10 Questions with ... Ray Seggern
October 20, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- 1986-94: KUT (NPR) News, Broadcast Anchor, Production
- 1988-90: Student Radio Task Force, KTSB. Business Manager, Metal
- 1990: KPEZ (AOR) News, Swing
- 1991-1995: KNNC (alt) Swing, Specialty
- 1994-5: KASE/KVET (country) News
- 1995-6: KROX (alt) Nights, Overnights
- 1996: KNNC, APD/MD, Afternoons
- 1996-2001: KMYZ (alt) MD, Midday, Promotions
- 2002-3: KTND (AAA) APD/MD/Mornings
- 2003: KASE (country) Promotions
- 2006-2014: KROX (alt) Specialty ("Chillville")
- 2014: 105.3 The Fringe, PD, Afternoons
1. How did you become interested in radio?
Freshman year at the University of Texas, my financial aid required me to work a job on campus 10 hours per week, which led me to KUT, Austin's beloved NPR affiliate. I learned to edit audiotape with a razor blade and grease pencil for $4.44 per hour. It beat slinging pizza at the student union, I figured. Having been on the debate team in high school, the extemporaneous piece of talking on the radio came naturally to me. I worked there for eight years, the last six as anchor for the station's weekly broadcast of Austin City Council meetings. Along the way I joined the Student Radio Task Force, which lobbied for the student-run station that is now KVRX. I also interned at then AOR KPEZ, chasing news stories for Bob Crowley. One of the most vivid memories in my early career was being the young pup in this Austin, TX Rock station at the damage control meeting on the day Stevie Ray Vaughan died (among other things, we pulled all songs with helicopter sounds). My run at KUT ended early '90s, overlapping with the arrival of Austin's first commercial alternative station KNNC, where I started to make a bit of a name for myself as the local music guru.
2. What was the thought process for launching The Fringe?
The Fringe is one of four stations in the Austin Radio Network, which is locally owned. Our morning show, JB and Sandy, parted ways with Hot AC KAMX after 18 years, and they wanted to do something more musically adventurous. They cut a deal with our owners to be the centerpiece of what is now The Fringe. One of our owners is Bob Cole, the Austin radio legend who also hosts mornings on sister KOKE. I had worked for Bob in the past and went to high school with JB, so that's a big part of the story on me getting invited to the dance. We launched with a four-man crew: JB, Sandy, me and the final guy being John Desjardin, who came in from Omaha as morning show producer and he also handles imaging. Johnny's imaging insanity is a huge part of what makes The Fringe so cool.
I guess our thought process was to take this well-loved morning show and build the station around them with a complementary musical product that could appeal their loyalists first and foremost, and then build it from there. We're really lucky in that we have KOKE as a blueprint for doing the same thing with a different lifestyle group (Country). KOKE has built a unique music product and steady listenership that is reflected in consistent ratings, but the real story is the degree to which its billing dramatically outperforms those numbers ... and that's due to the loyalty of that audience and the station's ability to deliver results for advertisers. We have similarly high expectations for The Fringe.
3. How would you describe the music on the station?
A friend recently described us as a Triple A-Alternative hybrid with a "Jack" spin thrown in, and I guess that's pretty accurate. We all agreed that Job One was to launch with a high degree of differentiation, so we're defined as much by what we don't play and that starts with most of those format's biggest artists and hits. We don't play Fun or Imagine Dragons or Mumford. At all. Very little RHCP or Coldplay, and certainly not the crossover hits. I could go on and on. I'm not saying that we won't ever fold some of those artists into the batter. For now, though, we are building the station around not playing the same shared music as everyone else. Especially on the launch with recurrents, we knew we couldn't achieve differentiation with everyone else's sloppy seconds. We launched April 21st, and I am just now to the point where our recurrents are "our" recurrents.
Our biggest musical staple is the retro component which includes First Wave, early '80s alt rock and some Hip-Hop -- even Classic Rock when it fits (we are very selective and arbitrary about what Classic Rock songs and artists fit). Our currents are from the Triple A and Alternative universes with some indie swerve thrown in for good measure. We are very comfortable in our skin and know that our loyal core of listeners are picking up what we're throwing down. So we'll continue to build that as we evolve the musical product.
