10 Questions with ... Chris Wienk
May 12, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started at a small radio station in the middle of the southern tier of New York - WVIN/Bath, NY. After working gigs in college at WGR/Buffalo and helping to create and manage WBNY (the Buffalo State station), I decided that radio was the right thing for me. I've been programming stations since 1984 - everything from Pop to Country to Oldies, Classical, Jazz, News/Talk and Triple A. My first gig in public radio was WXXI/Rochester NY. Since then, I've worked in Vermont, Baltimore, Connecticut and now Albany, NY where I run both WEXT and WMHT (our Classical station).
1. How did you become interested in radio?
Listening to late-night rock radio from Ottawa. Canada. I owe it all to CHEZ 106 and Brian Murphy, who made it sound so cool to get to be the DJ. He really captivated my soul and spirit. I knew I had to do this from the age of 13!
2. What do you like best about your job?
Connecting with listeners. I love hearing how they react to the music, programming and personalities. Everything they have to say -- positive and negative -- helps inform me and makes the gig super-exciting.
3. You made some programming adjustments recently, how would you now describe the music on the station?
We've been leaning more straight-up Rock and less Alternative and indie than we had been for quite some time. After doing that transitional slide for a few months, we took the plunge and have decided to be a Rock station that plays a roots and rock mix. We are heavy on blues and rock.
4. Has this musical adjustment changed the delivery or imaging on the station?
Our on-air delivery is pretty much unchanged, but our imaging has become less produced and more straight-up. We have adopted (alongside our mainstay "leave regular radio behind") the moniker of "Roots and Rock." We're still using our favorite radio guy as our imaging voice. Steve Seel from KCMP rocks! He's been the imaging voice of WEXT since we started in 2007.
5. What are some of your biggest challenges as a noncomm station?
Commercial and non-comm stations face similar challenges. By some (both listeners and industry insiders), we are expected to play pretty out-there music, yet we have to have enough people listening to make sure we get the support that is needed to sustain the station. It is a fine balance of the unique and interesting smaller projects mixed with the significant, important more-popular artists.
6. What has been the station's biggest accomplishments to date?
We are very proud of the partnerships we've built over the seven years we've been on the air. We have the Saratoga First Night where we've been presenting five or six great Local 518 artists to an audience of a few thousand people each of the two years we've been associated with the event. We're looking forward to forging more partnerships in the coming year.
WEXT has also been able to take over the two largest festivals in the area (Art on Lark and Lark Fest ... 30,000 and 80,000 people respectively) from another station in the market. These festivals and the other wonderful opportunities that we've been either awarded or have won on merit have helped us to continue to show signs of significant growth and to help us make more friends and gain more influence in the market.
7. If you could add any one full-time position to your budget with no questions asked, what would it be?
Wow! We're so short-staffed that we might just be happy with someone to get coffee. But to the point of your question, our interest is in finding someone to help shepherd our content online and to work with our TV partner to create additional video content that helps extend the WEXT brand. After all, we did ask people to "leave regular radio behind."
8. WEXT has a sister Classical radio station and a TV station. In what ways do you tie them together?
Our TV station is PBS, and as such they have tons of performance programs that they air that include many of our artists. We certainly do a bunch of promotion and cross-platform work on that front. We want to do more. We bill ourselves as a station where you can discover great music, and for music lovers who really want to discover more great music, we often suggest checking out the Classical station. Most of the things we do amongst the stations are of a promotional value. We are looking at ways to do more content sharing where appropriate. Staffing on both sides might help that.
9. What clubs do you tie with in the area?
We work with The Linda, The Low Beat and The Egg on a regular basis, and a number of other events and venues when time permits.
10. What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
Since I was a kid listening to American Top 40, I have lived my life by Casey's signature sign-off: "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars." I figure that I haven't learned everything yet, and I hope to learn something new every single day of my life. I believe it has helped me with my quest to one day be a great radio programmer.
Last non-industry job:
Operations Manager for GP&P Marketing (ad agency) - Waterbury, CT
First record ever purchased:
Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell" and The Police "Outlandos d'Amour" (albums)
Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" was my first 45.
The Cars Candy-O tour at the CNE in Ottawa, Canada.
Favorite band of all-time:
Whoa! This is hard. I have always thought that the Canadian band (now defunct) Spoons was one of the more innovative of the new romantics in the '80s. Love those guys.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
Spare time? What's that? Don't laugh. I love to listen to music. I live to listen to new music. And. Of course, spend time with my family.