March 13, 2011
I met with Neil Spence at the Live 105 studios directly after his shift on March 13th. I brought pizza, courtesy of Pizza Pro in Timberlea. I wore my K-Rock hat, which made him feel at ease. Well, he smiled. Or maybe he had gas. I just met the guy so I can’t be sure.
We munched on pizza. We began to talk about sun medallions, K-Rock, Gary Tredwell, and overzealous listeners. Don’t just sit there. Start reading!
How did you get your start in radio? Was K-Rock your first radio job?
Neil Spence: I took the Broadcast course at NSCC, the last 2 years it was at Kingstec, actually. I was one of the last grads from that program.
Bevboy: You and Mel Sampson?
NS: Actually, Mel graduated a year or two before I even got there.
I graduated from it in 2007. One of my internships in the second year was at Magic 94.9/AVR. They were just having a producer leave at the time, Jeff DeEll. He was doing different career paths, I guess. They needed to find someone to fill in. They already had another producer, Liz Micklethwaite, who had graduated the year previous. So, I just walked in, did an internship, and probably about a week or two later the Program Director turned to me and said, "So, if I had a full-time gig for you at the end of this, would you stay?"
I said, "Well, I still have second semester left, but sure!" That’s where I started.
BB: Did you actually finish your courses?
NS: I did. We had to work around things a little bit, obviously, because I wouldn’t be available for class. I still had to do some major projects and some other key assignments. But, for the most part, it was basically just, "Here’s a couple things you need to do before the end of the semester. Otherwise, you go work Monday-Friday, 9-5. "
BB: OK. How about your first on air gig?
NS: It was actually at K-Rock.
BB: All right. So, you went from AVR ... I call the overall network AVR. I probably should not.
NS: They are 2 different stations. They tend to operate fairly similarly. They usually co-present events. But, it’s a pretty safe bet, if you say, "AVR", people just assume it’s AVR/Magic. I would find, anyways.
BB: All right. It was 2007 when you were working at Magic 94.9. 2008 was when K-Rock went on the air. How did you pursue the opportunity at K-Rock?
NS: I only worked at AVR/Magic from December of ‘06 to a couple months after I graduated, in August of 2007. I came down here to Dartmouth to study Recording Arts at NSCC when that campus just opened. It’s more music recording and sound for film and stuff like that.
BB: It’s a one year program?
BB: You finished that?
NS: I had always wanted to do that; I just took Radio first because I thought Radio might have more stability to it. Recording was always my passion. I played in bands when I was in high school. I always found that aspect of things really interesting, which is why I went into Radio Production initially.
I worked the job. I thought, "Well, it’s not bad, but I want to still do the course." So, I went down and studied here. And, it was a brand-new campus, too. Brand-new studios and equipment. All kinds of fun toys.
BB: And you would have graduated with that in June of 2008?
NS: I did. I think I did an internship in May. I only got a couple weeks into that internship when Gary Tredwell gave me a ring and said, "I got a part-time announcer job for you here in the Valley if you want."
I said, "Yep!", because I had nothing on the horizon.
BB: And during the time that you worked at K-Rock, it was never full time, unless you were filling in for someone.
NS: No. I was always part-time. The first year I was there -- I was there for just over 2 years -- my shift was weekend afternoons. Back then, the shift was 1-7. Then, just after the one year mark, we changed our day parting. When we launched, it was Colin and Kate doing the morning show, Mel was doing Drive. Middays were split up a little bit. Gary did Mondays and Tuesday. Darrin did Wednesday to Friday and then weekend mornings.
I think the decision for that was, they just wanted to start off with a really strong weekend show. Darrin’s a radio legend in the Valley. Let’s be honest. Everybody knows who Darrin Harvey is.
Initially, that was a really good idea for them. I didn’t really have any on air experience at the time, so I can understand not wanting to throw the Newbie on the air weekend mornings. So, they threw Darrin on there and performed really well. Darrin always had a good show. Gary did the Mondays and Tuesdays, and that worked out.
After the year mark, during the summer, they made the switch. Gary was done doing Mondays and Tuesdays. He just focused on being PD and...
BB: Voice tracking the evening.
NS. Yes. VT’ing the evenings. Then, Darrin got switched Monday to Friday. I got bumped up to weekend mornings. We changed the times a little bit. Originally, we were live 7-7. Then, it got moved 6-6, when that switch came about. So, I ended up doing 6-noon.
BB: Six hour shifts, plus a news person. Julia Kirkey.
NS: Yes. Julia did the news. She’s still doing the news. She’s an announcer/news person.
BB: I wonder how a person can be on air, plus gathering news.
NS: She’s that good. [laughs]
BB: I presume she’s hellish busy, too.
NS: Yes. She is fairly busy. You have to keep in mind, too, that it is the Valley. There’s not always a lot of news going on, on the weekends. Things do slow down, like they do in any market. Weekends are going to be a slower time than Monday - Friday. But, she certainly keeps herself busy, between having to do show prep as well as get a news cast together every hour.
BB: You guys did have newscasts on K-Rock into the afternoon. I remember, until 2 or 3 o’clock, there would be news casts.
NS: Yes. There was a 2 o’clock. Then, at 5, we took the Canadian Press feed for 5.
BB: But, that has stopped.
NS: I think that’s stopped ... I think it was a little more than a year ago Christmas time. Somewhere around there, I think there was an executive decision to stop doing that. Newcap actually made a decision to be more news focused. Rather than do the CP thing, they said, "Well, let’s just have the local bodies in the stations and focus that, and then we don’t have any outside voices doing the news."
The thing about the BN/CP cast was that it wasn’t always that relevant. It was always very national, out of Toronto, or wherever it was they recorded it from.
BB: And precisely 3 minutes long.
NS: To a T. It was freaky. I knew exactly where, on the clock, to get ready for the news to start. If there’s a sponsor, or I have to do any sort of lead-in, I have to be exactly this much under the hour for any talk-time I have to do. They run. Do their thing for 3 minutes. I pull it off and fire the weather. It was freaky how on time they were.
BB: I always wondered how they were able to do that. It’s interesting that you would say that Newcap wanted to be more news-focused. Certainly, in the local market, they’re not. Do you ever listen to Q104 or Kool FM?
NS: Yes. Sometimes.
BB: They have extremely brief newscasts.
NS: But, you have to keep in mind, in a market like this, you do have a full news station. It’s about finding what’s perfect for your demographic and for your audience. Down in the Valley, it’s a very news focused area. That’s part of the reason K-Rock was launched. One part was, there was no classic rock station in the Valley at the time. People all listened to Q or C103 in Moncton. That was the musical need. But, there was a big demand for a lot of local news content, and that’s why we ended up launching K-Rock.
BB: Because MBS was canning their news out of Halifax, as I recall.
NS: For certain parts of the day, yes.
BB: Anyway, you worked at K-Rock for about 2 years. Then, last year you went to which station in Cape Breton?
NS: 101.9, The Giant.
BB: Did you work with... Bedford?
NS: Jay Bedford. He does Afternoon Drive on the Eagle there.
BB: Same company?
NS: It is, and it isn’t. It’s a weird scenario. Newcap owns about 30% of the license. The rest of it is community owned. There’s an independent investor that owns the rest of it. I think it was this independent firm that applied for a community license to the CRTC around the same time Newcap was applying for the license for The Giant. Because the Giant is a relatively new station as well. They’re both only 2-3 years old. I think the Giant only launched 2 weeks before K-Rock. I’m not really sure how everything came about, but at some point during the license proceedings, Newcap opted to have a 30% share in Eagle. The rest was community owned. Things were shared to a point, but obviously, with the CRTC, you have to keep certain things separate as well.
BB: All right. And how did you get the job here at Live 105?
NS: I saw the posting on milkmanunlimted. I actually applied here when the station launched. I just never got a call back or anything. It was back in the summer that I applied for it. It wasn’t long after I applied that I got the call to go to Sydney. I said, "Take whatever offer you can find", because I wasn’t making a lot of money at that point. I was only part-time and not doing much else. I want to pay the bills.
BB: So, you applied for the job at Live. You didn’t get a callback. Was that the job that A.J. Reynolds got? You now have his old job, essentially.
NS: AJ was just evenings, Monday - Friday. When they hired me, they decided, once again, they wanted more of a swing shift, where I’m doing 3 evenings, and Saturday and Sunday.
What is the best piece of professional advice or criticism you have ever received, and who provided it?
NS: I’ve certainly been told a good many things.
BB: At the end of a shift, did someone ever take you aside and say, "You know, Neil, maybe you shouldn’t do this any more?"
NS: I’ve never been told I shouldn’t be in the business.
BB: No, no. You shouldn’t be doing this particular thing.
NS: Oh. One good piece of advice I got from Gary [Tredwell]. He always said, "It’s always about forward momentum. It’s always about relating to your audience. You want to find the best way to do that."
