July 3, 2013

Mike Klein, PD, WNVZ (Z104)/Norfolk
Bob Burke

Mike Klein

Mike Klein sleeps, eats, and breathes radio! He loves everything about being on the radio and nothing could any be better than returning to the place where your broadcasting career got jumpstarted…only now you’re the guy in charge! Mike Klein’s career began behind the mic in 1999 at Entercom Rhythmic CHR WNVZ (Z104) in Norfolk, VA. He hosted nights/afternoons while also serving as the station’s Music Director. In 2005 it was onto WKZL Greensboro, NC for APD/MD duties. In 2007 he landed his first PD gig at WBVD/Melbourne, FL, while handling weekend/swing work at WFLZ/Tampa, FL and Z100/New York. By 2009 it was on to the PD chair at WNRW-WLGX/Louisville, KY. Then in 2012 he got the call to return to the place where it all began, Z104, but this time as the station’s Program Director. It’s full circle for Mike Klein who is enjoying his time being back in a familiar place but it’s his experiences along the way that has him well-prepared for any and all challenges that lie ahead. He remains focused on the task at hand, maintaining Z104’s market share by continuing to create great radio that will drive both revenue and ratings.


How did the opportunity come about to return to Z104?
It happened when [former Z104 PD] Tias Schuster decided to move on to the city where he was from Greenville, SC. It was a chance for me to return to a place that I had always considered my second home. To program a station where I started at doing nights at a place where I put so much heart into was an opportunity I just couldn't turn down. I guess all the stars aligned. I’m really excited to be back in Virginia Beach and working for Z104.

How was the transition coming back having worked in the building and for the company before?
It’s always hard to come back to a station where you started as a part-timer and you are now the Program Director, but the entire staff has welcomed me back and been very supportive like a family. It's kind of hard to take your leadership from a person who ten years ago was the night guy. But they had to be super open-minded and understand that I've grown and worked in big cities for big radio companies like Clear Channel where I had a pretty good track record, and they have been. They have embraced me understanding that I do have a track record and the guy that used to hang out and party with them is now their leader. Back in the day when I was the Music Director I would try and lead but nowadays my staff is telling me how much more mellow I've become, and I'm thinking what must I have been like before? (laughs)

What's been the one difference in the market since your return?
When I left we were a stand alone CHR now we have two more CHRs attacking us at one time. Z104 used to be the only game in town. Now there is so much competition and so many stations attacking, it's just one big CHR battle going on in the market.

What been the biggest adjustment moving from a Mainstream CHR back to a Rhythmic CHR?
They’re not much different, as they are both hit-based formats. I think building new relationships in the Rhythm departments of record labels has been an adjustment. I had built up so many Pop relationships when I was at WKZL in Greensboro where I was in that format for seven years. Even when I was the MD at Z104 back in the day I really didn't get the chance to know people that much. At the time, I didn't really realize what was really going on and it seems funny now but in every year that followed I would learn something new. So the biggest challenge is getting to know all the record labels especially in this day and age where a lot of labels don't travel anymore to do lunches and dinners or even bring artists through our market. It's now up to me to be more pro-active and visit more labels by jumping on a plane or taking a train to New York City.

Mainstream Pop has been enjoying one of its best music cycles, how challenging is it to find those Rhythmic hits that set you apart from the pack?
Z104 is the #1 most listened to brand in Hampton Roads. We lean Urban, but we aren’t shy to play Selena Gomez, Britney Spears, and any other record when the time is right. For me, I'm a robber I will steal from the Pop chart and then make sure those songs are surrounded by the right Rhythmic records. I’m not afraid to play Selena Gomez. Last year we played fun. and Goyte as Powers. I'm going to continue to play the biggest hits with the exception of a few Country crossover Pop songs. I think that's what truly makes us the Top 40 station for this market place.

