November 6, 2010
Hey, it turns out that Mel Sampson and I have something in common: We both like the Port Pub in Port Williams. It's my home town, and I never thought I'd live long enough to see a pub there. I'm happy to be wrong.
We arrived around 5:25 for our 5:30 dinner appointment. Mel and Goose were both already there and had reserved seats for us, which is good, because there were quite a few people waiting to get in.
We took our seats. We drank Vicious Pixies until Mel and Patricia reminded Goose and me that we were both men and ought not to be drinking these beverages. So, we traded the Vicious Pixies for the rotgut they were drinking, ordered our food, and began to talk.
1. How did you get your start in radio?
Mel Sampson: I liked it ever since I was a little kid. I never grew up with a commercial FM station, but I just enjoyed it. I got interviewed when I was 8 or something on CBC radio. I thought, “This is cool!”
Bevboy: What was the context of the interview?
MS: I had organized a clean up club to pick up trash around town.
BB: What town? Where are you from?
MS: Happy Valley – Goose Bay, Labrador. The first question I get asked is, “Where’s your accent?” I don’t have one.
I was at Acadia, doing a Bachelor of Science. I was getting my hair done in Halifax. The guy who was doing my hair had done a cosmetology diploma at Kingstec when it was still offered there. We got to chatting. I said, “You know, I’m thinking about doing something else.”
He said, “My girlfriend did RTA. She did tv. She loved it.” We were talking about it because I was there for 6 hours. By the end of it, I thought, “I’m going to check that out!”
BB: Who was the girlfriend?
MS: I have no idea what her name was.
BB: She inspired you, but you don’t know who she is.
MS: Exactly. Her project was apparently the best that year. That’s all I know. So, six hours later, I went home. I just ended up applying. They lost half my application. I still had a year and a half of school left then of geology.
BB: Did you finish that degree?
MS: I did. I worked in geology that summer. Since they’d lost my application, I didn’t find out until the end of July that I was going back to school.
BB: What year was this?
BB: I know Dave Bannerman was there because he’s been there a long time. How about Yvonne Colbert? Was she working there then?
MS: No. She was after I left. We still had Jan MacKinnon. Loved Jan. And Steve Melanson. Jan finished when we did in 2005.
BB: Oh, you guys met...
Goose Stuart: We met in college, yes.
MS: Day Number One. Going around the room. I thought his name sounded nice. [laughs] Good business for it, I guess. That’s what people keep saying to him: “You have a great voice for radio!” Then, they turn to me and go, “You work in radio?" I say yes. It’s still a man’s world in a lot of ways.
BB: Did you work at the Acadia campus radio station? When I was at Acadia in the ‘80‘s, they had a campus radio station. I can’t remember the call letters.
MS: I can’t remember the name either, because it was mainly web-based when I was there. It went through a downgrade. I don’t know if it was funding or what.
BB: It was terrestrial when I was there, on the AM band. In more recent years, it went on the web. I don’t know if they stream such that I could pick it up. I think it’s an intranet thing.
MS: I think for a lot of the time that we were there, I had a friend who did a late night show there for an hour or two. I don’t think it was even programmed all the time. I was part of the film and tv club, which was cool, for a little while. But, no, I really wasn’t a huge part of it. I was thinking about doing something through this friend of mine, but it never worked out because they ended up not doing shows at a certain time. It was just a mess.
BB: So, Acadia had nothing to do with your becoming interested in radio. You always had that spark.
MS: I like to talk. When I was a kid, I got kicked out of class a lot for talking because I’d finish my work and be bored, so I would just start talking to other kids. I’d wait out in the hallway until some other teacher came along and said, “Come here. I have something for you to do.” I made a fake radio show for my mom when I was probably 8, and thought I was cool shit.
BB: The very first pod cast!!
MS: It was. That tape is securely with my mother and no one else at this point.
BB: OK. Is it a two year program at Kingstec?
MS: It was. And, we were the last people to finish the full 2 years at Kings Tec (Kingstec) before it moved to Dartmouth.
BB: It’s been there that long? Five years now?
MS: Actually, the people that were first year when we were in second year, had to go to Dartmouth for their second year.
BB: That would suck, wouldn’t it?
MS: It’s a good school. The studios there are amazing. I’ve only been there once or twice.
GS: Twice, I think.
MS: And, they’re more well equipped than most radio stations.
BB: It’s government money.
MS: The first thing I said when I went in there was, “You’re going to be spoiled, because if you work at a small station somewhere that’s not brand new...” We’re lucky at K-Rock. We have digital boards. Everything is nice. I have a big screen tv in the studio. It’s gorgeous. But, if you go to an older station that’s not probably what it’s going to look like. But, it’s nice. It’s a gorgeous school.
BB: Tell me about your first professional radio job. Where was it?
