10 Questions with ... Elroy R.C. Smith
March 24, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I programmed the following stations:
- WILD-A Boston
- Inspiration 1390-A/Chicago
- CEO of 102.7 WMJ & WHT, HOT 107.5/Bermuda
- 100.3 The Beat/Philadelphia
- 107.9 WRNB/Philadelphia
- PRAISE 103.9/Philadelphia
- Old School 100.3/Philadelphia
I was the Inspiration format director for all of Radio One's Inspiration Stations
Consultant to Reach Media Inc. Yolanda Adams Morning Show & The Willie Moore Show
1) Congratulations on your new position, how did this all come about?
Thanks so much, Sam. This is such an extraordinary opportunity. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning anxious to open up my gifts. About a month ago I called Bill Tanner, SVP/Programming for SummitMedia. to see if there were any opportunities with SummitMedia. He said that he would call me the next day. I thought that the call was to get caught up with me. However, the call was to make me aware that there was an OM opportunity with SummitMedia. I immediately expressed my interest. Moments later, I was being interviewed by VP/GM Karolyn Mulvaney. Karolyn and I hit it off right away. We quickly arranged for me to fly to Greenville, SC for an in-person interview. Again, the professional chemistry was there. The following week I was flown to Birmingham, AL to visit SummitMedia corporate headquarters. I met with Bill Tanner and National PD John Olsen, and while there I was introduced to CEO Carl Parmer. The meeting with Bill and John was very encouraging and positive. The atmosphere at SummitMedia corporate was relaxed, professional and exciting. The following week (week 3), SummitMedia and I came to a mutual decision for me to join the team.
2) You get to oversee the entire operation; your wings are really being spread. Could you address this?
What I admire about SummitMedia and the scope of my responsibilities is how this company did not label me as an Urban programmer; I'm not relegated to only the Urban properties. Too many great programmers, whether Pop, Urban, Country, Classic Hits, etc. are pigeonholed to just one format. This mindset limits such great programmers to never be able to explore their skills and talents in other programming genres. I am blessed that SummitMedia's outlook is broad. What also attracted me about this job was not only the dominance of 107.3 Jamz and its broad appeal, but Hot 98.1 being a major contender in the Top 40 arena in Greensville, and the Alternative and Classic Hits formats as well.
You win primarily in a music format by playing the biggest and the best hits, but what puts you over the top and helps build the brand is what happens in between the hits. I never hear someone rush into their office to say, "I heard 'Happy' by Pharrell Williams on The Tom Joyner Morning Show." However, I can almost guarantee you that Tom's listeners would rush into their place of work and say, "Did you hear what Huggy Lowdown said about.....?"
If Steve Harvey decided to play one or two songs an hour, his ratings would either increase or stay the same. No one listens to Steve Harvey to hear "Stay With Me" by Sam Smith. Morning show personality Elvis Duran is a great example of my point. He plays about three to four songs maximum an hour and he has one of the best morning shows in America. I got hooked on Elvis Duran while living in Philadelphia and listening to him on Q102. I could not have cared less if he did not play one song. Why? Because his content is so compelling and engaging. Content is key and if your station lacks that, you might as well expect very little growth and almost zero passion from your listeners. In other words, your station can go off the air tomorrow and not too many people would even notice.
3) Your past also includes station ownership, could you elaborate on the ups and downs of that experience?
One of my greatest victories was ownership of two radio stations in my hometown in Bermuda. Former Clear Channel executive Tom Owens and SVP/Urban Programmer Doc Wynter gave their blessings for me continuing to oversee WGCI while owning two radio stations in Bermuda, an island of 65,000 people. The downside of this venture was me not being there running the operation day-to-day. As a small entrepreneur, that was a huge mistake on my behalf. Therefore, I had to sell my shares to one of my partners in that business. As for my recent go at obtaining a translator in Chicago, this experience was another great adventure for me. What I learned on how to purchase a radio station on a much larger scale than Bermuda, I would have not been able to learn this at any Ivy League University in the world. Unfortunately, both the seller and I mutually agreed to terminate the acquisition with no hard feelings either way.
4) What do you think the keys are to being a successful OM?
- Respecting and supporting your team.
- Be a great strategist.
- Super-serve your P1s. This is what makes successful restaurants thrive and that is embracing their regular customers with love. Same applies in serving that P1 listener to your radio station.
- Being a great coach to my team.
- Creating events to help the company make money.
- Never project that you know it all.
- I try to hire people better than me.
- Being responsive to community needs.
- Creating a spirited and healthy working environment.
- Understanding the mission of the brand.
- Going beyond the basics.
- Creating memories for your brand (ex. helping a family whose home burned to the ground)
- Protecting and nurturing the brand.
- Allowing the research to assist you and not to dictate to you. I believe that if the research is the end of all, I might as well show my mother how to read the research and then offer her my job. What happened to gut? What happened to a program director's heart? Some radio stations sound so blah, bland and without any emotion. The stations that shine are that stations that reflect the program director's exciting personality and creativity
5) Could you share your vision for radio and Urban Radio for the future?
