts where they can continue to learn and grow, and then leverage that growth into bigger dayparts. My last three overnighters have been plucked from the weekend staff. One is now doing afternoon drive here, one is my evening guy, and the latest is just getting settled in on overnights. I love the fresh infusion of youth and energy. Why radio as an industry doesn't see that those guys are an important part of the future, I have no idea. For a few bucks an hour you get to train and influence your future employees. Seems like a no-brainer to me that it is well worth the expense.
10) What would you like to do to save radio from its "dying-industry" image?
Ideally you'd, by some miracle, replace the companies that exist to service their debt with companies that exist to serve their audience. If the industry is dying, it is killing itself by not focusing on creating a great product that audiences want to consume. There'd be no need to worry about streaming services or other audio delivery systems if the product on the radio was good. The audience would demand it. I worry less about external forces disrupting our industry than I do about internal ones. Keep voicetracking, or worse voicetracking from out of market, or worse yet shutting off the lights and running music and imaging and you can say goodbye to radio as a product people care about. I don't know how radio doesn't get this. You can't sell a bad product, but for some reason we think we can take away everything that makes our product unique and desirable and the consumer will just keep listening. They won't, and we have no one to blame but the very biggest players in our business for this trend.
What's the biggest gaffe you've made on-air?
There are probably a lot of them that I have blotted out to maintain my self-esteem, but my first real big gaffe is one I will never forget: At KKRQ, their positioning statement was "Oldies 100.7FM KKRQ," which was a ridiculous mouthful of syllables to have to spit out at the start of every break. The very first night I was training to be on the air I got lost in the middle of it and sputtered out "Oldies 100.7FM K-K-KRQ." I still have that on tape somewhere, but have no need to listen to it because 25 years later, I remember it like it was yesterday.