Music Director interview with Hunter King of WESU
I like it when someone else writes the intro for me....
Hunter – My name’s Hunter King for WESU 88.1FM in Middletown, CT. I’ve been a music director for a little less than two years now & have practically built it up from scratch since the music directors before me were negligent.
QRD – Why did you want the position of music director & why do you think you got it over all the other applicants?
Hunter – I took the job because our music director at the time sucked. His taste dictated what we got in & albums that I anticipated never made the cut. I was the only DJ dumb enough to still be playing new releases & I was stuck with the same selection for months at a time. The funny thing was, I ran unopposed (that is, only two people ran since we had two positions for it). The next year was the same, though this year we finally have at least four people vying for it.
QRD – What do you think the job of a good music director is?
Hunter – A good music director has wayyyy more than one job, but the important thing is to be proactive & reinvent yourself. It’s really hard to get caught up in all the busywork & not take the time to call up labels, reorganize your sub-music directors, etc.
QRD – What did you initially think you could accomplish as music director that having obtained the position became obviously impossible?
Hunter – Doing it alone, that’s for sure. We upgraded to two music directors the year I started & during breaks when I’m here & he’s not the process can really drag out.
QRD – How much do you let your personal taste in music effect your station’s music?
Hunter – Thankfully our dislike for emo/screamo is shared by the student DJs. If anything, the fact that I dug Thursday & Thrice in high school are the reason they’re IN rotation, rather than out, though the DJs never touch them. I think we’re actually very forgiving with what gets through, & having two MDs double-checks our individual hasty discarding. We take a lot of pride in our freeform mentality & that means that no matter how badly I think some of them need it, I can’t force them to play anything.
QRD – How have streaming online radio stations affected the purpose & competition for your station?
Hunter – We’ve been streaming online since I came in & I think most DJs don’t really treat it as anything special other than a gauge of listener interest & an opportunity for their mom’s to listen. I personally do a pretty niche show, all instrumental surf rock, & do some small-time advertising on the internet that helps, but not substantially. Our pledge drive shows that our real listener base is vastly local & I think that’s because that’s where we really stand out to listeners & where we’re pretty much unopposed in terms of station style.
QRD – What are some things bands/labels can do to get on the fast track into rotation & to eliminate themselves from getting into rotation?
Hunter – Do the whole shebang. Only
jewel cases get played by DJs, even if we add you & love you.
Make sure the album cover looks professional & I can’t see pixels or
Photoshop filters like lens flare. I don’t do this, but it’s amazing
how easily you could be a music director just by looking at album covers.
QRD – Do you read the charts of other stations & if so how do they affect your charts?
Hunter – I just read the CMJ charts & check off the things we’re missing. We’re still recovering from a major station restructuring & so we’re fighting for our own identity within our community, not on a national level. & that identity will be formed our own way, not based off other stations’ tastes.
QRD – Do you solicit labels for servicing or just generally stick with who finds you?
Hunter – It’s hard, but I occasionally do. Some labels are really hard to get a hold of & it’s tough to tell who is or isn’t getting serviced by one of our promoters.
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?
Hunter – Promoters are really fun. A lot of their job is talking on the phone & they do it often, so you’re eventually just shooting the bull with some side discussion of tracking. I’d love to have that relationship with a label, but it’s never happened to me.
QRD – What’s the longest time you feel comfortable keeping a record in rotation?
Hunter – Our official policy is six months, but our in-studio library only fits about four. When charting I prioritize new releases, but I do find that some albums get spun just a little for a long time instead of a bunch of spins at the initial add then nothing. For instance, Ween’s La Cucaracha is particularly had to squash, haw haw!
QRD – Do you listen to & review the majority of records you receive yourself?
Hunter – Between me & my co-MD Ben Castanon, definitely. He probably does more than me too.
QRD – How much control do you let individual DJs have over what they play & how do they deal with requests?
Hunter – We ask them for a minimum of five new releases per hour with exemptions for genre shows in which that would be impossible. It’s hard to get them to do it, but I can’t bring myself to dictate their spins & our board of directors would hate it.
QRD – What’s the importance of specialty shows at your station?
Hunter – We’re a 50-50 student/community member mix & though we have some really strong student shows, some community members have been with us for 20+ years & have really built up a following. We have dedicated shows for oldies, funk, Caribbean, gospel, doom metal, psychedelia, surf, girl groups, blues, Latin music; & specifically Columbian music, Balkan music, & others & they really help define our station. We straddle a ton of very niche groups & I think all of our DJs, even if they’re spinning top 200, are very proud to be a part of it. Often as they become more acquainted with other shows & DJs, they even start to diversify their own shows.
