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QRD #37 - Radio Special - April 2008
about this issue
Radio MD Interviews with:
Hunter King at WESU
Andrea-Jane Cornell at CKUT
Geary Kaczorowski at WUMD
Max Martin at WUOG
Keri Fico at WUSB
Justin Lanoue at CFUV
Thurston Hunger at KFJC
Steve Marlow at CFBX
Joe Kendrick at WNCW
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Radio Music Director interview with Steve Marlow of CFBX
April 2008

It seems like Canadian radio loves me more than here in the states.  So here we go with Steve Marlow….

QRD – Why did you want the position of music director & why do you think you got it over all the other applicants?

Steve – I was the only person interested in the position at my current station.  CFBX was just starting up in 2000 & didn’t have any organized library or music system at all.  I was coming in to the school here with five years experience as a DJ/MD/all around radio person from CKUL in Lethbridge & offered to set up the library, which I did, over the next year or so.  I took on the music director position as a volunteer & eventually became indispensable; they had to hire me.

QRD – What do you think the job of a good music director is?

Steve – A good music director is one that can balance the needs of the artists that send in their music & needs of their programmers.  The music director is a filter for the music that comes in, so they need to be aware of not only the quality of the music they are getting, but where that music comes from.  The MD needs a special eye for independent artists & to actively seek them out.  They also need to actively solicit labels & distributors for music they feel would benefit the station, instead of passively letting the music come into the station.  They should also watch out for pushy record promoters looking for airplay regardless of how bad or good their album is.  Here’s where the programmers come in.  A good MD instills in their programmers a sense of quality in music, to rate albums on the quality of their music, not on the marketing & flashy promos that come with the music.  They need to know that searching & experimenting & trying out new artists is much, much more important than playing their favourite bands every hour.  A good programmer with good skills will smell out a bullshit bad album every time.

QRD – What did you initially think you could accomplish as music director that having obtained the position became obviously impossible?

Steve – Championing independent music.  Getting rid of the fratboy mentality of “I have a radio show!  Cool!  Let’s play Dave Matthews every single hour!”  Letting our audiences know that there is intelligent, non-repetitive radio that doesn’t insult your intelligence.

QRD – How much do you let your personal taste in music effect your station’s music?

Steve – I try not to, but I’ll admit I contact a lot of small jazz & experimental/electronic labels.  But I also spend a lot of time contacting hip-hop labels, which is a type of music I really dislike.

QRD – How have streaming online radio stations affected the purpose & competition for your station?

Steve – We do stream, but it doesn’t really affect us.  Only a handful of listeners use it.  Our main audience is in town, not on the internet.

QRD – What are some things bands/labels can do to get on the fast track into rotation & to eliminate themselves from getting into rotation?

Steve – Make good music.  If it’s good, I’ll put it into rotation.  I’ll add almost anything, but if your album is sub par, expect it to not get played.  Our programmers pick what they want to play, so if you make good music, our programmers will pick it up & play it.  If it’s bad, or packaged in a slipsleeve, or poorly packaged, it will likely sit around & gather dust.  Also, don’t browbeat me into adding your album.  If you pester me every week, I’ll still add your album, but I won’t be particularly interested in getting you information.  Just ask for the basics please.  Oh, & I don’t want to be your friend, so don’t ask me how my weekend went.  Just get to the tracking.  It’s just professional courtesy.

QRD – Do you read the charts of other stations & if so how do they affect your charts?

Steve – I do read them.  The only way they affect what we do is that I might add a record early if I see it taking off on other stations.  Otherwise, they don’t affect us at all.

QRD – Do you solicit labels for servicing or just generally stick with who finds you?

Steve – I actively solicit record labels.  Usually several each week.  Often I don’t hear anything from them; not even, “Sorry, we can’t service you,” which sucks.  If you won’t service us, please tell me & I can stop bugging you about music.

QRD – Do you like to deal directly with labels or do you prefer to deal with some sort of radio promotional team about what is going into the station library & rotation?

Steve – Either is good.

QRD – What’s the longest time you feel comfortable keeping a record in rotation?

