Jeff Cogswell Interview -- September 25, 2008
Never eat at The Split Crow.
It is not that the food is bad or anything. It is just that I don't usually like to eat at places where there is no interac payment option. I had to go downstairs to one of those generic bank machines to get the cash to pay for my lunch with... Mr. Jeff Cogswell, radio broadcaster extraordinaire!
Jeff and I had been playing e-mail tag for a few months. Finally, we decided to meet for an early lunch on September 25th. We found our way to the Split Crow, tried to avoid the loud speakers blaring music so that my digital voice recorder could pick up our conversation, and started to talk.
Bevboy: I recall that Computer Talk Online is the place where I first heard your name on the radio [it was a locally-based computer-based talk show on CJCH radio from mid-1995 until mid-1998]. You were some kind of production assistant (but I don't know what your actual job title was). What was your first on air gig?
Jeff Cogswell: My first on air gig was with C100 and as you mentioned I was a production assistant with them at the time. We had our summer promotion on C100 Wave Patrol. My boss, Terry Williams, knew that I wanted to get on air. I sent him some stuff, and he was like, "It's not bad. It's ok."
Well, one day, he had to let go one of the guys on the Wave Patrol. There was about three weeks left to go in the summer. So, he calls me and he says, "Do you want to do it?" "Yeah, I want to do it!". And I was on the air that night. I did my first cut-in ever. I had everything. I was so nervous. I had everything written out word-for-word. And that was my first time ever on air on C100.
BB: That was around '95, '96?
JC: Around '95, '96, yeah.
BB: As a follow up, I remember a year or so after that I remember that Terry didn't think you had enough on air experience and he farmed you out to MBS [Maritime Broadcasting Systems, home now of FX101.9 and Hal-FM]. You did some shifts at CHNS-AM and maybe even Country 101, too. [Country 101 is the old name for FX101.9]
JC: Yeah, I would pull a couple of shifts on the weekend at Country 101 because at the time CHUM and Maritime Broadcasting were working pretty closely with each other. There was a rumour that there was going to be an LMA, a Local Management Agreement between the two companies. So that's why Terry had no problem with me being a production assistant with C100 and CJ and doing on air work with MBS. That went to Hell in a handbasket. That was pretty ugly. I'll leave it at that.
BB: Fair Enough.
JC: I ended there and eventually got to do some part-time on air stuff with C100, just filling in and stuff like that. Weekends and that kind of thing.
BB: And then came Q104.
JC: And then came Q104. The merger [between Chum and Newcap] happened in '98 with Q104 and Sun FM at the time and 780 KIXX. They were restructuring and then they got in a jam where I think it was one other person decided, "I don't want to do this", and left. So, it was like, "We need another announcer". And that is when I started getting even more part-time work with primarily C100, Sun FM, and 780 KIXX. Ron Young left, vacating a spot on Q104, and in November of '98, I was hired as a full-time swing announcer.
BB: What does swing announcer mean?
JC: A swing announcer does evenings and weekends. My shift was that I was off Mondays and Tuesdays and I would work Wednesday through to Sunday. I did a lot of voice tracking[pre-recording such things as weather reports, time checks, and psa's, which are then dropped into pre-allocated slots on a computer before being broadcast]. I loved it. I loved doing my job. It was so much fun. I couldn't believe it. I was used to waking up with B.J. Wilson, Harv and Lisa [on Q104]. It was so cool, and here I was on the radio station.
And then B.J. Wilson left. We brought Jay MacNeil in for a year or two I think it was. Then, he went to Toronto and Jaime [Patterson] came in for a year or two, and then old B.J. Burke came back to roost.
BB: Lots of BJ's at that station!
JC: Lots of BJ's, yeah. They don't change the imagine too much there.
BB: We won't go down that road.
BB: What are your thoughts on the demise of CJCH-AM and the Hotline?
JC: Sad. But it was inevitable. CJCH back in its heyday, back in the '70's (and I obviously wasn't listening back then), [was king]. Brian Phillips and all the big guys that were on there. It was huge. It was larger than life. In my opinion, I think it might have been bigger than FM radio is today. Today, there is so much of it.
BB: There were 3 [private] stations back then.
