OFF-MIC: Kraig Karson


Meet Kraig Karson.  When I worked with him in Chicago radio at “The Zone” (WZZN-FM), he was known as Matt Wright.  Before that, he went by Craig Carson.  He sheds identities like a Flemingesque superspy.  He’s also one of the more underrated talents to emerge from Chicago’s radio scene in the early 00s.

These days, he’s holding down afternoons and handling imaging for 103.7 KISS-FM (WXSS) in Milwaukee, a station he called home at the end of the 20th century.  I used my blog as an excuse to reconnect with him.

James VanOsdol:
Since we last worked together, you’ve changed your name.  You now have two first names, and they both start with “K.”  Discuss.

Kraig Karson:
I went by “Craig Carson” to start my career. Some guy in one of my Columbia College courses thought of it, so I said “What the hell.”  I’ve been using it on and off. At Kiss Milwaukee, they decided to spell everything with a “K.”  Wacky.

After the Zone went under, you had said that you were interested in doing more on the production side.  Is that still an interest…pursuit…business for you?

Imaging has dried up a bit. It’s more of an afterthought with a lot of companies. But as it turns out, my goal of imaging came in handy when at Kiss Milwaukee we were all asked to take on a second duty within the company.  Imaging was the easy choice, and the most time consuming…oops. But I love it. I have creative freedom in both writing  the promotional copy and  production.  Some of the stuff I’m writing, I’m thinking “Where did that come from?”  (I’m) very happy with this opportunity.

How did you get the gig at KISS?

I worked there before, doing nights, plus part-time at (sister station) WMYX in the mid to late 90’s.

In other words, I knew people. 

From everything I’ve heard and read, you’ve managed to maintain your personality and attitude across very different formats.  What have you had to tweak in your presentation to fit on a CHR station?

Most of my career has been CHR. But after working at the Zone, it was difficult to speed things up over the intro of a song. I got comfortable with the Rock format, and didn’t want to return to CHR initially. But at Kiss, they’ve allowed me to be very sarcastic, sometimes dark, and very real. Certainly not a smoothed-over, Hollywood sounding, CHR; thank God. Credit goes to Brian Kelly, who lets the airstaff do their thing.  

Unfortunately both CHR and Rock play Nickelback, the worst band ever.

Traditionally speaking, CHR is a very active, phone-driven, format.  Given technology’s advances and a general shift in listening habits, have you noticed any change in the volume or quality of calls coming in?  

Not much. There is a slight dropoff in calls. But Milwaukee is a unique market, where it’s a decent sized town with a small town feel. The audience still cares about radio stations. I will say that the content of the phone calls is more direct, and less conversational. 

Do you have a favorite phoner or interview moment from KISS?

I don’t do many interviews; our morning show does the bulk of them. But I look forward to the daily opportunity to be ridiculous.

Your blog on MySpace died a quick death in 2006, though I found the following quote among the few entries that remain:

“Even my friends that blog… with whom I have a vested interest… I read their blogs and think ‘WTF?.. Who cares!'” 

Social media and networking has become a large component of communicating with today’s audience.  If you’re not blogging, how are you using the internet to dialog with the listeners? 

Texting all day with listeners  via MSNAP. Seriously; it’s a non-stop thing. Plus, some of our adult listeners are migrating over to Facebook.  Our new website will include Vlogging. But I will say this, blogs tend to be lengthy and boring.  A little goes a long way.  Think of a blog much like a daily discussion, people are interested for a bit and then they’re looking at a dog with a puffy tail.  “Come here, puff”  Sorry,
people care about blogs to a point, as long as they’re brief. And then there’s Twitter, which I think I’ll be trying soon, because it’s content is limited.

Staying on the blog train of thought, are you going to do this interview and then curse its existence after the fact because it’s on a blog?

No, maybe it’s a wakeup call to try and rejoin. But if I was asked to do this by anybody other than you, JVO, I would have said “Hell, no.”

Are there things about Milwaukee radio that you prefer to Chicago radio? 

Until September ’08, I’d say the stability. Still relevant is the freedom to not be perfect on every talk break. Smooth equals not memorable.  It’s not an excuse to suck; it’s an opportunity to take risks and standout.

Some Chicago stations get overly concerned with the air talent being “perfect.”  As if a word flub, pause, or walking the post was the end of the world.  Guess what, the average listener doesn’t notice. Plus, screw ups are good; perhaps that means there’s a live jock! 

Is Milwaukee radio more or less competitive?

Depends on which station and format you ‘re working for.  We are very fortunate, for now anyway, being the only CHR in town; one that has been on the air for over 10 years. 

But considering  that something like 57 signals hit Chicagoland, I’d have to say Chicago.  Much harder to command the attention of your listeners in Chicago, and they’re almost impossible to impress.  

What is radio’s biggest challenge moving forward?

To not overreact to the changes, but still move forward with streaming, websites, and video.   When I say overreact, I mean that maybe putting John Tesh on every station isn’t such a good idea after all.
And Seacrest is great, but not on every CHR station. Moderation. 

Looking at the positive, what’s radio doing right these days?

Utilizing web, video, and streaming to generate money and add to the listener base.  Plus, it’s still great for advertising. 

What’s your long-term radio goal?  Programming?  Mornings?  Getting paid to not work?

I love what I’m doing now. But I’d like to keep challenging myself in the production/imaging/voiceover world.

I have a long way to go for voiceovers, it’s like starting over again.  We’ll see. Either way, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with the right people at the right time.  There were the nightmare PD’s when I needed to be kicked around, and then the hands-off programmers when I needed to grow on my own.  Wow, I’m sick of talking about myself, and I’m sure nobody cares about my blog.


WXLC (Waukegan, IL)  April ’94-Sep ’97 

Overnights, Nights, Middays, Production, Music Director

WZOK (Rockford, IL)  September ’97-July ’98 

Nights, Imaging, Production

WXSS Kiss (Milwuakee, WI) July ’98 – March ’00


WUBT 103.5 The Beat/Jammin’ Oldies (Chicago, IL) June ’99 – January ’01

Weekends, then Afternoons

WKSC 103.5 KissFM (Chicago, IL)  January ’01 – July ’01

Middays when VoiceTracks failed, Production, Appearances  

WZZN 94.7 The Zone (Chicago, IL) August ’01 -September ’05

Weekends, then Nights

Air1/KLOVE Feb ’05-Jan-’07

Imaging, Production

WXSS Kiss (Milwaukee, IL) Jan ’06- Present

Afternoon Drive, Image Director

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