Chris Michaels, PD, WABB/Mobile 
&
Chris “Hollywood” Mann, PD, WERO (Bob 93-3)/New Bern, NC

Hollywood: WABB is a heritage station with 40+ years of local ownership starting with Bernie Dittman, and now with his daughter Betsy. It has been programmed by legends in the industry like Scott Shannon, Leslie Fram, and Mark St. John. Was it intimidating to go to a legendary station like WABB for your first PD gig?
Chris: I think anyone would be a little nervous taking over a huge radio station like WABB, but I quickly hit the ground running with goals to continue the heritage local brand that WABB is known for in the market. I still wake up every morning, and turn on the radio thinking to myself, “I am so blessed to be a part of such an amazing locally owned station like WABB.” A lot of successful people have roamed these halls, and it’s great to be able to continue the legacy. 

Hollywood: What are the advantages/disadvantages of being locally owned vs. corporately owned?
Chris: Being locally owned, I have direct contact with the owner of the radio station. If I need something, I pick up the phone and call Betsy. It’s nice to know that I can call Betsy at any time, and bounce an idea off of her or pitch a proposal for a new tool that I believe would benefit WABB. Some advantages of being corporately owned, is having sister stations to branch out to for ideas, and being able to reach out to other programmers within the company to share some successful stories they have had in their market.  


Hollywood: What is your competitive situation now in Mobile and what separates WABB from that competition?

Chris: This is a very competitive market. What some may not know is that Mobile and Pensacola could be combined into one market. Most of the Mobile stations have an audience in Pensacola, and most of the Pensacola stations have an audience in Mobile. There are now three CHR’s in Mobile/Pensacola, including a mainstream CHR and a Rhythm CHR in Pensacola.
         There is a lot that separates WABB from the competition. WABB has been the same format for over 30 years, and most of our listeners grew up with WABB. It was a part of their family, and now their kids listen. We are the only station with live local talent from 5:30am-12am every weekday, and also on the weekends. My morning show, Styles & Q-Tip in the Morning, are all over the town daily making their presence known and they meet listeners face to face, and have direct communication with them. We are also very promotionally active in the market. You combine all of that and WABB has its own identity, and when you listen to us verses the competition, you are connected to WABB. You can 100% tell that we are a locally driven radio station that super serves the local community.


Hollywood: What are the most significant challenges the radio industry faces today and how are you addressing those challenges at WABB?

Chris: Where is our new talent going to come from? With budget cuts, it’s hard to cultivate new up and coming talent. Here at WABB, we are still training new talent. As a matter of fact, my midday girl Blondie came out of a hair salon in Mobile. We did a “Radio Dream Job contest” in 2009, and she was the runner up. I hired her, and she learned everything about radio by coming into the station daily sitting in with the jocks, asking questions, going out on appearances. I finally gave her a break, and put her on a Sunday afternoon shift. I did weekly aircheck meetings with her to help her grow, and she slowly took off. Now she sounds great. When I had a midday opening, there was no doubt in my mind that a local girl from Mobile that had a following, could relate and also sounded really good on the air, was the right choice for middays. I did the same thing with our weekend talent Nick Fox. He worked at a restaurant at the beach, but he had a personality that made me want him on our team. He followed Blondie’s footsteps, and now he’s on the air every weekend, and works closely with the morning show.


Hollywood: Has the WABB CHR music position or programming focus changed or evolved since you became PD?

Chris: Yes, rather than leaning Rhythm, we evolved into a straight down the middle mainstream CHR. I made sure that we stayed in our Mainstream CHR lane with the music so we could own and cherish records in the market that nobody was playing. I also set some formatics in place that tightened the jocks up as a team. I wanted to get us focused on being a forward momentum radio station that has personality, but at the same time respects the music. We now have that at WABB.


Hollywood: With the largely Rhythmic/Dance/and heavy female saturation at Mainstream CHR currently, how do you effectively balance all of genres of the top 40 format?