I think the best way is to not sound fake. "Sound like a real person", was one of the things Gary always told me. I think there’s some of us in radio who are guilty. You put on a voice a little bit. You put on this certain personality that maybe you’re not totally.
BB: This is how you normally speak?
NS: Yes. This my voice.
BB: You talk to your girlfriend that way, with that tone? And your mother? And everyone else?
NS: Yes. Exactly. I get that sometimes, too. People will say, "You know? Is that your real voice, or is that something made up? "
Some people do put on a voice. And then, you get people like Dave Chaulk. That’s his voice. I remember when I worked at AVR and when I worked at K-Rock. People always asked, "Dave Chaulk? Is that his real voice that he’s using there?"
I said, "Oh, yeah. Because, you could walk down the hall and say, ‘Hey, Dave. How are things going?’
(Deep Baritone Voice)
‘Oh, the weather is very sunny today. Gorgeous day outside.’
‘What are you going to do this weekend, Dave?’
‘Oh, we’re going to have some beer and I’m going to barbecue up some steak. I think that’s what we’re going to do.’
So, Dave? That is his real voice! But, some people, I’ve heard go, "I’m going to talk like I’m really enthusiastic! " I don’t do that because I’d rather just sound casual and laid back because that’s my personality.
BB: Is your voice a product of your training, or have you always talked that way, since they dropped? [laughs]
NS: [laughs] Wow! That’s a loaded question. [laughs] Yes. To some extent, it’s training and mannerisms, and the way in which I speak, I suppose. The voice is the voice.
I have to use a great example. Don LaFontaine, when he was talking about when his voice changed. Don was a really big voice over guy, back in the day, before he passed.
BB: "In a world..."
NS: Yes. Exactly. Don was that "In a world..." kind of guy. Don said, and I have the same experience, when his voice changed, it was literally, "Mom, can you pass the cookies?" [Neil and Bev laugh] I had a similar experience. One day, it was there.
But, as far as being articulate or anything of that manner, I think that just came from experience and some formal training. Obviously, you don’t want to ramble. The thing I had to try to do is lose a little bit of my Valley accent. I never really had a thick one. But, certain words. Even to this day...
BB: Give me an example of a Valley accent phrasing.
NS: Not so much phrasing.
BB: "That’s some nice." "That’s some good."
NS: "She’s some nice out there." "What are ya sayin’?" "Where ya at?" "D’ead." "D’eady." I was never one to say that stuff.
BB: Did you have a couch, or a chesterfield?
NS: [laughs] My mom says "chesterfield". I’ve always said "couch". But. down in the Valley, we have weird ways of saying town names. Like, any town that ends in "ville". Kentville. Wolfville.
BB: Kentvul. Wolfvul
NS: Yeah. They end in "vul". Then, there’s the wonderful town of Berwick. Anyone from the Valley will call it "Brk". "Go to Brk before you get to Ailsferd".
BB: I don’t know how I’ll transcribe this, but I’ll find a way.
NS: [laughs] Ah, the language of my people!
Actually, you know what? One of the first days I was on the air here, I was co-hosting the mid days with Christina. That was my training. Christina’s from Centreville, so she’s a Valley girl. I’ve known her for a few years. Literally, the first day on the air, we said, "Well, let’s ‘Valley Folk’ on Halifax radio. Let’s play up the accents. Let’s play up some of the stereotypes. It was a good introduction of Neil. "Here’s where he’s from. Here’s how you know he’s a crazy bugger". [laughs]
The "Megan Edwards" question. You lose your iPod. I find it. What songs on it would surprise me the most? Floyd's an Elvis fan.
NS: Floyd’s an Elvis fan? I don’t actually have an iPod. That’s the funny thing about me.
BB: An mp3 player.
NS: Don’t even have an mp3 player. I do have mp3‘s on my computer, but I’m more a cd and vinyl kind of guy.
BB: OK. What eclectic songs are in your collection?
NS: All over the place. As I grew up, I listened to a lot of different styles of music. Back in the day, I was into a lot of ‘90‘s punk offspring. Green Day. Eventually, I moved into more ‘80‘s metal: Your Iron Maidens, your Metallica’s.
At some point in college, I got into European styles of heavier rock and heavier metal that most people in North America would not have a clue what you’re talking about if I mentioned any band names.
BB: I’ll find some videos and embed them. Give me a couple of names.
NS: In Flames was a big Swedish death metal band that I listened to. It was a weird phase in my life when I listened to stuff that was extremely loud and extremely heavy. Now, not so much. I like listening to Indy rock, and I like to listen to a lot of Blues. But, in my vinyl collection, there’s a weird mix of stuff. There’s a "Meet the Beatles" record. There’s "Link Wray and His Ray Men", which is an old Rockabilly guy from the ‘50‘s. I got a bunch of surf records. I’ve got The Ventures and Dick Dale and stuff like that.
BB: Never heard of Dick Dale before.
NS: He’s the surf king.
BB: Is he a contemporary of The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean?
NS: Well, you would probably recognize his song "Misirlou", most famous in Pulp Fiction. It’s this very fast guitar. Dick Dale was the pioneer of surf. He had that nice Fender Strat sound. He had a twin deluxe reverb Fender amp that just had this washy sound, which is where the surf style came from. It was the sound of your guitar sounding like it was washed under water.There’s a point where I started getting into vinyl, and I was really into that style of music. ‘60‘s style of recording that was just a couple of mics up on a room and a bunch of effecrts, and, "Let’s just do things to be weird for the sake of being weird."
BB: And you still like to listen to that?
NS: Love it.
BB: Do you ever wish there were a radio station that would cater to every possible interest? Play a little bit of this and a little bit of that?
NS: That would be wonderful. And, in all truth, satellite has something like that, or something close to it. I’m not really a satellite radio listener myself because I’m not going to pay, 1) For radio; or, 2) For a subscription, when all the signals are out here in the air for free. All I have to do to have them is put up with some commercials a couple times an hour. I do the same with tv.Is it a challenge to work until 11 o’clock at night?
NS: It’s been a different experience, because I’ve never really had a steady sort of shift until I went to Cape Breton. Those hours were really nice. It was Afternoon Drive, so, basically, what I did was work from 10:30 until 6. I didn’t get out of bed until 9. I was up until the wee hours of the night. I didn’t really have to worry about it.
Now, it’s different. I don’t find I’m the typical evening guy that rises out of bed at noon, or two o’clock in the afternoon, and then is up until 5am. That’s really not my style. I tend to wake up at 8 or 9. I might try to take a nap around 2 for half an hour to an hour. Then, I hit the air.
You know what’s great about that, being Halifax? In the Valley, the night life on a Wednesday or a Thursday after 11 is a little hard to find something. But, around here, I can easily get off work, go downtown, check out a band playing at a bar or something like that.
BB: And they’re just getting started at that time.
NS: Yes. A lot of them are. It makes it harder if I want to go see a movie. I’m a musical kind of guy, so I do like to play in bands. Obviously, a lot of bands would try to practice at a more reasonable hour, maybe 6 or 7 o’clock at night, rather than 11.
BB: You’ve conducted interviews here in studio at night. Are they live? Are people actually here? Or, are those pre-taped?
NS: I do record the interviews. I like to have as much tape as possible when I’m doing an interview. If the interview runs 10 minutes, I don’t care. I’ll just edit it down later.
I’ve had the singer for one band come in. I had another singer call me and do the interview over the phone. We were doing that for a feature we call "Live Underground", which is 9:45 weeknights. It’s a profile of a local artist. There are stations that have the hour long East Coast shows; we don’t do that. We just do the feature, nightly.
BB: Well, you have Route 104 on your competing station.
BB: How much of a commitment does Live 105 have to the local music scene?
NS: We’re trying to be as committed as possible. Obviously, "Live Underground" is one of our big features. We’ve also been doing this showcase at Monte’s in Dartmouth called "Live with Live 105". Just bring us in your demo. We’re picking the upper echelon of it to perform and do a showcase. What we do is feature them on "Live Underground" all that week. We have spots that are running, promoting the show and clips of their music. We treat it like a remote in essence. Cub or whoever will be down there doing the actual hosting. He’ll call in and do a couple of cut in’s, prior to the show to build up the anticipation and pre promotion, so that people will come out to the show.
BB: Do you guys play The Stanfields and other local artists? I don’t really hear that very much.
NS: In regular rotation? At the time, we’re really not doing that. We are playing Carmen Townsend and bands like Slowcoaster. It matters to a point where they’re hitting on the charts, too, I guess. Even though we are doing modern rock, and we are doing something that’s a litlte bit different for this market, we are still following different charts across Canada. They’re just alternative charts, as opposed to Top 40, Pop-oriented charts.
BB: I love The Stanfields. They’re really good.
NS: Yes, they are. Actually, I had them on Live 105; I was playing a song of theirs on "Live Underground". I think it was just last week.
