Tuesday 06 Dec 2016

Rob Sidney II
Matt Seinberg

If there were ever a guy that I never met, but only spoke to every once in a while, and knew by reputation that I would want to work for in some possible way, that guy would be Rob Sidney, Program Director of WLYF Lite FM, in Miami, Florida.

Because of that admiration, I asked Rob to do an interview. Part 1 published last week. Here’s the conclusion, where he talks about the return of air personality Kimba to afternoon drive.

Matt Seinberg (MS) There’s a saying that you can’t go home again. How did it happen that Kimba is returning to Lite FM after being at WFLC-FM for three years?

Rob Sidney (RS) I was bitterly disappointed when she left. She was our night talent for 7 years, and that she had been a high profile talent in this market for many years. She was the overnight host at WZTA-FM (Zeta) and I used to listen to her during my commute when I first arrived in 1987. I heard an amazingly talented broadcaster, not just a female broadcaster, and I thought to myself, I want to work with her. She was a real student of radio.

When the last of the old guard of the former beautiful music format, Ron King retired in 2002, I had received 115 demos, and Kimba had sent one in looking for weekends and fill-ins, as she had just lost her job at WBGG-FM, Big 106. I told her to hang out for a month; it hadn’t announced yet and we would have a full time nighttime opening. She agreed.

People looked at me as if I had two heads. She was a rock jock. We used the code phrase going from mosh pit soccer mom. She did it incredibly easily. She understands how to connect to a particular audience, a particular listener. Did she have to adjust; she did it intuitively.

I hired demo 116 and we got a good seven years from her, and when she got an offer from WFLC-FM, we weren’t nimble enough to figure out a solution to keep her. We weren’t prepared to pay her what we had to, to keep her at that time.

We had kept in contact, and when it was evident that WFLC-FM was going in a different direction that suited her, and suited her passions, we began a dialog of what if’s, and that lasted for almost a year.

When the need for greater talent, some bench strength was apparent, our new General Manager (GM), Maureen Lesourd came to me one day and identified that we needed an Assistant Program Director. I said, “God bless you! You’re the first GM to realize that.” She asked, “Who do you want.” I told her the Kimba story.” Lesourd told me to hire her. “Do whatever it takes,” she said. “Go get her.” We got her.

She’s been back about a month and half now and she’s not yet jaded. She seems very happy to be back. I’m whispering because she sits right outside my door.

What’s cool is that she has three years of perspective elsewhere, a greater deal of insight having spent those years in direct competition with us.

It’s refreshing, because our VP of Programming said to me during the APD search is to get someone that will challenge you. That’s not saying someone to fight with, but to challenge your thought process, to suggest ways of thinking you haven’t even considered.

I didn’t even know if Kimba had that in her, but she certainly has it. She’s leading the charge on social media. We’re a little late to that game, and the last thing you want to do is rub them the wrong way. I think that intuitively, Kimba really gets that, and I’m happy to have her here as our social media captain.

MS What do you see as the next evolution for the station?

RS I don’t look down the format road anymore, three years, five years or more years. There is hardly any difference between the AC and Hot AC charts these days.

There are distinct lanes AC stations can travel. A highly contemporary lane and a less sexy, an underserved gold-based AC, that’s the battle Lite FM, is fighting.

We have a competitor that I think didn’t expect to be around this year, and we have to deal with them before we decide where Lite FM is going to evolve to.

Do we continue to add contemporary music do we continue to explore new artists? One of the hallmarks of any good station that targets the 35 plus crowd is familiarity, and so we’re not in the business of breaking new music. We never have been. While we’re still playing super recurrents, we’re not playing any new music.

That’s a big change from where we spent the past 15 years. The ratings are going up, audience appeal is higher and I think Lite FM sounds as good as it ever has. I can’t wait for Kimba to be back on the air, and I think that will complete the puzzle.

MS Whom are you targeting now versus 20 years ago?

RS We are targeting the same person, a forty-two year old female. I just had this conversation with our sales team yesterday. We are the rock in the middle of the river. For every year that goes by, her life experience changes.

I was having a very interesting conversation with Ellen Jaffe just yesterday about the Beloit College Annual Mindset List. It usually involves lines like, “Always lived in a world where, or have never known a world where, all songs have been on digital players.”

We’re going to develop our own list, which will be a great reference for both the air talent and sales team what today’s forty-two year old woman, what her life experience has always encompassed. She was born in 1971, and she was not aware of men landing on the moon. She only knows about that NASA is about two space shuttle accidents, the government has always been suspect, music videos have always been on television and music has never been on vinyl or cassette, but always been on CD.

For those of us older than a forty-two year old woman, we have to be cognizant of her worldview. I referenced the other day, and got a cockeyed look from Brian Shine about the final episode about the Carol Burnett show, that was 1977-78?

For our listener, maybe it was the final episode of “Friends,” it wasn’t the final episodes of “M*A*S*H” or “Cheers.” She was in the same age group of those six young people when it was over, around 33. For her, TV was never black and white, or just three channels, it was always plenty of cable channels.

I think it will be a very cool exercise in our programming meetings, as long as we focus on today’s forty-two year old woman.

MS What do you do to solicit ideas from your listeners?

RS Ellen Jaffe hosts periodic listener brunches from our Loyal Listener Club on Saturdays. We invite them to the station. It’s not a blind focus group. We talk about their life experience. We talk about what they do while listening to the radio station, and at other times.

MS What changes or adjustments did you have to make from diaries to PPM?

RS It’s the adjustments everyone had to make. It’s what good programmers should have been doing all along: being interesting, compelling, succinct, bright, tight, brief and relevant. There’s a mandate to put meaning and relevance in every break, since there are very few opportunities to talk on this radio station. Make each one of them count.

MS So your station is more act than react, and let the hosts be themselves.

RS I think that’s pretty perceptive and accurate. I think any station that has the DJs simply read the name of the station and segue from one song into another is a commodity. You can get that anywhere. If you have content, it should be relevant, timely. What are you saying is today; it can only be relevant today.

MS How is your life outside of radio?

RS There isn’t much outside of radio! So much of what I do, what I’m interested in, rolls into my career. Many of my interests and passions are what I do here at the radio station. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. Learning and adapting to the changes in this building, over the last couple of years, was challenging.

I have a vacation home in North Carolina. If I have to do a voiceover, I can use the closet.

MS For anyone wanting to get into radio, what would you tell them?

RS I don’t know that radio will persist in its present form, I wouldn’t count on it. I would recommend that you be as knowledgeable as and versatile about forms of social media and unconventional sources; that the great convergence, predicted years ago, isn't going to happen. Don’t get into this business expecting to be a DJ, talk show host or Howard Stern. That won’t serve you well for 30 years.

I’m surprised at the music students at the Art Institute that have Pro Tools installed on their laptops and how they run circles around us technically. They just have to mature their perspective is understanding they are advancing a brand message and engaging with a target listener. The delivery method, the media may change, the need to engage one person on a one to one level doesn’t change. The art of spoken to, not spoken at is very personal.

MS Is there a life saying or philosophy that inspired you?

RS Yes, I found a quote by Leo Rosten one day in the Chicago Tribune about 30 years ago, and it still hangs above my desk.

MS Leo Rosten inspired you with his quote. Do you have one of your own?

RS Yes, “I don’t live life to be happy, I live it to make a difference that I lived at all.” That’s me talking. If that means playing Celine Dion records on the radio and saying something that connects with the listener at 4:25 pm, then I’ve made a difference.

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Click here to read part one of the Rob Sidney interview.

Interview edited and reduced for publication.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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