10 Questions with ... Steve Harris
January 8, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I first popped a microphone at WHOV, the college station at Hampton Institute, now Hampton University. Hampton still has a top-notch communications department and I'm proud that Hampton alumni are well represented in the radio, TV, and print media.
I've been blessed to have diverse experiences in radio. The launch of the Tom Joyner Morning show and being on the ground floor when XM was launched are career highlights. Working in local radio, syndicated/network radio, satellite radio, Urban radio and Sports radio have given me a variety of challenges and experiences.
I've met so many good people along the way that have helped me grow in the business. I hope my next highlight is the launch of our sports station FM 100, The FAN. It's been fun working with Jay Stevens, our SVP/Programming, in putting this together.
1. Where and what was your first job in radio? Who are your mentors and those who influenced you the most?
My first job in radio was at WJMO-A/Cleveland, where I started as a part-time DJ. I ran church tapes for six months before I ever opened a mic. It was great training working with some great talent such as J. Michael McKay, the late Mike Love, and J.J. Jeffries. My first full-time job was at WDAO/ Dayton.
My first really big shot was when Earnest L. James offered me the overnight show at WBMX/ Chicago. I was only 20 years old at the time. and being on the air in Chicago was a dream come true.
2) How would you characterize the development of WIZF and the changeover from Oldies-based WMOJ to Sports Talk WCFN?
We want to continue to strengthen WIZF and we're looking forward to what we believe will be a great Sports brand for the Cincinnati market with the launch of our new 24-hour FM Sports/Talk station WCFN.
3) You and E.J. Grieg seem to work very well together. Going forward, what do you guys plan to do different that will give WIZF a ratings advantage as a result of being measured in a PPM world?
EJ is a passionate programmer committed to creating the best entertainment experience for our listeners. With MOJO becoming the FAN and moving to Sports in January, WIZF will be on a growth track. Our goal is to tweek WIZF just enough to gain some of the audience from MOJO, but stay true to our Hip-Hop and R&B roots. Our emphasis on social media gives us a great opportunity to increase our bond with our listener. We will spend a lot of time in that area.
As far as PPM is concerned, EJ and I are coaching the team to understand that every break, every segue, every promo and every commercial read has an impact on our sound and our PPM ratings. We are also focusing on being entertaining in our presentation
4) As a veteran programming executive, what are some of the most challenging aspects of the job of programming these two Radio One Cincinnati stations?
In Cincinnati, Radio One has three distinctive brands -- the BUZZ, our AM Talk station;, The WIZ, our Hip-Hop and R&B; and this month we launch our new 24-hour Sports Talk on FM. The challenge is making sure each station is true to its audience and delivers an entertaining product. Our listeners look to us for music, information, various forms of entertainment and each station has a different way of approaching the goal of connecting with our listeners.
We could really see the connection during this year's election. Our stations were, in many cases, the main source for news about where and when to vote. The Cincinnati stations, like many of the Radio One stations, helped with voter registration, and in many cases when the lines were long, went out to the early voting locations to pass out water and doughnuts to the folks in line.
5) How important are morning shows in 2012. In PPM does it really matter if the morning show is live or syndicated as long as it is connecting with the audience?
I was honored to help launch the Tom Joyner and Doug Banks shows back at ABC when people said syndicated morning shows wouldn't work in Black radio, so it's clear it's not about local or syndication. It's about entertainment, period. PPM has made us more aware of the aspect of teasing benchmarks to give the listener a reason to make an appointment to tune back in, thus increasing listening occasions but it all comes down to entertainment, especially in the morning. Whether you're local or syndicated, I believe social media is playing a bigger role in making that personal connection between talent and listener.
6. Although you don't have a current direct-format competitor on the Urban side, how satisfied are you with how WIZF is performing and are you seeing some consistency in PPM?
In PPM, WIZ is consistently #1, #2 or #3 in our target 18-34 demo and getting stronger 18-49 and 25-54. For the month of November, we're #1 again 18-34. We have two strong Top 40s in the market and a Country station that is very dominant, so we have to fight for every quarter-hour.
7) Being in such a competitive market, are there more opportunities for gut picks, versus a song that may be proven in research? What's your read on the format music wise nowadays and what excites you most about the future of radio?
I'm a very strong proponent of research. It's the best way to know what your audience wants musically. I'm also blessed to have an APD like EJ Greig and MD like DJ Skillz, who keep their ears to the street and know what's hot and what's hype.
9) Is Urban radio moving swiftly enough in keeping pace with outside media competitors attempting to invade its space, especially given the streaming options growing in auto dashboards?
I can't speak for other companies but I know at Radio One, we are passionate about our streaming presentation. We spend a lot of time making our streaming product the best it can be. It is a major point of emphasis on our stations.
10) As you look back over your career ... any regrets? Missed opportunities?
No, not at all. I've had the chance to work at ABC Radio Networks, ESPN Radio and XM Satellite Radio. I've worked with Tom Joyner, Doug Banks, Colin Cowherd, Scott Masteller, Barry Mayo and Lee Abrams. I've worked in several major markets including my favorite city of Chicago, and now I'm back home in Ohio with Radio One, building a very special cluster here in Cincinnati. No regrets for me. I've been blessed and wouldn't change a thing.
What would people who think they know Steve Harris be surprised to learn about you?
I really enjoy coaching talent.
How important is it for programmers to be personally involved with social networking?
It's critical. Your audience is into it, so you have to be into so you can understand the phenomenon and connect with your listener
How frequently do you sit with the staff in a mentoring capacity?
That happens almost daily. I think coaching is one of the things I do best. We've got a lot of young people who are very talented coming into this business. They need a coach to help get the best out of their talent. My mentor is Frank Woodbeck, a veteran of the ABC Radio Network days. I still depend on his wisdom to help guide my career.
What the best piece of advice that someone has ever given you that you still use on a daily basis?
Believe in yourself. Don't ever let anyone tell you, that you can't do something you believe you can do. In high school I tried to join our campus radio club. They told me I wasn't good enough.
What's been your biggest disappointment in radio today?
We have to find new and better ways to develop young talent. We used to work in small markets and overnight shows to learn our craft. Syndication and automation have virtually wiped that out. We have to find new ways to nurture and train up-and-coming talent. With programmers multi-tasking, coaching talent gets lost. We have to do better.