JC: That's it. It was just a matter of time before it was going to happen. AM radio, unfortunately, is dying because... would you rather listen to an AM station or an FM station? What's clearer? FM radio. And they don't make any money any more. So, it was no great shock to anybody that they applied for an FM license and that they got it, as did 780 KIXX.
BB: And, Rogers has bought it.
JC: Yes, Rogers has bought the license. Rick Howe is great. It was sad to see Philly [Brian Phillips] go, and to see Rick and for that radio icon to be silenced. But, like I said: It is one of those things where you have to change with the times, and that's FM radio.
BB: I think I heard Brian Phillips do some commercials on C100 this summer. I am not sure if he is still dabbling, or if he is retired, or what is going on there.
JC: There are still commercials with me on C100.
BB: Are there really?
JC: Bedroom Depot. When I left back in '04, they had to sign a waiver that stated that they were allowed to use my voice for any existing commercials that they had after a six month period. I said, "I don't care". But, yeah, I heard one the other day. I was like, "You've gotta be kidding me. That's Bedroom Depot!". Kinda funny.
BB: So, you don't know what's going on with Brian?
JC: I don't know, to be honest. I haven't talked to Deb [Smith] in a while. I know that Philly was off for quite a while because he had both of his knees replaced. So, I don't know what is going on with Philly. I'd hate to see him just go off in the distance because he is Phillips. He is Brian Phillips. He's awesome.
BB: He is.
BB: What is your opinion of CBC radio? What do you think of CBC radio as an entity? I am not going to ask you if you listen to anything on it, but what do you think of it as what it is?
JC: Personally, I don't listen. That's just the kind of person I am. To be honest with you, I don't really think they're gearing toward people like me anyway. I think it is like the other radio stations in this market: It provides a service for its core demographic. So, from that standpoint, of course, it is government owned. They have some amazing people over there who used to be with CJCH.
BB: Stan Carew. Doug Barron.
JC: There are some big names there. They're amazing radio talents. But they also have longevity there. Maybe I am blowing it out of proportion, but it seems that you're always hearing about layoffs there. For me, it's too volatile a situation to ever entertain [an offer]. Like I said: It's not my thing. But I think it definitely serves a purpose in this market.
BB: Well, CBC Radio 2 is going a little bit younger too. They got Buck 65 to do the afternoon show.
JC: He is awesome. He's a funny guy. Really nice.
BB: But you can tune into this show on CBC Radio Two.
BB: You have?
BB: Nor have I.
JC: No. But I can only imagine that it would probably be pretty good because he is quite a character.
BB: What music do you listen to when you are not on the clock?
JC: Everything, except for country.
BB: Was it a challenge to do voicetracking at 780 KIXX or Country 101?
JC: You know what? When I say "not country", [I mean] I enjoy 780 KIXX. I like the classic country. I am not a fan of the new country. People like Keith Urban and [others]. They're amazing artists and everything. It's just not my bag. But I like the Hank Snow and Waylon Jennings and Don Williams. So, no, for me it was a real treat when I got to fill in on the [780 KIXX] morning show for three months a few years back because, first of all, I wanted to do a morning show and second of all, I just got a kick out of doing 780 KIXX. It will be kind of sad to see that go, too.
BB: What is the best piece of professional advice you have ever received, and who gave it to you?
JC: Terry Williams. It was when I first started on C100. I was so excited. And, apparently, I was yelling. And talking a little too much. He was very matter-of fact; he wasn't rude. He just said, "Jeff, stop yelling at me. And, you don't get paid by the word. Remember that. Be concise. Get on. Get the message out there with as few words as possible but still get the message across. But don't throw in words that you don't need to."
From then on in, I have always been rather conscious of, ok, "What are we going to do here coming up?" That changes a little bit with the morning show. We're a little more laid back and we're not as structured. But, yeah, that's where I clicked in and went, "OK. Nobody wants to hear you ramble on about whatever. Get on there. Tell them what they need to know. Get off.
BB: Terry seems to have been quite a influence on your career.
