Thursday, June 12, 2008

275th Post - Interview with J.C. Douglas of Q104!

"Let's meet at the Pogue Fado". Agreed. Pogue Fado it is.

A few days later, JC writes: "There is a new pizza place at Bishop's Landing. Let's meet and eat there!"

And, 45 minutes before the lunch appointment, I get another e-mail. "It's a beautiful sunny day. Let's eat outside at the Harbourside restaurants at Historic Properties!"

Fine. Right. Whatever.

So, at 11:45, I grabbed my questions, an extra pen (my regular pen was nearly out of ink; it ran out this afternoon at work. Burial in the supply room Thursday at 2). I made my way to Historic Properties. I was a few minutes early because, well, I'm always a few minutes early. I plan to be a few minutes early for my funeral, which will be shortly after I am shot to death by a jealous husband at the age of 78. I'm 44 now. Lots of living left.

At 12:07, JC Douglas showed up, sheepish and apologetic, remarking that Deb Smith had only been two minutes late for her interview. We ordered our food, and sat down. JC interviewed me for a moment, asking me why I had a blog, how many people have written me, where in the world are they.

I replied that I write because I like having a forum to express myself as I see fit, and I write about whatever is on my mind at the moment. I have no master plan with this blog. I might write about my cats one moment, and radio stuff the next. I have received hits from all over the world. A guy in Sweden took the time to write over my confusion about the IIHF. I got a
couple thousand hits over the Karen Begin posts. Even the Steve Gerber posts are still floating out there. Totally different audiences.

Our food arrived. We went outside to talk. My interview of JC began.

How did you get your start in radio?

Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. My first professional gig was at CKBW in Bridgewater. In November of '85 I was hired by Q104, and I hit the air in December.

From then until 1998, I was at the Q. That year, I was the co-host on Breakfast Television before I jumped at the chance to program at Q104.

Why don't you play more new music? For example, Billy Talent?

I get a lot of complaints from people saying we play too much Fleetwood Mac. Or Rolling Stones. Or Bob Seger. If I compiled all the artists we get complaints about, that would make a great playlist! Everybody has a classic artist they don't like or they're sick of. But we have to be in a
competitive position against stations like Hal FM. It's finding the right balance between the new stuff and the classics.

We're proud of what the ratings are telling us, and it's confirmation that we're striking a good balance - in the last book, we were number one pretty much across the board. 12+. 18+. 25-54, and that's our sweet spot. So it wouldn't be too wise to start friggin' around with the era balance of the station right now. That's going to come off like bragging, but it's really just a good indication that the audience in general is digging the mix of music.

What is the best piece of professional advice you have ever received?

Radio is all about the listeners. It is not about you as the program director or the jocks.

You have to relate to the mindset of the audience. You relate to what they're interested in, what they're thinking and caring about. You can still talk about what YOU are doing, but it has to be done in a universal way. It would be fine if B.J. (Burke) talked about what happened when he
was BBQ'ing last night - it's about him, but if it has a universal element to it then the listener is following along, thinking, "Yeah, that happened to me too."

Patricia asked me to ask you why you work on Christmas Day. She worries about you and wants to bring you baked goods.

I hope that Patricia is doing better, Bev.

I choose to work on Christmas Day. I love it. Back in the day when we HAD to work Christmas Day, I discovered that it was actually pretty fun. It is a special day to be in there, live on the air. It's special for listeners and I find they're actually pretty empathetic! I put a lot of callers on
the air, and hey, I've even had baked goods dropped off at the station! Sweet. But I also like to think that SOMEBODY is on live on Christmas Day, because there ain't a lot of live interaction happening that day. It's good to stand out that way. So since I enjoy doing it, it gives everyone else the day off and we still get some live interaction plus some news and updated weather info and all that.

You have been both staff and management. When you were an on-air jock, you may have looked enviously at whoever your program director was and thought, "If only...". Now, you are the program director. What was your biggest surprise about becoming program director at Q104?