How is Entercom using digital media to enhance and expose their radio brands? What platforms are you seeing listeners most excited about?
Not only do we have our own apps for each radio station, but we’re also available on the TuneIn Radio app. Texting and social media, i.e. Facebook and Twitter, are great ways to get instant feedback from our fans. Both of those are the main feeders for us. We keep growing. I've grown almost 15,000 people on our Facebook like page during the last year. Social Media is a big platform for us (and Entercom as a company) which I really believe in too. I feel that’s what keeps us even more local is the interaction we have on social media.

Nowadays a programmer is doing so much more than just programming the station. How important is it to have a staff that understands the station’s overall goals?
It’s important that the sales department understand the station's goals. I always tell the sales department, this is what our target is and who we are going after. When you're selling the radio station think about this model listener of who we are trying to attract. We have a target profile that we follow. On the music side, our Music Director Shaggy is super into Hip-Hop and I am as well, but I'm more of a Pop guy. So when he comes to me and says this song is going to be something we should play, I know that’s definitely good for us. It's very important to have a great team around you that fully understands the brand. I'm reiterating that all the time. I'm the police of the brand and I’m always reminding everybody this is what the station’s focus is.

You’ve worked with some pretty big radio companies. What makes Entercom unique?
I've worked for some great companies and enjoyed my time there and Entercom is one of the best of the best! This company loves radio and you can hear that coming out of the speakers.

It must be nice to be “live and local” throughout the day.
Z104 is very fortunate to have a local morning show that’s been in the market for over 10 years. The Z Morning Zoo with Nick, Tricia and Shaggy are #1 every book! Our Shaggfest is our signature music festival every year. This year, we had J. Cole as our headliner with close to 5,000 people who attended. It’s named after Shaggy, he’s a superstar in the market. Shaggfest is not your typical radio show; it’s a music festival with local and national acts, a skate ramp, and more.

What has it been like back working with a real radio pro in Don London?
Working with Don is a big reason why I returned to Z104. He has taught me so much over the years, and I’m glad to be learning more from him. Don gets it! He’s been here a long time. These four stations in our cluster are all winners. Also, it’s been really great working with and learning from [Market Manager] Bennett Zier. He’s a legend I have always wanted to work with, having grown up in the DC area. I'm learning so much here, it's phenomenal!

How do you balance gut with research when making music decisions?
We use gut for core records and research for fringe records, especially some of the Hip-Hop records that maybe we are unsure about for the station. But gut is super important to us.

What's the one thing radio needs to do a better job of to remain the go-to media of choice?
We need to do more artist driven events. Record labels need to team up more with radio stations to create those one of a kind experiences that money can’t buy. Having worked at Clear Channel I’ve been apart of that but it needs to happen with more companies in a creative way. I love that the record labels send us to artist showcases but how much cooler would it be if I could send a listener instead. Those are the kind of things where we could really create that unique experience that will help radio in the long run. Country radio does a great job in this area, but I also understand that some time it’s out of a labels control with certain artists in the Pop and Rhythm world. But artists still break on radio and I would still love to explore the idea of sending listeners to artist showcases.

What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given that still applies today?
Alan Burns
said to me, and I've always used it everyday I'm on the air and when I'm programming, “Know what the biggest event is right now that's happening in your market.” So I’m always asking myself, “What's that one event where I can own it on social media, on the streets and on the air?”

What’s the key for any up and comer to succeed in today’s radio landscape?
On air is still very important; however, you need to hit the streets in your market while owning social media, creating videos and blogging.

When people on the street hear those Z104 call letters what do you want them to think of?
I want them to think we’re not just a radio station, but a lifestyle: we’re in the community, in clubs, at events --- we’re the station you hear on air, online and on the streets. Z104 is a superstar brand in Norfolk that’s been on the air for over thirty-two years now, so everyone is familiar with us.

[eQB Content By Bob Burke]


Nicki Farag,
SVP of Promotion,
Def Jam Recordings

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