Eric Chase, PD, WAEB/Allentown
&
Pat “Grooves” Cerullo, APD/MD, WDZH/Detroit

Grooves: You've taken what was almost a modern day full service radio station and evolved it to a cool Top 40 station that still embodies many of those original qualities. Can you elaborate on that and feel free to brag about your numbers?
Eric:
I think you're referring to the fact we run ALL the service elements on the morning show, and traffic every ten minutes on my (highly rated!) show from 3-7p. All of those things are still there, but the presentation of it all is much more progressive. Two years ago I came across a business strategy that Apple used, and applied it to B104. "Apple doesn't hold focus groups, it doesn't ask people what they want; it tells them what they're going to want next." B104's brand was always strong, and still is, so we can get away with this programming philosophy. When we put a new song on the air, we don't ask people if they're going to like it, we utilize imaging that tells them it's their next favorite song, or it's their very next download.

          To rationally soapbox for just a second, I realize nearly every major business is in the business of using every research metric available to them, but seriously, if Apple can eschew focus groups and Steve Jobs can use his instincts to ruthlessly approve or disapprove a prototype, then we, as an industry of creative types can use those same instincts to achieve success. As much as we are asked to count beans nowadays, never forget we are in a business of art and imagery, and those can never be created by numbers and data. No one ever told Picasso he was using too much blue, nor was Michelangelo ever asked to cover up his works of art. Art can be interpreted many ways, but we are in the positions we are in because someone appointed us to paint masterpieces.


Grooves:
How has Allentown's changing demographics altered the way you program B104?

Eric:
You're alluding to the booming Spanish population, right? It certainly makes it less cumbersome to play the Spanglish parts of Pitbull's lyrics. Race and nationalities aside, the programming and music on B104 was tweaked because it needed to be more reflective of the social progression in the region. People here are not immune to trends in fashion, music and eating in our neighboring cities in New York and Philly. Companies and businesses in the Valley began recognizing this around the time I arrived here in late 2006. We began to see the area filled with more chic places to shop, eat and socialize, and B104 needed to reflect the growth in culture. We did and now some of the liners, in a very untradional way, and converse to the radio norms, say "Hit Music & Pop Culture." My best friend, Brent Carey, who I worked with in numerous places, had a very simple, but profound programming thought. Say what it is. B104 is Hit Music and Pop Culture.

Grooves:
We’ve had many conversations about mix shows and weekend programming. You recently added a Friday night feature. Tell everyone about it
.
Eric:
At its most fundamental level, it's pure programming genius. It's called Friday Night EDM (electronic dance music). It's one hour of pure dance music, that, here's the key, is not mixed! As much as I love a bangin' eight minutes of a melodic and hypnotic Kaskade track - that really should, even in a mixshow be played in its entirety - that's just not going to be tolerated by a CHR listener. That's really who this show is targeted at. Even when I promo it on the air, I try to explain to the audience that they're already listening to electronic dance music by loving Katy Perry, Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Friday Night EDM is just going to inch a bit deeper into the world of that music by exposing these people to songs they'd otherwise have no idea existed. Plus, being the music lover I am of pop and electronic music, there's no one out there who's going to schedule the songs I do - sorry, not a DJ on the planet - with the finesse I use to make the show flow. There are outstanding DJ's out there, who understand the art of mixing AND programming, but even the best DJ's are shackled to the genre they're currently mixing with. Because the show isn't mixed, I can seamlessly genre-hop from electro, to house, to trance, to dub step, depending on how I feel the log needs to flow. The show is almost a bit more palatable because, son of a gun, club DJs have actually started playing true dance music in their sets over the last few years. More programmers should give this a shot, in fact, I'll consult for you.


Grooves:
What do you miss about Detroit? Being from Philadelphia did you feel there are similarities between the two?

Eric:
Here's the question where I lose my cool and turn in my Phillies fan card (part of which I did because of sports talk radio creating a much more objective, less irrational Eric Chase). There are absolutely no similarities between the two cities. The first of many differences between the two cities is the personalities of their respective inhabitants. I always said to people in Detroit, when they asked about people from Philly, that people in Philly say hello to a stranger or new acquaintance by some negative and painful distorting of ones facial features (think a grunt) or a figurative middle finger. Where people in Philly have horrible attitudes because it's not New York City, the traffic on I-76 is an endless horror, or from the miserable weather that plagues the winters, citizens of Detroit take the extraordinary economic hardships they've endured, the unrelenting winter weather, the deplorable play of the Lions and use it as a source of civic pride. Sorry for being so hard on Philly - maybe it’s what’s left of the cynical Northeast Philly blood in my veins. Or maybe it's just that I have so much admiration for just about every person I ever encountered in my time in Michigan. For the sake of brevity (and to stop the endless Detroit ass kissing), I'll put it this way...people of Detroit, nice. People of Philly, you'z not so nice!

