February 22, 2013

Ally Reid, PD, WFLY/Albany
Fred Deane

Ally Reid

There’s something to be said about a person who starts her career in high school at the local Top 40 radio station, makes one move in the medium away from the market, and eventually comes back to her home market to take the PD reins of the very same station by which it all began. Ally Reid did just that and has exhibited tremendous passion and pride in the fact that she’s been able to maintain such a local approach to radio by working with independent owner Pamal Broadcasting in the market she cut her teeth in.
           The year was 1998 and while attending high school and college Reid was an intern at WFLY, Albany and eventually worked her way up the ranks and got a shot doing mid-days. In 2004 she noticed a job posting at WFLZ, Tampa and as she describes, “I saw the FLZ opening one day and decided to go for it. I had never applied for any other job, so I gave it a shot and Jeff Kapugi brought me in.” While at the legendary Power Pig, Reid worked with three programmers in three years: Kapugi, Kane and Tommy Chuck. “I learned so much from all three guys in a short period of time.” But then Reid decided to head back home to Albany to work in television, where she served as a Creative Services producer for a CW and CBS affiliate, before Pamal hired her for its newly launched Country station (WZMR). Ultimately she would shift over to her alma mater FLY92.3 as PD.


You worked with three pretty powerful programmers during your three years at FLZ. What were the circumstances at the time, and how much did you benefit from the experience?
There were a lot of changes going on just before my arrival. Toby Knapp had just left to go to WNOK and (MD) Stan Priest had moved on to a programming job, so the station was evolving in a way. Working at that station was like a PhD course in Top 40 radio. It was experience you could never dream of having. The station will always be this outstanding entity, and during that time we were having a great run and such a good time doing radio. Jeff Kapugi and Kane were so good. They hired me for mid-days and moved me to MD pretty quickly. At the time Kapugi was OM for three stations in the building and had a hectic schedule, but he sat down with me and showed me how to do music. That was outstanding to see the Power Pig music data base so intimately, at your fingertips. It was like Top 40 history. In fact just walking those halls is Top 40 history. You can sense the vibe. It was a really very special time for me.
           I learned a ton from all three of those guys. It was all about excelling in everything you do in every aspect of the radio station. You should have a lot of fun doing Top 40 radio but you also have to work very hard. Just to get to see Kane doing his thing on the air was a great experience. Kane had some great philosophies that were outstanding to see develop when he was PD. Tommy Chuck kind of revolutionized things to a degree. He had stepped into this entity of history and just kept the station on this incredible momentum. He really dove right into the digital areas.

What made you leave radio paradise for TV back in Albany?
My son was going to school and I was spending a lot of time at work, and I knew I had to refocus my priorities, so I decided to move back to the area. In my mind at the time I was thinking. ‘I’m doing mid-days at FLZ and I don’t know if it’s going to get any better than this, so why not take a bow and see what a can do in another medium.’

How did the transition to TV work out and in what areas did you work in?
I liked Television, it was okay, but I really missed radio. I had a great time learning the medium and experiencing another side of the communications world. It was a good process for me and I really enjoyed the people I worked with. I was working at what technically was the first TV station in the country, so there was a lot of history there. As a Creative Services producer, I did everything from shooting and editing promos to contesting, set design, and worked with just about every off-air creative element. I was there for about three years, but I didn’t want to completely step away from radio so I also did some voice-tracking for Clear Channel in Albany (Kiss and The River) and in DC (at Hot 99.5). I wanted to stay in touch with radio in some way. As cool as TV was, I did prove to myself that my passion was truly in radio.

What were the biggest differences between the two mediums?
In radio we’re constantly trying to build the image for our listeners. It’s theater of the mind through your words and imaging, and now suddenly you’re in this two dimensional world where you have to build the visual and the audio. I had to remind myself when I was doing a spot or a promo, to stop focusing so much on the sound and focus more on the visual as well. It was also interesting to see this machine of news, just as fast paced as radio. You have to get the story out and you have time limits and demands to work with. Everything has to be ten, fifteen or twenty seconds. There’s no fraction of a second over, everything you do needs to be exact.

What lessons did you learn have made you a better manager in radio?
It gave me another perspective on the market’s audience and how we’re trying to attract and connect with them. It gave me a fuller view of best practices when speaking to our audience and really trying to attain your various goals. In (TV) news we’re constantly writing teases to grab them in five seconds. How can you say what you need to say to get these people to stay with you for the eleven o’clock news, and you only have 4.5 seconds to pull it off. It’s driven me in radio to constantly have amazing content on the air without disrupting the music. In essence, it trained me to be more succinct in writing, on-air execution, and in just about every other aspect. It really forces you do as much as you can in as little time as possible while being as compelling and unique as possible.