QRD – How is your station involved in the local music scene?
Hunter – We’re still building infrastructure for ticket giveaways, but we have particular shows focusing on the events in the area. We also have a ten-minute run-down of arts & events in the area every day at 5pm, though this is relatively new & we’re not sure how effective it is yet. If these aren’t enough, we have members of concert promotion groups, record stores, & labels within our staff; & have our own in-house events director for student shows at Wesleyan. We’re certainly not unavoidable, but we’re getting better every year.
QRD – With your experience in radio, are you jaded or hopeful for the music industry?
Hunter – Ha-ha-ha, incredibly jaded. You come to learn how everybody sounds the same, nobody’s as good as the people that are emulated & that the few really refreshing albums you get will likely get no spins. I don’t necessarily think there’s no hope for the industry, but I do think way more than a majority of artists these days are missing the point of whatever they’re trying to achieve. & seriously, what ever happened to good old light-hearted fun rock & roll, wimps?
QRD – If your position is temporary, what do you plan to do with your interest in music in the future?
Hunter – I’ve always had a long-term goal for a record store, no matter how dumb & even cliché that is these days. I’d love to keep DJ-ing back home if I can find a spot, even if it means interning for a while.
QRD – What are the best & worst parts of your job?
Hunter – Best is the music of course, even if the majority of it is terrible. Worst is getting DJs to shape up.
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?
Hunter – Oddly enough, our DJs play their own songs off iPods, but ignore digital adds in favor of CDs. I’ve done an MP3 player show before & it’s so much less involved. These kids sit on their ass & just wait for the song to end so they can mumble about nothing during their next voice break. Not only do I think the frantic pace of cueing songs (especially on my surf show where your average song is 2:30) gets your head more in the game, but it builds up an energy that you can’t get sitting down, which I never do on my show. & the listeners notice, I get a lot of calls saying, “You must be dancing up a storm in there,” & usually they’re correct. As for the mediums themselves, I play a lot of scratchy 45s & I find that nobody cares about the quality (well, I already knew that given the crappy MP3s our DJs play), but the older crowd really appreciates that authenticity, & the older crowd listens to a lot more terrestrial radio than the younger crowd these days.
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?
Hunter – Nope, & I think that’s really far off. My big project this year is to set up a catalog of our physical library so that DJs can see what we have from home or find it better within the station & I think that should hold us. We do have a digital library, also catalogable, but it’s built by proactive DJs & includes music according to their own taste.
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?
Hunter – Due to some pretty harsh times & a harsh school president who used to head NPR, half of our time is filled by NPR so our show schedule is packed pretty tight. Automation is necessary over the summer, but otherwise it’s a failsafe. Our summer music directors started to put new releases in there, but the rest is as far as I know handled by our program manager who runs a record store & actually makes it pretty fun. He uses Raduga.
QRD – I know that some labels & promotional teams are pushing towards digital download links over physical copies. How do you feel about this?
Hunter – Our DJs aren’t used to it & I really do appreciate the full album art, etc. (if they expect us to print them out & assemble an album they’re asking way too much), but it seems like the smart thing to do. Cuts down costs & reduces the amount of trash we throw out daily. We throw out a lot of trash. If any other music directors read this: if you haven’t already, just set up a folder for new releases on your hard drive & throw whatever in there. Everything is better than nothing & you’ll be caught needing to restructure your entire job if you ignore digitals.
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?
Hunter – Man, I wish our DJs were interested enough in new releases to steal them. Aside from a few cases where packaging was really important, music theft hasn’t been a huge problem. I do think that DJs should get to access station music whenever, anything to get them to listen to it, though it shouldn’t leave the doors unless they’ve cleared it with me.
QRD – Anything else?
Hunter – I’ve found that most DJs don’t
spin anything unless it’s been name-checked by their friends. The
hardest but extremely necessary part of this job is to replace that name-checking
process. Make sure they know what you think of the album & shove
that opinion in their faces as best you can. Offend them if need
be, write something ignorant & asinine if you know it will make them
hear the album & respond to you. Being an asshole gets a lot
done at a radio station, & it’s the part I’ve had the hardest time
doing. Confront DJs while still being their friend. Discipline
them if they ignore you or station policy.