10 Questions with ... Chris Wienk
July 25, 2016
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-FM (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, personalities. Everything they have to say - positive and negative -- helps inform me and makes the gig super exciting.
3. How has the reaction been to the station since you made the music tweaks toward a more rock sound?
We've received a lot of great anecdotal feedback. And our most recent audience numbers are about 15-20% above our previous few years' average for total cume. Plus, our TSL has jumped significantly. So, the research is proving the anecdotes to be correct.
4. Tell us about your nine-year anniversary celebration.
We bought a ton of cupcakes and a huge sheet cake. There was probably 10 pounds of sugar frosting that we carried up into The Egg Performing Arts Center on the night of July 3rd. I was very nervous about attendance. We were indoors on one of the most gorgeous nights of summer, a holiday weekend. I hadn't heard sales figures for the show. It was the first time Tallest Man on Earth had played Albany. They let us off the elevator with our ton of cupcakes at the lobby for the larger of the two theatres. I began to get very nervous. I hadn't thought we'd fill the small theatre (about 450). To my surprise we were pushing over 700 before walk up, which ended up surprisingly high for a Sunday on a holiday weekend. It was great! I nearly talked myself silly. We had so many folks coming up before the show and during intermission. It was great watching them all gobble up those cupcakes.
5. What are some of your biggest challenges as a noncomm station?
I think commercial and noncomm stations face similar challenges. By some (both listeners and industry insiders), we are expected to play pretty out-there music, and 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?
I'm torn between being the first station in the nation to play artists like Adele and Mumford & Sons, to just being in existence to hear from listeners about how we've restored their faith in radio. We've heard from so many people who have said they had stopped listening to radio regularly until a friend said "check out 97.7." To see their facial expressions when they describe how WEXT has changed their lives, and how they now love discovering great new and old music with us, is the best thing.
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 Hangar, Caffe Lena, 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:
OM 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?
I love to listen to music. I live to listen to new music. And of course, spend time with my family.