10 Questions with ... Hector Hannibal
February 16, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I began my career in Hartford, CT as an announcer. WKND provided me with nearly a decade of training in production, promotions, music, sales/copy writing and the fine art of dealing with all types of people. My first PD gig was in New Haven in 1986 and from there I went to D.C., Miami, D.C. again and ultimately radio syndication with ABC Radio Networks and Reach Media Inc. I have always been a close-to-home guy so moving around a lot was something I NEVER wanted to do. I've been fortunate in that regard.
1) How does it feel to return to WHUR?
It feels awesome to be able to program this legendary radio station. I have lived in the area for a long time so even as an ex-PD I was able to stay connected to the station as a listener. I have all the confidence that I will make a smooth transition back to the station. I have remained friends with the GM so there really will be no learning curve in terms of getting to know his expectations. We worked well together in the past and I was able to anticipate a lot of his expectations before he even asked. My biggest problem will be getting used to the commute time. My travel time to the office at my last gig was about 30 seconds.
2) Would you share with us the uniqueness of programming a station owned by such a historic institution as Howard University?
I'm thrilled to be able to once again program a legendary radio station. The uniqueness is more perception than reality though. Every organization has its ups and downs in this business and WHUR functions like any other commercial radio property. The ownership is unique but the processes, strategies and overall responsibilities we share at the station are the same as anywhere else. I remember years ago when I was the PD, people would piss me off by referring to WHUR as a college station. Trust me, I worked at a college station and there are no similarities inside the station. The challenges WHUR faces are born from the same sources as those of CBS, Radio One or anyone else in D.C. The University owns and supports several business ventures. An alien visiting the planet for the first time might think that Howard University's ownership of WHUR is strange, but it really isn't because the radio station is allowed to take care of its business normally.
3) Do you consider teaching an important part of the programming process?
The reason I was attracted to programing was because I enjoyed sharing what I knew with others. Early on I was exposed to PDs who were real teachers. Sonny Taylor once gave me a binder filled with a ton of memos he had saved from his PD days in NY. After reading them, I realized that he never missed an opportunity to impart his knowledge to his jocks, even when it concerned the most mundane techniques. So for me, the process of programming can be likened to a classroom experience where a teacher educates those willing to learn. When you consider the rapid pace of change in the business today, you have to hope that programmers are teaching and coaching their teams to be ready for the future, like my friend Sonny Taylor did.
4) What qualities and skills does a PD need to be successful in this business?
There are many qualities that come to mind when I think of what makes a successful PD. In my opinion, it helps if you really care about people and the value of earned mutual respect. Establishing a good line of communication can go a long way at keeping a good balance between challenges and successes in the department. When the staff is not in sync, there is little chance to build a rapport with them. A PD needs to be comfortable in multiple disciplines like, human behavior, statistics, economics and brand marketing, to name a few. A skillful PD should not always think in a linear pattern but instead let his/her brain jump around when tackling problems and being creative. A program director with the ability to bring out the best in people is a real benefit to any organization.
5) How did you get started in radio and why are you still in it?
A dorm suite mate of mine invited me to join him while he hosted his show on the school's AM station. I walked into the room and fell in love instantly. I still remember the smell of the vinyl records. Eventually, I got my own Friday afternoon show and started learning how to select songs to entertain a variety of tastes. After a while I made it to the school's 1,000-watt FM, WWUH. I was heard all over the city on Friday nights (or maybe Saturday, I can't remember). A local DJ who was taking a part-time class, Melanie McLean, (Jazz legend Jackie McLean's daughter), heard me on the air and told me that there was a part-timer opening at her station, WKND 1480, which was Hartford's Black station. I went to see the PD who told me to hang around.
So I would ride my bike or take a bus to the station after my classes as much as I could for several months. One day James Jack told me I was debuting that weekend. That's the last time I saw him by the way. He took a new job after hiring me (We still stay in touch thanks to FB). I had no PD on my first day and to make matters worse, the jock I was relieving, knowing there was no PD, taped the last half-hour of his show and left. I was all alone running his show while trying to get myself ready for my first show on a commercial station. I was beyond nervous! The first record I played was "Street Life" by the Crusader with Randy Crawford's vocals. It was a rocky start but I made it through the shift.