Grooves:
Let's talk music. You and I share a passion for Dance music. Are you happy with the sound of the Top 40 format right now?

Eric:
Personally, the sound of Top 40 couldn't be any more appealing to me than it is right now. I used to scan the dial for Rock and Alternative songs I liked, and I'm constantly listening to Sports Talk radio, but anytime I tune away from my station or another Top 40 I feel like I'm missing a favorite song of mine. With that said, sonically, CHR is REALLY dancey right now with Pop and Hip-Hop artists creating pure dance tracks, whether they acknowledge it or not. This type of genre may be bordering on excessive. These dance songs all seem to be legitimate hit records, but there's something to be said for a modicum of balance. B104 is far from what it used to be, but even I question a quarter hour where no song went below 130 BPMs. Like I said, the songs are hits, but the Pop format seems to reaping its highest achievements when there's a variety of sounds that populate its stations.

Grooves:
Are having songs like an Afrojack and Alexandra Stan on Top 40 stations a good thing for the Dance genre?

Eric:
I'd say yes, they are. Amongst the hardcore Dance community there doesn't seem to be the same whining and griping from the "underground" or the too-dance hip-for-the-room kids there was half a decade ago about "their" records being played on mainstream radio. Why is this? I think it's because you now have the producers and DJ's of the Dance world excited about having their creations on stations played next to Katy Perry and Rihanna. Even superstars like Tiesto and David Guetta have bills to pay, and it's much easier to do that when you breach the mainstream audience to boost your popularity and your bank account.


Grooves:
You worked at Party 95.3 in Orlando which is one of my all time favorite stations. What do you think of the viability of that kind of format, a Dance Hip-Hop station, in 2011?
Eric: As much as I longed to get hired at Party and LOVED my time working there for Bartel in '02-'03, my instincts tell me the worlds of the Dance music fan and the Hip-Hop fan don't fuse well. The listener that enjoyed both Cam'Ron and DJ Encore just felt like it was such a niche target to have broad success with. However, that was my thinking back then, times and musical cycles have clearly changed in the last eight years. If you look at the landscape now, with the exception of a few mass appeal Pop bands (Hot Chelle Rae, Maroon 5, One Republic), and with the prevalence of Rhythmic leaning CHR's - that are successful - you've essentially got Dance/Hip- Hop/Rhythmic Pop hybrids all across the panel. If 95.3 Party were in existence today, I'd imagine it being a thousand spins deep on “Take Over Control,” “Mr. Saxobeat,” “Lighters,” “How To Love,” and “Last Friday Night.” How's that so unique from so many stations on the CHR panel nowadays?

Grooves:
Where is the next generation of talent going to come from? How about programmers?

Eric:
The first thing that popped into my head as far as future talent was that there will be no shortage of it thanks to all the emergent forms of media that are present in today's world. Trust me, you've got local YouTube stars in your market who have half a million hits, and are waiting to be tapped into as successful personalities. You can also do what I did when you decided to leave me hanging, so that you could selfishly fulfill your desires to be a major market programmer (not that I’m bitter AT ALL!). I did what great programmers have been doing for the last thirty years. I grabbed the most popular DJ/promoter in the area (Cap Cee), taught him how to voicetrack and run a board, and now he's an even bigger superstar in the market than he was three years ago. Not only do the club girls and kids love him, but he's got hot moms all over the Lehigh Valley that check out his show every night.

          As for where we find future programmers, the honest answer is, I don't know. At least from my recent experience, all the interns and young kids that come into the building don't seem to ask much about the programming fundamentals of successful radio stations. However, in the spirit of answering your question, I'll say that successful future programmers are wherever creativity lies, no matter the industry they're transitioning from. It's just going to take a small leap of faith from those in the ivory towers to believe in these innovators and allow them to work their magic, no matter how unorthodox their ideas may seem.


Grooves:
It's great that you know CHR but for a few hours a day you also do Sports Talk. Is there any middle ground between the two or are they night and day? Have you learned anything about your CHR audience from doing Sports Talk?

Eric:
The answer is a simple…NO. But I'll tell you this, I've learned an enormous amount of skills, from doing Sports Talk, that became extremely applicable to my on air delivery on B104. Whatever was left of my fast talking, Tic Tak-ishness has been eradicated from my B104 persona. I'm a more fluent, conversational and articulate personality than your typical CHR jock now. But I'll caution the wannabe talk radio Top 40 personalities, just because your PD says you talk too much as a CHR guy, doesn't mean you're ready to excel as a talk radio personality. It's still frightening at times when my co-host (Bob Holder, the more...outrageous half of After Further Review), is off the air for the day, and I've got to assume the role of being the aggressive communicator on the show. But back to your question, only twice in four plus years of doing The Fox show has any caller made mention of my simultaneous presence on B104.