There were many times I wondered, "Why don't we do certain things?" I find that most of the times, it was just excuses. I find with effort and passion, you can do anything you can visualize and imagine.

I also found how little formal training people get in radio management. I have taken seminars and read as much material as I could on being a program director, but you're pretty much left to your own motivation. And I've discovered that's really universal too.

Help me and my readers understand the difference between a program director at a music-based radio station, and a music director. What is the division of duties?

A program director works in tandem with the music director. As p.d., I study audience research and determine what the radio station should be playing, particularly our gold rotations. And it's my job to execute the station's strategy ... to make sure we're on track with our competitive
goals. That includes working closely with Sales and Promotions, and all the departments at the radio station, as well as working with the jocks on developing their shows.

The music director takes care of compiling the new music. Anna (Zee) meets with the record reps and indy reps and she recommends to me what we should be playing. And from our weekly music meeting we put together our current playlist. Then Anna puts the daily music logs together, which is the last step before it goes to air. But it's a team effort.

Some nights the Q is live until quite late. Other nights, the station is voice tracked as soon as the Requesta Fiesta is over. How do you typically decide what hours of the day the Q is live, and when it is vt'd?

In the early evening, the jock on duty has other duties to perform. We're very music intensive through that period anyway - from a free ride to a six pack, etc. But they're almost always live Monday through Friday from nine till midnight. Sometimes, during the early evening, the jock is also live, depending on how they're making out with their other duties, that kind of

We can be live at any time we need or want to be. The fact is that some of the proudest moments for the radio station in the last ten years have taken place on our overnight show! I mean, we had Supertramp in from 12:30 until 2am doing a live "Rockline" show to all of North America. We had live on-the-scene coverage all night long during the Swiss Air disaster. And we
were on the air throughout Hurricane Juan, beginning at 8 in the evening ... I was in, doing live weather updates. So we're there at all times when the listener needs us to be.

Even when we are not live, we want to have interesting, compelling programming. That is why we have things like Alice Cooper over night, Monday through Friday.

As program director, you probably receive plenty of applications from people seeking on-air jobs with your station. What is the strangest job app you have ever received, and was that person successful in obtaining employment?

I was trying to fill an evening/swing position a few years ago. One resume bragged about how the applicant was good at fixing tractors and at small engine repair. Another one wrote about why he almost killed his boss. Yet another was seeking "job security". I would have thought those things were a joke if I read them on the internet. It's bizarre what some people will
put on their application.

Any thoughts about what happened with CJCH?

Welcome to 2008!

The Hotline remained on CJ in spite of the changes going on in the market.

Bevboy: I get why they had to flip to FM. I understand having to change formats. But I will miss the Hotline very much, even though it was anachronistic for them to keep it on the air when it was primarily a music station.

JC: Yes. That was hard to take on a personal level. I was bawling my eyes out listening to Rick Howe's last show.

CJCH was a pivotal station for me. I listened to it when visiting my step siblings in August of 1977. They'd keep the radio on all night long. I'd wake up at 3 in the morning, and there would be this guy on the air all pumped up, playing music. And I remember thinking, "Wow. He's there all
night long. Just in case I wake up." Delusions of grandeur! ha ha. But CJCH started me on the path to a career in radio.

If you lost your cell phone or BlackBerry, and I found it, what name in your address book would surprise me the most?

Sir Paul McCartney. But I don't have a direct line or anything, I've had peripheral contact with his publicist. It just looks better under Paul's name. And if I ever had to look up his publicist, I would remember his name!

There are some big names in the music business that it's pretty cool to have the ear of when I need it, like Alice Cooper and Steven Van Zant. And there are Canadian artists that I grew up idolizing who Anna and I are now on a first name basis with, like Kim Mitchell, Tom Cochrane. A lot of guys who I went to their concerts when I was 15, and now they're good friends of the
radio station.