Steve – Ours stay in rotation for about 5-8 weeks, which is just about right.  After about 6 weeks, programmers start ignoring the album, so it’s time to take it out.

QRD – Do you listen to & review the majority of records you receive yourself?

Steve – I listen to everything that’s come through our station.  As MD, it’s my responsibility.  I can’t imagine giving that task to someone else; it’s my main job.

QRD – How much control do you let individual DJ’s have over what they play & how do they deal with requests?

Steve – They have pretty much total control over that.  Naturally, we have Cancon (Canadian content.  In Canada a certain percentage of airtime must be Canadian artists.) & rotation requirements; but there’s a vast selection for both of those, so it’s never a burden.  We rarely get requests, but they have discretion to play them if they want.

QRD – What’s the importance of specialty shows at your station?

Steve – Very important.  We encourage all of our programmers to play a wide variety of music, but anyone with a good idea for a focused show (like jazz, roots, blues, foreign language) will get a show right away.

QRD – How is your station involved in the local music scene?

Steve – Pretty deeply.  We don’t promote shows ourselves, but we do announce local events & play a large quantity of local & regional musicians.

QRD – With your experience in radio, are you jaded or hopeful for the music industry?

Steve – Most of the time, jaded.  Mainstream music especially makes me jaded; every song is a rip off of something I’ve heard hundreds of times before.  Underground stuff can be frustrating too.  Too many bands try to sound like someone else already in the business, or deliberately make bad sounding or badly produced music because they think it’s cool or something.  It’s the handful of decent artists doing something unique that gives me hope for the future.  That’s why I keep doing what I’m doing.

QRD – If your position is temporary, what do you plan to do with your interest in music in the future?

Steve – I’m here for the long haul.

QRD – What are the best & worst parts of your job?

Steve – Best, getting paid to listen to music all day.  Discovering a band that makes me say, “Wow!”  Working with enthusiastic & knowledgeable volunteers willing to explore & letting me give them the tools to do so.
Worst: Pushy record label & distro types. 

QRD – I imagine a lot of the younger generation of DJs pretty much exclusively use MP3s over CDs (much less vinyl).  How do you feel about the situation?

Steve – I have mixed feelings.  I think that the electronic distribution of music gives more people an opportunity to hear music, but it’s over shined by both the low quality of electronically distributed music & the lack of music being a tactile thing.  If you have a burn or an MP3 version of an album, you lack the tactile “artifact” quality an album has.  With a CD or a piece of vinyl, you can hold it in your hand, you can look at the artwork, you can read the liner notes.  You can feel the effort & love that went into creating the album.  You don’t get that with an electronically distributed, it’s anonymous & dispassionate.

QRD – Do you try to get your entire catalog digitally encoded on a hard drive for radio play?  If so, at what compression rate do you feel is appropriate?

Steve – Why bother?  I just bring in the CDs.  I have my collection on my iPod, but it’s for personal use.  Compressed music sounds like crap anyway, I’d never put it on the air.

QRD – How do you feel about automation for overnight or unfilled DJ slots?  What program do you use for automation & how does it decide what to play?

Steve – Totally against it.  It’s live or nothing.  We go off the air if there’s no one in the booth doing live programming.  If it’s during the day, we have pre-recorded shows to fill in unfilled spots.

QRD – I know that some labels & promotional teams are pushing towards digital download links over physical copies.  How do you feel about this?

Steve – We’ll resist it as long as we can.  Again, digital copy is usually poor in audio quality.  I’d much rather have a fully mastered album.

QRD – When I worked in radio, there was a big problem with theft at the station.  Since so many people these days just use MP3 players, do they just steal the music rather than the physical disc & do you feel as a DJ they have a right to personally access any music from the station library at any time?

Steve – They have a right to access it, but not to copy it.  That’s still illegal.  Campus radio will always have a problem with theft, but you just have to suck it up & move on.  Of course, you deal with any theft you do catch harshly though.

QRD – Anything else?

Steve – Nah, just keep doing what you do.  Make good music & get it to the stations.

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