JC: Terry was a big influence. He almost fired me. [laughter]. Terry went to Confederation College. He was in the first graduating class. I believe it was 1971 or 1972. He loves it when I point that out. And I went to Confederation College. He had just arrived at C100 and CJCH a few months prior to me arriving there to do my job placement for school. We just kind of hit it off. I went back to Ontario. I came back. I just happened to call Kirstie, my supervisor. I said, "I just want to let you know that I am back in town. If anything pops up, give me a holler. Here's my number. " It was just my dad and I at the time. My dad said, "Boy, they're not just going to call you and offer you a job."
She called me the next day and offered me a job, part-time working as a board operator. That's when CJ had flipped to talk radio; and they had to have a live board operator in there 24 hours a day.
JC: Yeah. So, that's how I got my foot in the door. My first real job in radio was as a board operator for CJCH.
But I have been friends with Terry for a long time. He is the guy who put me on the radio. He is the one who kicked my career off, so there is always going to be that special bond with him.
BB: And he almost fired you? Do you want to talk about that?
JC: [Chuckles]. Yeah. Well, I went from board op to part-time production assistant and it was quite the jump because admittedly in college I wasn't the most technically... I don't even know the word I'm looking for.
JC: Yeah. I was definitely not technically adept. It was a big learning curve for me. I had made a few mistakes, which I did learn from. Terry was always big on that. "I don't mind you making mistakes, but learn from it and don't make the same mistake twice."
JC: Well, one night we were running a Tom Petty album release. The entire live feed went to air. You heard, "OK, Mark. Tom Petty starting in four". There was all this stuff that was supposed to be cut out. Well, Terry called me and said, "Jeff, I don't think this is working out. I think we're going to have to take a look at maybe you doing something else somewhere else." I said to him, "Terry, I accept responsibility for this, but I was told to do this with it, and not to cut it. I thought that somebody else was going to cut it." And that is the God's honest truth. He said ok. And then he gave me another shot. I won't say that I never screwed up again, but I never did something like that again. So, I was pretty close to being booted out the door. But, thankfully, he took another chance on me and away we went.
BB: And unfortunately he is gone. I don't know what happened there.
JC: You know, it's unfortunate. The great thing about radio is that it seems like they can say that they're moving in another direction, and you no longer fit our plans for that direction. I don't know what happened either. Terry hasn't talked to me about it. But like I said, he is a friend, and it is unfortunate to see a friend leave the industry like that.
BB: Is he still in town?
JC: Yeah, he is still in town. He lives with his wife Christine. [Son] Aaron is getting married. He is on his own. And [the other son] Zach is on his own, too. But he is entrenched here. The last time I talked to him his intention was to stay. I woudn't be surprised to see him do some consulting work. He has a great programming mind.
BB: Where do you see yourself in five years?
JC: Hopefully still at Z103. We have no desire to move anywhere. My wife and I consider Halifax home. I am hoping that Z can tolerate me for at least another five years or so. In this day and age, you never know what's going to happen, right? I could get a job offer from Toronto. Or they could restructure the station and I don't fit that format any more. I guess it's the same way with a lot of industries, but if you think you're not expendable, you are wrong. But I am really happy where I am at. I'm really enjoying the format a lot more than I thought I would.
JC: You see, when I went from Q, that was my thing. I wanted to be a morning show jock at a rock station. And then I went to K100 in Saint John, and it was like a softer version of C100. So, I made that transition. That was the first question they asked me in my interview. Greg Diamond and Paul Evanov, owner of the company. They asked me, "Rumour has it that you are a rock jock.". I said I was, but I said, "I made the transition to an AC [Adult Contemporary] station, and I'm pretty sure I can go to a CHR [Contemporary Hit Radio]. I think the fact that I was able to answer it that quickly kind of swayed them in [my] favour a little bit. I guess I am getting a little off topic here a bit, but if I stayed at Z for the rest of my career, it wouldn't bother me a bit. My wife and I left Halifax to advance my career. When we were gone, we realized we didn't want to be away from here again. So, I really can't see me going anywhere else.
Mind you, if someone wants to offer me a boatload of money, that might change things a bit. But I won't wait by the phone.
BB: Does it help to like the music that you play?
JC: Oh, definitely.
BB: What if you don't like the music that you play? You can still be professional enough to make it compelling to the listener, can you not?
