R.A.P. Interview: Rich Conway

JV: Interesting point—not many people get to image a station that they’ve grown up listening to. How has that knowledge of WCCC’s history affected your imaging? How important do you think it is for a person just coming into a market, to study the history of the market and the station before going to work?
Rich: It’s very important to study a market when you first come in. WCCC’s image for years had been that of a bunch of crazy degenerates who played heavy rock. WCCC has had many incarnations. I remember laughing with Harve Allan who hired me as an intern when he programmed WCCC back in 1986. At the time, we played the Pet Shop Boys, and all people ever said was, “oh, that heavy metal station.” WCCC could have played The Carpenters and would have still been called the heavy metal station.

Before Marlin took over, the infamous Sy and family never let the station have a true image. If people think you’re a crazy heavy metal station, then so be it, and be the best you can be. Marlin was smart. They made the station what it should have been the whole time. Insane. That was the market niche. Soon as I started doing the production full-time, after Marlin took over, I knew exactly what the image should be. WCCC is guitar, not static and lazers. WCCC needed to sound different from the modern station and the other rock and classic rock stations. WHCN was the long time winner and beat WCCC for years in its heyday because of image. WHCN could have played the Bee Gees, and it would have sounded cool. All WHCN’s production was done in-house, so those moments that should sound special did. I remember working at WCCC under the old management and mentioning how all the production sounded like a bunch of noise on the air. Everything was being played on old dirty mono cart decks, and the recording was 5th generation by the time it hit cart. You’d be listening in you car, and all you could hear was hiss and noise. The response I got was, “nobody cares. It doesn’t make a difference.” WCCC had a reputation for being the station that didn’t quite have its act together. So, for years, not only did WHCN pound on WCCC about how much of a dump it was, but so did the people working at WCCC. Some of the jocks did well in the numbers, but as a whole, the station had no credibility.

When I started, I knew that WCCC was missing polish. WCCC needed to have that class and cool that not only makes a person listen but makes them believe. Paul Turner has always been the perfect imaging voice, but that’s all there was. As great as Paul is, if you play only one voice all the time saying, “we rock,” it sounds cold and boring. WCCC needed to be alive and sound like a rock network. The production needed to rock and sound big, but it also needed a personality of its own. It needed to evolve daily. All the other stations were using your typical big voice with movie drops. I wanted to do something that came from in-house and was an evolving thing that created a station identity. So I created characters like Studio Guy, Gus Wilson, a drunk reporter from the WCCC news room, and the list goes on. The things people hear between the tunes on WCCC, they can’t get anywhere else, so they notice us more. Being original is the trick to standing out.

JV: Generally speaking, what is your perception of the production at the other stations in the market?
Rich: I hear other good production in our market, but everything seems to be movie drops, statics, and bangs. Being different has given us the edge. I do sometimes use drops and things but as little as possible. I’ll always try to create something original first. We do get the Rock Kit from MJI, which in a pinch comes in handy and has drops and some effects. But nothing’s better than creating something original—you’re guaranteed to sound like no one else, and the listener will more than likely notice you.

JV: What are some other imaging techniques you use that help separate WCCC from the pack?
Rich: I spice things up with many different voices. I look at each piece I produce as a vignette that needs a beginning and an end. I like to tap everyone I work with for his or her voice and input. I’m the station pain in the ass—“Hey, have a second to voice something?” I’ll stalk them until they do. People don’t realize the difference they make. Most of the voices I use are salespeople who say, “I can’t do that.” But with a little coaching, usually they’re even impressed with themselves.

I look at a station as a tapestry hanging on the wall at a specialty store. If you start to analyze it too closely and take away what you think are imperfections, you end up taking away what’s special and different about it. Then the tapestry is no longer unique, and it’s available at K-Mart. With radio, it’s the same deal. If you don’t look at the station as a whole and start to analyze each little piece you do, you’ll end up throwing away the things that give you character. Let’s just plug in something safe or generic instead. Sure, the listener is there for the music. But if they don’t notice that you’re the station that played their favorite song, you’re sunk. I’d rather have a listener say, “what was that?” than say nothing at all. At least they noticed you. Things always sound better when they’re part of the big picture.

JV: Marlin Broadcasting is a “mom and pop” operation compared to today’s huge radio corporations, yet Marlin seems to hold its own against the big boys in your market while keeping radio fun at the same time.
Rich: They look at the bottom line, but they also know what it takes to win, and they don’t cut many corners. I hear of stations where the midday jock is doing a full-time air shift, all the imaging, spots, copywriting, and more. The way I see it, everyone’s hard drive is only so big; the more you keep putting into your head, the more watered down the ideas become. Just listen to a bad satellite radio feed and how cold it sounds. How passionate can a listener be about something that has no passion?

Marlin is also great because of the way it’s structured. There’s no red tape to go through to get things done. If I have an idea, I just get it done. I know Woody Tanger who owns us, and can call him anytime if I need to. In today’s world, most people have no idea who they’re working for. What’s funny is that sometimes, when I think of something for a promo or sweeper that’s a little on the edge, I wonder, “hmmmmm…can I actually put this on the radio?” I solve the problem by having the president of Marlin Broadcasting, Allen Tolz, voice it. This way, no one can blame me. And 99.99999% of the time, he’s as excited as I am. The other fraction of a percent he just gives me a strange look. Allen is a diehard radio guy who has worked in Boston and has been around. He knows all sides of the business. It’s great to work with people who understand what you do because they’ve done it.

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Always great to hear about other people’s creativity!!?

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