What is one thing about yourself, that you’re comfortable discussing, that would surprise your friends?
NS: I’m not that secretive of a person. I’m pretty upfront with all my friends, and all of my family. I’ll tell them what I’m thinking at any given time. I do tend to screw with my friends a lot, though.
BB: All right. Nothing in particular, then?
NS: No. Like I said, I’m a fairly open person.
BB: Fine. There must be things, and you don’t have to tell me what they are, that when you develop your show, that you would not reveal about yourself to your listeners.
NS: I’m not going to tell them what my address is. One thing I’ve done, since I went to Cape Breton, I’m not really using my last name on the air. It’s not like a conscious effort to completely hide my identity. I find it more casual to use my first name, but you can still find my last name on the website. I say "Neil" here, but it’s "Neil Spence" on the website.
I felt more comfortable, because after doing K-Rock for two years... It was my home town; everybody knew me. For some reason, I decided for 2 years, when I cracked the mic, I’d say, "Hey, it’s Neil Spence."
BB: You can’t go by "Uncle Neil", because they have "Uncle Darrin" already.
NS: I think Gary suggested I go by "Brother Neil" at one point I might be on the border line of hipster, but I don’t feel like I’m hip enough to go by "Brother Neil", at least at this stage in my life. Give it another 5 or 10 years.
BB: Wait until the first gray hair.
NS: I used to have gray hair when I had long hair, actually. I cut it short, and it disappeared.Please say something about the following people:
A. Mel Sampson
NS: She’s a wonderful lady. Mel is one of the personalities I enjoy listening to the most on K-Rock. She’s not a typical announcer you’d expect to hear on K-Rock. K-Rock is very classic rock, so with classic rock, it’s usually going to be a lot of, "Beer! Tits! Guys! Men!" It’s actually refreshing to hear Mel on there, in between hearing Zeppelin and Van Halen or whatever. You hear Mel; and she’s talking some showbiz buzz. That’s really smart on behalf of the people who hired her. Yes, it’s classic rock. Yes, it’s typically a more male-oriented format. But, Mel attracts a lot of female listeners.
She’s just a wonderful person to work with. She’s a very hard-working person. I really like her personality. She’s very wonderful to listen to.
BB: I mentioned to her in the interview. Did you read the interview I did with her?
BB: I said to her that I have never heard a person who sounded more joyful on the air.
NS: She’s so positive! She’s so bubbly.
You know what she does? It’s an age-old trick that’s the smartest thing you can ever do: Smile when you’re talking. Because, if you’re smiling when you’re talking, you sound happy. If you frown when you’re talking, you don’t sound happy. That’s the approach she takes. She knocks it out of the park, every time. She does it really well.
BB: She worked at Z for a little while.
NS: She did! I think she was mid days.
BB: Megan Edwards got her job when she left.
NS: It’s a small industry, because we all seem to trade positions. Prime example. Matt MacLeod, who’s doing mornings on Z. He used to be doing Afternoon Drive at The Giant in Sydney. He left. I took his job. [laughs]
B. Darrin Harvey
NS: Old Uncle Darrin. I grew up listening to Darrin on Magic 97 when he was doing the morning show in their powerhouse days in the ‘90‘s.
NS: Yes. I really enjoyed listening to Darrin back in those days. He had a certain edge to him. I always remember the bits when he used to call his mother. I remember reading the interview you did with Darrin; I think he even said at the time, "I didn’t do it that often, but that’s what people remembered the most and acted as if I did it every day." But, it was one of those bits that just stood out in your mind. "Oh, Darrin’s calling his mother again! She’s going to be all ticked off." [Falsetto voice] "Darrin, don’t put me on the radio!"
I really enjoyed that bit. But to work with Darrin... Darrin was just a wealth of knowledge. He was one of those guys where you could soak in everything he’d learned throughout all his years. He’s just a music nut, too.
BB: Was he a mentor to you?
NS: In a sense, yes, because he did the morning shift when I did the afternoon shift for weekends. I’d always come, and we’d shoot the breeze a little bit before he took off. We’d just fire back and forth.
I was into Blues before I started working at K-Rock, but between Darrin and Blaine Morrison, I got influenced by so many great Blues artists and especially Atlantic Canadian Blues artists. They said, "Oh, you have to check this guy out!"
BB: I love Morgan Davis.
NS: Morgan Davis. John Campbelljohn. Charlie A’Court. Matt Anderson’s a great guy to check out. I saw him perform at a songwriter’s circle in Cape Breton. The guy can sing, and the guy can play guitar. He’s stunning; he sounds like a 75 year-old soul singer. He’s actually a pudgy white guy with long hair. When you see him play guitar, he’s rocking back and forth. He rocks the hair back and forth. It’s going all over the place. My girlfriend and I went to see his show. I was amazed at watching him. The thing she said was, "I think I’d really enjoy him if I didn’t watch him. This is a songwriter’s circle. You can’t be rocking out." I said, "No. That’s the beauty of it! That’s what makes it so good!"
But, going back to Darrin: In a sense, Darrin was a mentor to me. I listened to Darrin even as I was heading into work. I paid close attention to what he was doing for his breaks. I’m sure, if you paid really close attention to the way I say things on the air, you might be able to find some similarities, because I heard Darrin, I liked the things he was doing. I wouldn’t say I imitated him, or I ripped him off; but I emulated certain highlights and certain ways he would say things. Darrin was really good on an emphasis in a break.
BB: Give me an example.
NS: He would put the pauses in all the right places. He would do a break: "89.3 K-Rock. That was a track from Zeppelin. And, you know..." and he would go into a bit. It was just enough of a pause that it caught your attention. "... back in 1972, they were using this microphone, which was handed down from this Blues man down in the ‘40‘s." And, again, that’s another one of the things that I always found interesting about radio in general. I’m a music guy myself. I always have been. I became more so after working with Darrin because he would do those bits, these neat little tidbits about what they were doing back in the day recording this song or performing with whomever.
I found that really interesting. That became my thing to do at K-Rock as well. The weekends became, "Here’s all this music trivia thrown at you for 12 hours of the day or something."
BB: Is this stuff you would have to research a lot? I got the feeling that Darrin just knew it.
NS: Well, Darrin knows it because Darrin lived through a lot of the bands that they play on K-Rock. He knows a lot of that stuff, particularly ‘80‘s material.
I myself had to do some research. But, in high school, I wasn’t a sports guy. I didn’t go out and do a lot of athletic-type things. I would sit around, play guitar; and when I wasn’t playing guitar, I would be online, reading through Wikipedia or allmusic.com, and finding out all kinds of info about bands, and who played with whom, and how this band connected to there, and who played on what record. I always did that anyways.
BB: You found it interesting. It was a passion.
NS: Yes, in the same way you might be into hockey stats or football stats or baseball stats. It wasn’t really my thing, but when it came to music, I was always interested in who was playing with whom, and who was featured on what record, and the different producers who were involved, and stuff like that. That’s the kind of thing I always tried to do at breaks at K-Rock. I’ve gone back to doing that here. Obviously, when I was in Cape Breton, I was doing more Top 40. It’s a little trickier to do in that format because a lot of people aren’t passionate about the music or there’s not that much to go on. I really had to switch things up when I did Top 40.
BB: When you worked at K-Rock, was that a good learning ground for you, a good place for you to learn the biz? To learn your craft?
NS: Definitely. My craft? [laughs]
BB: Well, it is.
NS: I suppose, yes. The two years spent there was like having 5+ years experience in industry, even though I wasn’t working full-time. There were people in that building that had a lot of experience that I could talk to. I would spend a lot of time just chatting with Gary. He would tell me about days he was working at Sun, or his time in Newfoundland, or different jobs he’s had over the years. That’s always the thing I found really interesting about working with radio people, is hearing those radio stories. "Well, you know, I worked with this guy back 22 years ago, and he always used to do this when he did a bit."
BB: These stories are fascinating to me.
NS: Yeah. That’s just it. Sometimes you hear something, and you go, "That’s a good idea, actually. I should try to incorporate it into something, even if it is a bit that’s 20+ years old!"
BB: Do you keep in touch with Darrin Harvey?
NS: I drop Darrin a line every once in a while. Facebook’s good in that respect. We’re in touch, but we’re not in touch. I don’t call Darrin or anything like that, but I post something on his profile. It might be a Stevie Ray Vaughan video. We’ll comment back and forth.
BB: Every time he sees me, he calls me "brother".
NS: Same thing to me.
BB: He’s an exceptionally nice man. I’m really glad I met him.
NS: Darrin’s good. He actually tried to give me an on air nickname early on, on K-Rock. It just didn’t quite stick.
BB: What was it?
NS: It was "Rock Star".
BB: "Neiltherockstar" is your twitter name.