6) Who did you grow up listening to and share with us some of your mentors in and outside of radio?
Well, I know this is cliché but being from New York, my favorite jock was Frankie Crocker and his entire announcing staff on WBLS in the mid to late '70s. But, at the time, I had no idea I wanted to be in radio so I did not realize that I learned the importance of connecting with the audience from the Chief Rocker. I also listened to Walt "Baby" Love on WNBC and Dan Ingram on WABC. These guys were pure energy and had great focus. I learned how to recover from mistakes from Ingram. I loved when he flubbed. Besides Sonny Taylor, I considered my co-workers Eddie Jordan and Melonae McLean mentors. Barry Mayo was also very nice to me when I was coming up in the biz. I've been lucky to have been encouraged and advised by lots of industry pros along the way, too many to name but they know who they are.
7) What is the funniest thing you have ever personally witnessed or been a part of in radio?
I was having an aircheck session with the morning man in my office and I was trying to point out something I liked on the tape when I leaned back a little and my chair flipped. Very embarrassing. My feet were all up in the air. However, Dave, now "Doc," Wynter was very kind and did not laugh in my face.
8) Look into your crystal ball and would you share with us your thoughts on the future of Urban radio and radio in general?
Listeners have so many choices that predicting the future also means divining technology. The days of radio that you and I enjoyed while growing up in the business are but a distant memory. All the various iterations of radio today all pay homage to broadcast radio science ... nothing new there. So radio as a concept will live on forever. There has always been something magic about the emotional connections live announcer make with their fans and that's the business I love. I see the future of broadcast radio belonging to those who master the art of being interesting. People want to connect with others that make them look interesting. The Internet, satellite, social media, are all future factors, too. The proliferation of alternate audio entertainment and how you can get that audio will hurt traditional radio to a degree. However, radio will just have to figure out a way to stay relevant with smaller audiences.
9) What are your plans for WHUR during the first 30 to 60 days?
I actually don't want to discuss any specifics, while I do have myriad items on my to-do list, I want to get in there and reconnect with the staff. I want to get a vibe on the culture in the building and then I will know which of my many ideas make sense and in what order. The staff and management are great and we both need to have a quick honeymoon period. For me, the question should be, "What did you do in your first 30 to 60 days?"
10) How has the methodology of PPM helped or hurt Programming?
My concerns aren't too much different than anyone who has to deal with PPM. But once you accept the meter's limitations you study it, to understand it, and then to execute great common sense radio. The meter has hurt some and helped some; that's going to happen when you use small samples to estimate a population's behavior. There are many PPM theories out there and when you think about it they are all telling you to just make smart choices, be consistent and deliver really good content. Well-managed stations that mirror back listener expectations tend to do well. You shouldn't watch the PPM results each week because you'll lose your mind with all the statistical wobbles that are sure to happen. You must embrace PPM because it doesn't matter if it is helping or hurting radio; it's the standard and is not going away anytime soon. It has its quirks but Nielsen tries their best to keep the technology honest and as true as possible.
If a radio genie gave you three wishes, what would they be?
My first wish would be to have larger PPM In-Tabs. Secondly, for R&B songwriting from the '70s to be infused with modern-day R&B projects. Lastly, all the right answers to every programming conundrum.
What are your views on music and perceptual research and how should it be used?
I believe in music research a lot, but it is not the end-all. A radio station gets its personality from the gut feel of those programming it. The two disciplines, gut and research, have to work in some sort of combination. I have run into purists who only play what tests, but I don't agree with that strategy all the time. Perceptual research is a great tool to have if you can afford it. Every good PD has a strong sense of who his/her listeners are and how they live but having your suspicions confirmed or challenged by a perceptual study really helps focus your strategies much better than you would without it. Research is just one of the tools needed to make a station work.
Would you share some advice for air personalities and how they should approach the job?
I have to answer this question with a stream of thoughts: Connect with your listeners emotionally. Share with them the things that they will be motivated to pass along to creative read a lot of non-radio related stuff. Stay as healthy as you can both mentally and physically.