10 Questions with ... Don Black
November 11, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- WQHH/Lansing, MI (Urban) PD/afternoons
- WVBX/Fredericksburg, VA (Rhythmic) mornings
- WPIA/Peoria, IL (Top 40) PD/mornings/afternoons
- WZPW-WRPW/Peoria & Bloomington IL (Rhythmic) PD/mornings
- KRNA/Cedar Rapids (Active Rock/Classic Rock) mornings/middays/nights
- KKRQ/Iowa City (Classic Rock) nights
- B96/Chicago (Rhythmic) board op/producer
1) Who did you grow up listening you and what was it that you like about each personality?
Growing up in Chicago, I got to hear the best of the best. Some of my favorites ... Bob Wall, Doug Banks, Tom Joyner, Larry Lujack and Jonathan Brandmeier. The beautiful thing about them was that they were all so engaging ... didn't matter what race you were you could be entertained by them. They all talked about everyday things that everyone could relate to.
2) Could you tell us about your first commercial radio job?
My first commercial radio job was at B96 in Chicago as a board op and a producer. I did weekday overnights and also ran the mix shows on the weekends. It was a perfect first job. I got an opportunity to learn how everything works and just concentrate on making everything sound tight on the air.
3) What kinds of things did you experience when you launched in programming?
When I started programming in 2003 at WZPW, I was given the keys to a car and told, "Just do what you do." Things that you normally have to ask permission for now, I did them without asking ... changed the sound of the station, fired and hired new DJs. It was beautiful and it worked (probably the only reason they let me continue to do it). I also used my experience in the Rock format to do some things on the hip-hop side that hadn't been done (or at least I thought hadn't been done). One of my favorites was Tupac Tuesday (two 2Pac songs at the top of the hour every Tuesday ... one very popular and one very underground). Wound up being a big hit in Peoria. My first PD gig was great because my creativity wasn't stifled. Anything I could come up with, I was able to make happen ... and I had an on-air staff that was behind me 110%.
4) Who are some of the people who have influence your career, as a jock and as a PD?
Being able to intern at WGCI while Elroy Smith was PD and Doug Banks and Tom Joyner were holding down mornings and afternoons probably influenced me the most. Not just from the knowledge I was able to pick up from them just from watching what they do ... but they took the time to answer questions and give advice. That is something I carry with me today when I deal with interns and people starting in the business.
5) How much do things outside of the radio bubble influence your job?
Pretty much everything does. Things happening locally and nationally should always influence what you do. Plus with social media, it's easier to tell what people are into. You don't really have to search too hard for the pulse of your listener.
6) How hard is it to program and be on the air?
Honestly, I don't know any other way to do my job. I believe being on-air helps me to program it better. You get to listen to what you put together and also experience what your jocks go through every day. When you are asking your staff to do things on-air, you have the ability to show them how it's done and that it can be done.
7) What is your philosophy when it comes to working with weekend and part-time personalities?
If you want your station to sound as good on the weekend as it does during the week, you have to spend time with your part-timers. Let them know how they are doing and what they need to work on. People who are doing it part-time are doing it because they love it and have a desire to get better and move up. If they have jobs during the week where they can't come see me, I will make time to come see them on the weekends to let them know I want to be a part of their growth.
8) Do you think growing up in a great radio town like Chicago gave you an advantage?
Absolutely, not just growing up there but the time in which I grew up. I was exposed to some great jocks and great programming. For me, Chicago has a certain sound ... a certain vibe. And in the late '80s/early '90s, everything that came out of the speakers spoke to how great and diverse of a city Chicago is. That helps me with my programming today ... find out what makes your city what it is and make sure its represented every day in what you do.
9) What bothers you about radio these days?
We have too many people in the business who are concerned about being heard and don't know how to do it effectively. Too many comedians, reality stars, etc. who think that a name will equate to good radio. Their lack of broadcasting knowledge is shown when serious topics come up (elections, civil rights issues, breaking news). One of the first rules of broadcasting is being able to effectively inform the public of things they need to know. It's hard to do that, if you don't have facts, stumble over your words or just don't plain know what you are talking about. These are things that people can learn. We, as a radio community, do ourselves a disservice if we just let someone get on just because they have a "name." They are just using us to get to the next plateau. Make sure if they are coming in to our business that they respect it and are willing to LEARN how to do it effectively. And particularly on the Urban side, we have to re-evaluate the career choices of some of our DJs. Being a jock means living the lifestyle ... but you can't stay at the party forever. There will come a time when you are a little older than the demo and a decision will have to be made to keep the demo intact. Will you be ready to make that move to next phase of your career? Think about that before you get that neck or face tattoo because you are living the demo. You might have a hard time making that move to that Urban AC station. It's a career. Some people need to start looking at it that way or they will be out of it before they know it.
10) Okay, here comes an intern who wants advice about getting into radio for a career, what things do you tell them?
Try to learn as much as you can about all the jobs at a station. Spend time with every department and learn what all of them do because your first job may be one where you have to where multiple hats. And knowing all working parts of a radio station will help you understand why we do what we do. Don't worry about what you want to do right now, just be ready to soak up knowledge.
Could you share your thoughts on the future for radio?
The future of radio scares me a little. A lot of syndication and not a lot of nurturing of new talent. Smaller markets that can't afford to hire a five-person morning show ... I can understand why syndication would be an avenue to take. But when you have bigger markets doing it, it's scary. It used to be a DJ's dream to get to the big city; now those jobs are being taken away. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Hopefully, we can turn this around and nurture great talent to carry us on into the future.