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The King Has Left The Building

8-9-2012

The 2012 Radio Ink issue highlighting the Best Program Directors in America is now making its way around the country via the bankrupt United State Postal Service. Today, we'd like to give an honorable mention to Kenny King, who was the program director at WRQX in Washington, DC, until just before the August 6, 2012 issue of Radio Ink went to the printer. King is a veteran programmer sure to land on his feet soon at someone's radio station and we asked him to share his thoughts on programming radio stations in the age of super consolidation.

RI: When did you become a program director?
From the time I was a kid, all I wanted to do was be on the radio. I was fortunate enough to land a weekend and overnight job in Pittsburgh at Classic Rock WMYG while I was still in school at WVU in 1988. Fast-forward through the years of being a jock, MD, and APD to 1996, when I earned my official PD stripes. I went from being on the air in NYC to being a morning guy and PD in Danville, IL.

It was a huge change in market size, but I figured that would be the quickest way to start programming so I could relaunch my career and start moving up into larger markets again. Eight months later, I was back in the top 10, programming in Washington, DC. To me, not everything in my career has been about how it looks on a resume, but rather what I could contribute to a team and how I can grow from each experience.

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RI: How long were you at your last job?
For nearly the last 15 years, I managed a lot of the programming on the FM stations here in DC as PD/OM, which included Hot AC WRQX and a variety of formats, from Oldies to Smooth Jazz to a Classic Rock station that I built from scratch. It's been a very fun and rewarding time, but I'm excited to be able to get a fresh start with a new group, although I haven't found the perfect fit just yet.

RI: What's changed about programming since you first became a program director?
The big picture is just as important today as it was yesterday, except we get more done with fewer people, and fewer resources in some cases. We still strive for great ratings and revenue and need to have smart people and good plans in place to achieve both, while at the same being students of PPM. Having a programming team that understands the need to drive revenue while protecting the product, is even more important these days, and that's something I've taken pride in doing in DC.

With the advance in technology, there are certainly things that have changed. You can dive into the DNA of your station and your competitors' on your iPad while online during a flight. You can listen to your station on your phone when you're on vacation (after all, we never really unplug these days), and if you have really good eyes, you can even schedule music on your phone!

Technology has made it possible for radio to really connect with listeners via the website, Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. Listeners give you instant feedback, share pictures, review concerts, and so much more. You can offer listeners digital coupons or send text messages to let them know about an upcoming contest or a concert on-sale code, and just about everything can be a source of nontraditional revenue. So one of the most significant changes, and there are many, is that we have a lot of technology that helps us expand the reach of our brands, provide different opportunities to drive revenue, and we have access to new vehicles that help us keep tabs on our stations almost anywhere at any time.

Years ago, we may have had a strategic project and a few music tests to reference and some Arbitron tools, and more people on the staff. Many probably remember getting a good monthly and resting easy for a moment or thinking, "It's just a monthly."

Now, even though they say, "It's just a weekly," it's like a car crash -- you can't help but look. Problem is, we're not looking at a bigger picture, and at times, we're making decisions based on a few weeks. From weekly ratings to Media Monitors -- raise your hand if one meter in play at any given moment scares you -- to PDA Web, Tapscan to XTrends, to PPM Analysis Tool, music monitoring services, and the occasional music test, or if you're lucky enough to have one to reference, a market study, and suddenly time in the day has evaporated.

So with all of these great tools, it's important to keep it in balance by spending a portion of time crunching the numbers but more importantly making sure you know exactly what you're looking for when you do open up a program. Now if only technology could create more time in the day, we'd be set.

RI: How has PPM changed radio?
At the end of the day, you still need to put something on the radio that people care to listen to, and you still need to remind people to use your station. If it's music, it had better be someone's favorite song soon after they tune in. If it's talk, it had better be something that's of interest to your target. Contests should be simple and fun; promos should be short and sweet, and with regard to spots, control what you can control to make sure they sound as good as possible. I would add that seven-minute breaks with nine units probably isn't healthy, since that is part of the user experience.

When PPM shows that you might have 13 minutes per occasion or less, you're fighting for moments out of someone's day, not hours. So maybe it's not so much about how PPM has changed radio, but more about how it's changed our thinking about radio.

RI: How should radio serve the community?
I know, in our case, we certainly set out to entertain people with talented personalities, music, and contesting but we also did our best to inform people and to be a part of their community. Whether it was the events of 9/11, with the Pentagon in our backyard, the DC sniper situation, a very rare earthquake, hurricanes, tornados, or power outages, we were on the air for our listeners, providing live and local information. Radio plays an important role when it comes to getting critical information to people during emergencies of all kinds. We were never afraid to interrupt a song to get important information on the air, which is the beauty of live radio.

We've also made it a point to lend a hand as well. There hasn't been a holiday season that we've missed collecting donations for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program through a series of live broadcasts. I've personally walked the halls of Walter Reed Military Hospital to welcome troops home while on the air we were celebrating Military Appreciation Month. The "MIX For Kids" radiothon has not only been the best team-building event over the past four years, it's raised over $1.4 million for Children's National Medical Center. In addition, we've sponsored a significant number of community events, and we've been proud to do so. So from my time at the stations, I say yes, radio is doing a good job at serving the community, and I know there are many stations doing the same, if not more, but there is always room for improvement.

RI: What would you change about radio?
Rather than change something, I suggest we inspire the people we work with and, when appropriate, help someone grow to strengthen the business now and for the future. The greatest compliments I've received have been the ones from people that I've passed knowledge to along the way or that I've opened a door for at some point. I've always tried to recognize the talent around me and have made it a point to try and help them develop because, in the end, I knew it would help the team grow.

Reach out to Kenny King at kennyking1@me.com



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