10 Questions with ... Mark McCray
October 18, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- WCIL/Carbondale, IL
- WPNT/Chicago, IL
- KRLD/Dallas-Ft Worth
- KKDA/Dallas Ft Worth
- KRNB/Dallas Ft Worth
- ABC Radio Networks
- WMBX/West Palm Beach
- WNEW/West Palm Beach
- KBFB/Dallas Ft Worth
- KSOC/Dallas Ft Worth
1) So what was it like growing up in Chicago listening to the radio?
I listened to a lot of Doug Banks, Tom Joyner, Robert Murphy and WLS. I loved how conversational Doug and Tom were with their audience on WGCI. They were having a blast on the air and you could hear it. Sounded like they were in there loving life and laughing, while connecting with the audience and community. I loved how Robert Murphy on Q-101 would be sarcastic and had a deadpan delivery. Same with the transparency and authenticity of Larry Lujack on WLS.
2) What was your first big break in commercial radio?
Tony Waitekus gave me a shot at WCIL/Carbondale IL. A college friend of mine (Jason Addams) asked Tony to give me a shot (Jason was already working there). Tony let me run the Casey Kasem show and do weekend overnights! I was able to grow from there! Thanks, Tony!
3) What got you hooked on getting into radio?
I took a class one summer while I was still in high school. Columbia College in Chicago was offering college credit classes to high school students. So ... my mom made me take a class the summer after my junior year to keep busy. I chose Radio (my other choices were "TV" or "Aerobic Dance") because it seemed the most interesting. After the first class I knew this is what I wanted to do!
4) How important was college radio for you?
It was vital! It was the first place that let me go on the air. It was what made it possible to make my mistakes and learn from them in an environment that allowed mistakes. It was also my first opportunity to be a MD and PD. I was the PD of my student station for two years!
5) Would you share the names of the people who influenced you and who you view as mentors?
Todd Manley (now at WGN) - Gave me an internship which led to a job! He also taught me a lot about production!
Michael Spears - Gave me one of my biggest opportunities! He was my PD in Chicago (WPNT) and brought me to Dallas (KRLD) when I was only 20 years old. He believed in me and saw something in me. He was tough in my aircheck meetings, but made me better and taught me to think like a broadcaster who could work on any format.
Jay Stevens - Jay was responsible for moving me to West Palm Beach when I was working in Austin at CBS. He challenged me (and continues to) to think differently as a PD and OM. We worked well together when he was my VP for CBS and thought enough of me to bring me along to Radio One. My dream has been for many years to get the opportunity to program in a major market and thankfully Jay believes in me and made that happen! Thanks Jay!
6) Tell me your experience with the legendary Michael Spears.
Michael was awesome! Everyone needs someone in their early radio career to challenge them, believe in them and coach them along. Some radio people are selfish with their knowledge and don't take the time to "coach" young talent. That was not the case with Michael. To take a 19-year-old intern like myself, listen to his aircheck and then offer him a job ... that takes vision, patience and a commitment to coach. That was my experience with Michael. He saw radio as big as any other media and loved to make things bigger and better. I remember one time I was on the air (WPNT/Chicago) covering a midday shift. On the air I said I was "filling-in for Lynne Murray." After my mic went off ... he comes flying through the door and says to me with a big smile ... "Don't say 'filling-in' ... say you're 'guest starring for Lynne Murray'... okay?" Then he walked out as quickly as he came in! I have a few stories like that. He wasn't a jerk, he just coached ... and wanted to make you better.
7) What made you decide to become a PD?
I knew that radio was (and still is) what I want to do! I also knew that even though I love being on the air, my best chance to be in radio the rest of my life would be to be in management. Additionally, the science of radio and programming fascinated me, so being a PD would be right up my alley. I started my PD experience at my student station (WIDB) and I enjoyed it greatly. Plus, it was a great reason to be at the radio station all day!
8) Could you describe the situation that led to you having brain surgery and your recovery process?
In 2013, I was blind-sided with a brain tumor diagnosis after some unexplainable dizzy spells. It's called an Acoustic Neuroma ... a tumor that is on an auditory nerve. As a result of this surgery I lost hearing in my right ear (it still does a great job of holding up my glasses), but my left one is strong! Thank God! I had a lot of people praying for me and with an overall positive attitude, I was able to be back to work in a month. Which was kinda quick ... but I set a goal to be gone for only a month. My surgery was 3/01/13 ... My first day back to work was 4/01/13 ... exactly one month! God is good!
9) What do you try to bring to the air as a morning personality?
If you have the opportunity to be live and local on your station, make sure the morning show is doing a great job of doing that! We try to make sure we talk about the market, what's going on and be relatable to North Texas in every way possible. We are also authentic, entertaining and informative. We know we only have the audience in the car for a certain period of time and we have to make the most of that time. Community presence is also paramount! We make sure we are touching the community and capitalizing on those opportunities to super-serve the market.
10) Would you share your thoughts on the future of radio?
As long as people are in cars, I think we are relevant. We must continue to be setting and relating to the trends. In the world of a lot of syndication (which can work in several applications), we must try to find a way to still be local, community oriented, and visible. These are the things that make radio special and we need to own that and do it better than anyone else. The future of radio looks bright ... we have survived TV, portable audio, the Internet, streaming services and more. Thankfully the reach of radio is still strong!
What kind of things interest you these days outside of radio?
I love movies, roller coasters and traveling. I have a new appreciation for traveling and experiencing new things since my surgery. I was that guy who was always at the radio station from sun up to sun down and rarely took a vacation. I still spend plenty of time at the station because I love my job, but I have learned more about balance, spending time with love ones and living.
Is there anything about you that would surprise a lot of people?
Nope! Well, maybe one thing. People seem to find it fascinating that I started high school at only 12 years old and went to college at 16. I kept my age a secret while in school ... I didn't see it as being interesting at the time.
How you keep it all together with programming two stations and doing morning drive?
Alcohol and lots of crying! Kidding, just kidding! If you are trusted with a lot of responsibilities, you have to make sure you are organized. Schedule yourself reminders, don't procrastinate and trust the people on your team. Being a control freak and trying to do it all yourself is career suicide. You have to hire well and then trust the people you have on your team. Great employees want to be empowered and like that they are a part of the win! My job is to coach and lead by example. We aircheck, talk about maximizing the audience and they teach me about things they see trending and observe when they are out and about.