I still believe that radio is a viable medium. I am concerned that it has become a jukebox with little personality. If every radio station is playing literally the same music, what sets one station apart from the other? I remember living in New York City when the Urban battle of the country was in progress (WBLS and WRKS). Of course, they played the biggest Urban songs; however, the afternoon-drive personality Frankie Crocker had a unique taste in music and his personality was bigger than life. This is an example of what helped set WBLS apart from WRKS.
Many programmers, including myself, would comment about how eclectic WHUR is in Washington D.C. This station has and continues to be programmed differently than the average Urban AC station. They would play album cuts that are obscure, but for their audience, it works. They have a community affairs show on weekdays in the 6p hour called "The Daily Drum," which is unheard off, because most programmers believe that this would hurt their brand. Well, it hasn't hurt WHUR's brand. Furthermore, who cares what I or other programmers think about WHUR because the listeners deem them to be a great radio station and that is what matters.
I remember when Urban stations were the trendsetters of new music, today, Top 40 is now the trendsetter. Here are some alarming examples of how Top 40 blew up the following artists or songs before Urban radio:
- Happy/Pharrell Williams
- Stay With Me/Sam Smith
- Not The Only One/Sam Smith
- Uptown Funk/Bruno Mars
6) Who are some of the people in radio, music, and life who have influenced your career?
There are so many people who have inspired me in this business. If I begin to name them, I am certain that I would forget someone. Therefore, I would rather say thanks to everyone who has assisted me in this industry that I love with all my heart. However, there is one person who I do want to give love to and I ask that you not take this as me being sarcastic. There is a lady named Mary Catherine Sneed, who was the COO at Summit Communications, who hired me many years ago to program 100.3 Jamz/Dallas -- and two years later she fired me. If only she knew how that firing opened my eyes to things that I needed to change in my character and my programming philosophy.
Many times we look at a firing with bitterness and this may lead us to never learn from the firing because the bitterness is so powerful that we cannot even think. Mary Catherine Sneed's firing of me allowed me to turn the mirror around and examine myself personally and as a PD. This resulted in me being prepared to program one of America's greatest iconic radio stations - 107.5 WGCI/Chicago.
7) Moving to a new market is always exciting, what's your approach to moving to a new city and situation?
I am fired up about this move. I am looking forward to learning about Greenville, learning from my staff and boss, creating a fun and exciting atmosphere for my team. I want to get a good handle on the city; what makes it tick and in what ways can SummitMedia be of help to making Greenville a better city. When going into a new market, I must put my listening ears on and obtain as much information as I can about a new city. More importantly, I cannot wait to connect with my fellow church, The Greenville Church of Christ. My family will be joining me after school ends. This is a difficult part of my move, not having my family around me everyday. I love being with my wife and my kids. God knew what he was doing when he brought Vonda Smith and my beautiful kids into my life.
8) What are some of the important lessons you have learned along your career path?
- Having a relationship with God helps me daily to strive to make the best decisions for my staff and my company.
- Be a great listener.
- Give others credit.
- You do not own the company that you work for, therefore, be a great employee and follow the policies of the company.
- Be an ally of your sales manager not an adversary because this department is vital to everyone getting paid and the company's survival.
- Be open to change.
- Learn something new about this business as often as possible.
- Admit your mistakes.
- Be honest.
- Do not compromise your reputation for temporary fame or fortune.
- Return phone calls and emails.
- Tell the truth.
- Show compassion.
- Do not be deceitful.
- YOU do not have the "power or the prestige"; The SEAT that you are occupying has it. Therefore, do not abuse the (2) p's - Power & Prestige
9) Could you share your philosophy on interpretation and application of various kinds of research?
I'd say quite simply, use research as a tool, not as the bible.
10) What motivates you?
- Striving to please God.
- Being a great husband to my wife. Vonda and I have been married for 18 years and I won't let anything get in the way of us being together for another 18 years.
- My children (Colin - 15 years old, Carson - 8 years old, Kyndall - 6 years old).
- Loving my fellow man. If I can be of help to someone in anyway possible, I'll make every effort to do so.
What is the one thing you do or would love to do that would surprise people?
I would love to program a Country-formatted radio station. I recently fell in love with the Country format while I was listening to the new iHeartMedia station "Big 95.5" when they signed on in January in Chicago. My intent was to listen and learn new formatics; however, I found myself loving the music. I now listen to both of the Country stations in Chicago, "Big 95.5" and CBS's "US 99." Country music tells the greatest stories ever. One of my favorite country songs is a song called "Take Your Time" by Sam Hunt.
Would you share a memorable moment of your career?
My first day as an on-air personality in Bermuda, the station went off the air within 20 minutes of my evening show debut. The engineer never got the station back up and running, so we were off the air for the rest of the night.