R.A.P. Interview: Terry Phillips

JV: This is on HD or internet stream?
Terry: It’s both. It’s actually syndicated out on HD here in Detroit. It’s HD3 in Seattle, and it’s HD3 in Boston. It’s based literally on the other side of my wall, which is fun to the salespeople. I get to tell them I might be next to the psychics, but I’m not one.

JV: Country is obviously a monster format down here in Texas, and I wouldn’t have guessed that a country station would do nearly as well in Detroit, but WYCD has been a strong station there for some time, hasn’t it?
Terry: Well, as far as reporter status, we’re one of the biggest ones in the country, which you wouldn’t think in so many ways. There are challenges that other markets with country stations don’t face. Detroit has a 40 percent urban comp. So, when you’re dealing with a 40 percent urban comp in the metro, all of a sudden being the number one station in town is a near impossibility. But, quite frequently in our group, WYCD is the number one biller, beating out a monster in our cluster like WWJ, and WOMC with a legendary personality like Dick Burton doing mornings, and the like, even The Ticket, which is doing huge numbers – Tom Bigby has done a brilliant job signing on that sports station. They have every Detroit team literally.

The way we out bill these stations is that we’re an NTR monster, which of course is really complicated from a production standpoint, keeping the messages clear to the listeners when you’re doing, in the summer, as many as ten remotes and appearances in a week. You also have the Downtown Hoedown, which outside of Detroit, most people haven’t heard of. The Downtown Hoedown is a free concert, a three–day show. It is the largest free country concert in the world. Annually, an average of 1.1 million people show up for this show over three days. It’s huge. You would not expect that in Detroit. We’ve had almost every major act on their way up or on their way down at this show, including Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, Big and Rich, Gretchen Wilson. The only two that we have not had, of any significance at this point -- knock on wood we don’t miss any others -- has been Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. The Program Director at the time didn’t think they were going to be as big as they had become. So, we unfortunately missed that.

As far as ratings, with the flanker from Clear Channel at us, that has kept us down a little bit for a while, but we have usually been top five 25-54 almost every book since the day I got here, and every book but one has been top five 25-54 female, and that’s where all the money is. We have hit number one several times in 25-54, not regularly, but several times. We actually did hit number one 12–plus while I’ve been here, and in a 40 percent urban comp, you could’ve knocked us all over with a feather when it happened.

JV: How do you approach the imaging for that station? What’s your philosophy regarding imaging country, your style perhaps?
Terry: Well, first of all there’s the listener. I get hairs standing up when I hear people say, “Listeners are stupid.” They’re not stupid. They’re not paying attention most of the time, but they’re not stupid. I’m really crazy anal and like to have a sense of humor in everything possible. So, the way we run it is to try to keep everything fun, everything moving, everything upbeat. Think Hillbilly Deluxe without the twang, as far as imaging. Driving guitars, loud, busy production sometimes, but we step it down from time to time as well.

It’s kind of weird to me when people say, “Country stations doing CHR production,” as if they’re the only ones who can have intricate art of noise stuff. A lot of country stations don’t go there, and we go there a little bit. But more than anything, it’s a sense of humor. It’s having a voiceover person like John Willyard, who is so agile, and my goofy character voices that I’ve carried with me from the early days. When Willyard was on vacation once, and I had to pull a winning weekend out of my butt at the last minute, I pulled out of my tukus a Saints & Sinners winning weekend, which was all character voices, and had a lot of fun with that.

Nearly everything has some sort of angle of humor when possible. There are sometimes when you do have to pull up a little bit, but I’m the type that would rather stay late and try to make everything at least really good than to just knock a mulligan, and say, “Ah, good enough.” I got home last night at about 5:30 in the morning. We had to do two winning weekends, along with contests that started Monday that I didn’t get the details for until Thursday night, and stuff for University of Michigan football -- all the changes to the opens and closes based on the game, and sponsors. That all had to be accomplished in a day, which is not what every day is like, but it’s almost what every Friday is like.

JV: How do you meet the challenge of constantly coming up with humorous material?
Terry: Well, there’s one advantage after almost a decade in the same place: there are a couple of times a year where something comes up, and it absolutely makes sense to revisit something old. I would say three times a year, four times a year, for one of the winning weekends. Sometimes, depending on when Christmas falls, we’ll have 52 winning weekends a year every single weekend. So, regurgitation of three or four isn’t bad, and especially when you dive back five or six years to do it. I’m crazy anal with my files and everything else, so I literally have every sweeper and every promo session that I’ve constructed since 2001 on one of my portable hard drives, and I can literally load up the old session. Some of the plug–ins have changed, but I can update it.

So that helps me on the really bad or really busy, busy times like right before Hoedown or ‘OMC’s Dream Cruise, which is a big deal for ‘OMC. It’s gigantic. You get a whole bunch of classic cars going up and down Woodward Avenue, which was the first highway in America, classic Chevys and Plymouths and everything else. They broadcast from nine locations that day, and there’s somewhere like 40,000 classic cars driving up and down the road in a day, from downtown Detroit all the way to the upper suburbs. It’s crazy. It’s a community event, but the station has been the singular radio sponsor of it forever. Further back than I’ve been in the market by far. How far back? I don’t know. A million people show up for that as well.

JV: Does WOMC demand as much of your time as ‘YCD?
Terry: It does in a different way. ‘OMC is nowhere near as NTR crazy as ‘YCD. They don’t have nearly as many remotes. They have just as many on–air contests now, though. Since the Program Director of the country station, Tim Roberts, has also taken over ‘OMC – he did that a while back to help continue the change from oldies to classic hits -- since that’s happened, he’s brought the approach of ‘YCD along with him.

So now every weekend, there’s a winning weekend. Most of the time for both stations, it’s prize and music themed, like this weekend on ‘YCD, it’s a Rebel Rouser Winning Weekend, playing rebellious tunes and giving away tickets to two younger country acts that are coming to a smaller venue. And on ‘OMC, it’s a Michael Jackson weekend. They’re giving away tickets to opening day for the Michael Jackson movie, and a couple of box sets and stuff. Every weekend, there’s usually a prize tied in with a music theme, unless we can’t come up with a music theme.

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