10 Questions with ... Renee Taylor
May 5, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started my career in a small town in Nevada called Winnemucca. Back then, the only black women who worked in the town were prostitutes and they worked on the line. This was a certain area in the town where the brothels are still found. After the interview, the station owner took me to dinner and when we were done, I went back to the hotel. I decided to take a walk around town and as I sat on a bench in the middle of town, cars were honking at me and men were waving, I thought "What a friendly town." When I got back to Oakland and told my boyfriend where I went and what happened, he told me about the brothels. Ohhhh. I went to work there anyway. After I left there, I did radio in Reno, San Jose and finally back home in the Bay Area in San Francisco at KSOL that would later become Wild 94.4, then on to Los Angeles to Hot 92.3 as it flipped the format to Urban AC. When I first moved to L.A I did both WILD and Hot.
1) What have you learned in radio that you apply in everyday life?
My radio career has taught me how to adapt to situations without going into panic mode. When you are on the air, so much is happening. You could be asked to interview an artist who happened to come to the station or call in. And you know nothing about this artist. An earthquake could happen in the middle of your shift. And you become a lifeline between the audience and vital information. Or even worse, I was on the air when Michael Jackson died and I remember clear as day when my PD John Ivey walked in my studio and told me to announce Michael Jackson was dead. I think I shook my head and said "NO." If I didn't, I was sure thinking, "No, don't make me say that." And then for next two to three hours of putting listeners on-air, the MD changing songs rotations before my eyes, monitoring the news outlets and sharing the most creditable information, all the while running my show.
I am that way in my personal life, my husband will tell you he is always amazed at how calm I can be in the eye of the storm. That comes from being in it so many times.
I also know I can talk to anybody in any situation -- and fear and being nervous will not overtake me. Being nervous is energy you use to your advantage. If you are about to go on stage in front of 10,000 people, your hands are sweating and you have butterflies in your stomach. I take a deep breath, pray and remember these people are here for a concert ... let's go and have some fun with them!
2) Are there some things others taught you that have been invaluable to you radio career?
Read and know what's in your contract or agreement. Steve Smith was a lawyer/PD and he taught me not to be afraid to ask for more or have something taken out. So often we are so happy to get the job we will sign anything because we don't realize our worth. If they are offering you a contract, they want you, so negotiate.
3) How do you balance talking on the phone or texting a listener with doing your job on the air?
Show prep. Check the music log and know what breaks are going over what song intros. You also have to know the music. If you know the music, you know how much time you have to talk to a listener, answer e-mails or send a text. I know, when I hear a certain chorus or lyric of a song, how much time I have to wrap up what I'm doing and get ready for my next break. I am always working ahead of the game. While talking to a listener who I will use on the air, I am doing mental editing so when the call is done, I already know what part of the call I am going to put on the air. It all works together.
4) Why did you go into radio or did you first go into something else?
I never planned to go into radio. I got accepted the Academy of Fine Arts and San Francisco State. I choose SFS for Broadcasting. I thought I was going to be an investigative news reporter. I never made it that far; I left SFS after two years and went to broadcasting school. My teacher told me I had a great voice and pushed in the direction of radio. And radio seemed way more fun then being a reporter.
5) How many formats have you worked in? What were the differences between the formats and why do you think that is?
I started in Adult AC moved to Top 40 and have done Hot AC and Urban AC. The difference between Top 40 and any AC format is the pace. With the younger audience of Top 40 you have to know what's hot. What artist they are into and why. Are they on Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat or Vine? And they want to know what the hot artists are doing. Who's at the fight in Vegas? What did Nicki M wear? Kendall and Tyga? JayZ and Bey ... With the AC formats they are doing, life, job, kids, family and they want to know this stuff but not at the level that the younger audience does. Plus they are a little behind the Top 40 folks by the time AC listeners got to Twitter the Top 40s were on the Snapchat.
6) Would you share some of your mentors over the years ... plus what did each of them contribute?
The first person was Ken (can't remember his last name) at K-HITZ 104. I thought that man hated me and the job I was doing. He would tear my airchecks apart. The break was too long; the break was too short; I wasn't prepared when I opened the mic. I would dread those meetings, but he made me work the hardest early in my career. The next is Steve Smith; he had three words on the board to think of every time we cracked the mic. The two that stuck with me were "brevity" and "sincerity." The first one taught me how to get to the point, don't just open the mic rambling. Listeners can only hear so much so get to the point before you lose them.
Sincerity comes when you connect with what is going on in a listener's life. I had a call from a lady who had lost her job and found out her boyfriend was cheating on her. I aired the call and told her she would get another job but she needed to kick him out or move out, she didn't deserve that. And I guaranteed her that he would want her back. She moved out, went to nursing school and he did try to get her back. I had a lady, Corrina, call me to do a dedication to her sister who was diagnosed with cancer and she couldn't be with her for her first round of chemo. I put her on the air with the dedication and gave her some words of encouragement. Then eight months later, I got a call from her sister, Joanne ... she was cancer-free and wanted to tell me how much it meant to her to hear her sister's dedication. Put that on the air and I am friends with Corrina and her family.
