10 Questions with ... KJ Holiday
May 27, 2014
[Editor's note: KJ Holiday passed away on Sunday, 5/25/14. I had talked to him recently about being featured in 10 Questions and he completed them prior to his passing. KJ was very proud of this, which is understandable, given his incredible success in the business. In his honor, we wanted to print his answers. This will give you a glimpse at how he thought. KJ Holiday, R.I.P.]
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
It started on the campus of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore where I was a DJ (turntables and a crew who did parties on campus); I was in the R.O.T.C. as well when one day, I had a conversation with our commanding officer (Lt. Marshall), and said, "I'm tired of DJ'ing on campus. I want to work somewhere else." He said "Roll with me, I've got a spot for you." Later, we took a ride into the small Eastern Shore city of Salisbury MD and pulled up to a house. I said, "This doesn't look like a club; it looks like a house." He said "Oh, I thought you wanted to DJ? This is a radio station."
I was curious so we walked up the steps, rang the doorbell and out came Chris Barry (former PD for a daytime AM WJDY/Salisbury MD. I told Chris I was a mixer on campus and he thought about doing a Mix show on the radio similar to the one Mr. Magic did on WHBI in NY back in the early '80s. (Chris and I are from NY; he taught me a lot and he is responsible for getting me into this business.) He wanted the same kind of show on his AM station (this is before all of the Mix shows we have today were poppin'). Chris and I instantly hit it off.
I later programmed WJDY after he left. I went on to work for a number of great stations and PDs: Dave Allen at WOCQ/Ocean City; Steve Crumbley at WOWI/Norfolk; Dr, Dave in Baltimore; Jay Stevens in DC, and eventually landing in Detroit at WJLB and WMXD. Through the years I served as PD, APD. MD, mornings, afternoons, Production, not to mention mixer. So here I am, 30 years later, programming the baddest two Urbans in the country with a great team, great management and support from Clear Channel Media + Entertainment.
1) How different is Detroit from other markets you have worked in?
Detroit is one of the more misunderstood cities in the country. Sure, we have high crime rates, city officials going to jail, and potholes that can hold Mini-vans, but what city doesn't? I mean you've got former Chicago Governor Blagojevich serving a 14-year bid in prison, corrupt politicians in NY, and Detroit doesn't even make the Top 20 for worst roads in the country. Other than the cold weather in Detroit (keepin' it real, but the Summer is off the hook), one of the more intriguing things I know about the "D" is how prideful the people are. We (Detroiters) can talk about the (stuff) that goes on here, but if you're on the outside looking in, dissin' us, you will catch a full-on Joy Rd. beatdown.
I get weird looks and comments sometimes when I travel. I remember one time when a clerk behind the counter looked at my ID and asked, "Do y'all wear bulletproof vests out there?" I simply smiled, turned, walked away, paused, turned back and yelled "HEY" and watched him jump back in fear and I said, "Easy, star ... I was just sayin' HEY, I forgot to ask ... I'm looking for a great restaurant that serves Sevruga Caviar; it's gonna be a special weekend." People in the "D" have unique tastes, too. Detroit is a city rich in history, cool clubs, great restaurants, music and great local artists (have you ever heard of Big Sean, Eminem, Kid Rock, and Anita Baker?). Let's not forget it has the dopest radio stations in the country (fm98wjlb.com and mix923fm.com-Download the iHeartRadio app for free NOW). The city is undergoing a renaissance. Big business is stepping in ... hell, Warren Buffet was just here and calls "Detroit land of huge potential." I love many of the cities I've worked in -- Norfolk, DC, Baltimore -- and Detroit is no exception. They all have unique properties. This one keeps my mind stimulated and constantly thinking of ways to create new and exciting things.
2) What new challenges are you anticipating?
Keeping up with all of the new delivery systems that are evolving by the minute, but that makes it fun. Coming up with the next best thing and finding a way to give your listeners what they want, when they want it. You can't do it the same old sterile, repetitive way. You have to re-focus and adjust your priorities.
3) Has PPM changed your approach to programming music?
Yes. Diary is perception and PPM is reality, which means you better "REALLY" give them what they want -- and it better be the best. No taking breaks off every second. Every minute counts because you only have less than 10 minutes at a time to show them what you got behind the zipper and it better be impressive.
4) Who are some of the people who have influenced your career?