NS: That’s where it came from! It was not long after we launched K-Rock. Darrin just started calling me "Rock Star". I never really used it on the air. Darrin and Mel used it a little bit. Gary wasn’t really feeling it, so he put the kibosh to it. But, off air, around the station, that was the running gag. Even the other people that worked there like Scott Baines or Tina McAuley or Julia Kirkey. They always referred to me as "Rock Star". It just became this around-office joke.
BB: Tina warned me about you when I arranged the interview.
NS: I saw that.
BB: I don’t know what her fear was, that you might monopolize the conversation or something. I don’t find that being the case at all.
NS: With all those people at K-Rock, we always tried to one-up each other. We always tried to get in those nice little jabs, those friendly little jabs.
Twitter’s aligned with Facebook, so any tweet I make automatically gets posted on my Facebook. But, when they appear, you see my twitter name along with the post. So, Tina would just start cracking jokes. "Who’s this ‘Neil the Rock Star’ guy I keep reading about? Where did that guy come from?" When I created my twitter account, I thought, "Well, what do you put as a name? Do you use your given name? Do you go with something funny?" So, it was "Neiltherockstar". Funny at the time. I don’t regret it; but at the same time, I think, "Maybe there’s a better name I could have gone by."
C. Cub Carson
NS: He’s an interesting cat. I have to say that. I haven’t known him very long. I’ve known of him for a little bit. I’ve only known him since I started working here.
I have to say that Cub is one of the coolest morning guys I’ve ever worked with. He’s very down-to-Earth, very grounded. He’s given me bits before. "Oh, man. We didn’t have a chance to do this. But, if you’re interested, try this! Do that."
I was doing a bit one Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. "Vinyl’s on the rise". Vinyl sales were at an all-time high in 2010. "What vinyl have you purchased recently?" I was getting some good calls. I was reading some mentions on Facebook and Twitter. I got a call on our hotline here. It was Cub, and he was like, "Man! I’m loving what you’re doing this afternoon. It sound amazing." I’ve never had anybody I worked with call me up during a shift and tell me that they really like what I’m doing. I have a lot of respect for Cub just for doing that. To go out of his way and say, "You’re doing a really good job. You should keep doing what you’re doing. You sound great."
He interacted. "You know, man, one of the last vinyl purchases I got was Squeeze’s ‘Stone Age’ album." That’s kind of cool. I just got a phoner from in-house.
NS: No, I didn’t, because I didn’t record the call. I forgot to record it. It was the hotline. It’s too bad. But, Cub is a great guy. He is extremely smart when it comes to on air execution. I listen to him and Floyd in the morning. I had never really listened to Cub before.
BB: He wasn’t from here.
NS: He wasn’t from here; he was from Ottawa. I don’t tend to listen to too much in Ottawa. It’s a different market; I don’t pay attention. There’s enough variety in this province alone to listen to. But, I really like what he and Floyd have been doing in the morning, because it’s tight, but it’s not too tight. It’s got some loose feel to it. It’s still a very entertaining morning show. You don’t know where they’re going and what they’re going to do. But, you know you’re going to get there, and you’re going to enjoy the ride.
BB: Why does Cub Carson refer to JD DesRosiers as "Chinese Jeans"?
NS: [laughs] I asked that question when I first got here. I’ve heard a few different explanations. One reason is because he wears different kinds of jeans that I guess have different kinds of patterns on the bum of them. It’s got some kind of Chinese symbol design on them or something. But, also because JD imports these jeans. He doesn’t go to Winners and buy the jeans. He apparently has a guy. He’s got a "Jeans Guy" who brings them in. I’m not sure if the guy is actually from China or what. That sparked the whole "Chinese Jeans" thing. It spiralled on the air. When we refer to him on the air, we never say "JD". It’s "Chinese Jeans", or at least when Cub does it. I rarely talk about JD on the air.
BB: I had to know where that came from.
NS: It’s a funny story. I’m surprised you didn’t ask him when you interviewed him.
BB: It didn’t occur to me at the time. It just occurred to me now. He’s using it more and more. He calls Brad Dryden, "Oatmeal". Brad Dryden actually wore a pair of the pants that resulted in that name when he sat down with me. Cub has an interesting way of looking at things.
NS: He’s a comical guy.
D. Megan Edwards
NS: I went to school with Megan. We were in the same broadcast class. We graduated in the same year. Megan was always the fashionista. She was always the pop princess. I loved Megan for it. She was always quite entertaining in that respect.
I think it’s great that I get to work with her. I don’t really get to see her too easily. She does the midday shift on Z; I do evenings and weekends on Live. Our paths don’t cross a whole lot. We get to joke around a little bit when they do.
Megan’s one of those people I kept in contact with from school. Sometimes you go to college or university or whatever it is, and you have fun and hang out with your colleagues at the time. You graduate and go in different directions. You don’t hear from people for 10+ years or ever again. But Megan’s a person I kept in contact with; we’ll trade one liners every now and then.
There’s this running gag. Back when I was in high school, I went to this student conference. I’m going to corrupt all your readers by telling them this, because they’re done and they’re playing this game. Essentially, this game, any time you remember that you’re playing this game, you just lost. So, if you remember that you’re playing the game, and you’ve lost, you have to announce, "I lost". That’s actually the game. You’ll never win. There’s no winning to it whatsoever. You will always lose. It’s one of those games where you can forget about it for six months. Then, all of a sudden, "Jeez! I lost!"
I introduced this game when I was in college. I introduced it to Megan. Of all the people that I’ve introduced that game to, she’s the one that really hung on to it. Before I worked here, I might go a few months without hearing from her. Randomly, she would post on my Facebook profile, "Oh, hey, Neil. I lost." Really? How long ago did I teach you that?
BB: What’s the game called?
NS: It doesn’t really have a name. It’s just referred to as "The Game". Again, it was one of those things. It was a student conference in high school. I don’t know if you’re familiar with NSSSA. It’s "Nova Scotia Secondary School Students’ Association". It sounds like too many S’s, but "Nova Scotia"’s combined in the end. It’s a nice conference that goes on among all kinds of high schools across the province. It’s good to build social skills, build leadership skills, and interaction. It’s good. But, anyways, that’s where I learned The Game. It’s just one of those weird things I’ll dig out of my pocked and go, "Have you ever heard of this?" Or, I’ll be out in any sort of social setting with a couple people that know of it and a couple of people that don’t. When the people that know of it, and one of us loses, we say, "I lost." The inevitable question is, "What did you lose? What do you mean, ‘you lost’? What are you talking about?" Then, you have to explain the game and infect them. You can never undo the damage. [chuckles]
BB: I’ll see if anyone reading this wants to play.
NS: They’re playing now!
E. Gary Tredwell
BB: At the competition.
NS: At the competition. I didn’t really have any actual on air experience anywhere. I did an internship at CKBW in Bridgewater. I did some voice tracking in the evenings there. And, I did college shows. College shows are college shows; they’re not usually high quality. Mine certainly weren’t.
I sent a production demo first. Then, they re-posted jobs again or something. They were just looking for announcers at that time, so I figured they had already hired who they were looking for. I decided, "Well, it’s the home town. I want to at least try to get a gig there", because, once I was done the recording course, I didn’t have any game plan. I just slapped something together. Sent it off to Gary.
I got a phone call from Gary to do an interview. I think it was in March of 2008. He started off the interview by asking me if I was a Leafs or a Habs fan. As we’ve already discussed, I’m not a sports guy. I’m a music guy. I was like, "I don’t really have a favourite."
He said, "Go ahead and pick."
I said, "Habs, I guess."
He said, "Oh! Leafs are going all the way."
Then, in early May, I got a call from Gary telling me, "I have a part-time announcer job up here at K-Rock if you want."
BB: Is this the position you applied for?
NS: It was just a general call for applications for filling every position. I was like, "Sure." I needed to make just a little bit of money, right?
BB: Did you ever ask Gary why he considered you, and why he hired you?
NS: I inquired at different times, just jokingly. He just said, "I liked your demo. I liked your sound. You had something." He obviously must have seen something.
Gary was a wealth of information to work with, because of his experience, because of all the different places he’d worked at. And, Gary had a similar experience to what I had, because he had a Production background, and he went into on air. Gary could read my mind; he knew what I was thinking because, initially, I was thinking from a Production standpoint of how to do things. He could read me really well.
I found Gary was a really good guy to do air checks. We would listen to a couple breaks that I would do. He would listen and go, "OK. I hear you’re doing this. Well, what if you tried doing it this way? Maybe you should stop doing that. Or, if you’re going to do that, say it more this way." Gary was really good to pick apart what you’re doing, analyze it, and just think about how you should be saying it, how it should be executed. He was really good in that respect; I really did learn a lot from Gary.
I really haven’t spoken to him much in the last couple of months; just a little bit on Facebook. I really do consider Gary a good friend of mine. I need to meet up with him for a beer sometime soon and catch up [chuckles].