Rick Thomas and Michael Martin taught us how to be radio warriors. You have to be on all the time. If you go grocery shopping and the store you are in is listening to WILD, call the station and do a shout or put them on the air. Or just go to the car and get a T-shirt or other log item and give it to them. If you have some time grab some stuff from promotions and go to a hot spot, burrito shop in the Mission, 7-11 or Burger King in your P1 zip and hand stuff out. You have to know who and where your audience is and be there. So many PDs took an interest in my career and helped me along the way; these are just some who really stood out.
7) You have worked various formats and markets, is there anything that happened that made you laugh until you couldn't stop?
In San Francisco at WILD 94.9, our station vans got towed or had boots put on them, but we were going into a busy weekend and had several big appearances. So we rented some vans and used the station banners that come in the big rolls and wrapped them around the vans and hit the streets like that.
Another time at Hot92.,3 we took about 20 listeners to Mexico and Jimmy Reyes was DJing the pool party. When the party started he said "first person in the pool with their clothes on gets a bottle of tequila." No takers, he said it again and hour later no takers, and at this time the shots were taking the party up a notch. The next time he asked this lady came from the back of the restaurant and hit the pool. Everything after that seemed to happen in slow motion, a man and his girlfriend jumped in and another and another, before you know it everybody is jumping in the pool. Security is trying to stop them and they just kept coming. My girlfriends and I were rolling on the floor at the whole scene.
8) For those first timers who have to move to a new job and city, would you share some wisdom?
You have to figure out how much time you need to do your job. What time you need to be at the station and get your show prepped before you hit the air. When I hit Los Angeles, I knew I didn't want to commute. I heard traffic could be a real pain. Once I knew what time I needed to be at the station, I started looking for a place to live. I ask co-workers about the areas they lived in and their commute times. I also found out what area the station covered from my PD. Then I got out my Budget Rent a Car map (no GPS) put it in front of me and whenever someone would call me, I would ask what city they were in and circle it on the map. That also gave me a since of direction ... "ah, you are calling from down here or up here or two cities over."
9) How do you see the future of radio?
The future of radio is strong. Is it what it was in the '90s? No, but neither is the music. While there are a lot of ways for people to listen to music, radio is still the best and easiest way and the one that is free or closest to it. I know we think that everyone has the means to buy all of the devices that are out, but there is a whole group of people who don't and may never have access to those things. And that includes all generations.
There are so many talented, entertaining and informative people on "terrestrial" radio. I know for budgetary reasons, radio leans heavily on social media. But we are not using the greatest resources -- "the talent." Do you think a Presidential candidate wants to leave their mansion get on a bus and ride around the country to meet people, stay in hotels, eat in coffee shops and take pictures with people? Probably not, but will they get elected sitting at home talking to people on Facebook and Twitter? No, they have to be seen and touched and talked to by the people they want to vote for them.
Taylor Swift is an amazing, talented artist but she also cares about her fans enough to be with them, in their homes, schools, and anywhere she can get more personal with them. She does this better then most artists and that's why she breaks records when she drops an album. If she gets in a room with 20 girls and talks to them, it shows she is just like them and they tell five of their friends or share that with 200 Facebook friends. Guess how many people she has just convinced that she is the coolest chick around. And that is how radio can and will always be able to beat out the others offering just music.
10) What are some of the new challenges facing you?
Get a full-time job in the world of voicetracking and doing what I just talked about. I am voicetracking right now. If I track for several stations, how do I stay connected to the cities I am not in? Be local and connected beyond social media. Hmmm, it's always a double-edged sword.....
It comes down to the stations you are tracking for. They need to be your life line with information and current liners and constantly feeding you what is going on locally. A point person who keeps you connected.
What do you do for fun?
I have an eight-year-old, so most of my fun is wrapped around him. Going to his basketball games, bike rides and with summer coming, swimming ... every day if I let him. Fortunately for him, I love swimming. But the thing that I am getting pleasure out of right now is exploring my artistic side. I am in a drawing class and exploring painting with water colors. My father is an artist who sculpts amazing pieces from wood; his brother was an accomplished painter in Los Angeles. I have three sisters and two brothers and one sister creates stained glass art, my brother can draw anything free hand and I have a niece who is a painter. I recently talked to my mother about the drawing that I am doing and she thinks we all have an artistic side we just need to explore it. I am drawing and recognizing the things that I am drawing. So I am going to keep at it.
What are your top-3 songs of all time?
I could give you way more then three but I will stick to what you ask.
"Got To Give It Up" by Marvin Gaye. It takes me back to a good time in my life. It was about work, school and a good party. And we partied hard at this after hours in the Bay Area called "SILKS." We would sneak our pint of E&J brandy in and at last call order a coke and pour the brandy in. Then party till 4a and hit Denny's for breakfast with our clique.
Ruff Ryders- Anthem & Party Up by DMX - that's when my love of some harder hip-hop kicked in. In his hardcore way, DMX was saying some thangs and I liked it!
And this may not be a top 3, but I need to say Garth Brooks made me pay attention to Country music. I saw his concert years ago on HBO and watched the whole thing and loved it. And I love me some Blake Shelton, too.