Grooves:
I'm stealing one of your questions because I think it's brilliant. Given the time, what's the one responsibility that you would gladly add to your day?

Eric:
As much as I probably NEED to expand my skills on the web (well beyond, Googling useless but sometimes applicable info) I would absolutely love to have more employees to manage. Psychology has always intrigued me, to the point where I have Psych 101 type stuff on my bookshelf. So I love to find different trigger points in people, what motivates them to become better employees, how can I get the most out of their talents, and what can I do to put them in the best position so that collectively we can achieve our goals. I like to think I'm an inspirational leader, one who enjoys problem solving and with fewer people to manage these days it takes some of the fun out of the managerial role. If you're looking to develop yourself as a leader and don't have any interest in literature, and you're a sports fan, definitely check out the NFL Network's documentary on Bill Belichick, called A Football Life. It showcases Belichick's mastery of being detailed oriented, but not micromanaging, another strength I see in myself as a leader.
 


 

Eric: Lil' tiny Allentown doesn't have PPM (yet), I'm familiar with some of its basics, but what are some of the real nuances of the ratings system you've needed to master?
Grooves:
I like programmers that have taken PPM tactics and applied them in diary markets, even though they don't have to. By that I mean reducing clutter, tightening rotations, reeling the jocks in a tad, etc. Being in a diary market shouldn't be an excuse to still do radio like it's 1997. Take advantage of its nuances instead of fearing them. Know that your audience is evolving even if the ratings methodology is not.

          As a programmer tools like MScore and Audience Reaction are amazing. At the end of the day you still have to have great instincts and a solid team around you.
          As a jock I was fortunate to have worked for Jeff Kapugi in DC during my tenure at Hot 99.5. He had us prepared for PPM six months before pre-currency even kicked in. He was ahead of the curve and I still use many of his guidelines on the air to this day. Jeff was ahead of his time and that's probably why he works for us now.


Eric:
Congrats on your recent engagement. How is this going to affect the bazillion club gigs you have?

Grooves:
Easy answer…it won't! My fiancée’ learned a long time ago that 1) I'm relatively trustworthy and 2) I have absolutely no game. So leaving me unattended at a 19+ club in Canada has never caused her to lose any sleep. That being said, nightlife in Detroit is unlike anywhere else I have worked or lived. People appreciate good DJs and actually go to clubs to hear you spin. It's refreshing. Also it's not nearly as pretentious as some other parts of the country. No disrespect to the $300 bottle Vegas-style clubs, but we don't have a lot of that here. The owners know their market and their target audience. They are no different than great radio programmers.

Eric:
One thing I miss about Detroit is the great local DJs. Show some love to some of them.

Grooves:
You just wanted to get Jamie "DJ Cue" Yales some ink didn't you? The list is honestly too long. Google Detroit DJs and see the names that come up. We have guys that do monthly residencies in Vegas and travel worldwide all while calling Detroit home. It definitely made me step my mixshow game up when I got here. I knew who was listening to me on the weekends and wanted them to be impressed.

          Ryan Richards has been a phenomenal asset to Amp Radio. He is a household name in the market and in a city like Detroit; mixers can really move the needle. We also just brought Chill Will and Chris James on board. I waited two years to add more mixers because I wanted to be sure we hired guys that got programming, not just guys who had skill. Mixshows can be tricky in PPM but I think we found a sweet spot.
          You've got a couple of good mixers in Allentown too. Your night guy Cap Cee is pretty solid and DJ Fly and Buttaball Ed all did commercial radio in other markets while we were growing up. I may have even brokered time on a rimshot AC back in the day there just to get on the air in Allentown. (The segue way from Soft AC to a Rhythmic mixshow on a Friday nights got a lot of attention in the metropolis of Tamaqua, PA.)


Eric:
I sent you off to Detroit with extremely high praise for what became my adoptive home town, how right was I?

Grooves:
100% correct! This city is unlike anywhere else in the world. Sure there's the economic benefits of the low cost of living, but to leave it at that is selling it short. The real pride of Detroit is its people. There is something genuine and real about them that you can only understand by coming here. If you tell a native Michigander that you decided to move here by choice, be prepared for their response. I even beat two speeding tickets during my first month here by telling the cops I just moved here. They'll be able to show you where they're from on their hand (it's a Michigan thing!), be happy to share with your their favorite spot up North, or tell you about their favorite Michigan made beer. I've met lifelong friends here, more so than anywhere else I've ever worked. Come visit, you'll get it.