BB: I really hope he gets a full-time radio gig sometime soon.
NS: I have no doubt that he will. I have no doubt Gary will find something. What it will be, I don’t know. Maybe he’ll go back and do on air, Production, Programming. I’m not sure what he’s interested in doing with his life at this point in time. But, I have no doubt Gary will be back in radio. We will see him go somewhere and do really well.
BB: Hopefully around here.
NS: As long as he’s not my competition. [laughs]
BB: I notice you have a soul patch. When I think of Gary, I think of his soul patch. Did he inspire you to grow one for yourself?
NS: No. I had a soul patch before I met Gary. I was always a goatee guy for a longest time. I used to have really long hair, too. I used to have hair that was half way down my back or maybe even longer at its longest. I would have the full goatee as well. When I cut off all the hair, it looked really ridiculous having this really big goatee. I shaved it down to the soul patch. I tend to just keep the soul patch now.
It’s funny. When I started at K-Rock, Gary had a soul patch. I think Colin had a soul patch. Darrin had.. a little bit of a goatee, but still could be considered, at times, to be a soul patch. It’s like, "All of the jocks around here got soul!"
BB: And Mel, and Julia, and Kate probably wanted soul patches.
NS: They probably wanted them. I don’t think they could grow them. But, they had soul patch envy. [Bev and Neil laugh]
F. Floyd. I saw Floyd on Thursday (March 10). I asked her about you.
NS: What did she say?
NS: I did!
BB: She was a little perplexed about that. Why would you buy a woman you did not know, dinner?
NS: It was a very random thing. I think it was back when I was still working at K-Rock. I had known her name a little bit when she was going to school. I was still very much involved with the RTA program; I was actually the voice for the online station that they have. I was still in contact with a few people. I had voiced a few liners for her show. I was aware of her at that point in time.
When she was out West working at Wired 96.3, I somehow found her on Twitter. Someone directed me to her. I just started following her on Twitter. She had very entertaining posts. The tweets were quite comical.
We started trading liners back and forth. I can’t even remember what they are now. Then, she got the job, co-hosting mornings here. I was doing a vacation road trip through here a little bit; and then I was going to New Brunswick. I knew I was coming down here. We had never met, but we had chatted on Twitter a little bit.
Actually, it jokingly came about. It was around the time when the KFC Double Down was still around. The two pieces of chicken and the cheese: The saltiest thing you could ever possibly eat. Anyway, as a bit on air, I tried this, just to see what it was like. I tweeted about it, and she said, "Oh, what’s it like? I want to try it!"
I jokingly said, "Next time I’m in Halifax, I’ll bring you one." The next time I was in Halifax, I sent her a message. "Hey, I’m coming to town. Do you want to get together for a bite?"
We didn’t end up going to KFC; we went to a local pub. I went with a friend of mine that I was road tripping with. It was 3 of us having lunch. It was the first time I’d met Floyd. I was asking her what things were like here at Live. The station was really new at that point; it was November that we did this.
At the end of the meal, I was feeling really generous. So, I paid for all 3 meals. It was spur-of-the-moment. I figured, "Good karma".
BB: And it worked out for you.
NS: Hey, look at that! I’m working here now! Good karma. Karma’s real. [laughs]
Floyd’s really good, though. She’s super tight on the air. She’s got a different attitude that you don’t hear out of a lot of female announcers, even stand-alone announcers, but especially co-hosts. It’s really hard to put your finger on exactly what she does, but she doesn’t sound like any other female announcer I’ve ever heard. And, I like that about her, because she really stands out.
BB: Cub thinks the world of her. He thinks that she will be one of the best female jocks out there.
NS: No doubt. She’s definitely got the chops to do whatever she wants to in her career. It’s just a matter of meeting the right contact, getting the experience, getting the good references, and all of that. I’m sure she’ll take off and go somewhere, if she wants to, or if she wants to stay here. I really enjoy listening to her on the air. Her and Cub. A very entertaining combo.
BB: Do you wake yourself up early in the morning to listen to them, even though you worked until 11 the night before?
NS: I tend to wake up at 8 anyways. I just leave the radio on. I catch the last bit of their show. I listen to radio a lot more now that I’ve moved to Halifax than I did when I lived in Cape Breton or than I did when I lived in the Valley.
BB: Because there’s so much more stuff to listen to.
NS: There’s more to listen to, but I spend a lot of it listening to Live, honestly. I like the music. The format is very much what I’m into. It’s easier to do that than fiddle with the cd’s or vinyl.
BB: A lot of people my age listen to Live 105 a lot, too. My boss at work has migrated over from your competition to Live 105.
NS: It’s very interesting to see, especially the reaction on our Facebook page, to see the different array of people. When I first heard about the station, I did have different ideas as to what it would sound like. I was thinking it would be a little heavier. A little bit more of your Metallica or Megadeth. I was fine with that. I figured it would be a fairly male-oriented audience.
Obviously, we’re doing different stuff. We’re doing different Indy Pop and Cage the Elephant, and Arcade Fire, and such. We’re getting a lot more of a femal audience than I initially would have thought we would have, which is very cool. It helps the sales staff a lot more in the long run. From a demographic perspective, female listeners are easier to sell to.
BB: Do you think the station is attracting people who up to this point really weren’t listening to radio, or are you grabbing people from other stations?
NS: A bit of both. I’m sure you’re going to grab people from other places in town. But, I think with the way our format is, you’re getting those people that stopped listening to radio long ago because they weren’t hearing the kind of music they were into. They were always listening to their iPod or mp3 player. You’re starting to get those people now because they’re listening and going, "Well, cool! Now, I have a radio station that plays the stuff I like, plus they’re talking about the music. And, maybe I can get a chance to go to a concert." There’s always that promotional enticement. We’re giving away that trip to The Foo Fighters tomorrow morning, right?
I haven’t had one bad caller, one bad qualifier. I have not had one. Because, sometimes you do contests like that. We used to do K-Rock the World Tour down in the Valley. Sometimes, you just get those people that are very, "Oh, ok. Where is it? Who’s it for?" You get a lethargic, apathetic kind of listeners. That’s a buzz kill. It wrecks your show. Those calls, you don’t always air. You just say, "Aaaaand, John Smith won this. So, congrats to you, John!"
But, I haven’t had any of those calls. People have at least been excited, or they’ve been ecstatic.
We did our last qualifier earlier this afternoon. The lady I had, her boyfriend was in the background listening. I always like to play it up a little bit and be a tease at first. I don’t like to come right out and say, "You’re the right caller." I like to play around a little bit and have some fun. In the background you can hear them going, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God! Is it? Is it?"
I say, "What are you getting excited about? I haven’t told you what’s going on yet. I haven’t given you anything to be excited about.
"Oh, don’t be teasing us!"
I lead up to it. "Yeah, all right. You’re caller 9, and you’ve just qualifed for Live Adventure #2!"
I hear in the background. Her boyfriend starts going, "I could cry!"
I said, "Did you just say you’re crying?"
She says, "Yeah, I think he’s being brought to tears! It’s his favourite band."
I said, "Awesome. It’s a very emotional day for everyone." So, those are the calls you love to have. That’s what makes it worth, coming to work.
How are you enjoying the music at Live 105 so far? Is that a requirement to job satisfaction? If you hated the music you were playing, would you be as outgoing as you are now?
NS: It would make the job a little bit more difficult. A prime example is when I was in Cape Breton. I was doing Top 40. It’s not that I hate Top 40. It’s just not really my favourite thing. I don’t mind listening to pop songs, or dance songs. If I’m at a dance club somewhere, sure. That’s what I want to hear. All the time? Not so much. Justin Bieber is a thorn in my side. I don’t care for most of his music. It just doesn’t do it for me.
But, in that respect, I found ways to make the job a little more interesting in other ways, and you don’t pay attention to the music. The thing that David Bannerman always told me was (because I told him I couldn’t do on air, especially in a Country format), "Format shouldn’t matter." Gary said the same thing to me. He said, "It really doesn’t matter about the music that you’re playing. It matters, what you’re saying. If you don’t like the music, turn it down. Turn the music down and just keep it loud enough so you know when you have to come on and talk about what you need to talk about."
But, coming here has definitely been good. When I worked at K-Rock, I was into the music then, because I was always a big classic rock fan. I’m not really sure why because, obviously, I didn’t grow up through any of the era. I’m only 23. I certainly didn’t grow up through the ‘60‘s, ‘70‘s, or most of the music through the ‘80‘s. I was born in ‘87. I didn’t really catch much of that. But, I’ve always been a fan of ‘70‘s music, so that made the job easier there.