MS: Miramichi. 99.3 The River. Because the station was right on the [Miramichi] river.(, it ) It was lovely, a little sketchy when you showed up at 4 o’clock in the morning. It was a lovely new building. Not many people [worked there]. It was 2 or 3 sales people at any given time. Myself. Another guy I graduated school with. I did the morning show there, and a bit of Production. A bit of music [maintenance]. A bit of reception. A bit of everything.
BB: That’s an MBS station, isn’t it?
MS: It is.
BB: What was the format of the station when you were there?
MS: Leaning toward AC, slight touches of Top 40. More so AC. It was interesting. I was there, I think, for 8 and a half months. It was better than the airport job I had taken right out of school. So, that was a bonus!
BB: And, from there, you went to what station?
MS: I went to Magic 104 in Moncton, which is now Max FM, or Max 104. It’s not “Magic” any more. It was when I was there. I actually took over when Troy Tate went to C103. That was his job.
BB: Does C103 still coming blaring into the Valley?
MS: I think so. We have K-Rock listeners in PEI. They are at their cottage and they’re from the Valley. They can listen to us there.
BB: We have a cottage in Pictou County. We can listen to the K-Rock station in Charlottetown. I’ve never tried to pick up K-Rock [89.3] from the cottage. I’ll try next week. I’ll be at the cottage all week. [Bevboy Note: I can report that K-Rock 89.3 does come in at the cottage]
MS: We were in Pictou a little while ago. We were at the Pictou Lodge resort. A friend got married there.
BB: Patricia just came back from there. You nearly ran into each other.
So, from Magic 104, you went from there to Z103, did you?
MS: Well, there was a little gap in between. I left Magic at the end of June of that year.
MS: That sound about right. I started working part-time at Z, I think, at the end of November. I got a call when I was home in Labrador for Christmas saying, “Do you want a full-time gig now? One’s opened.” I said sure. So, January 1st or 2nd was my full-time start gig at Z103.
BB: And, that was the mid-day show?
BB: Because Megan Edwards said your leaving paved the way for her getting that job. She expressed gratitude to you.
MS: I think she was probably fairly happy, yes. But, I was only there for 4 and a half months or so. It was different, doing mid-day. I’d never done mid-day. When I went to Moncton, I did drive and music director, so I just leaped into that one. I was there for a year. So, really, my goal, when I left Z, was to stay put for a while.
BB: We’ll talk about how you got the job at K-Rock in a little while.
2. What is the best piece of professional advice you have ever received, and who provided it?
MS: Can I give 2?
BB: Of course you can.
MS: OK. First of all, Dave Bannerman saying, “Don’t do broadcast journalism. Go into radio.” I originally went into the program for broadcast journalism.
BB: Why did he try to dissuade you from being a journalist?
MS: I think he thought I’d do all right in radio. He said, “Do your internship in the Spring at a great station. See how you like it. And, then, tell me if you still want to do broadcast journalism in your second year.” He suggested going to The Hawk in Port Hawkesbury. Fantastic. They had us doing everything. There was no turning back. He was right. I switched after Christmas to go into radio.
BB: Had you had a passion for news before that?
MS: I did. I thought that I could be ...
BB: The next Barbara Frum?
MS: Lisa LaFlamme. She’s way cooler than me. I didn’t really know. I didn’t know much about radio. I didn’t know much about how a station worked. I didn’t know much about any of that because I hadn’t grown up listening to a morning show or a midday show or a drive show. I just thought, “I could be a news person.” I enjoyed reading the news. I enjoyed writing news.
The second one would be Dan Barton. He was my boss three times. He was my official boss in Miramichi. He was based out of Moncton, but he was my official boss. Leo Melanson was my direct supervisor. He [Dan] was the one who called me to go to Moncton. I left Miramichi after my show one day, went to Moncton, and was on the air there the next day and never left.
Then, when Dan went to Evanov, it was quite a while later. He called me when I was back living in Nova Scotia after I’d left Moncton. I was unemployed. He said, “I’ve got a couple of part-time news shifts if you’re interested.” Sure. Fill in for a few days. Why not? I thought the station sounded great. So, yes. He was my boss three times.
One of the first things he told me when I went to Moncton was trying to visualize an audience. He said, “Picture that you’re drawing a person, and that that person is your demographic. Give them a name. What do they like to do? How many kids do they have? Do they have kids in high school? University? Get into the mindset of your listener and tailor your show around that.”
I took that to heart. I sat in my hotel room and I thought, “Her name is Cathy!” I knew from their ratings stuff how old she was, what she liked to do. Magic 104 was an AC station. Females were a target demographic.
I had my first ever ratings in Moncton, and they were great. We didn’t have ratings in Miramichi. I thought, “Good on Cathy!”
BB: And, Dan Barton is back with MBS, doing consulting.
MS: I don’t know that he’s employed by MBS. I think it’s Dan Barton Consulting. He’s a very, very smart man. I have a lot of respect for Dan.