What brought you back to radio in Albany and ultimately a return to FLY92.3?
In 2010, Pamal was launching a new Country station (WZMR) and hired me as PD/afternoons. After two years the opportunity to shift back into Top 40 radio in the same building came about when my predecessor (Terry O’Donnell) moved on from the station. Although I was very happy at the Country station I was thrilled to get the opportunity to program at the station where I started my career, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

How did your experience at Country radio help you as a Top 40 programmer?
When you observe any market, Country listeners and Top 40 listeners are not that different in many respects. We have a lot of shared audience with Country. There are certain things that I may have done with a little more restraint on the Country side, but overall it was about a fun experience. We didn’t have a lot to work with on the Country station. We weren’t a reporter, so it forced us to get very creative and we had a lot of fun doing it. I believe that Country is evolving now, and has incorporated more Pop styles which is interesting because you can relate that back to Top 40 and see it have an effect there as well. I seem to have a better understanding of that concept having worked in Country. There is certainly more shared music these days. I jumped right on the Hunter Hayes (without hesitation) very early and I don’t know that I would have done that if I hadn’t had prior exposure to him via Country radio. We were way ahead of the Pop curve on Hunter. We got involved with the Christina and Blake Shelton single pretty quickly as well because of the shared audience, and obviously with Blake you have that exposure on The Voice too. Country is not that wildly different from Top 40. I think at Top 40 there are a lot of people who have this concept of, ‘no way, don’t want to go near it.’ But I hope that attitude is changing.
          Look at Jeff Kapugi, he’s killing it in Chicago and I know he is having a blast. It’s a really fun time for Country right now and I think there are things that each format can learn from the other.

FLY has been doing well in the market in the ratings game, what do you attribute the success to?
We’re 100% local and just by coincidence all of us, from the morning show to nights, are from the area. It’s a very unique position to be in and I feel it’s a big advantage in the market and a big part of what drives our success.
          We have an amazing team and that’s such a vital component. Given the fact that FLY is a heritage station, it’s even more important for us to have such relatable jocks. You really need to know the market and know what your listeners are doing, what there habits are as well as the nuances and subtleties of the market. The best way to accomplish this is when you’re born and raised in the area. To hear all of our jocks constantly and intimately talking about all that is happening in our market, not a generic gossip piece from a feed, definitely serves us well. You’re going to hear and see our jocks out in the market constantly and our audience has an incredible relationship with the entire staff, and it’s real not just via social media. It also allows us to report and respond to our community in a very timely fashion.

Were there any immediate changes you installed when you initially took the over as programmer?
I re-focused the music, not that the changes were drastic, but we wanted to be much more aggressive on what we were playing and how we were playing it, and rotate records through our system at a faster pace. I believe for a while we were being perceived as more of an Adult Top 40 and my goal was to steer back to more of a pure Pop mainstream station, where you can literally get everything. I feel that’s working out very well for us. Our tendency these days is to play all the hits that make sense for Top 40 radio.
           I hear from the reps quite often that many programmers like to wait until records hit a certain chart position before they add it. If I see it being consumed in the market and I believe it’s something my audience will like, I’m not going to wait for a chart to dictate when I’m going to play it. If it makes sense for the station, we’re going to do it and get it going as quickly as we can.

We’ve had discussions about the relevance of the charts on occasion and you don’t appear to place too much emphasis them?
I don’t want to say I dismiss them in every way, shape and form, but I think I can sit here and program my station well given our local sensibilities, as opposed to living and dying by charts. There is a number of criteria we consider when we’re making moves. There may be songs that ultimately hit the Top 5 that may not work for us. They just might not be a good fit for the station. When you factor in the number of Premium Choice spins and take into consideration the Cumulus factor, it’s difficult to extract a representation of Top 40 that is real accurate and precise.
           I worked with an interesting consultant when I was in Country, and what they would do is look at the Country chart and pull out those types of spins every week so you can see a pure Country chart by compressing all the information, without the influence of Premium Choice and a lot of the syndicated shows. Unfortunately I don’t have the time or mathematical skills to do it myself each week. Again, it’s why I don’t live and die by the chart and why I do question its pure format relevancy.

How important is callout research, because I know you are avid users of the tool?
It won’t dictate music too us either. It’s another barometer to help us make decisions at critical junctures of records. I can have a song that may be doing poorly in research, but if it’s selling like crazy I can’t be so bold as to say nobody likes it. While research is a numbers game, it isn’t an exact science. We consider all the factors: sales, requests, gut, research and the chart to an extent.