JC: Oh, absolutely. Any announcer that is worth their salt should be able to pull off almost any format. Sometimes there is going to be a format that you are just not going to be able to do, and that happens, right? But in a perfect world, we'd all work for the format that is our first choice. That doesn't happen very often. Obviously you have your exceptions. But, yeah, I was a little tentative. I was unsure how I'd mix with the dance and the hip hop and the r&b ad everything, but if you check my ipod, it's all Z music.
BB: I'll listen a bit more. How's that?
JC: Yeah. You have to give it a shot. I got my dad listening. He listens because I'm on there, but he gets a kick out of some of the music. He started spouting off Busta Rhymes one day. He goes, "I love that tune!". I said, "Dad, don't do that. You're embarrassing me". [laughter]
BB: Ok, why is it Zee 103, and not Zed?
JC: [chuckles] You know what's weird is that we were having this conversation because Boss Dan usually comes into the studio when he gets into work. The four of us (Shane, Nikki, and I and Boss Dan) were sitting there and he was telling us about a telephone call he had received from someone asking, "Why is it Zee and not Zed?" Zee is Americanized, and Zed is Canadian. But it is a marketing brand. "Zee 103.5" rolls better off the tongue than "Zed 103.5". And that's why. We're not branding the letter Z. We're branding the station's name. We are Zee 103.5, the Beat of Halifax. And it's the same as our mother ship in Toronto, Z103.5.
BB: It's usually 103.5, isn't it? That frequency?
JC: You know what? I think that was a fluke. I don't know if they did that on purpose. They might have. I'm not privy to those conversations, fortunately, because I wouldn't understand them anyway. But, yeah, that really worked out for us.
BB: Is there a musical genre you feel is underserved in Halifax?
JC: I would have to say it would be a soft AC format.
BB: Adult Contemporary for my readers, right?
JC: Yes. That was Sun FM, which is now Kool. Kool is really close to the Q as far as the format goes.
BB: Well, they play anything now.
JC: Yes. C100, ever since The Bounce has signed on, might have backed off on some of the music a little bit. But really for hardcore soft AC fans, there is really not much here. I'd have to say that's one of the only ones. Outside of New Rock, [there is] Alternative Rock, which is dying. There used to be a lot of alternative rock stations that used to be here in Canada, and they just aren't any more. These XFM's that you saw popping up are all gone.
BB: So, the Rogers station, when they take over ownership of the license that 780 KIXX has...
BB: ... the rumour was that it would be alternative rock. That may not be a good idea. If you were the p.d. [program director] there, you might not recommend that they do that.
JC: I would be surprised if they did. I wouldn't be surprised to see them be a New Rock station, infused with a little bit of alternative rock, but I find there is a fine line between those two genres anyway. And with Q104 playing New Rock as well as classic rock... I don't know. That could be a hard sell for them.
BB: There is not much place for a new station to go any more, is there? Soft AC?
JC: Well, there's not, really. We went from having C100, Q104, Country 101, and 96.5. To now we have Hal FM, News Talk, and us. And, now, The Bounce. We have doubled in size as far as FM stations in just this market. There are only so many pieces of the pie. And everyone wants the biggest chunk.
BB: How do you prepare for a show? You radio personalities always cite studies or unusual news stories. Do you get this stuff from prep services, or are you just really good at trolling the internet for that material?
JC: Both. We do have a prep service that our company subscribes to. Nikki checks that every day. I have an internal prep service that a friend shares with me. He's actually a radio guy. He's got a global list of other radio people here in the Maritimes that he shares, stuff that he finds. And there are a few different sites that I check every day for whatever might be funny or interesting. And Shane comes up with some stuff.
BB: So, if I didn't subscribe to a prep service, and I wanted to find some of those things that you guys cite, I could just go into google, right? Type in "weird news stories" or something. Is that what these prep services do?
JC: Yeah. Some of them are bad. Some of them are pretty good. Sometimes the joke stories are fabricated. But these are mostly just things that happen around the world. Like today, I came across a story from Mexico City where an elephant got loose from the zoo and got hit by a bus. Unfortunately, it killed the driver, the elephant. It was just one of those things. You just have to know where to look, really. That's essentially what we do, really. "Well, all you do is surf the internet". Well, we do a lot of surfing.
BB: But the prep services do a lot of that stuff for you. Is that how they find their own material?