3. You have been lucky enough to be in on the launch of K-Rock. Most jocks never get the chance to be on the launch of any radio station. Do you consider yourself lucky? What skills were you able to bring to your position at K-Rock that you honed and developed, most notably, at Z103?
MS: Well, the launch of the new station was one of the biggest draws. I didn’t take leaving Z after such a short time very lightly. It was something that I thought, “Not many people get to do this! This should be a lot of fun, challenging. I’d never worked at a rock station. I think, at Z it was confidence that I took away from there the most, because it was my first job in a larger market.
I knew, in launching a new station, people have pretty high expectations, because even before we launched, we were out doing parades. We were hosting yardsales for charity. We were out and about doing those events. But, people had some pretty high expectations because they had had the same couple stations for so long.
BB: I’m from here. I know all about it.
MS: And, so, people expected a lot from K-Rock. I knew that from my initial talks with the people that hired me that there’s going to be a lot expected of you. I would not have been able to overcome that confidence thing if it weren’t for the job at Z.
Definitely, Dan was fantastic with showing me new ways to approach things, like talking to people on the phone, editing calls, when to place calls during your show. Really, a lot of fine tuning. I think the break of not having a job in there was a good chance to wash away any bad habits that I might have built up over a year at another job and then start anew, but with a little more confidence behind me.
BB: I read Milkman. I’m the only one not in radio who reads The Milkman. [Mel laughs] Did you see the ad for the Drive Home announcer at K-Rock?
MS: Actually, no. I think it was Dave Bannerman. I already knew about the company from seeing things about them. I think it was Dave Bannerman who said, “Hey, you remember Newcap? They’re going to be launching a station, so send your stuff here.” It was before it was ever made official. When it was made official, I sent it again.
When I had already left Moncton, I knocked on the door of Ted Hyland in Halifax and JC Douglas and begged for a meeting. They were nice enough to meet with me. I had one job interview with JC, actually.
It was just to basically say, “Hey, I’m here, and I need a job, and I think you should probably become my friends.”
BB: What was JC’s role in getting K-Rock off the ground?
MS: I don't know.
BB: Is Newcap considered the pinnacle of private radio in Canada?
MS: I don’t know. I think that Newcap definitely has a good reputation. Again, I can just say they’ve lived up to my expectations. I remember JC telling me how happy he was when I got a job at K-Rock. He said, “This is fantastic.” Because, I had applied for a job at Q. It was a swing shift, I think.
BB: The one that Scotty Mars got?
MS: I have no idea. It was when I was unemployed, anyway. JC was so great to chat with me and just basically give me the time of day. They just made it certain that I wanted to work for Newcap.
So, I sent my stuff to Ken Geddes, who was our first GM. I think I met two or three times with Ken. I know that Steve Jones was in there for one of my chats. Gary was in there for the last one. It was months of waiting for it.
BB: How long before the station went on the air were you a Newcap employee? They went on the air on June 12, 2008.
MS: Some people started before me. I was, I think, around May 18th. It was the better part of a month. And, I think Goose was there in April doing production stuff. Actually, we moved down to the Valley probably the end of April, the beginning of May.
4. When I hear you on the air, I picture you in studio with a big grin on your face. You seem to have a joy of broadcasting about you. Is my perception correct? Do you love your job?
MS: I love that you just said that.
MS: That it sounds like I’m having fun.
BB: I picture you with a big smile on your face. Do you have a smile on your face when you’re talking on the air?
MS: Yeah, probably. I’m talking on the phone. I’m playing music. I’m making people happy. I’m sure I piss people off: People call me sometimes and say that I’m pissing them off. They call me other times and say I’m making them happy. What’s there not to love?
BB: What pisses them off?
MS: Oh, not enough AC/DC. Or, “Why didn’t you tell me that there’s a speed trap on the 101 at Avonport?”
BB: Do they tell you that? That there’s a speed trap at Avonport?
MS: Oh, they always do. But, you don’t want to burn your bridges with the RCMP now, do you? That’s one thing you don’t want to do. I’m sure, in the larger markets, I’ve heard people actually say those things. In a small town, though, you wouldn’t do that.
It’s natural, if I’m talking about something that I’m excited about, my hands are going all over the place. People laugh at me all the time because the studio’s surrounded by windows. I’m doing it right now. I have to sit on my hands to not be animated. But, if somebody tells me that I sound happy, that’s what I’m there for. No matter what crap you might be thinking about that day, radio’s famously known for drama. It’s not brain surgery. If something happens, nobody’s life gets hurt. It’s entertainment. I would never not take my job seriously, but at the end of the day, I would hope that people tune in to K-Rock (or wherever I am) to have a good time. So, I very much appreciate that you said it sounds like I have a joy about my job, because I do.
BB: There’s an infectious tone in your voice.