Chris: I rely on my recurrent and gold songs to help with the balance a lot. Plus, I’ll still find those Rock records that may be struggling on the charts, but I know people want to hear them in the market, but can’t find it. I’m playing Thirty Seconds to Mars, The Script and Linkin Park to name a few. WABB can own those records, and it also helps balance the music flow.


Hollywood: Syndication in mornings is prevalent in our industry. How fortunate do you feel to have a live and local morning show?

Chris: I am so fortunate to have a live and local morning show. Styles & Q-Tip is probably one of the most locally content driven morning shows I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. They are talking about our local community daily, and they are always in the streets meeting the listeners.  


Hollywood: We worked together for four years, and prior to your ascension to PD of WABB your name was, “Beaver.” I believe you went by that name for a time at WAPE. I miss the name a bit. (Ha-ha)  Who gave you the name to begin with?

Chris: I actually got the name from Cat Thomas who was my Program Director at the time at WAPE, now a corporate Programmer at Entercom in Austin. It was me, Cat and The Big Ape Morning Zoo in Cat’s office trying to brainstorm a name before my first airshift at WAPE. After throwing around several names, Cat looked at me from across his desk, and said, “Hey…What if we call you Beaver?” The Morning Zoo all screamed “YES.” So, it stuck. It was memorable for sure.


Hollywood: What programmers, consultants, and people have sculpted your programming thought process and leadership style?

Chris: First, Cat Thomas who taught me how to be a leader during my time at WAPE. His staff meetings were absolutely the most motivational staff meetings I’ve ever seen. Randi West taught me so much over the years. I have turned to Randi countless times when I need advice or help, and after every conversation I walk away learning something new. Steve Davis taught me pretty much everything I know about music scheduling, clock building, and how to understand music research, as well as many other things. Randy Lane has completely taught me everything I know about how to manage talent and morning show coaching. When it comes to talent, it doesn’t get any better than leaning on Randy Lane. I also have so much respect for people like Tommy Chuck, who will take time out of his busy day to coach me and help me grow. I don’t take any of these people for granted, and feel so blessed that I could call any of them right now knowing they would help me.


Hollywood: Since your time working here at WERO, you have bought a home and you and your wife have had a baby. How has that changed your life and perspective?

Chris: Having a baby has changed my life completely. It’s taught me patience, and how to put my family first in life. I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.
 



 

Chris: What has been your proudest moment since being at WERO/Bob 93-3?

Hollywood: First, I am proud and blessed to serve with a great team that together has grown a brand and product that has achieved the highest ratings and revenue flow in the station’s history. There have been honestly many moments over my time at WERO that have made me proud though. The station has a real sense of community. Anything we do to help the community makes me proud!


Chris: Bob 93-3 has fought off quite a few competitors over the years. What makes “Bob” unique so that it continues to win in Eastern Carolina?

Hollywood: Eastern Carolina is a unique market and is huge. Our metro is 9,000 square miles. I am still a big believer in the three M’s: Music, Mornings, and Marketing. Embracing all of those aspects and having the autonomy to program the music for the market and not having to follow a cookie cutter, one size fits all music approach has certainly been a large part of the equation and our success. We also have a small but talented staff that understands the market dynamics. Our current morning show, Ace & TJ, although syndicated, is one of the best in the business. We really wrap our arms around them to give them a local feel. Their team also provides the best support for us that I could ask for with market visits and a real yearning to help us win. Community involvement has also been a key for us. It differentiates us and endears us to the local towns in a way that other entertainment mediums can’t do.


Chris: Having the pleasure of working with you previously for 4 years, I know that one of your strengths is executing “theater of the mind” radio. What is the best “theater of the mind” promotion you have done?

