10 Questions with ... Gary Kraen
March 9, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- MBA from Marquette University
- Early Career: Worked in Chicago as film/TV producer as well as jingle writer/singer.
- Then moved to Nashville to work for a music publisher as a Creative Director & song plugger, 1997--2011
- Tuned In Broadcasting- - Controller/CFO, Producer for Live on the Green & Music Business Radio,
- 2011--Present: VP Operations & Programming/PD
- Also co-owner/operator of Big Studios & New Millennium Music Publishing
1. How did you become interested in radio?
In high school, I was in a band (we weren't very good) and the local radio station asked us to come in a play a song on the air. We got to visit this really old AM radio station and when I walked in the door I thought I was in heaven. Even the smell of that station has stuck with me over the years.
2. With you taking over day-to-day programming, how would you now describe the music mix on the station?
Although the music mix has certainly changed a lot in the last five years, one thing has remained constant. Our programming philosophy is pretty simple: Be Nashville's curator of the best music. A far as spin detail, currents and recurrents make up about 65% of our mix, the rest is library. The library is large and obviously spans more than the 25 years of our existence.
As an independent, locally-owned station, we have to walk the talk; therefore, of the 65% currents/recurrents, close to 25% is local (that's easy to do since we are Music City). I know record reps get frustrated when a local artist beats out one of their artists, but this IS Nashville.
Let me also add that the currents are often made up of music we find ourselves, not those from the major record companies. One of our staff, Justin Hammel, is like a savant in discovering new music ... and he's not the only one.
As far as types of music, we are careful to choose what best sounds like Lightning 100. That, of course, is subjective. But we have a programming staff that is pretty vocal about their "subjectiveness," ha! In a three-hour period you could hear anything from Johnny Cash and Kacey Musgraves to Hozier and Jack White -- a strange combo, but it works for our audience.
3. How are the music meetings conducted at the radio station?
When I first became responsible for programming three years ago, I called a meeting with the air staff and told them they were now all music directors. I also implemented the all-staff music meetings. We still do it but it has grown. Today, to operate more efficiently, Keith Coes, MD/APD, Dan Buckley, APD, and myself create a rough agenda for the meeting that includes: 1) Discussion on music added to rotation from the previous meeting, 2) New never-before-heard music, 3) Re-listens (from previous weeks), 4) Local music, 5) New music discovered and pitched by staff, 6) Guest music pitches (guests include record co. reps, managers and sometimes artists themselves), and 7) Voting -- everyone in the room gets to vote. These results are used in making our final adds, moves, drops.
We've had some meetings where staff and guests numbered 20-plus people. People sit on chairs, the floor, wherever there is space. We want everyone to feel like they can present music without being judged. It's been an interesting work in progress, but very satisfying when you hear staff/interns/quests make very eloquent and professional pitches on why we should add a particular song. Our record company guests often say they get an education by coming to the meeting. I hope that is a good thing!
4. What stations do you like to keep track of?
To be honest with you, I don't really have time to keep track of other stations. I wish I did. I love digging in the all the charts, but I just don't have the time. We do briefly discuss what other stations are playing around the nation when we are doing our final adds and moves. Keith, Dan, and I review Mediabase, but it is mostly on a song basis -- not by station. When we find out we are the only ones playing a song, we feel like we are fulfilling part of our programming mission. Also, because we like WRLT to "own" songs in market, we definitely keep track of what's happening on a few Nashville stations, including 102.9 The Buzz and 107.5 The River.
5. What are some of your biggest challenges as an independent station?
It is cliché' but mostly a resource challenge -- human, financial and signal strength. I always say, we may not reach you with our signal, but we can reach you with our hands. We often have big ideas and little staff and money to pull them off. But we have a great staff and we work tirelessly to do the best we can.
The last five years have been just crazy good and busy for the station. And this year is no exception -- we have a presence somewhere in Nashville just about every night of the week. And that's not even counting our Live on the Green Music Festival or all the events and treks produced by our Team Green Adventures. Many of us have never worked at another station so we don't know what we can't do ... so we just do it ... and generally on a shoe-string budget.
6. What are some of the station's annual benchmark promotions?
The obvious one, of course, is our "Live on the Green Music Festival" in August and September. This will be our seventh year and our goal continues to be to bring local and national artists to downtown Nashville's awesome Public Square Park aligned with the mission to "keep it free, keep it local, and keep it green." In the beginning we crossed our fingers and hoped people would show up. Last year we surpassed all expectations and reached over 108,000 attendees. We hope to maintain that level of excitement this year.
Other promotions include our "Music City Mayhem Band" contest in April (last year we had over 400 submissions), "Independence Rocks Concert" in July, as well as spring and fall block parties. These are currently on the books but we have many that sneak out of the woodwork that become 'benchmark' in their own right like last fall's "Foo Fighters Food Drive." That was put together in four days last year and was a huge success. We hope to do it again this year. We may not be breaking new ground, but they continue to be embraced by our audience and the Nashville community.
7. The station turns 25 this year. What are you doing to celebrate?
We plan on officially kicking it off later this month. We don't want to knock people over the head with it, but we want to not only celebrate our 25th, but also to celebrate Nashville and what it means to be a part of this amazing city.
Our VP of Sales/Marketing, Tom Hansen, has some special things planned. A few notables include: Unveiling a special 25th logo as well as bringing back a few old ones that will be incorporated into our print, online and merch imaging; special concert/event/secret show promotions -- all with a birthday party feel; and 25th year activations "Live on the Green Music Festival."
Dan Buckley has been working on some fun on-air elements that include "then & now" features; recorded birthday wishes from artists, listeners, key Nashville folks; special features focusing on the music from each of the past 25 years; and more.
To be honest, the staff is bringing in new ideas everyday -- so stay tuned.
8. What would surprise people most about the station?
That out of our full-time staff of 20, 17 of us had no previous radio experience before working at Lightning 100.
9. What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
How about three truths -- listen to others (staff/clients/partners), ask plenty of questions, and treat everyone with respect.
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ...
... learning something from my staff. Sounds silly, ah ... but it is so true.
Last non-industry job:
First record ever purchased:
Willie Nelson, Stardust
Tanya Tucker (it was at a rodeo)
Favorite band of all-time:
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
Road trips and just being able to listen to music for the enjoyment.