Here, it’s not that I don’t like music. I really enjoy the music here. There’s just a lot of bands I didn’t know of before I came here. I liked Indy, but this was the next level of Indy stuff that I wasn’t really familiar with, and hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to in the last couple of years. But, I’ve found from working here, I’m going, "Oh, I really like that. Who is that band? I have to buy this cd!" I have a grocery list of records a mile long that I really have to go out and purchase. [laughs]
BB: So, just turn down the music if you don’t like it?
NS: That’s one thing I’ve been told. The truth be told, I would much rather work in a format that I enjoy, be it classic rock, or be it this modern rock. It makes it more of an entertaining thing to be at work and more enjoyable, because I’m very into what we’re doing. Whereas, if I were to work at a Country format, to be honest with you, it would be like I was going and flipping burgers or something like that. I wouldn’t enjoy it that much. That’s one thing I did find at the Giant, where I wasn’t really into Top 40 music. Sometimes it was like, "OK. I’ve heard that song enough. I don’t need to hear Justin Bieber any more."
The official word on it should be that the format shouldn’t matter. But. it’s certainly a nice bonus. For a guy like me, because I find myself to be a bit more of a rock announcer, I’m probably better suited, in some kind of Rock [format], whatever it may be, as opposed to a Country or Top 40 or an Oldies or something.
BB: If a job opened up in a major market, would you apply for that job, even if it meant working in a format that didn’t appeal to you that much? Would you apply for a job at a Country station in Toronto, if you felt you had a good chance at getting it?
NS: It’s hard to say, because as far as my goals are right now, I’m not that interested in being in Toronto, or being out West. I love the Maritimes. I grew up here. Be it The Valley. Be it Halifax. I would even move to Moncton for the right price and the right everything else. I like Moncton. I like Fredericton. PEI is nice as well. I would prefer to stay within The Maritimes: Closer to family and friends.
The only major city I really would like to move to is Montreal.
BB: And follow Nikki Balch.
NS: Yeah. And Nikki and I could co-host middays or something. [laughs] I went to school with Nikki, too. Did you know that?
BB: I did not know.
NS: It’s funny, the amount of people at this station that I either went to college with, or they were either a year or two ahead of me. Matt was the year ahead of me, but he got a job and didn’t come back for second year. I knew of him. When I was in college, Nikki and Megan were in my class. Josh MacLellan, the new Afternoon guy on Z, was in my class as well. Christina started the year after I graduated. I knew her because I was taking the Recording course, and I was still very involved with the Radio and TV program. Ruby, I also knew from then. Ruby does the evenings on Z. Dan MacIntosh, or Rob Daniels as he’s known on the air, was here at the college as well. A lot of these people I knew, they were either in my class or they were a year ahead of me, or a year behind me. Walking into this building was actually a school reunion. It was funny in that respect. As soon as the office email was sent around, I got all kinds of messages on my cell and on Facebook. "Neil, you’re coming here to work! That’s great!" The cat’s out of the bag. [Bev and Neil laugh]
BB: I mean, if Brian Phillips wanted to apply here, would his application be welcomed? I should probably be asking JD Desrosiers this.
NS: He’s probably the better one to ask. I couldn’t give you an honest opinion. I could just tell you: I think that if you have the sound, you have the sound. I think with a station like Z, they’re obviously going for a younger demographic. You don’t want a guy coming from an Oldies station who’s got that Oldies sound. It’s not going to work when you’re talking about Ke$ha or Lady Gaga, right? I wouldn’t say don’t ever apply. I’m a Rock guy who applied for a Top 40 station, and got that job. Skills are transferrable. You’re not always pigeon-holed into one particular format or style.
Tell me about a couple of on air mistakes you’ve made.
NS: I’ve never technically sworn on the air. But, back when I was at K-Rock, we did this thing called the K-Rock Calendar, which was a community events calendar that ran once an hour. I can’t remember what the event was; I think it was for the SPCA or something like that. The location was on Country Home Road.
BB: Oh, my God.
NS: You know exactly where I’m going with this. What I said on the air...
BB: A woman’s body part.
BB: That’s a word you don’t want to use, too.
NS: No. No. And it came out stuttery. Surprisingly, there were no phone calls. However, Julia Kirkey told me that her mom was driving down the One (Valley slang for Highway 1), through the Valley. She heard that and said, "I nearly drove off the road, because I was laughing so hard." That’s probably my biggest screw up on the air.
NS: You roll with the punches and try not to draw too much attention to it. That’s probably the best way to go about it. A lot of radio listening is fairly passive. People aren’t necessarily catching every word you’re saying, or if you said something weird or funny or incorrectly. If they didn’t catch it, they didn’t catch it. If they did, well, so what?
BB: Wait for the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to jump down on you, I guess.
NS: Yes, although "cunty" isn’t technically a swear word in any sense. It’s not really a word; it just sounds like a word that’s not appropriate on the air.
You’re working a swing shift. I had to explain what that meant on my blog recently. Have you ever had to explain to someone what that means? Would you prefer working a regular shift for 5 days a week, or do you like working swing?
NS: Yes. I have had to explain to a few people. Initially, people just thought I’m the Evening guy. "No. I’m Evenings and Weekends." I don’t even use the term "swing" too much.
BB: It’s an old-fashioned word, isn’t it?
NS: It’s an old-fashioned word. It’s one of those industry words that the average person doesn’t understand. Honestly, when it comes to it, you want to be as relatable as possible to your audience. So, why bother using words and lingo that they don’t understand?
BB: People say "cue to call" a lot.
NS: But, you know what? "Cue to call" makes sense. I’ve heard people say "sounder" before. What’s a "sounder"?
BB: I like what Colin and Kate call it. They call it "The Winny Thingy". It’s unique.
So, I try to avoid using lingo that the average person wouldn’t really know or understand.
As far as doing the swing shift, I don’t mind it right now, because as I said, I’m 23. I’m a fairly young guy. I really don’t have a family. I don’t have a lot going on yet. Yeah, I would like a Monday-Friday shift. Even if it was Monday-Friday nights; that would be nice, too. But, things will change, eventually. This isn’t my resting job.
Now, that being said, I’m not going to leave here next week [knocks on wood].
BB: You have a contract, I presume.
NS: Like I said, this wouldn’t be my final job in my career. If it was, it would be a pretty short-lived career. Eventually, I’d like to move into management or something like that.
Monday-Friday would be nice. When I was doing Drive for The Giant, I really enjoyed those hours of not having to be up early. I could go out late if I wanted. Basically had weekends off, except when I had to do remotes and such.
BB: Do you want to do a morning show at some point? If Cub Carson left, would you apply for his position?
NS: [Chuckles] A morning show is really not an aspiration of mine. Where I am not, it doesn’t really seem like somewhere I want to be, because I don’t like the lifestyle. I did weekend mornings for that year, the last year I was at K-Rock. It meant I should be in the station between 5 and 5:30 to do an adequate amount of prep. It meant I was getting out of bed at 4:30, quarter to five. I really did not enjoy those hours. I don’t really have an interest in being up that early. Again, I’m 23. In 10 years, that could be a totally different story. But, right now, I think one of the moves I’d like to do is move back to an Afternoon Drive spot, but in a bigger market, or a market of this size at the very least. Then, after that, the ultimate goal is to be a Program Director.
BB: If you want to be a Program Director, are there specific courses you have to take? Would you have to go back to school to do that? Or, do you express an interest, and they move you into a track which would lead you to becoming a Program Director?
NS: I think you need to have a well-rounded background to be a good Program Director. I’ve got some Production experience. I’m doing the On Air thing. K-Rock was good for that because I was On Air. I covered Production when need be. I worked the cruiser during the week and sometimes on weekend. I did what I could to get hours. There were a few times I covered for Dave Chaulk doing news.
BB: Did you now?
NS: I did. Hopefully, there’s no tape of any of that. I’m not a news person at all.
BB: Would you have to go and gather your own news? Was it rip and read?
NS: It was a rip and read scenario. Any good news person will actually write their own news stories and write their cast, but I’m not a news person. There’s no point in my career that I would claim to be. It’s not that I couldn’t write a newscast.
BB: You weren’t doing editorials and playing them on air?
NS: No. I’m not going to editorialize the news. Unless you’re doing an editorial feature.
BB: That’s what I mean. Dave Chaulk does do those still.
NS: He does. Another one of those timeless features. People really seem to clamour for them and really enjoy them. Even to this day, when I talk to people in The Valley. They say to me, "Oh, you should have heard what Dave Chaulk was talking about today."
And, honestly, if you were to say to Dave, "Dave, I really liked that commentary you did last Wednesday", he doesn’t know what commentary you’re talking about, because he does so many of them. He does one a day, 5 days a week. He literally just sits down and opens the newspaper and and goes, "Well, let’s see. What’s interesting in here today? Let’s talk about the school board. Let’s talk about the MP’s doing this." Dave doesn’t recall most of his editorials, or rants as they are.
BB: I hope to talk to him some day.
NS: Smooth him over with a little bit of Guinness. He’ll appreciate that. [laughs]
BB: Eventually you want to be PD.
