10 Questions with ... Don Black
April 26, 2016
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) You attended our All Access/WWRS conference, was it a good experience for you?
WWRS was definitely a good experience for me. This was my second one and just like last year, it recharged my batteries with new perspectives on how to tackle issues with my own station. The big thing I took away from this year's conference was all the ways our brand can be pushed to our listeners through Twitter, Facebook, Facebook Live, Instagram, etc. On air personalities more than ever can touch our listeners whenever they want ... and if they do, the listener will be loyal to the brand. It's very important to do that with listeners having so many choices of things to listen to. Given them a reason why is more important than ever.
2) What is your process when working with new air talent?
My process is to hone in on what is unique about them and accentuate it. Once you find the uniqueness, teach them how to get to whatever point they are going to talk about the best way possible. Pick the right words to make your break great and unique. After a couple of good weeks of picking over everything, they tend to figure out the best way to broadcast the best. And don't always tell the talent the answer; help them discover it on their own. When they find it themselves, they take ownership.
3) How has your outlook changed towards the future of radio?
I think the future is still great! We need to embrace the new ways of grabbing our listeners' attention and use that to help them to continue to trust our brand. We do have to remember that we are in the business of radio and everything we go has to somehow make the listener come back to our station.
4) Did the death of Prince affect you in a different way?
Prince's death affected me more than it did Michael Jackson's death. Every part of my life, he has been the soundtrack. Just recently I rediscovered the last track from Around the World in A Day ... "Temptation." A 14-year old kid didn't have any clue what he was talking about in the beginning but after about 20 listens, I got it. And there are plenty of other songs by him that hold special parts of my brain. We lost a musical giant. My only hope is that as people go back and relive his greatness, it inspires the next generation of artists to be themselves.
5) Do you have a favorite radio story?
Probably my favorite radio story happened in college radio when I got to interview Notorious B.I.G. and Craig Mack in 1994. Biggie was a very quiet dude and Craig was just full of energy. We asked them to both freestyle on the air and Biggie wouldn't. Craig Mack didn't care. He went for it. After a couple of bars, Biggie decided that he needed to be a part of it and it was insane. Being young and in the moment, I wasn't thinking about how big these guys were gonna be, I was more worried about getting something good the listeners would enjoy. And we did.
6) 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.
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 the love it and they 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) 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.
9) What kinds of things did you experience when you launched into 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%.
10) 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.
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.