10 Questions with ... Michael A. Saunders
November 5, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- OM, CBS Radio Washington, DC
- PD, CBS Orlando, Fl
- PD, Clear Channel New York
- VP/Programming, Clear Channel Detroit
- VP/Client Services, The Left Bank Organization Los Angeles
- OM/PD. WPEG/WBAV-A/F/Charlotte, NC
1) Where and what was your first job in radio?
First radio job was WGCD-A/Chester, SC. 1,000-watt daytime station - Top 40 during the day, Urban at night and signed off at midnight. I began training on Tuesday, hired on Wednesday and started my first air shift that Saturday 3-6p.
Who are some of your mentors?
Earl Moore, Fred Wellington Graham III, Les Norman, Chester Williams, Barry Mayo, Wayne Brown, Verna Green and The Minister.
2) If you were just starting out in radio, knowing now what you didn't then, would you still do it?
Yes, for too many reasons to mention. Radio has been a tremendous blessing because of the extraordinary people I've met (such as my wife Monique) and the influence they've had and are having on my life.
What would do you differently?
Umm, the ONLY thing I would have done differently is avoided that club fight in Gaffney, SC back in 1987. I could have done without fighting five guys at once, which left me with knife wounds and a swollen eye. All that for just being a club DJ.
3) PPM has been kind to your station and your ratings have been consistent and strong. What can you tell us about the latest ratings and the make up of your audience?
We're blessed to consistently maintain Top 3 in the market among A25-54. Orlando is a transient market -- 28% Latino and 15% Black. Although Orlando is an international city, there's a southern mentality among most residents here.
Are you surprised about anything that you've learned in the last year or so?
I'm pleasantly surprised how Cox consistently invests in their properties. Cox does what it takes to present great products -- research, external marketing, advanced technological tools, marketing, events, contesting and A Plus talent to work for and with. That's my reality everyday!
4) As a successful programmer, what are some of the most challenging aspects of the job of programming then and now?
The most challenging aspects of the job are distractions unrelated to programming and non-radio competitors. Distractions have always existed in and out of the building but the challenge is remaining focus on what listeners want regardless of what diversions come your way. Radio is constantly competing with non-radio entities such as smartphones, Internet, iPads, iPods, social media and more. These options force our stations to constantly improve because listeners are less tolerant of irrelevant content and mediocrity.
5) How important are morning shows in 2013?
Great morning shows are vital to the success of radio. I'm trying to figure out how to get at least two more morning-"type" shows on my station. Live or syndicated doesn't matter; technology makes it easier for syndication to sound live and we can make local radio sound bigger if that's what's necessary to connect to the audience.
6) Because of callout research are today's urban programmers going to be even slower in adding and playing new music?
That's an interesting question ... "even slower" implies we're already slow. LOL. In 1994, I left radio to start a business with an artist management company The Left Bank Organization and a radio callout research company Strategic Radio Research. The business we started was Strategic Music Research -- we researched 10,000 people across America to determine how quickly music fans discover new music, when should the album be released based on fan request (1st, 2nd or 3rd), what magazines do their fans read, what shows they watch and so on. At that time, most radio programmers thought Luther Vandross appealed to 25-54 listeners, but Luther's biggest fan base back then was 18-34. Today, almost 20 years later, Luther is relevant on Urban ACs because his fan base is 38-54 years old. I say all this to say, it's not that radio programmers are slow, record companies are releasing music too fast for the average listener to absorb. My job is to play hits -- not break new music.
What is the maximum number of spins a record in power rotation could be expected to receive in a given week on your station?
The max is about 37 spins
7) Do you think today's radio/record label relationship is in a good place where both have a better understanding of each other's goals?
I think we understand each other's goals BUT successful radio stations continue to do what's best us and record labels continue to do what's best for their companies.
8) What's your read on the format music wise nowadays and how do you feel about the future of Urban radio?
R&B music is extremely healthy today, Hip-Hop is not as strong as it was but it's evolving. Country music is arguably the most powerful music today because artists such as Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Darius Rucker, Jason Aldean have universal appeal. Top 40/Pop is strong and healthy as I've seen in years.
I'm excited about the future of Urban radio, Urban is one of the most resilient and attractive formats in the country. Formats and movements were birthed from the Black radio format -- Gospel, Urban, Urban AC, Hip-Hop, Rhythmic, Jazz, Blues and a few others. I predict the first successful radio reality show will emerge from Urban. Urban radio is necessary for our community and for businesses outside of our community. "It Ain't Goin' Nowhere"
9) Is Urban radio moving swiftly enough in keeping pace with outside media pure plan competitors attempting to invade its space, especially given the streaming options growing in auto dashboards?
I was in DC at the NABOB conference a few weeks ago. I heard two Black radio owners talk about how little they knew about streaming, station apps, iHeart Radio and TuneIn. I realized there's a gap between major companies like Cox, which are educating their people daily versus smaller companies who haven't closed that technology gap yet. Smaller companies can keep pace with outside media competitors by offering their staff the proper tools to succeed and by demonstrating best practices.
10) As you look back over your career ... any regrets?
No regrets whatsoever. It's a wonderful ride :)
I'm satisfied with the professional decisions I've made. What's for me is coming or came my way and what's not for me, I don't concern myself with. I'm too busy with my career opportunities :)
What would people who think they know Michael Saunders be surprised to learn about you?
I've practiced being a vegetarian diet for 21 years
What the best piece of advice that someone has ever given you that you still use on a daily basis?
Do Good Seeking No Gain
What's your favorite reading material?
Message To The BlackMan, How To Eat To Live and The Two Faces of Man, The Alchemist
The Word of God
Rihanna. "Stay" (current)