BB: Would you want to be Music Director along the way?
NS: I think so. Ultimately, I would like to be one of those PD’s that is a Program Director and a Music Director. I know a lot of PD’s that have done the On Air thing as well; and they tend to do a voice track shift. It’s hard to be able to pull off a very interesting on air shift when you’re so busy dealing with Programming and music and everything else. It’s hard to add content to your show sometimes.
I’m not discounting voice tracking. You can make voice tracking sound really good if you put the effort into it. C103 was a perfect example of that. About 5 years ago, they did really good voice tracking. That was back when Matt MacLeod worked there. He did Evenings. I think he voice tracked one evening during the week because he did a swing shift as well or something.
BB: 20 years ago, they were Rock 103. I listened to them then. For whatever reason, that station comes blaring into The Valley. It’s amazing how strong that signal is.
NS: It’s as clear as if they had a building there and they had a transmitter there. I don’t know the exact science behind it, but I think one of the reasons is: When signals like that hit the water, they just seem to coast. Same thing. You can get K-Rock in Moncton.
BB: I can pick it up in Pictou County at the cottage. I can also pick up the Charlottetown K-Rock.
BB: CBC comes in better from PEI than it does from Nova Scotia.
NS: Cape Breton’s funny when it comes to CBC. I don’t think they have an FM transmitter, around the Sydney area at least. If you want CBC Radio One, you need to listen to AM.
BB: I can’t remember where it is on the dial.
NS: I’m not sure. I’m not much of a CBC listener. Radio Three online, maybe every once in a while.
BB: They have a good Blues show on Saturday night.
NS: That’s true.
You ask me a question.
NS: It starts off with a statement, actually. I remember, it wasn’t that long ago, that you had posted on twitter and on Facebook, that you weren’t sure if you wanted to continue doing these interviews. I assume someone discouraged you. You don’t have to say who. I assume someone discouraged you at some point in time and told you it wasn’t worth doing or something like that. But, you obviously got a good reaction from that post because you got a lot of industry types whom you had interviewed who said, "You should keep doing that." They obviously follow what you’re doing. I think that’s the really important thing because I think it doesn’t matter if there’s one person who doesn’t like something you’re doing. You should do it for your own passion and your own enjoyment. But, most important, after getting that positive reaction and continuing to do a few more interviews, I’m wondering: If you had the chance, what would you say to that person that discouraged you?
BB: Well, the guy who discouraged is actually a Facebook friend. He worked at [a particular broadcast company] for years. He was let go. I think he was really passionate about radio in the way that you are or Cub is or Floyd is. He’s really passionate about the medium. But, he was fired from it because that’s what that company does. They let people go because they’re making more than $25 000 a year.
He has commented on some of my blog interviews that they’re superficial, that they’re not confrontational interviews. I don’t want to do that kind of stuff.
NS: What do you need to be confrontational about?
BB: Exactly. I’m not Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. That’s too young a reference for you, but ask your parents about Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. I don’t want to do that kind of an interview. I want to talk to people about how they got started in radio, talk about the craft and the medium, and some funny stories, what their thoughts are about people they have worked with. That’s the kind of thing I want to do.
NS: I suppose, theoretically, you could play the whole, "So and so got laid off from here. What’s the real reason? What’s the deep dark secret?"
BB: And that’s when I turn off my digital voice recorder and ask the question.
NS: Exactly. I think, if you were to take that type of position, perhaps you wouldn’t be able to do some of these interviews the way you do them. As you said before the interview, you’ve got a reputation from doing them, between industry types and and even down at the college. People know that you do them. There are people that read them. If you start taking the negative spin on things, people might be a little bit more reluctant to agree to do them.
BB: I’ve even stopped commenting on the local radio scene. I used to do that a couple of years ago. I’ve actually gone back and edited some of those blog posts and removed the negativity. As I talk to more of you guys, I realize that, even if it’s a station whose format I don’t like that much, you guys are still working really hard and doing the best you can. It doesn’t mean that they’re less of a font of knowledge that I can tap into and ask questions about. The more I do these interviews, the more I respect what you do. I say "you" as broadcasters. I respect you more, the more I talk to you.
While I was a little discouraged by that guy’s comment, I have to look at the source. The source for him is that he worked for radio. He loved it. They fired him from it. He’s disgruntled, maybe a little bitter. No matter what, he can’t seem to get another job in radio.
NS: Bad karma.
BB: Bad karma. So, I’ll keep doing the interviews until the source dries up. I have no one booked after I talk to you. It’s ok, because I have a lot of typing. I have yours, and Floyd’s, and Clive Schaefer’s.
NS: Well, I can tell you, given the rotation of staff at any given radio station, and how many broadcast graduates are being pumped out of college, I’m sure there’s not going to be any shortage of people to interview. There’s people to interview.
BB: There have been people who have been around for a long time whom I can’t talk to. I have approached some people more than once. Brian Phillips. Rick Howe.
NS: I’ve met Rick Howe a couple of times. I don’t know if he’d necessarily remember me. When I was in the Broadcast course; Yvonne Colbert is his wife. That’s how I met Rick.
I think the probably the best way to approach it is: Do something for the love of it, not for what one person says. Prime example: One of the first weekends I was on the air here, I had a lady tell me that, on our Facebook page, that my voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard to her. Not to be very conceited about my own voice, I don’t perceive my voice to sound like nails on a chalkboard. To back me up, one of the first days I was on the air here, some listeners gave me the nickname "Audible Chocolate", because they liked my voice enough I guess.
I wasn’t really bothered by her comments. This is one of my pet peeves. You go on a group page for a radio station or an organization or anything like that, and you bitch and complain about things. There’s better things you can do with your time, with your life. Obviously, people are working hard to do what they’re doing. What gives you the right to complain about what they’re doing? Could you do any better?
BB: All my radios in my house -- and I have a lot of them -- all have on/off buttons, and I can also tune to another station. And, I do that.
NS: And, that’s the problem with social media and social networking today. It’s too easy for what would just normally be turning to your friend or whatever and saying, "Oh, I can’t stand that guy’s voice!" It’s an innocent comment that gets back to nobody. Now, it’s out in the public for everyone to see because, for whatever reason, you felt the the need to go on there and say, "Your voice is like nails on a chalkboard."
BB: You’re a human being. You have feelings. How did that make you feel when she said that to you?
NS: I’m the kind of guy who’s going to laugh off stuff like that. What I actually did is respond to her comment. I said , "Oh, it’s not ‘Audible Chocolate’? Matt MacDonald will be very disappointed to hear this!" Then, one of our faithful listeners, who comments on just about anything we post on Facebook and calls in all the time during the morning show, Earl, even backed me up.
BB: Earl Gouthro?
NS: Yes. He even commented. "You’ve got one of the most rocking voices on the station."
BB: I’d kill for your voice, buddy.
NS: I don’t know what to say to comments like that. "You’ve got the perfect voice for radio." One of the first days on the air on our Facebook page, there was a lady that said, "Well, Neil officially wins sexiest voice on Live 105."
BB: Did you blush?
NS: I don’t get bashful too often. I don’t know how to take comments like that because I try to be a fairly humble person. I don’t want to be perceived as being cocky at any point in my life or my career. I try not to be that boastful. That’s not my style.
BB: In your opinion, has a listener ever said or written something to you that you think crossed the line? Either something that was exceptionally flattering or creepy as Hell?
NS: Oh, yes. Definitely. It was when I was working in Sydney, actually. Keep in mind that the Giant had well over 20 000 people on its Facebook page. Who knows where they all came from? We must have had all of Cape Breton Island and a few extras, right?
Anyway, this lady posted a comment. It was about me having this really nice voice. I must have done this really nice heart-warming bit or whatever. I don’t remember what I said now. It must have been something nice. This lady comes on and says, "Oh, you sound like a really nice person. I really like the sound of your voice. Well, you know, I’m sure a guy like you is already married or has a girlfriend. Boy, would I like to take you out to dinner, etc." It was really long and creepy-like.
I’m thinking, "I’m really glad I’m not using my last name too much on air!"
BB: Have you ever thought about using an alias?
NS: It never really crossed my mind. Since I started out in the Valley anyways, I couldn’t get away with it. People knew it was me. Even if I didn’t say my last name, people knew it was me. I never really announced it in any way, shape, or form that I was on K-Rock. I didn’t necessarily have the whole Valley or everybody I knew on Facebook, so when I’d be out shopping at the mall, or run into people I hadn’t seen in 5 years, they’d say, "Hey, Neil. I heard you were on K-Rock! Yeah, man. You sound great."
I couldn’t use a fake name in the Valley because people would be saying, "What’s he doing? Why would he do that?"