Do the police actually tell you when there’s a speedtrap, or do listeners call in?
MS: No, listeners call in and say that. Totally; the cops would never say that.
BB: But, if you announced it on the air, the police wouldn’t appreciate it.
MS: I don’t think there’s anything saying I couldn’t. Here’s the way I look at it: If you’re a jerk doing 150 on the 101, get your damned ticket. I have no love lost for someone doing 150 or 160 on a single lane highway. I’ve seen it; I drive the highways.
What if the news room wants info on an accident, they might go, “Oh, yeah. Those jackasses!” I just don’t think it’s professional. If other people want to do that, that’s fine.
BB: On Halifax stations they may say, “You might want to watch your speed coming over the Magazine Hill this morning.” They might hint around it a bit.
5. Tell me about a couple of on air mistakes you've made.
MS: I’ve said “dick” when I wasn’t supposed to say “dick”. I’m pretty sure I’ve dropped an F-bomb at some point.
BB: What station did that happen at?
MS: I think it was it was in Miramichi. I remember saying “shit” instead of something else in Miramichi. I said it more than once, and it was in a newscast. I said the same word wrong twice. I said “shit” both times. I was so nervous. It was my first job. I remember when Leo called me to do an aircheck over the phone. I told him, “Leo, I’m sorry I said ‘shit’ 2 times during my news story.”
He basically just, “Did you mean to say ‘shit’, or was it an accident?”
I said, “No. It was an accident.”
He said, “It’s all right. It happens.”
No one called. It was fine. I’ve hiccupped in the middle of saying something. I think it’s about having a sense of humour about it. You’d probably go nuts if you didn’t laugh at yourself or make fun of yourself. Obviously, the listener just heard if you made a stupid mistake or said it was 5 o’clock when it’s 4 o’clock. Just make fun of yourself. As long as you’re not being utterly offensive... you’re going to make mistakes.
6. Please say something about the following people.
A. Nikki Balch
MS: I love Nikki. Nikki is a burst of energy.
BB: What a sweet person. I really enjoyed meeting her last year.
MS: Nikki and I were roommates in Moncton for a while before she moved and went to Z. I had to find another apartment. Thanks, Nikki! If you don’t get happier by being around Nikki, then there’s something wrong with you.
P: You need Prozac.
MS: Or a Vicious Pixie. She’s a ball of joy. I love her.
BB: Was it fun working with her at Z for those 4 months? And, at Moncton before that?
MS: Yes. I mean, people love Nikki. There’s nothing to not like about Nikki. She’s sweet. She’s lovely. She’s a ball of fizzy. If that makes no sense, blame it on the Vicious Pixie.
BB: I like that: A ball of fizzy!
B. This woman owes you a debt. Megan Edwards
MS: I thought it was really funny, when I read the interview with you. She said, “I’m very happy Mel left.” Megan, when I first met her, the word I thought of was “ambition”. She’s very ambitious. I remember her saying she wanted to be on tv, and now she’s got a show on Eastlink: “The Moment”. I see nothing but ambition from her.
BB: She wants to do a lot of things. She’s 24 or something.
P: Is that the one I talked to on the phone? I rolled my r’s for her?
MS: She knows how to light up a room.
P: She’s gorgeous.
MS: Well, she’s literally a model. And, she’s as nice as she is beautiful.
BB: So, you never worked with her.
MS: She was doing weekends when I was there, plus we knew a lot of the same people from college and what not, too. People at Z had a lot of love for Megan.
BB: Megan Edwards is a big fan of Lisa Blackburn’s. I had dinner with Lisa Blackburn Thursday night. She is a fan of Megan’s, too. I asked Lisa if I could record her saying hello to Megan. I emailed it to Megan yesterday.
MS: Oh, that’s sweet.
C. Dave Chaulk
MS: I’m giggling as my first response because Dave is such a legend around here. I get a kick out of the fact that, when I work with Dave Chaulk every day, he’s in his newsroom and I’m the studio. He has such a sense of humour. A lot of people that only know him as “The News Guy, Dave Chaulk” wouldn’t get that [because] he doesn’t laugh during the news. He is witty. We can talk about things like caribou and salmon and arctic char and Labrador things. I bring him in my salmon leftovers. He used to work in Goose Bay!
BB: He did?
MS: A long time ago. I make fun of him for being old.
BB: That must have been in the ‘70‘s.
MS: Probably the ‘40‘s. [Chuckles] It was 1942; I remember they had a lot of snow then.
Dave is the consummate professional. The first day I managed to get him to laugh before we went into a newscast, I got him to say “woot! woot!” or something; and people actually came up to me the next time I was in public and said, “You got Dave Chaulk to laugh! You got him to say ‘woot! woot!’” To me, that’s what he’s like at work all the time. He’s a lot of fun. He’s not allowed to talk sports around me, though. That’s my rule. If people come into the jock lounge and start talking about football and baseball, they get kicked out.