One of my longest radio friends and mentors is Paul Kriegler, who taught me a simple truth: If you ask your audience what they like and don't like, they'll tell you. We're doing that and listening to what they tell us and adjusting as we go. But we're building something here that's innovative and awesome, and connecting with a passionate audience. Our sister station KOKE PD Eric Raines got me thinking about this concept of a "three song signature," so that's what I'm working to continue dialing in. It's such a broad and eclectic mashup of different styles, so I strive to keep the carnival of chaos from becoming unwieldy.
4. It's your first time in the PD chair and it's been 11 years since you were involved in day-to-day music duties inside a radio station. Why the lapse and what's different now?
I got out of radio back in 2003 because I didn't think radio was going to happen for me like it was for other people. I was frustrated with the money, or lack thereof. So I ended up starting my own business, an ad agency. I eventually put my toes back in the radio waters doing a specialty show for eight years at KROX, and was very content with that being my radio outlet. I figured the opportunity to do the PD thing had passed me by and I had reached some acceptance on it through the years. Ironically, the financial freedom afforded by my business is what enables me to take on this opportunity. Y'know, it's like my PD biological clock kept ticking and then out of the blue I'm giving birth to this amazing bundle of joy for the first time at 46 years old. The pace of running my business and being part of The Fringe makes for some long work days, but I don't take any of it for granted. I'm incredibly grateful. And I choose to see it as evidence of the universe conspiring on my behalf.
5. What's the station's reach?
Austin is a five-county metro and we're strongest in Travis and Williamson counties (and if I can only blanket two of the five, those are the ones I want). We're on a translator, so Austin's particularly brutal temperature inversion has made for some rough days this summer. As the weather breaks for the next seven months, the sledding shouldn't be so tough signal-wise.
6. What marketing are you doing to get the word out about the station?
Very grassroots and shoestring. Everything we're doing is built to be sustainable budget-wise, so we've had to get creative on marketing. JB and Sandy threw a spin on "Show Us Your Fringe" during their show and we got some election-style yard signs printed up. We do a bit of trade with the Austin Chronicle.
7. You grew up in Austin - how has the market changed over the years?
Yeah, I'm a graduate of Gullett Elementary, Georgetown High School and UT, so I've seen a lot of changes. Austin used to be called the biggest Small Town in America. And now, it seems to me, we're morphing into the smallest Big City. We're the fastest growing area in the U.S. And as you would expect, there's always plenty of Old Austin/New Austin debate, which can get tedious in my opinion. Some people in that debate are pointing to the tragedy at SXSW last year as a bellwether of unchecked growth and expansion - unfairly, I believe. I love the Austin I grew up in and remember it fondly. And I especially love this dynamic, amazing city that we're evolving into. To me, there's nothing mutually exclusive there.
8. What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
Getting results for advertisers.
9. Tell us about the motivational speaking you do.
The term "motivational speaker" has sort of a wonky image by now (it's making me think of Chris Farley in the SNL "Matt Foley" skit). What I do is really more rooted in marketing and business leadership. I realized in growing my business that it was easier to get business owners to pursue me if I was standing on stage as the expert ... as opposed to me pursuing them by cold calling and knocking on their doors. I have a deal with Success Group International where I do a column in their magazine and some video work, and I speak to their members at their big expo twice a year. Last tim, it was about 2,000 in a ballroom at Caesar's Palace. I've also gotten really involved with an organization called Rapport Leadership where I'm a master graduate and now go on-team to help teach classes. One of the best days of my whole life was when I got invited to speak at the TEDx event in San Antonio in 2012.
10. Fill in the blank, "I can't make through the day without...
I can do without most of it. But I'd say I'm less crazy when I make a conscious effort to maintain contact with the best people in my life, and find a few minutes in my daily ritual to still the mind and quiet my ego.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
I own an agency and program a radio station and I'm a single dad raising two daughters. What is this "spare time" thing you speak of?
What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
The "get" is never bigger than the "ask." If you aren't hearing "no" very much, you might be skating by.