10 Questions with ... Sean Demery
June 23, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I've been in radio since the Carter administration was in office with gig stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle to name a few. I've spent 15 years in Top 40, 21 in Alternative and another three years doing Triple A and a Polka format for 18-34 nymphomaniacs.
1. How did you become interested in radio?
My girlfriend dumped me. Her sister needed an 11th person to take a radio course at the college so the class wouldn't close. I walked in to the room ... ding, done.
2. How have you been enjoying the freedom public radio gives you?
Are you kidding? This is awesome! A full staff -- jocks, promotions director, marketing director, equipment, budgets and an effort to actually reach potential listeners and the means to actually do it. Most importantly, this gig comes with a mission statement that focuses on creating, nurturing and serving the community. This freedom, as you put it, comes from the top down. Our executive director and our board are the most functional people I've run into in years. In my mind, their trust in the staff and their input is what's making Radio Milwaukee work.
3. It must be very exciting coming into the station shortly after the opening of the new facility/studios/performance center. Tell us about that.
This place is beautiful. It was built to accommodate bands and be an accessible community space. From the performance space on the first floor to the green room, laundry facility, showers, to the performance/party space on the roof ... everything was well thought out so that bands would feel comfortable being or performing here ... and non-profits and civic-minded groups could have a neat place to gather. We give tours to listeners and members all the time. For us it's a way to have a conversation with those who may not know about us and a chance to make friends. From what I hear, the station with the most friends wins a free pony or something.
4. RadioMilwaukee has an interesting music mix - what have you been doing, if anything, to tweak that sound?
If anything, the team and myself have taken it more current (not Jim's station ... though it's really nice) and more indie. That, coupled with a commitment to rhythm tracks and local music every hour, makes for an eclectic yet fairly focuses mix. Imagine: Dum Dum Girls, The Boxer Rebellion, Pharrell Williams, Tame Impala, First Aid Kit, The Black Keys, Lykke Li and Janelle Monae back to back. Actually that's what we just played while I've been noodling through these questions. That's the diversity. Add some increased rotations for humability sake and I think we got something. This ain't youR dad's Triple A. Oh wait, Clapton's 70 ... make that your grandad's Triple A!
5. Have you been in Milwaukee before, or is this your first time living there? First impressions of the market?
Yes, I had been in town a bit in the early ought oughts ... that town and this town seem really different. Milwaukee is in growth mode. Rehabbed buildings, sidewalk restaurants, museums and galleries, a great live music scene and an amazing walking and biking town. Root for that! This is the bohemian lifestyle that was supposed to be in places like San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle. Coffee culture is huge here. So big that one of our tenants downstairs is one of the premiere roasters in town. They also have a liquor license so when you go to one of our shows, you can imbibe!
6. What are music meetings like at your station?
An hour or so every Monday with the programming staff. We are a diggable tribe. Much of the staff spends several hours a day digging through blogs, Spotify, Shuffler.FM, Hypemachine and the like, looking for what's next. Everyone brings in two songs that they think we can attract an audience with. Everybody listens, remarks, gives the song a 1-10 score. We listen to about 18 or so tracks a week. We've been averaging two to three tracks from each meeting making it into rotation. The other adds come from our friends in the promotions business ... maybe you've heard of them?
7. What is your biggest challenge at the station?
The biggest challenge in this setting is the same challenge I/we have had in almost every setting I've labored at: to convince the air talent that they are somebody ... worthy of painting pictures, telling stories, having an opinion and giving meaning to the songs they play. Being an effective, impassioned communicator is one of the last few super-powers left for those lucky enough to use a microphone for purposes of good and not evil. I am fortunate to work with some really smart, passionate, stakeholders who haven't been sullied by the exercise that radio has become. My challenge is to build on that without screwing it up.
8. What is the best advice you would give to young programmers/promotion people?
Study radio lightly. Study psychology heavily.
Don't believe in axioms and demographics. Believe in habits and psychographics.
Nurture an air staff of story tellers and advocates whose goal is to give the listener a reason to listen to the next unfamiliar song.
Create ideas and concepts that might fail. Failure leads to success ... ask Edison.
Work with promo people who are passionate and always create partnerships that are win-win scenarios for both parties.
Work with Mike Henry... period.
9. What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
No broadcast entity ever became more popular by playing the least known, least popular music less often. Even in the noncom world, you need enough listeners so you can have a large enough, engrossed audience to hear your messages of community engagement.
If the Hunger Task Force needs canned goods and if you put out the word and only 25 people hear it and only 4% of those who hear it donate a can of green beans ... you have successfully amassed one can of green beans. I want more for the Hunger Task Force... don't you?
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ..
Last non-industry job:
Bag Boy when I was 17.
First record ever purchased:
Come and Get it by Badfinger
Three Dog Night and Neil Sedaka (Hey, the girl I was dating wanted to go ... I was 18 and she was really hot ... so...)
Favorite band of all-time:
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
The old answer used to be Snowboarding and hiking. The new Milwaukee answer is day walks and biking the city w/blue tooth headphones and stopping at one of the numerous cool neighborhoods for beer and brats. Fish frys on Fridays. Oh yeah ... falafel.