BB: You don’t like sports?
MS: Not a sports watcher, no. I don’t know who had an rb, run-in, number something in 1985. I have no interest. I don’t go into his office and talk about shoes. [laughter all around] I just think it’s fair that way.
P: I like that comment. I’m going to use it.
MS: You should.
BB: The first time I heard about Colleen Jones was from Dave Chaulk because, in the early ‘80‘s, he hosted a sports show on CJCH radio. I think it was on Saturday morning. He talked about Colleen Jones, a young up-and-comer curler, and how she listened to Bruce Springsteen when she worked out.
MS: He says, and I would like to put this on the record because if somebody can help out with this, when he did an on-air show in Newfoundland (I think it was Cornerbrook), he always said he was honkin’ the hits, and that there was no tape available of that anywhere.
BB: Of him being a jock?
MS: Of him being a jock. I doubt that it’s true. I have a feeling that somewhere in someone’s closet, there has to be evidence of Dave Chaulk doing his show, and I would probably be able to raise a lot of money. I can’t say I’d pay for it myself, but I’d be able to raise a lot of money to make that appear. Just throwing it out there.
BB: Well, it is the World Wide Web. People can read about Dave Chaulk on the blog. It could happen.
MS: That’s true.
D. Darrin Harvey
MS: He’s awesome. Just ask him. [laughter] He tries to make us kiss his muscles all the time. He tries to be really intimidating and really tough, but he’s Darrin. He’s a softie. He’s lovely. He shows me new music that I would never have heard of before. When I walk in in the morning, I swear to God he knows what kind of mood we’re going to be in. It could be Ray LaMontagne one morning. It could be Bruno Mars the next. It could be the new Elton John/Leon Russell album. It doesn’t matter. We share a small office together, so it was “be friends” or “be miserable”.
BB: This music is from his private collection, I take it?
BB: Your station wouldn’t get in new music.
MS: No. And, for that hour in the morning, it’s our bubble. He has a work guitar in our office that people come in and play all the time. He has this little amp that plugs into his guitar; he can be a walking troubadour through the office. What other office would you work at where there’s a meeting going on in the boardroom, but there’s this guy walkin’ and singin’ through the hallways? I love it! Darrin is an amazing soul. He’s a lovely person.
BB: He is. Every time I see him, he smiles at me and says, “How are you doing, brother?”
MS: Hants County’s God’s Country. That’s his home, and he has a lot of love for this place. He’s been in radio in this market for a long time. Whether there was a break in between or not, he is so well known. Before we launched, one of the things I heard the most was, “Darrin must has been involved in setting up this radio station. He must be the boss.” That was the reaction because I have no doubt he could have. He’s a lovely soul. And, he notices when I have new shoes on.
BB: Most men don’t notice shoes at all. But I did notice you’re wearing red shoes this evening.
MS: People call them my little ruby slippers. But, he will notice. He has lots of words like “stunning” and “smashing”. Who says “smashing” any more? Seriously! I love this guy. There’s a reason why he calls all the girls his work wives.
BB: Is there somebody on staff at K-Rock now you would consider to be a mentor?
MS: I think, pretty much everyone! I’ve only had a [radio] job since 2005. But, we’ve got a pretty good crew. I think a lot of people are pretty passionate. We’ve got sales people with 30+ years of experience. We’ve got people from all different backgrounds and experience. A lot of musicians are in our building. There’s a crazy amount of people who play guitar and other instruments. There’s a lot of very creative people. The stuff that Tony [Levy] and Scott [Baines], our creative writers, come up with. If I’m trying to come up with a parody song, between going to Scott for advice and Goose for production of it... what other place can you do that?
BB: No law firm, that’s for sure.
MS: Exactly. If I was in it for the money, I would have already been a lawyer or I would have been a geologist. But, there’s a lot of people in that building that love their job. They love what we put out there. They love what this station means to the town because it is a smaller community it means a lot more. I mean, really, it says something that we haven’t had a huge staff turnover in over 2 years [on the air].
BB: Weekends have been a problem. Well, not a problem. You had Neil Spence...
MS: Neil is great. He went from doing weekends; now he’s doing Drive in Sydney.
BB: Part-time to full-time.
MS: Exactly. And, Darrin started off on the weekends and now he’s five days a week, mid-day. And, Julia, who is doing a show and news on the weekend. She sounds fantastic.
It’s a good place.
E. Gary Tredwell
MS: Gary is talented. There’s a reason why Gary has lasted in this business for over 20 years. There’s a reason why he has had a full career in radio. He’s done many different jobs. People love Greasy for one. People here in the Valley said, “Is that Greasy?” They would get really excited about it. I know that Gary is going to be working again in no time.
BB: All right. Fair enough. I don’t want to brag too much, but if you go into google and type in “Greasy Gary” ...
MS: It comes up on Bevboy’s Blog?
