So you want to be on the radio. Other than preparing a kickass press kit and crossing your fingers someone of importance opens it, what can you do? We spoke with local legend Fin of 96Rock and he had some words of wisdom to share. Fin has been the program director of 96Rock since 2008. Before that he worked in many facets within WEBN / Clear Channel in many divisions including “minister of propaganda” as well as the program director at WEBN.
Q: What is the general process of a song being added into rotation at 96Rock?
A: I field new music from multiple sources. We are still serviced with new singles / product via cds through the mail as well as the ever growing trend of digital delivery of tunes through various delivery services. Ninety nine percent of the music that makes it to me comes from the traditional source, the various record labels that work to sign and develop “new” (a relative term) talent (Foxy Shazam, Cage The Elephant, Awolnation, Sleeper Agent, Middle Class Rut, et al) as well as reinforce and sustain their roster bands by getting their newest music in our hands as well (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Evanescence, Black Keys, Linkin Park, etc.)
I try to make a point to listen to everything that hits my mailbox (real or virtual) and make preliminary notes on my first impressions of each song as to how they might (or might not) fit in to the textural music mix we try to maintain. As every station is truly different in its approach to its music selection, it’s quite possible that, while having access to the same songs, we will develop a much different sounding play list than another station. If I feel like a song would make sense for us I’ll make a note to discuss it with others in my position at stations around to country to see if my impressions are shared (for better or worse). That kind of feedback is useful as it helps see the big picture story on artists and songs that help us, in turn, relate them to our audience.
Q: How much control does a program director have in the choosing of the songs in rotation?
A: Depends upon the company. There are companies that have programs / services in place that select what new music you will hear on a broad sweeping (even nationwide) basis vs. working market to market. I am fortunate that I am able to work within a system that allows 96ROCK the opportunity to spin and promote artists and songs that make sense for the Greater Cincinnati listener. The music we play is chosen to, ideally, appeal to the largest number of listeners we can reach within our signal path. Some are hits, some are misses, but every single one tells us something new about what might work in the future; and making it work is the number one goal.
Q: How were you able to add in Foxy Shazam to the rotation recently?
A: …by watching the story develop and helping tell it on a larger scale….I had always known of Foxy Shazam as a ‘live show that was not to be missed’….Once I had the chance, along with some others, to check them out live and hear the new single “I Like It” I felt like they had put together a story and a ‘total package’ that could possibly be the ticket to the coveted ‘next level’ for rock stations…It was a story worth telling and we were fortunate to be able to help tell it for them from their hometown. Did we ‘discover’ them? Nope. The hundreds of kids who spilled sweat with them at clubs and theaters all over town discovered them. Is it cool to be able to give them the support to help a Cincinnati band step out further into a spotlight they’ve worked damn hard to achieve? Absolutely. While lots of people love to denigrate ‘corporate radio’ one can look to this band as an example of how a band can and should benefit from the ‘wildfire’ that can be lit on their behalf throughout the country via a widespread network of stations. Foxy may not be right for every rock station out there but it doesn’t hurt to have their name on the tip of tongues nationwide. Would bands like the Afghan Whigs and The Greenhornes have benefited from a similar environment? It’s hard to say, but it’s likely. That said, those bands helped set the table for bands like Foxy who, in turn, will help do the same for the Cincinnati scene (in a perfect world).
Q: Does it matter which label or if a label at all a band is with in order to get a song in rotation?
A: No. Sometimes it’s tough to figure out what label a band is even on based on the continued fragmentation and reconstitution of the record industry. The size of the label matters not, either. I remember the week we added The Crash Kings song ‘Mountain Man’ back in 2010. I had only recently learned of them and really loved the tune. It turns out they were scheduled to play the Southgate House four or five days later and there were about 50-75 people there to see them. THAT is ground level and that was one of the biggest songs we had in 2010.
Q: What is the best way, if any, to get a local band into rotation?
A: Work to get as many people to SEE you do your thing as possible…I have always tried to stress that getting out and playing, playing, playing is the key to getting to the next level as you never know who may be in the audience. Also, play with bands that aren’t just like you or you’ll never broaden your audience or the pool of people from which that ‘who’ might present themselves. The local shows we’ve been putting together at Bogarts are meant to group local, unsigned bands that don’t necessarily draw the same people to their shows in hopes of turning new fans on to new bands – at a reasonable price. We have created the 96ROCK Virtual Venue at our website as a place where locals can show off their best stuff and post their info for the whole world to check out….
The Foxy Shazam example from above is a great illustration of what I mean. They WERE signed to a major label based on ‘someone who told someone who told someone’ about them. The crazy thing is that it took the SECOND label they’ve worked with (The resurrected IRS imprint) to wrap their arms around them, understand the spirit of the band and get behind them with the IRS brand that brought along the equity of having developed ‘quirky’ bands like R.E.M., The GoGos, Squeeze, The English Beat, Fine Young Cannibals and a little outfit you may remember called ‘Over The Rhine’…
This was their path and it’s paying off after a lot of hard work and the ‘luck’ that that kind of hard work spawns. There are a lot of talented bands in town that likely deserve the same sort of shot that Foxy is being given. If we can help put two and two together for another band in town, we’ll work to do it. Social media has been a godsend for promotion but the dollars that a label (no matter the size) will put behind your effort can’t hurt with regard to touring, merch, etc.
Q: What other ways besides adding songs into rotation are local bands supported?
A: We work where we can to get locals on national shows – We had a fantastic response to a promotion we did that got Seven Circle Sunrise on the front of the Riverbend Incubus show last summer. We hope to be able to carve out more opportunities for locals just like that one. We are continuing to try to group local, original, unsigned bands onto the Bogarts stage as we still feel certain that it’s still a big time goal to play on that stage; one of the most famous stages of its size for ROCK in the United States. The 96ROCK Virtual Venue is open 24/7 on our site as a means of collecting and exposing local acts, as well. We like to say that it’s a great way to check out new local bands without getting elbowed and spilling your beer.
One other area where we try to help, that I believe is worth noting, comes from the unbelievable support Cincinnati bands have given and continue to give to local charities, fundraisers, etc. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t see a flyer or get a note / email on Facebook about a show that’s been put together to help raise money for this or awareness for that. We do our best in the mornings to help spread and share the word on those shows, as well….The spirit of cooperation among area bands seems to be growing which is KEY for the scene to flourish. I see a LOT more bands reaching out to support their fellow players than I used to – and I’ve been watching and working within this scene for longer than my bio would care to admit.
I have lived in Cincinnati longer than I lived in my hometown (Louisville, Ky.) and this, for all intents and purposes IS my hometown. My two years at the helm of Bogarts (where we created and ran ‘The Rumble’ local band competition for YEARS) and my years doing radio since have shown me that there are a LOT of very talented, hungry and passionate players and bands in town. For too long there seemed to be an attitude of “If I can’t make it, I’m going to shit talk you so you can’t either”…That attitude appears to be in our rear view mirror. There also seem to be some great ‘ambassadors’ in town for locals like Jim Rodgers, Billy Carri, Robb Webb, Eddy at Class X Radio.
You heard it here folks. Nothing is achieved without good old fashioned hard work. Now go book every show you possibly can and ROCK OUT!