10 Questions with ... Tommy Hough
April 20, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
In addition to a decade-long hitch with Garett Michaels at KBZT/San Diego, which included a lengthy stay on mornings, I've had stops at KZOK and KNDD in Seattle and KINK in Portland. Now I'm back in San Diego at KPRI, and my Brunch With Bob and Friends show continues to run on KOPA -- and via the website and app can be heard pretty much anywhere. I'm also a graduate of Ohio University in Athens and an ACRN alum.
1. How did you become interested in radio?
I grew up on radio in Pittsburgh, especially hearing rock on WDVE, but also Pirates games on KDKA, Steelers and Panthers football on WTAE, and news radio on KQV. Pittsburgh has managed to maintain a wonderful sense of community, character and regional identity with its radio stations, even after the 1996 deregulation watered down the regionalism of other markets. I just loved the idea of being that steady voice on the air, whether imparting important information or relaying some compelling facet about a song or band.
2. Tell us about your time at KINK.
What a great station. The heritage, the letters, the market -- and what great facilities. Great people at KINK, especially Chris Mays and Brad Dolbeer, whom I'd previously worked with at the Entercom cluster in Seattle when they were at KMTT and I was downstairs at KNDD. I did weekend work and some live broadcasts for KINK, and filled in where I could around my full-time day job at Oregon Wild. I sat in for Sheila Hamilton a number of times on mornings with Dave Scott and Shelly Brown, and that was always a lot of fun.
3. Tell us about your current contributions at KPRI.
Haley Jones brought me on board to do some utility work shortly after my wife and I returned to San Diego. That has since evolved into weekends, along with the daily Mandatory Marley feature I do on Chris Cantore's morning show on KPRI, which is based upon my Brunch With Bob and Friends show and persona. We've got a great team at KPRI, and we're the only Triple A station in Southern California, so we've really got the latitude to lead and own the format on a number of fronts. It's fun.
4. What do you like best about working at a Triple A station?
Triple A offers opportunities for rock radio to stretch its legs and re-connect with its album roots. The audience already expects you to relay something interesting about whatever song or band you've just played, plus you can delve into a real variety of golds, whether it's the Rolling Stones or Marvin Gaye or Radiohead. That's a good place to be. And while the world is awash in indie-rock bands, there's an emphasis on good bands with good songs at Triple A. So for every pop number you may have you've got a Wilco or Clash or Joni Mitchell number to balance it out.
Granted, I'm also a rock and alternative guy and I enjoy playing stuff like Black Sabbath and Motorhead and Public Enemy, but bands like My Morning Jacket or Everest are also some of my favorites, and when they come on they stop me in my tracks - I can't help but listen.
5. What has been your biggest career highlight?
I've met the Rolling Stones and I've met Brian Wilson and heard him sing off-the-cuff, but the highlight may have been a group interview we did with Steve Earle at FM 94/9. We interviewed Steve over the course of 90 minutes with songs and conversation, and at one point played Johnny Cash's cover of Steve's "The Devil's Right Hand." Steve had known Johnny and even played on that session, but he'd never heard the final version of the song. So here we were with Steve Earle, live on the air, while Steve is hearing for the first time Johnny Cash covering his song. That was a real treat. Steve wrapped up by playing a cover of George Harrison's "Isn't It A Pity." A good day.
6. What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
Other than the cumulative effect of Americans confusing radical right-wing idiocy on talk radio with responsible public policy, it's the need for rock radio to relax and breathe again. Too often I hear clumsy edits of songs for time's sake, bad computer segueways (especially with cold starts and finishes of live cuts), and jocks who confuse empty-calorie prep with content. As time goes on, it seems the ability of personalities to authentically connect with listeners diminishes. Being a jerk on the air isn't a substitute for personality - but warmth can't be faked, either. You need to connect in single-serving morsels with your audience that over time add up to a durable familiarity. As a station or a personality, when you've earned that trust in taste or attitude - you can't put a price on it. And it's so easy for bad programming to squander that trust.
7. You are also involved with environmental organization in San Diego. Tell us about that?
At FM 94/9, I hosted a show called Treehuggers International that covered regional environmental matters. That led to me handling communications for the San Diego Surfrider chapter, which in turn led to my work running communications and media for Oregon Wild in Portland. After I returned to San Diego, I got together with some folks I'd worked with on a congressional campaign a few years earlier, and we started San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action - a chartered organization within the San Diego County Democratic Party to push for more engaged and responsible environmental policy. I'm the president of it, and with everything happening in California from the state's drought and water issues, land-use issues, parks and wilderness, renewable energy, fracking, and the city of San Diego's climate action plan, there's a lot for us to push policy on.
8. What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
Anyone can go on the air and be an obnoxious creep, but it takes care, craft and effort to build who you are into a personality someone wants to spend time with - not because they don't know what you're going to say next, but because they know you're going to say the best, most compelling thing. And that can be done in a way that is very funny, engaging and real. Just do the right thing - on the air and otherwise. Challenge yourself to be better, and suddenly you're setting the bar and leading others.
9. What is the best advice you would give to young programmers/promotion people?
For programmers, avoid the temptation of getting out the magnifying glass and obsessively examining the microdata of PPM - it will drive you crazy. You need to factor in that information as part of the decision-making process and executing programming, but your job is to stay three or four blocks ahead of your audience, not to meet the audience where they are. Part of that comes from making good decisions by drawing conclusions from data, and part of that comes from using your experience and gut and leading the way with compelling programming, great music and a strong staff. Every decision you make may not be perfect, but you'll get nowhere if you're not actively leading and taking bold steps.
For promotions, remember to impart upon your street teams the need to be personable, available and relatable. Get people who want to be there. How many times have you seen promo set-ups at events that feel like an island of in-house attitude, folded arms, and kids focused on smartphones instead of the public? Great promotions can be an extension of great programming, but that can quickly be squandered by a dismissive attitude, mean-spirited comments or too much in-house riffing. If a listener or John Q. Public meets someone from a radio station, it may be the coolest thing that happens to them all week or all month - and good or bad they'll carry that brief experience around with them for years. So make those moments count and be engaged.
10. If you wanted to completely change careers today, what would you do?
I'm a pro with messaging and communications, and I'm already edging into politics. I'd be thrilled to get back on with a conservation outlet and protect our remaining wilderness and wide-open American spaces, but I'd also like to tell stories and feature interesting, compelling people like I did on my Treehuggers International show. So if public radio-style news reporting and storytelling is a valid career change option, I'll take that.
Last non-industry job:
Communications and media relations for Oregon Wild
First record ever purchased:
U2, The Unforgettable Fire
Favorite band of all-time:
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work:
I don't get outdoors on the trail as often as I used to, but it's what I live for. Explore your wilderness, and hug your National Parks.