BB: You saw that, did you?
MS: No. I didn’t. I’m just making a good guess.
BB: There are youtube videos of him talking to me. He taught me to talk as Greasy Gary.
MS: No. I haven’t.
BB: You have to. Patricia shot the video.
P: I’m taking full credit for it.
BB: It was shot in your boardroom, your Beatles room. I could never speak the way he could, so I got him to teach me to say, “‘S’Gunon, N’at Eh”. I couldn’t say that. I’m from Port Williams. I got him to teach me, and it’s the funniest damned thing you’ll ever see.
P: Our cottage neigbours are from Baltimore, Maryland. He showed the video to them, and they thought it was a riot. They get a kick out of the different dialects here in Nova Scotia. The last time I saw them, I spoke like Greasy, and they were laughing hysterically.
BB: It is funny. It’s hysterical.
MS: It is. A lot of people in school knew Greasy Gary. I didn’t. I’m not from Nova Scotia. I went to school in the Valley. I did a science degree. I didn’t have much time for listening to the radio. Then, when I was in radio, we spent a lot of time at school doing stupid stuff: Rewiring things, and making weird stuff go over the PA systems.
BB: How did you find out that Gary Tredwell was Greasy Gary?
MS: Somebody asked me, “Whom (did I really say “whom?” haha Should be “who” -- Nope! See the video below -- Bevboy) are you meeting with?” I said, “Ken Geddes and Gary Tredwell.” They said, “That’s Greasy Gary!” I don’t remember who said it to me.
BB: And you said, “Who’s Greasy Gary?”
MS: I had heard that he was a character at Q104, and that’s about all I knew.
Really, Dave made it a point that we had to know every radio station in the Maritimes. We had to know the call letters. We had to know the PD because that’s who we were going to be applying for jobs with. We had to know their formats, and where their range was.
BB: Their range? What does that mean?
MS: The broadcast range. How far does this station broadcast? What is their pattern? What transmitter do they have? He made us learn all that stuff.
F. Julia Kirkey
MS: Julia is one of the most kind, sweet people I’ve ever met in my life. I wholeheartedly believe that, if we had never worked together, we still would have met and become friends. She’s so smart. She knows a lot of people in the Valley, so she really gets radio. She gets radio in the Valley.
BB: Is she from here?
MS: She’s lived all over, but she graduated high school in Greenwood. Her father’s retired military; her mother works for the military in Greenwood. I think that the traveling helped make her who she is. I find it hard to even come up with something radio-ish about Julia because I think of her Jules. She’s lovely. I say that word a lot. I know I’ve said it a few times, but she is. She can go from being that person that you can have a quiet chat with to somebody that can be feisty. That’s what you love about her. I’m so happy that she’s doing the weekend show now because she’s entertaining. She enjoys looking at TMZ with me.
BB: Have you ever seen her cover a story?
MS: I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been there when she’s covered something. I remember that she was at a dinner covering something. But, again, we were sitting having drinks and dinner, and she was working the room, getting her audio for the next day’s [newscasts].
7. Tell me one thing you haven't done in radio that you would like to do.
MS: Be program director.
BB: Really? Are you applying for Gary’s old job? Or is it a secret?
MS: It’s no secret. I haven’t. It’s always been one of my goals. I got my first taste of being a music director in Moncton. That was half my job. I loved it. I helped out a little bit at Z when Jeremy was on vacation. Jeremy Noluv. Again, someone else I have a lot of respect for.
BB: He’s a little bit older, isn’t he? He’s approaching my age?
MS: I honestly have no idea how old Jeremy is. I know he’s been doing his thing at Z since they launched. He’s smart. He’s very, very smart. What did you ask me again?
BB: What’s one thing you would like to do in radio that you haven’t done yet? You mentioned being a program director.
MS: That’s something I wanted to do from the beginning. I can’t imagine that I’d want to be on the air forever. I think I still have a long way to go. I love being on the air for now.
BB: When you no longer have that joy in your voice any more...
MS: Maybe if I’m all grumpy, sitting in there. But, for the moment, I still am. I’ve done morning, mid day, drive. I have never done evenings.
BB: To the extent they even have evening shifts any more. Who does the voice tracking at K-Rock at night now?
MS: No one as of yet.
BB: So, it’s just wall-to-wall music.
MS: Yes. We have one feature, The Side Show, so we have somebody taking care of that. Darrin and I have been doing the music. Again, it’s something that I love. I get butterflies when I hear two songs that just go so well together. I get excited. I love that side of it.
BB: You and Darrin are picking out the music now?
MS: Well, the music is really chosen. Steve Jones has been down to help us out. He’s certainly helped us freshen things up.
BB: I don’t listen to the station as much as I wish I could. You’re saying you’re playing some different tunes now?
