December 7, 2012

Amber Miller, WEQX/Manchester, VT-Albany PD
Joey Odorisio

Amber Miller

Venerable Modern Rock station WEQX/Manchester, VT-Albany has been on the air for over 28 years and seen a number of influential programmers pass through its doors. Since 2010, Amber Miller has served as the PD for ‘EQX, after spending three years as MD. Over the past year or so, the Modern Rock format pendulum has swung closer to EQX’s direction, with the success of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Passion Pit and a number of other artists that would have always fit in the station’s wheelhouse, regardless of trends. For this week’s eQB Cover Story, Miller spoke to FMQB about the unique experience of programming an independently-owned station, the music that made up the past year and much more.


The last time I interviewed you for FMQB was back in 2009, when you were still MD. You’ve been at EQX for over five years now! Talk about how your responsibilities as PD and how they have changed in your time at the station.
Yes, my five year anniversary was in May. Time really does fly. I’m sure I’m not alone in this in the industry, but the PD gig here also incorporates Promotions/Marketing Director and Webmaster duties on top of my afternoon show. I also handle multiple sales accounts, and have picked up a few engineering tricks along the way too. It’s simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. I feel like I’ve become a master of making it work/figuring it out/getting it done no matter what the circumstances or resources (or lack thereof). As MD, responsibilities were more limited and regimented, though there’s never been a definitive line drawn in duties here. If it needs to be done, pitch in, help, just do it.

Tell us about the current EQX air staff.
What I said about my time as MD, that’s still how things go here – our MD/Morning Show Host Jeff Morad is invaluable. He’s up at that ungodly hour every day, has a (sometimes disgustingly) positive and upbeat take on everything, NEVER complains, and pitches in wherever and whenever there is need. I'm constantly impressed with his enthusiasm, attitude and work ethic. Errr…ummm...I mean, he sucks, please don’t hire him away!!!
          David “Duncan” Virr is our most recent addition to the full time lineup, in middays, Production Director, and programs and hosts our new music show, Going Underground, which as of this week is getting double the amount of air time at EQX. We’re replaying the show now on Tuesday nights too. He lives the lifestyle and has great taste.
           We’re lucky to have a group of personalities on our part-time team who have been familiar voices at EQX for over a decade: Donna Frank, Nikki Alexander, Doug Daniels and Joel Marshall. It lends so much credibility and familiarity to what we do. Plus we have some great up-and-coming talent who didn’t have the experience, but definitely had the passion, and it was worth putting the time in to get them up and running.

What are some of the challenges in programming an independent radio station?
There’s no established infrastructure to plug into. For example, I’m looking to redesign our website and upgrade our “now playing” feed and song history log on the website. I don’t just go to our corporate web/tech person and say, “Hey, get it done the way you do for our other stations.” More or less, I start from scratch and see the project through to completion. Also, we don’t have a sister station or cluster to share resources and personnel with, which from a budgetary standpoint could certainly be a plus. We fend for ourselves.

On the other hand, what are some of the positives to being such a uniquely independent station?
The positives totally completely outweigh the negatives. No corporate mandates/playlists, rules or conditions for something going on the air. No red tape to cut through to best serve our listeners, market and advertisers. We take feedback and great ideas and can immediately adapt/implement change. And of course, we can and do take chances on music. If we believe it will work, no matter how small (or even non-existent) the profile of the artist on a national scale, we’ll play a song if we know it is going to resonate with our audience. Though with that I do feel an added pressure of getting it right, betting on the right song at the right time for the right reasons is something we don’t take lightly.

In 2012, the Modern Rock format has moved toward the end of the musical spectrum that EQX has been at all along, with many of this year’s biggest hits on the lighter and more “indie” side of things. For example, you were the first person to tell me about The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey.” What are your thoughts on this sonic shift in the format?
It’s refreshing. And not only is the format more truly “alternative” and currents-driven, but we’re also growing legit hits that are crossing over. Though I'm extra cautious, and hope others are too, that we don't lean too far in the poppy/polished/too obvious "hit" direction, and that authenticity and true talent are always a part of the formula. Oh, and I'm always a fan of having great guitar driven alt-rock songs that actually rock in the playlist for balance. There haven't been very many of those as of late.

