10 Questions with ... Lee Michaels
February 9, 2016
1) Congratulations on being inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall Of Fame. Would you share with us your early years in radio?
Well, I'm honored and humbled to even be considered first of all, to be inducted is a dream come true. Thank you to the people who nominated me and to the panel of decision-makers who chose me to be inducted.
St. Louis has always been a major part of my career it was my second market to work in at KATZ-A. I worked in that market three different times, twice at KATZ-A and at KKSS, which we converted to KMJM (Magic). I still keep in touch with a number of people in St. Louis and I genuinely love all of them.
2) Can you tell us some of the formats and stations you have worked at?
I've been fortunate enough to work every format and I've even won at Top 40, R&B, Progressive Rock, Country, Urban AC, New Talk; and I was a GM of a Spanish station and Central California.
3) How did you become the PD at KMEL?
After having great success in programming two stations in Chicago, WBMX and WGCI, making both #1 music stations second only to WGN Talk.
I guess I was in high demand at that time. I got a call from the GM, she offered me the position to help KMEL win, I said yes.
I saw it as a great opportunity to program a format that I had experience in as an on-air personality doing Top 40 in my hometown of Norfolk at WNOR. That was a fun station to program. San Francisco is a unique market and it was an opportunity for the station to spread its wings to be more broad-based to appeal to the general market, Latinos, and African-Americans. When I got there, the station was more Top 40; we targeted it more Rhythmic or Urban; some people are afraid to admit when they do things like this. But Sam, as you know, Urban takes on a different feel and complexion depending on the local market. So what's Urban in San Francisco may not be in Chicago.
4) What are the changes in today's radio you like and dislike?
I'm glad you asked this question Sam, I like the fact the radio still exists. My biggest dislike is that radio sucks. Very little personality outside the morning drive, almost no opportunities for new people to get into the business ... it's stagnated, stuck in the "push down" concept ... people at the corporate level deciding what 50 or 300 stations should program. That's grossly wrong; the PD today has been minimized to a cop making sure people come to work and do what is dictated to them. I strongly believe that new media will become the mainstream if commercial radio continues on the path it's on. I'm saddened that not enough new music is being exposed because of the way the music industry and the radio industry are structured. Most people don't wanna talk about it because they are employed by the major corporations and fear to lose their jobs. The state of the radio is not good, creativity is missing, and regional differences are ignored.
5) You got involved with computer programming didn't you?
Yes, I got the computer bug around 1980 and did a little computer programming but my love for radio was still first, so I did not put all of my energy in to it. I do a little bit of PHP, Java, HTML5 more web-based programming now. I also own a web design company UltimateSEODesign.com
6) How do you envision the future for SiriusXM, Hip-Hop, and Terrestrial Urban Radio?
Sirius XM has its purpose. I think they did miss out in the beginning, if they gave away 10 channels, even if they included commercials, it would have help them introduce satellite radio to the general public in a more meaningful way. There is a reused reason why the two companies, Sirius and XM, had to merge. They both could not survive as a standalone. It's useful when you're traveling, you don't have to worry about losing your favorite FM station at about 40 or 50 miles. I think more creativity is needed on satellite radio as well. You don't need satellite if you have an iPod, iPhone or an Android phone I can load up all your favorite music in it, plug it into the dashboard or Bluetooth, and you are good to go.
As far as hip-hop, Sam, it is continuing to evolve and has become a little more mature but is still, in my opinion, without some clear direction. Artist development continues to be a problem; not enough time and effort is put into that. The general mindset is; all I need is some music software on my computer, a microphone, some headphones, a compressor, and some samples; now I can be a rap star. Most have no music training, which means they will never own the real estate in the music business. Sampling somebody else's work doesn't put the bulk of the money in your pocket. I think it has its place in mainstream Urban and Rhythmic stations. I'd like to see it become a little more serious when it comes to the business side.