MS: A couple, yeah. Steve really did freshen it up. We’ve already heard some feedback from people inside the building and out saying, “Hey, haven’t heard that song before. That’s cool!” I think he may be stretching our boundaries a little bit with dates and things. I heard a couple different Tragically Hip songs that we’ve never heard before. I had a couple listeners call in and say, “You’re playing this song. That’s fantastic!” You might have that listener for life, now.
BB: When I talked to Gary last year, he said that K-Rock might almost be a classic pop station because some of the songs were barely qualifying as rock.
MS: Well, it depends on who you talk to. Some people would never consider Fleetwood Mac to be rock. Other people would. Other people would say that they’re one of the greatest rock acts of all time. Other people would say they’re pop or classic hits. It really depends. I would never call us a hard rock station. I just don’t think that would fly in the Valley when we’re going after people that are at work listening. Our audience is so varied in the Valley. You’re going to get your Phil Collins. But, you’re going to get the classic Phil Collins, too. You’ll get the classic Rod Stewart mixed in there with the Clash or some Ozzy or AC/DC or ZZ Top.
You look at the concerts that we send people to, we’ve sent people to see The Who. We’ve sent people to see Tom Petty. ZZ Top. AC/DC. The Eagles. It’s all in there. The Eagles now sound a lot more Country than they ever did. But, they are still Classic Rock.
BB: What’s the cut off for the year where you won’t play stuff earlier than a certain year? What’s the most recent music you’ll play?
MS: Well, that’s where we’ve been stretching things a little bit. For certain artists, it gets stretched a little bit more recent. For others, you won’t see anything beyond 1990 or ‘91. But, for others, we’ve been seeing a couple of things in the mid to late ‘90‘s. It’s done on a song basis. That one particular song still fits our sound. It’s a wonderful song by that artist. We’ll forgive the fact that it’s from 1996 and we’ll play it. I have no part in that.
BB: It’s a Steve Jones decision?
MS: I think so. I wouldn’t be able to say for certain because I haven’t had that discussion. I’m just going on what I hear.
BB: You show up for work every morning. Or, every afternoon, I should say.
BB: OK. And, you look at your playlist and say, “Hey, cool! I haven’t heard that one for a while.”
MS: Never look at the playlist for my show. I prefer not to know. Somebody might be saying that’s horrible. But, my show prep is geared toward my audience. No matter what song I play on any day, that audience is still going to be my target audience.
I learn so much from Darrin or Tony. Gary was an encyclopedia, too, of things that I never would have known. But, going to a classic rock station for the first time, I was forced to do that research to switch from the stuff that I was doing at Z to a classic rock format. You keep up on that every day, and you learn what you can, whenever you can.
8. What are some of your favourite Valley haunts?
MS: That’s a good question. We’re sitting at one of them.
BB: I have seen your Facebook pictures. You come here relatively frequently.
MS: [chuckles] Not too frequently. I don’t want them thinking they pay me too much that I come to the Port Pub so much. I can’t say we’re foodies because I think you really have to have a good knowledge of wine to technically be a foodie. I really don’t.
We enjoy going to the farmer’s markets a lot.
BB: Which ones?
MS: I was a student [at Acadia]. Hennigar’s was the favourite then, but it’s become a little touristy for me.
BB: It always has been that way.
MS: We have our neighbourhood one now. When we were living in Coldbrook, we went to the Avery’s that was just around the corner from us there. Now that we’re in Kentville, we go to the closest one that’s there.
It’s so cool. I look at my bag of carrots and I go, “They’re from Berwick!” Or, my lettuce is from Centreville.
BB: Do you like the Wolfville Farmer’s Market?
MS: I do, but I have to refrain sometimes because they have these brownies that are massive!
BB: And those cookies that are like frisbees!
MS: So, I have to be careful with going there. It’s daunting to eat one, for breakfast.
BB: They’re going to do very well in that new space [The Wolfville Farmer’s Market is moving to a former warehouse, about a block from the Front Street space they use in the summer; it should be open by the Spring of 2011].
MS: They are, and I’m really excited for them. It means they have one space all year ‘round. People will have permanent venues. You go there, and you eat your face off.
I like going for drives around here. I’ve said it a couple of times driving to work, just even the past week. We live in a really pretty place. There’s no simpler description. You’re from here; you know this. I meet a lot of people, and I think a lot of that charm has worn off. But, for me, it hasn’t.
BB: It’s still a treat to come home.
MS: It’s gorgeous here. You can’t see the view because it’s dark, but when you sit out on this patio, you see these birds flying around. The trees are gorgeous. Hall’s Harbour? Love it. We drive out there, and it’s blanketed in fog, but it’s still beautiful. My other favourite place? Gaspereau Valley. I don’t know where I’ll ever end up in my career, but I will have a cottage some day in the Gaspereau Valley. I love it. It’s stunning.
BB: Can you imagine yourself living somewhere else right now?
MS: At this moment?