How has this shift impacted EQX in 2012?
We’ve always just done what we do no matter what the greater landscape and stayed true to the brand.

What have been some of the biggest hits at EQX this year? What records was EQX a leader on this year?
You mentioned The Lumineers, the magic of “Ho Hey” immediately resonated with me, and I knew it would with our listeners, and boy did it ever. And it looks like the follow up, “Stubborn Love,” will do the same. It’s already top 5 in the research here. The timing couldn’t be better. We have a free (admission) show with the band coming up on December 17, which is just such an incredible thing to be able to bring to our listeners and to the marketplace.
           Something that’s just really getting out there now at the end of the year to the rest of the country is Robert DeLong’s “Global Concepts.” It was our most reactive song of the year. We added it before he even signed to Glassnote because the phones legitimately did not stop ringing for the song after just a handful of spike/feature spins. That almost NEVER happens. How reactive you ask? More reactive than "Somebody That I Used To Know.” THAT reactive. And it was immediate. Of Monsters and Men "Little Talks" was huge for us, it just wouldn't quit and we were definitely early on that front, "Mountain Sound" is proving to be just as big. Imagine Dragons, Atlas Genius and Alabama Shakes all paid off nicely for us after an early investment.

What is EQX’s relationship with the Albany-Manchester area?
Albany is a MUCH bigger area with a way bigger population than Manchester and our Vermont listenership; so much of our focus is there. But you can't ignore your backyard either. It's a balancing act. We're still at the helm of two of Albany's biggest city wide annual events, which I think speaks volumes - Tulip Fest in the spring, in its 65th year in 2013. We book, present, produce the main stage entertainment, and our newer festival, Pearl Palooza, a fall fest which really hit its stride this year and will continue to grow. In the winter we embrace our VT side a bit more, as that's where most of the big ski resorts are, and where everybody, even our Albany area listeners want to be. We took that a step further a couple years ago and adopted the tradition of re-branding to ski-QX every February and do tons of fun winter outdoor stuff surrounding it.

What about the station’s place in the Albany radio market?
There's an Active Rock station, and an "everything that rocks" station, and also a Triple A non-com that we share some artists with. While we pay attention to what's going on in the marketplace, EQX hasn't gotten to where it is today by being a reactionary station. We kind of do our own thing, stay true to the brand, and try not to get too distracted by "the competition."

The station just expanded its local music show to two hours. How important is the local scene to the Albany market?
It was a pretty simple decision to expand the local show. There were just too many good songs to play and not enough time to represent them all. A recent study ranked the Albany metro as #9 overall in the country of number of bands per capita, so a lot of music is being made here, and particularly in the last couple of years, a lot of it is in line with the EQX musical vibe. I'll use the example of Phantogram, from Saratoga Springs, who released their last EP via Barsuk, recently signed with Republic Records and will be putting out an album next year. They're one big success stories representing a vibrant music scene: Railbird, Sean Rowe, The Parlor, Eastbound Jesus, Twiddle, Headband Jack, Wild Adriatic, Northern Faces are just a few local bands off the top of my head who consistently wow and have encouraging futures ahead. We'd be dummies not to embrace it.

Since we’re at the very end of 2012, I have to ask: what were your musical favorites for the year?
I didn't quite know what to make of Alt-J at first, but I like my politicians, authors and musicians to be smarter than I am. Though I haven't totally completely figured them out, after about a million listens, I'm head over heels for what they've done with An Awesome Wave. Obsessed. Passion Pit really delivered on Gossamer. Dr. Dog and Reptar both put out albums that were in heavy rotation in my living room and my car this year.
           As far as live shows go, it would be almost impossible to have more fun than at a Matt and Kim show, and them pairing with Passion Pit for this upcoming tour is genius. I saw Wilco this summer, and remember their past live shows being good, but this show was "ok, pick your jaw up off the floor now" good.
           Oh, and I can’t wait for new music, and hopefully tours from Nine Inch Nails, The National and Depeche Mode in 2013….to name a few!!!

[eQB Content By Joey Odorisio]


Nicki Farag,
SVP of Promotion,
Def Jam Recordings

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