Terrestrial radio -- in some cases it's on life support and needs some mouth to mouth, heart transplant, and in some cases a brain replacement. I know some of you are probably laughing at what I just said and may even disagree but let me explain. It lacks creativity when you can get in your car and drive from San Francisco to Miami or L.A. to New York and basically hear the same music rotation, contest, imaging and voicetracked DJs. That's a sad state for radio to be in. It has reduced itself to competing with your iPod, your phone or iPad. Your listeners don't tune in to terrestrial radio to hear segued music or music with a bumper in between. They can get that anywhere. What goes in between the songs and before and after the stopset is what will keep your listeners glued. Anybody can program an automated playlist pulled from the top national charts. That is why programmers today don't really program their local stations. As technology evolves, corporations will find ways to eliminate more talent just to save money. I would like to offer caution against the elimination of talent on the radio. Radio stations will always need someone to sell the products and services that they run ads for, so someone has to read those commercials and convince the listeners to buy. The same thing goes for disk jockeys talking and up songs getting the listeners excited about them to go out and buy or download the music.
Sam, I've always tried to be on the cutting edge of radio; to me doing the same old same old was boring, It's not in my DNA. To be able to look into the future and think of to keep your audience engaged, excited, and genuinely to love your station is what we should be doing. I say that anyone can put together an automated playlist and go to sleep, but when you wake up your audience will be gone and looking for the "OH WOW" if it's not on your station.
As a programming consultant, I'm hardcore against boilerplate programming. What's good in Sumter, SC may not work in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, or L.A. But it's easy for the VP/Programming to dictate what will play because it's easy for them to know what the stations are programming. It is not in the best interests of the local stations, the listeners, the advertisers and the future of terrestrial radio.
7) Looking back over your career ... any regrets? Missed opportunities?
Whenever you have success you are going have some regrets. One for me would be the fact that I have been married three times, I have three children and I probably didn't spend enough time at home with my family. Not that I was being selfish, although some might perceive it that way, but because of my passion for what I was doing and it also was the means to provide for them. At the end of the day, I have had a lot of success, I may not have succeeded at everything but "I tried."
8) Tell us about your current venture.
Right now my focus is talent coaching because nobody's really doing a good job of that. If you don't have talent, your future in media is going be zero. I have also started a web development company. I'm helping some friends with a non-profit organization that has launched an online network, Dsaw Media, and they've given me an opportunity to be on the air with them. I'm still a ham for radio, LOL. Being on the mic is more fun for me than anything and I would do it for free. At my age, if I get two people to listen to me, I've got a big audience.
9) Can you share one or two of your favorite radio stories?
That's a tough question to answer, as it is like asking a parent who's their favorite child. Okay, I had the most fun at WNOR, KATX, WBMX, WGCI, KMEL, 1580 KDAY, KMJM. Yeah, I know you said two.
10) Who are some of the people that have influenced your career?
A long list of influencers includes: Paul Todd, Scotty Andrews, Jack Holmes, Calvin Perkins, King Hot The Great, Chuck King, Paris Ely, Bob Jackson, Chester B, Soul Ranger, Harvey Johnson III, Lankford Stevens, Keith Adams, Doug Eason, Jim Mattox, and last but not least a guy who I looked up to as a brother and a father who was a great general manager, Kearney L. Anderson. I'm sure I missed a few.
You told us how you started; what's your advice for air personalities just starting out who have dreams of programming?
I wish I could give more positive advice, but because of the state of radio there are not a lot of opportunities in the near future for someone to advance into programming. But, if you want to do it, as "The Dr." would say, you "Gotta know that math." Learn everything about the rating services, the latest software and technology, and how to be a great coach, mentor, the person who listens with compassion and give good direction to your team. Be a good listener to the problems and concerns from your staff and come up with good solutions.
What are your top 5 songs of all time?
- Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze
- Lee Michaels - Do You Know What I Mean
- DELFONICS - LA LA M
- eans I love you
- Chi-Lite - Have You Seen Her
- My new fav is: Melanie Fiona - I Tried
Do you agree or disagree with how music is being added by radio these days? How should it change?
I believe there should be a place on radio stations for a new music even in the Urban AC category. While I believe in research, I also believe that you have to use your gut to give new music/artists a chance to see if the listeners will embrace it; I think we're playing it a little too safe. Playing it too safe stifles growth, creativity and destroys the dreams of new artist.