MS: No, because we just bought a house, and that probably wouldn’t be so smart. I could imagine myself living a lot of places, but I think different from when I was a little kid I knew I that would not be living in my home town when I was this age. I haven’t lived in Labrador full-time since I was 17. But, I spent 6 years in the Valley as a student, so this place, when I came back here to work, felt like moving home in a way. So, really, I could imagine myself living a lot of other places, just not at this moment.
9. You're a young person playing music of your parents' or older siblings' generation. How hard is it to relate to that music when it comes to presenting it to your listeners?
MS: Really not that hard. Remember Cathy? Well, she has a personality here in the Valley. Cathy moved to the Valley. My dad loves a lot of old Country. My mom was an interesting mix of music with a lot of the Eagles, CCR, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Elton John. She loves K-Rock. They listen all the time. I’m blaring in their house all the time. My oldest brother was Elvis. He was also into the Classic Rock, and CCR. He was into more of the AC/DC stuff, too. My middle brother was into the New Rock. I remember when he got a Moist cd. I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard.
I grew up with one of my aunts, who was like my older sister. She was into the Pop music. Do you remember the cassette singles? Cassingles? My first cassingle was by Paula Abdul. I had my Debbie Gibson album, and my Kylie Minogue album, all thanks to her. I was brought up around this really strange and odd mix of everything. The music that we play is by no means foreign to me at all.
And, really, it’s my job. I think it’s your responsibility. You should be able to work in just about any format. It’s my job to know the music. Even if I don’t really care when the next AC/DC tour is coming through town, I’m damned sure my listeners care. So, that makes it my job to care.
BB: And at least to pretend to be excited about it?
MS: And, really, the pretending goes so far. When they were coming to town, people got really effing-excited about it. I had to be excited for them. I was excited that we were sending a busload of people to go to see them. That was exciting!
BB: Would you spend your own money to go see AC/DC?
MS: Probably not. But, again, I made it a point of knowing everything I could about that show. It just so happened that other people were going. I’ve gone to concerts before that I had no interest in, but I was there as a representative of the station. So, I was there, and I was happy to be there. You never want to feel dishonest, but, let’s face it, you have to put on a happy face sometimes and be there for your listeners or your station.
10. The Megan Edwards question: You lose your iPod. I find it. What songs on it would surprise me the most?
MS: I don’t own an iPod. I’m probably the only person I know that doesn’t own an iPod. We’re old school. We have a lot of cd’s. I downloaded my first thing from iTunes this summer. It was an episode of Mad Men. I don’t know if anything would be surprising only because the only thing you might not find on there is Country. I have an mp3 player. There’s a little bit of classical on there. You’re probably not going to find Slipknot on there. It’s easier to tell you what’s not on there, really.
BB: What music do you really feel passionate about that you do not play at the station?
MS: There’s a lot of new music that I really enjoy. There’s a lot of new music that I think is crap. But, there’s a lot of 10 year old music that I enjoy, and 10 year old music that I think is crap. The last 2 weeks, I’ve been glued to my Bruno Mars cd. Darrin introduced me to it. I really don’t keep new music on my radar a whole lot any more. Darrin was listening to this song, and he said, “You have to see the video. You have to hear it.” It’s the first new music album that I had to go out and buy it because I was listening to it all the time. I’m listening to Groove Armada in the car. And, people that make new music that I started liking in the ‘90‘s. Also, I’ve got Ray LaMontaine on my playlist at work. I’m pretty sure Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is still on there, too. It gets me in a good mood, so, why not?
11. Wrap Up
BB: That was the last official question.
MS: Oh, I feel like I can breathe now. [chuckles]
BB: Do you go by Mel or Melanie? On your facebook, it says Melanie.
MS: “Melanie” only because I only started being called “Mel” in Grade 12. A lot of people still call me Melanie.
BB: But you go by Mel on the air.
MS: Yes. I started as “Melanie” on the air, but it’s long. For the sake of being short, it’s Mel. I tried to go by my middle name once, and John Wyles, the pd at CKBW told me it sounded too dirty.
BB: What’s your middle name?
MS: Desirée. [laughs] He said to me, "Why would you ever want to go by that name? I don't know what term he used. He said it sounded too whorish or dirty or something. He said, "Where did you ever come up with that name?" I said, "It's my middle name!" I don't know why I ever thought that that would be cool. Maybe because I just didn't like saying Melanie. I don't know.
BB: That’s funny.
MS: So, that’s cool. I’ve been told I have a slutty middle name. That’s great.
BB: All right. Mel Sampson, thank you very much for the last couple hours of your time. It’s been a delight meeting you and Goose. We’ve had a great time. Thank you for your insightful answers to my questions. It’s been a lot of fun, and I appreciate it.
MS: Thank you. Thank you for coming down to see us.
BB: OK. And, Goose, I had to live long enough to meet a guy named Goose!