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The State of Rock Radio – Part Four

| August 23, 2012

DJs play key roll in rocker success

By Mike Kinosian
Managing Editor/West Coast Bureau Chief

Tops For Talent

All rock flavors were well represented in Jacobs Media’s recently completed eighth tech survey, which was expanded to include 12 formats.

A myriad of questions was posed as part of the forum, with none being more vital than the elementary: “What are the reasons for you to listen to broadcast radio?”

Respondents could select from a litany of choices to that query and as Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs points out, in all cases across format lines, the desire to hear favorite songs is the #1 motivation for someone to use terrestrial radio.

Depending on format, personalities are either #2 or lower, until you come to rock, where Jacobs notes, there is a tie for first with favorite songs.  “They expect a personality component,” he comments of rock listeners.  “As we all know, music is available in a variety of different places other than ‘us.’  Often times, proprietary differences come down to everything else and personalities are a big part of that.”

In active rock, Jacobs declares that Preston & Steve, heard 5:30 am to 10:30am on Philadelphia’s WMMR, are “doing just incredible things on the radio right now.”

Meanwhile at the same Greater Media-owned facility, Pierre Robert is, in Jacobs’ estimation, “probably one of the most interesting mid-day personalities in the country.”

The 6:00 am to 10:00 am “BJ Shea Morning Experience” on Seattle’s KISW is a “remarkable” story, Jacobs maintains, on a former Howard Stern affiliate.  Following the departure of its decade-long, morning talent Bob Rivers, KISW in mid-May 2001 filled that vacancy with Stern.  “KISW not only survived the loss of Stern when he went to satellite radio – as so many did not – but is actually doing better in the post-Stern apocalyptic era,” Jacobs points out.

From 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm, the Entercom outlet airs “The Men’s Room” and Jacobs insists it is, “just a killer” program. “They play music but the show has many personalities.”

Those are two examples of successful mainstream rock facilities that still play music, but have become lifestyle stations, reflective of their local marketplaces.  “They are making it work,” Jacobs emphasizes, “with perhaps different architectures than what stations might have been doing 10, 15, or 20 years ago.”

It is imperative to not only have personality but an “appropriate” talent, someone the target audience respects, and as Tom Yates, the former program director of Los Angeles’ KLOS, opines, it goes back to stations like KLOS, NYC’s WNEW-FM, and the old KSAN in San Francisco.  “The personalities were comfortable with the music, comfortable in their own skin, and comfortable with the culture,” states Yates who now owns Fort Bragg, California’s “Coast” (KOZT).

Shooting down the notion that a station’s highest-profile talent is heard in either of the drive times, Saga Communications executive vice president/program director Steve Goldstein points out that “the most famous on-air talent in Norfolk is our midday personality” at WNOR-FM, the company’s rocker in the 44th-largest market.

Princess’ queen-sized thoughts

Library titles that Maria Milito plays on New York City’s “Q104.3″ (WAXQ) can be several decades old and many bands featured on those tunes have long since scattered.

Only so many core songs exist for stations like “104.3;” on-air talent must create excitement around the music.

Given the freedom to inject personality, velvet-toned 9:00 am to 2:00 pm talent Milito and her colleagues on the Clear Channel classic rocker wonderfully, masterfully elevate the station from being anything but a liner-card facility.  “We make things entertaining and not a jukebox,” she remarks.  “People always tell me they like listening to classic rock because it brings back fond memories and they enjoy the station’s personalities because we stay current with pop culture.”

Trends in some other formats have included minimizing the role of on-air talent, however 16-year “Q104.3″ personality Milito explains, “We are a team and people call us their ‘Q family.’”

On-air teammates of hers include the WAXQ 5:00 am to 9:00 am “Rock & Roll Morning Show” hosted by iconic Gotham talent Jim Kerr with Shelli Sonstein; Ken Dashow (2:00 pm to 7:00 pm); the still ever vivacious Carol Miller (7:00 pm to 12:00 midnight); and Doc Reno (12:00 midnight to 5:00 am).  “Some listeners know when my birthday is and send presents,” Milito somewhat sheepishly notes.  “From my college radio days, I was taught to talk to one person, rather than a group of people.  Feedback we get is that we are keeping people company and that their workday would not be the same if they did not hear us.  We have become part of listeners’ normal routines and that is kind of cool.”

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are having a great impact on the off-air techniques that personalities are incorporating to interact with their audience.