I've learned so much from so many people over the years; they are responsible for shaping me into the programmer I am today. My father, who passed away years ago, taught me to always stand up for what you believe in, treat people with respect and kindness, but don't let 'em walk over you. I've had and still have strong influences within the industry like Doc Wynter (Clear Channel VP/Urban Programming), who taught and still teaches me to be a forward thinker, never become complacent and that you can be a good guy and still WIN. Tom Poleman (Clear Channel Pres./National Programming Platforms); Darren Davis (Newly named President of Networks Group; I could never out-do his "wardrobe game" -- sharp dresser); Dom Theodore (entrepreneur, "Radio Anima"l and the best as they come); Dr. Dave Ferguson (former ex-wrestler , programmer and "Voice GOD"), Jay Stevens (fearless programmer and feisty little son-of-a-gun of Radio One/President of Programming content; Earl Jones (Clear Channel/Chicago Market Manager and former NFL Cornerback; I believe he could've been better than Deion... "Behold The Green and Gold"). There are also other programmers whp I watch closely that impress me enough to keep me on my toes in this highly competitive environment --. Reggie Rouse at CBS in Atlanta; this kid, does what he feels is best for his city and doesn't care what anyone thinks. Thea Mitchem, VP/Programming ... a strong woman, smart, knows what she wants and delivers and she used to listen to me back in the day when I was on the air in my KJ "Let's Get Busy Baby Holiday" days ... I love her. I love my Cheron (APD/MD for WJLB-WMXD, who makes sure that if I slip and fall, I never hit the ground (good catch) .... and I cannot forget my 13-year-old son who teaches me there is still hope for our kids in the future; he's such a bright and talented kid. I've learned plenty from my OM Tony Travatto and Market Manager Nick Gnau in the short time that they've been here. There are too many people to mention. Even people in the record industry that we all know on a first-name basis like Morace, CJ, Rodney, Larry, Richard, Benny, to name a few. They have all had an impact on my career and shared some inspiring words of wisdom.
5) What advice do you have for programmers in putting together a music playlist and sound for their station or stations? And does the approach vary depending on the format?
Understand what your listeners want. Know your market and pop your head out of the bubble once in a while and break some (stuff). The same goes for every format.
6) What are the challenges to programming multiple formats? Do you find yourself switching your brain back and forth from Urban to Urban AC?
It's not that challenging actually. Just make sure you understand that "Cannibalism" is unhealthy. Stay in your lane, make sure the lines are not blurred, and Keep it "Trill" and they'll roll wit ya.
7) Do you miss being on-air?
No, but let's be CLEAR, I've got two pair of Beats headphones in my office, so if any jock wants to try me, I can still hold it down...
8) What is your opinion on the future of the Urban format?
This format is here to stay. The culture is fascinating and that interest will keep it thriving. This music is so innovative and if you don't listen, you will find yourself in the Stone Age ... in the "I'm-not-so-hip-box." All we have to do is be innovative and stay authentic.
9) You told us how you started, what's your advice for air personalities just starting out who have dreams of programming?
Hard work, perfect your craft and understand "Authenticity." It will be key to your success.
10. What is the one thing that has surprised you about being a PD?
How quickly people forget that this business is enclosed in a smaller world than they think. Everything comes back full circle.
What would people who think they know you, be surprised to learn about you?
They know I'm a cool, calm, laid back, reasonable kind of guy and kind to all, but screw with me and the people I care about, I'll whip ya ass like Stewie did to Brian in that episode of Family Guy:
What frustrates you the most about radio and the music industry?
Overblown egos and people unwilling to listen.
How do you feel about Nielsen Audio's PPM and existing diary method of measurement?
I wish they could afford more panelists. Damn, wouldn't at least 25% of the market be nice? I can be a bit impatient. As long as they keep working to improve the systems reliability, I think it's great ... just hurry ... please.
What are some of your favorite stations, other than yours, you like listening to?
Power 105.1 in N.Y., KIIS in L.A., VEE in ATL, Power in L.A., WMMR (yeah, I rock, too) in Cleveland.
How did your parents feel about your going into the radio profession?
My mom passed before I started. My father thought it would help me become a musician like Jackie Wilson.
If you weren't in radio, what other profession interested you?
I should have been an "All-Star MVP" in a Super Bowl as a running back for the Dallas Cowboys. I love football. I broke my wrist in my Junior year, and then my parents moved me out of state to a small high school without a football team. I went to a college without a football team. So I ended up in this radio thing. I did think about being an Aeronautical Nuclear Engineer while in college, but I spent more time making out with my college girlfriend then I did going to my Calculus classes. I did learn a valuable lesson: Never lose focus ... no matter how hot she is.