Top 40 has become more of a melting pot of genres, to a considerable degree. With everything blending into Pop these days, does this play to FLY’s advantage being a heritage CHR?
I feel the diversity does help the heritage stations where you’re trying to maintain a good balance of upper and younger end appeal. Ultimately, we’re trying to drive it right down the middle and based on the music we’re getting right now, it’s easy to do that. We have everything from Dance to Alternative songs that maybe people wouldn’t have imagined a while ago. We literally have everything right now. Country is playing more of a significant role at the format. But the music cycle is very cyclical in a ten year period and I believe we’re heading deep in the Alternative world as we’ve been in the past with bands like 3 Doors Down, Avril and Nickelback. I’m not musically comparing today’s Alternative to those artists, but it’s the same principle. It’s a different sound that starts to take over and today you need a keen sense of the music and a great MD who knows the market to really ensure you’re taking care of the right songs at the right time. Our MD Marissa does an excellent job of making sure we incorporate all of these new sounds into FLY’s music mix. We’re seeing the consumption of these songs going on and we’re seeing that our audience likes it. Mars does a great job of making sure it all blends together perfectly.

Where do you feel the music cycle is heading for the balance of the year?

As I’ve stated, there’s been a lot of Alterna-Pop music that has made its way to Pop radio, but I don’t think we’ve quite reached the extremes yet. That’s still to come. We’ve had a lot of Alternative crossover and Rock textures that have done well at the format, but I don’t know if that sound has completely taken over. We still have Pop mainstay artists like Pink, Alicia, Justin and Rihanna that are playing prominent roles in the Pop music mix. There are still so many massive Pop artists that are coming out full force.

Are you having any balance issues with the wealth of Rock and Hot AC hits that are available to the format today?
Here’s where an astute Music Director comes in handy and (again) Marissa does an outstanding job with our music mix. We absolutely take balance into consideration every time we sit down and do music. Suddenly when you have solid records from artists like Imagine Dragons, Lumineers, Script and Monsters & Men throughout your playlist, you definitely need that Rhythmic and Pop balance. I can’t underscore enough what an exceptional job Mars does of making sure we’re not adhering to one specific sound in a ten minute period and that the listener is getting a pure sampling of everything. It’s a delicate balance as well because sometimes it slows the rotation process of records down, given an abundance of one sound or another. It’s why we try to get to as many records as we can (within reason) when we feel strongly about them, but it can get frustrating in the rotation process for more than the label reps when the rotations slow down. It’s important for them to realize the dynamic of keeping a music mix diverse and balanced.

How essential do you feel the digital platforms are to enhance listener engagement?
We try to be as aggressive as possible in these areas. We are locally owned so we feel we can make those connections more often than stations that are not as localized and using national feeds. It’s important to engage our audience and have a presence wherever we can be. We’re actually putting the finishing touches on a new app that’s going to allow for even more audience engagement. We have great social media interaction with our listeners and huge web numbers. We’re constantly looking for new ways to change up and reach out whether it’s streaming shows, video shots with artists or expanding our web content. We want to make sure we’re doing what our audience is doing.

You have a strong working relationship with the labels. What makes the partnership you have with the music industry as effective as it is?
When it comes down to it, I’ve been really upfront with the label reps as to how I work. When I took over at FLY, they all figured it out relatively quickly that I wanted to be more aggressive, and here’s what I’m going to do, and no I don’t just work off the chart, and yes I do want to learn everything I can about the artists and music we’re playing. I communicate with them all the time. I want to know what their goals are and how we can work together to ensure a successful partnership that works well for both parties. I really believe that just simply being honest with the label reps is the key in so many ways and as long as they reciprocate in the same manner, we’ll have minimal to no problems. We’ll talk for hours if need be. Also, Marissa has an amazing relationship with all of the reps, they trust her and know her well and she has great music instincts.

Are their any particular industry leaders you admire or are influenced by in any way?
I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life in the world of radio. I’ve been at three stations with two companies. However, I do look up to Jeff Kapugi, Tommy Chuck, Kevin Callahan, and while I don’t know Sharon Dastur, I’m amazed at what she’s doing with Z100. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been especially good at networking, but I’m always keeping my eyes wide open and seeing what’s up.

Do you feel radio’s position in the complex entertainment matrix is in a safe and secure place these days?
I believe so. I wish more people in the industry felt that way. It irritates me when I hear certain people say that radio needs to be saved. Does it really? If you don’t believe in the medium, then you don’t belong in the medium. We need people in the industry to be passionate about radio, and after my experience in TV, I truly believe that radio absolutely works. We’re seeing a great time in Top 40 radio too. Radio needs to step up its game as far as moving faster and quicker in the digital world, but most companies are doing an admirable job with that. Our company tries to make sure we’re moving as quickly as possible. In short, I believe radio is 100% secure!

[eQB Content By Fred Deane]


Nicki Farag,
SVP of Promotion,
Def Jam Recordings

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