With the promise of rock bands coming up in the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, for instance, Milito was busy tweeting her various opinions.  “Listeners – or those following me – were re-tweeting me,” she recounts.  “It was very entertaining to make comments back and forth.  I have done this during the Academy Awards and definitely during the Grammy Awards.”

Even Milito did not realize just how relevant classic rock was going to be at the Olympics.  It has been her fantasy since the day Freddie Mercury died in 1991 that George Michael would take his place in Queen.  “George Michael trained himself to sound like Freddie Mercury,” she explains.  “He is probably the only other singer who could actually hit the notes the way Freddie did.  It would have been a completely new audience for George Michael but it never happened.  I was getting carried away tweeting about that during the Olympics.  Doing things this way is the new reality.”

Countless “Q104.3″ partisans who grew up with the music Milito plays are now parents.  At appearances, the quintessentially cordial Milito will meet 40-year-old listeners who introduce her to their teenage kids and those offspring love classic rock.  “It is important to be connected and see who is out there,” she counsels.  “You might think you know who the listener is, or you might think the listener is you – but it is not you at all.  It is similar to politicians, who need to go out, shake hands, and kiss babies.  We do not have to do that to win people over, but we do it so we know who we are talking to.”

Owing to the fact that they continue to generate new music and still do concert dates, a number of classic rock artists keep the format fresh.  ”Look at the Rolling Stones,” Milito enthusiastically states.  “Holy moley!  They have been at it for 50 years and we are looking forward to them touring next year.  There are bands continuing to be relevant on their own.  Some of our classic rock artists – Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and Green Day – are part of the lineup for next month’s iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas.  It just flows.”

Being referred to as a “rock chick” does not offend Milito, who is virtually encyclopedic about the classic rock music on which she and her two older siblings were weaned.  “It is still interesting to me and I continue to enjoy going to concerts,” she proudly acknowledges.  “I absolutely could not wait for David Lee Roth and Van Halen to reunite.  It doesn’t necessarily make me a groupie, although I did have silly crushes on some of these guys.”

While working on-air at NYC’s “K-Rock” (WXRK) in the mid-1990s, Milito was approached to do afternoon drive for SW Networks’ smooth jazz channel.  “The station allowed me to do it because SW did not have a New York City affiliate,” she points out.

The experience taught her how to do a syndicated show and proved to be an invaluable foundation for Milito’s present involvement with Clear Channel’s Premium Choice network.  “You talk about the music and current events but you never discuss location or give time checks,” she explains.  “You can make it interesting because you are talking about the music, as well as things in pop culture and the news.”

Similar national exposure came to her several years ago when she appeared on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” as the then-MSNBC program’s “American Idol” expert.  “I will always be grateful to Keith for that opportunity and it made me feel very comfortable to be on camera,” Milito remarks.  “Being on with him for five minutes talking about ‘America Idol’ really opened doors for me.”

At roughly the same time, the photogenic Milito – dubbed by Olbermann as his “American Idol Princess” – began filling in as a guest host on New York One (NY1), Time Warner’s all-news channel in New York.  “You either love Keith or hate him, but he has always treated me very well and even gave me a princess tiara.  I would always tease him that after he had done a very serious program, I would come on for the last five minutes to ‘dumb it down,’ but it was fun.  Keith was so accommodating to me and I really enjoyed it.”

There were times she would be on “Countdown” twice a week and Milito looked forward to requests for her to do the program on short notice.  Not long ago, she attended a Clear Channel event and spotted Ryan Seacrest.  “I introduced myself and mentioned that I would talk about him on ‘Countdown.’  He actually knew who I was, which meant a lot to me.”

Once she stopped doing “Countdown” – and after Simon Cowell left as a judge – Milito significantly reduced her viewing time of the Seacrest-hosted singing competition.  “I hate to admit that, but it’s true,” she notes.  “I lived vicariously through Simon because, while brutal, he was honest.  There was such a different dynamic after he left.  My listeners would thank me because they were able to discuss ‘Idol’ with their kids and it made them hipper.  The parents did not listen to pop bands and did not know the music, but they said they were learning it through me.  Who knew I was doing a public service without even thinking about it?  I became their Cliffs Notes, which was fun.”

Tomorrow: RadioInfo’s “State of Rock Radio” presents an invaluable historical perspective of the format from two of its prime architects

Mike Kinosian is the managing editor and West Coast bureau chief of RadioInfo. He can be e-mailed or phoned at 818-985-0244.



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