Also, it might surprise you to see the names of all kinds of people who work for our competition. The words seems to have gotten out that Newcap Halifax is a pretty keen place to work, so we hear from a lot of the competition.

If you had an unlimited budget, and you could say phooey to the CRTC and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, and you had complete autonomy with your bosses at Newcap, what radio format would you program and why?

It would sound a lot like BBC Radio Two. They play great music, it's very discerning. It is not trashy; it's pretty tasteful. And the presentation is intellectually stimulating. It can be fun, or serious, or informative, or silly at times. But they never insult the intelligence of their audience. And it's always compelling. I love it. And I've encouraged the jocks at Q to relate to the audience in that same way.

There are 5 radio stations in your building, owned by 2 different companies. To what extent is there competition between the Newcap stations (Q104, KIXX, Kool FM), and the CTV Globemedia stations (C100, the former CJCH)?

The on-air folks can't help but be competitive. With the morning shows, there is competition, but it's a friendly competition. They help each other out, but still they all want to be number one, it's only natural. Although they aren't vying for the same audience. They're all targeting a different
group of listeners.

Further to my previous question, you know plenty of people in local radio, and most of them are probably your friends. Yet, you have to compete against them for market share and advertising dollars. What is it like to have to compete against your friends? For example, Jeff Cogswell is probably your buddy, and he is a very nice person, but you have to do what you have to do to make your station more popular than his. How hard is it to do that, when perhaps making your station number one may result in a friend at a competing station losing his or new job if his ratings falter?

Jeff is a good friend, actually. He and Nicole were at my wedding last year.

It's like in any business. You know a lot of the people you're competing against, but when the day is done you're just as likely to go out and have a beer with them. We can be friends and socialize, and we know that it comes down to what happens on the air, "May the best station or the best product win". Not everyone feels that way though. When I was coming up a lot of people took it really personally, and even socializing with the "enemy" was frowned upon. I prefer to do battle on the air.

As far as putting someone out of work, well, if our station's success has come at someone else's expense, then maybe they shouldn't have been in that role in the first place. Or maybe they're the best thing about that radio station and were unjustly fired, in which case we should snap 'em up, hire that person.

But it's business, it's nothing personal. That old cliché, but it's true.

There was plenty of negative chatter after Karen Begin's death a couple of months ago. How about a good, positive Karen Begin story?

Well, one thing about Karen, she had the most amazing demo package I've ever seen. It was done up in the form of a glossy magazine, absolutely amazing. With all her big time clippings in it, from R&R and stuff. Never seen anything like it.

When she was hot, she was on fire. She had an incredible way with words. And she had a bizarre, twisted sense of humour. The first day I put her on in mid-day, filling in for Anna. And this was the day of the Shirley Street standoff a few years ago. And we were listening to her reel off one
hilarious one-liner after another about how if the authorities want him out of that house, just unleash her on the guy for five minutes, he'd be beggin' for an 8 by 10 cell. That kind of thing. It was outrageous and edgy, but topical, and local, and immediate, all the things great radio are supposed to be. We actually had to ask her to pull back a bit because the authorities were afraid if the guy was listening it could impact his decisions. Which was sort of chilling. But Karen could always get an emotional reaction out of you. I wish I had been rolling tape that day, but I figured that she would with us for a long time and this would be just an average day. That turned out not to be the case.

When I think of Karen, I feel very sad. Ultimately, I don't think she was satisfied with the gifts she had. She didn't really like who she was. And that was sad, and it led her down a tragic path.

At this point, we both looked at our watches. Some lunch hour! I owe my boss sixty minutes of free overtime. I'll make it up soon, Kevin. I promise.

(Oh, JC says we should check out if you want to hear classic radio airchecks, and see how things were done back in the 1960's when AM radio was king and FM rock radio first took off.)

We left the Harbourside. We walked back to JC's vehicle, but not before he deftly removed some C100 stickers from a Q104 banner. I guess there is competition between the two stations, after all!

Stay tuned here for further interviews!

Bevboy, out.

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