Hollywood: The most fulfilling promotion was Feed It To Bieber. We raised almost 20,000 pounds of food for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. We had stops through the market with our title sponsor, Pizza Hut. Listeners were invited to donate non-perishable food items. Their donations were weighed then loaded into food bank trucks. Listeners had the chance to donate more than one time. The winner who donated the most food by weight won tickets and a meet and great to see Justin Bieber. This October we hope to raise awareness for Breast Cancer Awareness with Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation with the first ever, “Bob Booby Bowl,” where we invite listeners to bowl for a good cause. Chris, you’re allowed to steal this since it’s for a good cause and since you are in a different market I would not be too upset.


Chris: You’ve been at Bob 93-3 in Eastern North Carolina for almost 9 years. Any advice for programmers trying stay fresh in a market they’ve been in for a while?

Hollywood: Passion is the number one attribute. Being able to embrace new ideas and thought processes are also crucial in staying fresh.


Chris: These days we’re all wearing multiple hats. If you were able to add one full time position to Bob 93-3, what would that position be?

Hollywood: I would have said a local morning show, but that was before I had time to grow with Ace & TJ. Their product is so compelling and endearing that I would not ever think about replacing them now, even though they are syndicated. Having more local air talent certainly would be helpful as we are so promotionally active. Honestly, we have been able to really maximize and grow Bob 93-3 even with our current scaled down staff, and we’re lucky we have more local staff than most. Making more out of less is something we have become very skilled at. I have a great team.


Chris: The CHR music cycle has shifted recently to a more up-tempo Dance vibe. During this cycle, how do you keep an adult leaning CHR like Bob 93-3 in its lane to protect its brand?

Hollywood: Well, we don’t rely on the charts that much. They are so major market driven and very Rhythmic/Dance at the moment. They don’t reflect our music position. We lean Rock and straddle the Hot AC fence during the day. We do have local music research, which is critical in accessing our currents.  We are also more apt to be early on Rock songs than any other genre. If there are songs from other formats like Hot AC that help us keep our balance we may embrace those songs as well to maintain our music position. Our re-currents and golds play a large role in helping us stay in our lane as well.


Chris: What one record that you thought you’d never play wound up becoming a big hit for you after you decided to play it?

Hollywood: Cee-Lo “Forget You.”


Chris: Who are some of the people that you look up to in this business? What makes them influential?

Hollywood: There are many. Scott Shannon for one. His influence on the business and Top 40 is legendary. His passion inspires me. The members of the Zapoleon team have taught me so much, formerly Steve Davis and currently Mark St. John and Guy Zapoleon. They have their pulse on a winning formula and their critical thinking and thought processes are some of the best out there. Randi West is one of the premier female talents in the country and she’s always willing to offer advice. She’s a great programmer and I learn a lot form her. I think people like Jon Zellner and Dom Theodore have amazing minds and really get it, and people like Tommy Chuck and even you Chris Michaels, are people I look up to as future leaders in our business.


Chris: Now, more than ever it’s crucial to have a digital strategy in place when programming. How has your staff, and the listeners, adapted to your digital strategy?

Hollywood: We are very fortunate. Our parent company Nextmedia has a very aggressive Interactive department that provides us with the tools to win. In our market, we have led the way in engaging our listeners in the brand of Bob 93-3 outside of our terrestrial signal. Stickyfish, our listener club, phone apps, texting, and social networking sites have all been important promoting listener engagement in our brand. Our talent has embraced it well and the listeners have been very receptive to the digital platform. 


Chris:
One of our favorite things we use to do was take your boat out on the water, however we use to break down every summer. (Great memories!) I’m thinking about coming up for a visit this summer, and I need to know…Do you still have the boat, and if so, is it running and ready to go?
Hollywood: Well, I am officially retiring the S.S. P.O.S. I got tired of breaking down and having to paddle to shore. We will find a boat to borrow for sure though. Look forward to your visit!


[
FMQB ORIGINAL CONTENT, published March 2011, please do not republish or reprint without the express consent of FMQB. Make sure you visit us on the Web at www.fmqb.com


FMQB NOW

Christopher K
APD/MD, KDND & KUDL
Sacramento

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