Eric:
Your boss, Dom Theodore, is renowned as one of the most creative and innovative people in the industry. What's the most mind blowing thing you've learned from him?

Grooves:
First and foremost the best pizza places to eat in Detroit. If you've never been to Loui's on the East Side you haven't lived. I say that having grown up on great New York style pizza too.

          On a more serious note, Dom is a magnet for creative talent who want to do more than just crack a mic five times an hour and read liners. Some people predicted PPM would be the death of personality on CHR stations. Instead Dom has inspired us to be creative and still find ways to put personality over a song intro or into a promo. Great talent will always find a way to do that, average talent will just give out the web address and artist/song titles. You won’t hear any throw away breaks like that from Puddin, Shay Shay, Buck Head or any of our weekenders here on Amp.
          I sometimes wish people could sit in on a music meeting with the Dom and I. It's truly the highlight of my week. It's a pleasure to work with someone who takes the sound of the radio station as seriously as you do. We can call each other at any time of the day (or night, cause that happens too) and make adjustments.
          Most importantly Dom inspires loyalty amongst his staff. That kind of loyalty isn't given blindly either. It's earned. He’ll go to the mat for any of us and vice versa.
          Lastly, CBS has been fantastic to work for. It starts at the top with Dan Mason and Gregg Strassell and with Debbie Kenyon locally. We work for radio people and it shows. Dom’s vision for this medium (and the CHR format specifically) is in line with theirs and the success we’re having with this format company-wide speaks for itself.


Eric:
You're from the Lehigh Valley. Give me your perspective of the B104 from how it sounded when you were a kid, to how it sounds now?

Grooves:
The station has done the same thing that market has done: evolved. Brian Check and Laura St. James created a station that fit the market. If you put it anywhere else it probably wouldn't have worked. You inherited a lot of heritage and a very healthy brand. That being said, the city of Allentown is now nearly half Hispanic and you have a Tropical competitor with great numbers. The market went from being blue collar to being more of a NYC bedroom community. Also you have more out of market stations playing Rhythmic music than ever before. I'll let you gloat about your numbers in your half of the interview, but it's safe to say you've done a pretty good job of adapting.


Eric:
Doing a Sports Talk show is part of my duties, and I love it (I'd do it for free). What is one responsibility you'd be more than happy to add to your already busy day?

Grooves:
I'd split it between sales and marketing. I genuinely like going on sales calls. We have a sales department that is comprised of P1s who love the brand. The more time I can spend with them the better. Loren Weathers and Sheryl Coyne have done an amazing job with that staff and sharing our end of the hall with them is actually a pleasure.

          Our marketing department (headed up by Rebecca Falk) has done a phenomenal job of helping put this station on the map. Our presence at events is unmatched and our Amp Live concert series has fast become a name in the market. There's not many station's that can say Jay-Z mentioned them on stage at a concert purely due to their visibility at the show. We however can say that.


Eric:
You're a proud Penn State alum (along with our buddy Drew Hall at FLZ), would you force Joe Pa to step down, in favor of a younger and more contemporary thinking Head Coach so they could be more competitive with today's college football super powers?

Grooves:
I think alum is a word reserved for people who actually graduated, not people that earned six credits over two years and still owe them money.

          If there's a movement to make Joe Pa step down you'd be hard pressed to find anyone with Happy Valley connections to get behind it out loud. In my mind Joe is there until Joe decides it's time to go. Whether or not anyone speeds that decision up behind the scenes is another story.


Eric:
Seeing as seemingly every night jock from 2000-2008ish ripped off everything he ever did, do you have any good Tic Tak stories you wanna share?

Grooves:
I have one. It would be a broad generalization of how profoundly he affected this market. How many PD's can say that their audience still remembers a night guy from five or ten years ago? It's been that long since Tic Tak cracked a mic here and still you hear his name. Club owners still use him as the standard for which they judge on air talent. That should be the standard that all talent aspires too.


Eric:
I never finished college, and wouldn't know what to study for if I ever went back, so lend me a hand. If I ever left radio what occupation or industry do you think I could apply my talents to?

Grooves:
I don't think I finished either come to think of it. Although I should probably be a doctor or lawyer given the amount of time I spent on campus at the various institutions I attended. We should probably both ask someone who did finish college this question. By the way, I'm not too concerned for either of us. If you have a strong personality and can create compelling content, there will always be an outlet for you. It may not involve a brick and mortar studio or a transmitter, but there will be opportunities.


[FMQB ORIGINAL CONTENT, published September 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

Chase Murphy, PD
KXXM, KQXT/San Antonio

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