OFF-MIC: Sludge

 
Meet Sludge, former Chicago (and current WDYL/Richmond, VA) on-air personality.

I’ve known Sludge for years, having worked with him at both WKQX and WZNN.  He’s the quintessential “good guy,” the kind of co-worker whose attitude remains unflinchingly positive and whose drive to win is palpable.  True to his on-air persona, he’s also a nacho-eating, snarky horndog who’s a blast to hang out with.

I’m going to regularly use this blog to feature interviews with radio personnel across the country.  For lack of a more clever name, I’m calling this series-within-a-blog “OFF MIC.”  I asked Sludge to be my first interviewee.

James VanOsdol:
You’ve taken great strides to make yourself a fixture in Richmond. Your body is locked in that market right now–is your mind?  Do you have goals to eventually return to Chicago?

Sludge:
My body and mind are absolutely in Richmond right now.  It’s a great city.  If you really want to win and contribute to your community, you must be there 24/7, and embrace the city you are working and living in.  I have done this with every city on the list.  That being said, I love and miss Chicago.  Weiner Circle!

JVO:
Explain the recent daypart shakeup (Sludge was recently moved out of mornings into afternoon drive).

S:
Our company, Cox Radio, owns the Bubba The Love Sponge show, which I’m a fan of.  It’s been so successful at his home base in Tampa that they began syndication in January to all of our company’s rock stations.  They moved my show to afternoons, as a “morning show” for the drive home.  Along with a long-overdue signal upgrade, this will make us a true force to be reckoned with.  An increase in personality, great music, and owning the streets is how we will win this war.  I am truly enjoying being able to still do the same show while not walking around like a zombie half the day when you get up at 3:30am.

JVO:
Having been through big shakeups and changes in the past, does this sort of thing shock you anymore?  What goes through your head when you “get called into the office?”

S:
It’s amazing that I handle these things in stride now.  In my early years in radio, these things made me punch walls.  I took everything so personal.  As Michael Corleone said, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”  I came to realize that I do not own these radio stations, and the owners can make changes as they see fit.

You’ve been with me when a bad change happened at The Zone.  That’s how most of these things go down, with a stomach ache.

My current situation is completely different, (in that I’ve created) a personality-driven afternoon show that has already generated new revenue in 3 weeks.  This city hasn’t had that ever.  It’s a great feeling, and I’m getting new listeners while retaining my old ones.

JVO:
What’s the biggest challenge facing radio right now, if one can be singled out?

S:
To me, the biggest challenge is bad P.R.  Everywhere you turn, someone is proclaiming the death of radio.  If you went by what you watched on CNBC or read on blogs, you’d think hundreds of radio stations were shutting down every day.  The fact is, radio stations are still making money and profiting.  We are delivering results for clients.  We are entertaining people with new content every day.  300 million people listen each week.  We make a difference in our communities with charitable events.  Much (of) new media can not make these claims.

I believe we have to put an incredible focus on this immediately, and fight for radio!  I’ve been doing this recently by having clients that I’ve worked with pass the message on to new clients directly.  This works wonderfully, because it’s factual success stories delivered by one of their own…another business person looking to make money.

JVO:
How do you present yourself online?  What role does social networking and the like play for you?

S:
I think an hour of my day is dedicated to answering emails from our station website (y101rocks.com), as well as Facebook and Myspace.  You have to make yourself available to your listeners, and stay in contact.  It’s also the best way to promote yourself and your events, and deliver audio and video content.

JVO:
What’s the best advice you were ever given?

S:
“Work hard and do it with class”-(from) the late Jim Steel (Lyle), one of my first program director’s at WIOT in Toledo.

JVO:
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment since leaving Chicago?

S:
I am and very proud of the ratings and revenue firsts that I’ve achieved at WDYL.  But without a doubt, my “Show Us Your Cans” food drive for the Central Virginia Food Bank is my legacy to Richmond.  I live in the parking lot of a grocery store and broadcast live 24 hours a day for a week while collecting donations.   We give it a party-like atmosphere with bands playing, poker tournaments, and bizarre twists like Star Wars reenactments and karate exhibitions.  Last November was the 3rd one, and we raised 58,000 pounds of food.  We broke our own record each year of it’s existence.

JVO:
What’s the greatest regret in your career?

S:
Not getting an agent sooner.  I’ve been with Chicago agent Steve Mandell since 2003, and I know that if I had someone like Steve representing me earlier in my career, I would have gotten better deals at those stations.  He’s like Ari Gold in Entourage.  Cracks me up.

JVO:
Who’s your competition?  Another radio show?  The internet?  Yourself?

S:
It’s funny, I don’t even think about other radio stations anymore.  The days of Howard Stern funerals for radio hosts is long gone (which were awesome, by the way).  Obviously, everything is your competition, so you can’t specifically target anything.  You can’t worry about that while doing daily prep for a show.  Personalities must be compelling, creative, and perform for their audience, and that’s it.  You have to keep finding ways to make people “look” at the radio, and bring new people to the party.

JVO:
How does radio keep itself alive?

S:
I think a combination of some of my earlier answers.  Improving PR dramatically is key.  Also, radio station must become more personality-based.  That’s our strength.  Music will not save local radio.  There are too many other delivery methods, and more on the horizon.  A good syndicated show can beat a decent local show, but nothing can beat great local radio.  And I mean great local radio.  Not the host talking about what kind of potato chips he likes, although I might do that on tomorrow’s show.  Hmmmmm…

JVO:
The year is 2014.  What’s ra
dio like?

S:
My hunch is that radio will be like it was many years ago in its infancy.  I believe terrestrial radio will be more community-based, and provide information, discussion, and entertainment based on the community the radio station serves.  Theoretically, it should have always done that.  You might hear people arguing about red-light cameras, a local band will play live in studio, and the host might call the mayor’s office and ask why a new baseball stadium isn’t being built downtown yet…wait, that was my show yesterday.  I’m ahead of the curve, dammit!

I also believe that in 5 years, unless we’re all getting around on Trek 4300’s, mobile web radio will be a reality.  So, anything you listen to at home on the internet, you should be able to get in your car.  This could be good for terrestrial radio, as long as they have an excellent website with a quality stream.   You’ll hear any radio station in the country in your car.  And of course, adds to the competition, which is why some future hot chick news anchor on Fox News will say “radio is dead…”

THE HISTORY OF SLUDGE:

WFAL/WBGU Bowling Green State University:  1987-1990, On-air and Production
WIOT Toledo: 1988-1990, On-air and Production
WZRZ Cincinnati:  1990-1992, Operations Manager
WBZX Columbus:  1992-1994, Production Director and On-air host
WLLZ Detroit:  1994-1996, Morning Host and Creative Director
WRCX Chicago:  1996-1998, Evening Host and Co-Creative Director
WKQX Chicago:  1999-2005, Afternoon Host and Co-Creative Director
WZZN Chicago:  March 2005-October 2005, Morning Host
WCKG Chicago:  2005-2007, Talk Show Host
WDYL Richmond:  2006-present, Morning/Afternoon Host

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