NS: Tomato. Tomahto. It is, and it isn’t. I heard a story about a guy who was maybe in Truro, back in the ‘90‘s. He was talking to this listener off air. They had a really heated debate about something. The listener threatened the announcer. He took 2 week’s vacation. When he came back, he used a completely different name. Now, he still had the same voice. Still did the same sort of execution on his breaks. Same style. Just completely changed his name.
BB: How many people saw through that?
NS: I’m not really sure. It was a friend of mine who worked down there at the time. He said, "Yeah, this guy did this. Wasn’t that weird?" I agreed.
Sometimes you have to wonder about listeners, though, because I’ve dealt with a few crazies. When I worked at AVR, a guy came in. I think we were giving away tickets to an Aerosmith concert, when they were playing Charlottetown. Cheap Trick were opening for them at the time. This guy must have been a big Cheap Trick fan or something, so he called in and complained. "Well, you’re not playing enough Cheap Trick. You don’t know what real music is."
He ended up talking to our program director, Mike Mitchell. If you’ve ever met Mike, Mike’s stuck in 1985. He knows all about Cheap Trick, and pretty much schooled the guy on Cheap Trick.
Then, he comes in and tries to get buddy-buddy with Mike. He was getting too obsessive, and he was hanging around. But, one of the more scary confrontations was when he was in Mike’s office. They were having a conversation about whatever. Mike was just humouring him, so he wouldn’t completely lose his mind. He was really ticked off with Z103 about something. Something to do with a contest. He then muttered under his breath, "You know, I haven’t made a pipe bomb in a while."
So, Mike very quickly got him out of the office. He knew Dan Barton was Program Director at Z at the time. He shot Dan a message that said, "Hey, Dan. Heads up. Watch out."
Unfortunately, in this business, you do attract all kinds of people. There are those obviously mentally unstable types. We had a guy that used to call K-Rock all the time. He was calling from the Burnside institute.
BB: How could he even pick up the station?
NS: He was from the Valley, I think. I’m not sure of the exact details of it. All I knew is, he would call in and complain about this and that. We came to find out he was calling from Burnside Correctional Facility. I have definitely run into a few interesting types.
BB: I haven’t asked any women this question. It must be even more frightening for them. There are some very attractive women in local radio. Sometimes, their voices may be the only female voices these men hear.
NS: You know what? Not even the announcers. Your cruiser people; your street team. Typically, those tend to be a female-dominated job. I know we had different cruiser people go out to events down in the Valley, for biker rally events and such. They would come back and talk about how guys were harassing them, making a lot of lewd comments. Unfortunately, with the public-relations side of radio, you do have to take in some of that garbage. You do have to deal with it, because every person you’re going to run into, isn’t going to like you, isn’t going to be a fan of yours, isn’t going to be a nice person, and isn’t contributing well to society. You are going to run into the lower echelon of society every now and then. And, sometimes, they’re your biggest fans. [laughs]
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
NS: I don’t really have a time frame built on anything I’m doing. But, like I said, Afternoon Drive would be one of the steps I’d want to make in at least a market of this size or greater. And, Program Director, eventually. I don’t think I’ll be Program Director in 5 years. 10 years? Maybe.
BB: I think I asked before: There’s no degree in Program Directing.
NS: There’s no degree. I don’t think there’s any formal education. You need to know everything that’s going on in the station, between programming on air, promotions, production, sales. Not that you have to work in every department, but you have to have a good understanding as to what goes on.
A prime example is JD. He’s never done on air. But, he’s our PD here.
BB: I heard him on Nikki’s last day on Z.
NS: He might pop up on the air once in a while, but he’s never done an actual announcer gig to my knowledge. But, he’s a big promo guy. Promotions was his big thing.
BB: He was at the Q for many years.
NS: Exactly. And, before that, he helped launch Fred FM in Fredericton. So, it just helps that you understand everything that goes on. But, I don’t think you need any degree or you don’t go back to school to become a Program Director. Once you have enough experience in the business, gotten to know what’s going on and what’s right and what’s wrong and such.
I think some people become Program Directors too young. I know of some Program Directors under 30; I think that’s crazy. Even if you were in the Biz at 18, you’d be hard pressed to be well-rounded to be able to be a Program Director. Especially when you’re dealing with employees who will be underneath you, who might have 20 years’ experience. They might be 40, 50 plus. How is a guy under 30 going to say to them, "Well, I think you should be doing this because I read a book somewhere, and this seems to be the thing you should do. "
BB: All right. We’re kitty corner to Z103. Would it make sense to have a 50 year-old man be a Program Director of that station?
NS: Perhaps not, no. But, at the same time, a 25 year-old is probably not a great idea, either. You want somebody with a little bit of seasoning, but maybe not quite over the hill.
BB: 50 isn’t old! I’m getting there myself.
Why did you agree to this interview?
NS: A very small piece of it was a slight ego boost. [laughs] I’ve never been interviewed before.
BB: I saw the tweets today. Jeff Quigley picked up on that.
NS: I don’t know. You had interviewed a lot of people I had worked with or that I knew; and it felt like there was this prestige, as if you’ve joined a club once you’ve been interviewed by Bev. Because, again, you’re getting this reputation: A lot of people know about you. A lot of people know that you do these interviews and have read them. It seems like I can put this on a list of accomplishments.
BB: Stroke my ego for a moment, if you wouldn’t mind. How many people know about me, say, in this building?
NS: Every announcer in this building knows who you are. And, probably a fair amount of the behind-the-scenes people as well. And, obviously, everyone at K-Rock knows who you are.
BB: I’ve interviewed almost everyone on staff there.
NS: That’s true.
BB: When I go down there for a weekend, I have some time to kill.
NS: Well, like you said: Obviously, there’s college people that know about you.
BB: I ask this question because it feels as though I’m working in a vacuum. I publish the interviews, and I get virtually no feedback, so it’s hard to know if these interviews are noticed or appreciated.
NS: Have you ever thought about trying to publish them with a broadcast magazine, or any kind of broadcast affiliate? I know you said you might publish them in a book. Sometimes, that’s a hard sell.
BB: I know about Broadcast Dialogue.
NS: There’s that. There’s also RAP Mag. Radio and Production. It’s a big Production magazine that a lot of producers subscribe to in radio.
BB: If they have a website, and they wanted to mention me, that would be cool. I never considered contacting Broadcast Dialogue or RAP Mag. But, I guess I could do things to promote the interviews a bit better. Literally, I did not know how well known I was because I talked to Mel Sampson and Goose Stuart back in November. Mel told me she was waiting her turn to be contacted by me. I said, "Whoa!"
NS: When you interviewed Darrin, that was the first introduction, the first time I’d really heard of you. "Darrin’s getting interviewed. What for?" I read the full interview. It’s like, "That’s cool." Then, you did Gary after that.
BB: I interviewed Gary before Darrin, but it took months for Gary to vet the interview.
NS: Then, you did Colin and Kate together. Then, you did Mel. Even me. I was like, "I wonder?" Then, I moved.
BB: I was glad to finally touch base with you.
I was just wondering. You have become part of an elite club.
NS: And, also, I’ve never been on this side of the interview. I’ve always had to conduct the interview and ask the questions and try to dig for the information. I was interested to see this side of things.
BB: Neil Spence, thank you very much for the last 2+ hours of your life. It’s 7:15. I told Patricia I’d be home by 7.
NS: You’re in trouble with the wife now, my friend.
BB: I thank you very much. I’m glad we were finally able to interface. It was great meeting you. But I have to ask you about the medallion around your neck. What the heck does that mean?
NS: It’s a sun pendant. I’ve always been into the different jewelry. I used to be a lot more decked out in it. A long time ago, my grandmother gave me a different sun pendant. I don’t know if it had a different Zodiac association. It was a sun pendant on one side; and then, on the other side, it said "strength". I always found that an interesting concept. Sun does bring strength to the earth. It was a very spiritualistic thing, I guess.
BB: Where did you get that one?
NS: I think I got this one at a fleamarket somewhere. I think. I really can’t remember. I’ve had it so long. I’ve had this particular pendant 6 or 8 years.
BB: Not a lot of men wear pendants.
NS: Not a lot of men wear jewelry, period. I used to wear 2 different necklaces. I had rings on almost every finger. I had bracelets and everything else. I’ve toned things down recently. I don’t even wear bracelets that much; I just wear this one because my girlfriend’s daughter made it for me, not that long ago.
BB: Are you dating an older woman?
NS: A few years older. I wouldn’t call her an older woman. [laughs] She’s 29; I’m 23. There’s a bit of an age difference.
BB: All right. I had to ask about the pendant.
BB: Is she still around?
NS: Yes. She’s 89 years old.
BB: All right. I lost my dad last year.
NS: I took this whole "strength" and the sun pendant idea and I got it tattooed on my right arm.
BB: I won’t ask you to take off your shirt or anything. It might be a little creepy.
All, right. Neil Spence. Thank you very much. It was great meeting you.
NS: You as well.