JC: Yeah. They do a lot of that stuff for you. They do tv drops from tv shows from the night before. They give you the low down on what is happening in the entertainment world. That kind of thing. Sometimes they give you phone topic ideas. It is basically all put together for you.
BB: And there are several companies that provide this type of service?
JC: Oh, they're a dime a dozen. Like I said: Some are good. Some, not so much.
BB: And stations typically subscribe to one of the better services? Or a couple of them?
JC: It's funny, because you work for one station, and you might think that one prep service is really good. And you go to another station, and they don't like that one at all. They have a totally different one. They enjoy that one better. It's a personal taste, really, because we switched prep services. The one we had, we weren't digging a whole lot. We found this other one, and we thought, "Hey, this is pretty cool". So we decided to switch.
But if you rely on what you're going to do on your show on your prep service... you really need some substance to your show, as opposed to "Hey, today is National Balloon Day. Go buy a balloon". Who cares?
BB: It's good for ten seconds.
JC: It's good for ten seconds. And, really, honestly, do you care that it's National Balloon Day?
BB: That's a lot of air time, when you're not playing music, isn't it? Four and a half hours a day, five days a week?
JC: It's not that much. I think we do about ten minutes of talk time each hour. We're a pretty music intense radio station. We just have so much fun. And we like to interact with the listeners. A lot of times, they're the star of the show.
Tomorrow [September 26th] is our two year anniversary of our being together as a team. We're having someone come into the studio. We want to have a listener come in and be part of the show for that day. We gave them a mock interview. Completely asinine questions. One of them was, "What is red and green and goes 150 miles an hour? A frog in a blender". And just to hear these people go, "Are they serious?" [Another question] was, "What size shoes does Stephen Harper wear?". They go, "I don't know. Size 10?" The answer is, "Nobody really cares" [laughter]
Their reaction is great. They end up doing the work and helping us. That's why I love doing it. I think it's great.
BB: I have noticed on Z103.5 that you project your voice differently now than how you did when you worked at the Q or C100 of Sun FM. Is this a conscious decision to sound a bit different?
JC: No. I think that as I have grown and matured (and I use that term loosely) my voice has matured as well. I definitely sound different, I think. I don't know what it is, but when I first started here, we did live airs at the clubs, and were at the Dome one night. My wife came down. I did an in-house announcement or whatever it was, and she said, "Oh, my God. The Rock Guy is gone. You totally sound like you should be doing this music." I said, "Really?" I didn't think I had changed any. But people have, "You do sound a little different." But I think it's just adjusting to the different format. It's different energy.
BB: If you worked at a classical music station, playing Montovani, you would sound a bit different in your delivery, I presume. .
JC: [British Aristrocratic Accent] I'd try to sound a little more like this. [laughter]
BB: What was it like to be the "voice" of Empire Theatres for all those years? I still expect you to tell me to put my trash into the nearest waste receptacle.
JC: You mean I'm not the voice there any more?
BB: I don't hear you there any more.
JC: You know what? I totally forgot about that. Until you sent that to me this morning. I did that, it must be, Holy Moley, 8 years ago.
BB: They ran those things for years?
JC: It was kind of neat. The first time I heard my voice on the radio, it was a commercial or whatever, that was kind of freaky. That is one of the questions we get asked the most now when people meet us. [They ask us], "Is it weird hearing yourself on the radio?" No. Not any more. The novelty is gone. My kids will go, "Daddy, is that you?". "Yeah, it's me". My daughter is very proud of me. She tells everybody. She will be 8 next June.
BB: So, she has friends who may listen to your station?
JC: Yeah. And, frankly, she is a little too proud. We'll walk into a place, and she'll go, "This is Jeff Cogswell from Z103.5". [laughter]. But the best is when they go, "Who the Hell is that? I don't know the guy. Whatever."
BB: OK. All right, Jeff. Thank you very much for doing this. I appreciate your time. I know you're busy, and thanks very much for doing this.
JC: It's my pleasure, Bev. Thank you so much.
BB: I'm a big radio fan.
JC: I know you are!
BB: My name gets around. I'd love to interview the people you work with, Nikki and Shane. If you could put in a good word for me...
JC: Sure, buddy. I'll tell them.
BB: I'll buy their lunch.
JC: Oh, I won't tell them that part!