Music Director interview with Joe Kendrick of WNCW
WNCW & Joe Kendrick’s ARC (Alternative Radio Coalition) Overnight program are the reason my friends & I got into radio in college. He probably doesn’t even know how many people he’s had a positive impact on.
QRD – Why did you want the position of music director & why do you think you got it over all the other applicants?
Joe – In 1997, I had time on my hands & was on the air at WNCW many overnights. Previous music director Emerson Dameron (who went on to work at WUOG & write for Dusted) stepped down & I was the only obvious choice, having six years of radio under my belt.
QRD – What do you think the job of a good music director is?
Joe – You’ve got to say “no” to new music about three times for every “yes”, depending on how the ebb & flow of good music comes to you. You should be steering the rotation of new music in a clear direction & be able to take fire from overbearing promoters & give strong direction to wayward hosts. Listening to vast quantities of music has to become second nature, as well as communicating your vision of the musical territories you’re trying to get your DJs & audience to explore.
QRD – What did you initially think you could accomplish as music director that having obtained the position became obviously impossible?
Joe – It was long ago, but I seem to recall that I was overly optimistic about my ability to influence my hosts’ song selections. The saying about being able to lead a horse to water comes to mind.
QRD – How much do you let your personal taste in music effect your station’s music?
Joe – It has to be front & center when selecting new music, without excluding obvious choices that have broad appeal. For example, I care little for Thom Yorke or Radiohead, but would never keep them from the control room. Same goes for latter day Moby, Bob Mould, Mike Doughty, & Stephen Malkmus. If I were to be programming a format that was distasteful, then there would have to be many times more the salary involved!
QRD – How have streaming online radio stations affected the purpose & competition for your station?
Joe – We stream as well, but so far haven’t offered an archive of our broadcasts. The future is here as far as the internet taking the lead from terrestrial radio. Many people now don’t even listen to radio in their car, one of the last bastions of FM. We still meet our goals during fundraising time, however, so our appeal remains quite strong even though our overall listenership is down just as all of radio’s listenership is down.
QRD – What are some things bands/labels can do to get on the fast track into rotation & to eliminate themselves from getting into rotation?
Joe – A good track record helps get the initial listen. Superior music gets them the spins. Every submission gets at least a short time being previewed to determine its relevance & overall worth.
QRD – Do you read the charts of other stations & if so how do they affect your charts?
Joe – I keep tabs on stations like WXYC & WPVM periodically to get an idea of what we may have missed, either from not getting a copy or having passed it over. It is good to know a little bit about what is popular here versus the outside world.
QRD – Do you solicit labels for servicing or just generally stick with who finds you?
Joe – I would be much more proactive in garnering music if I had the time. Reviews sometimes spur me to contact a new label or rep to get that music, as well as hearing about reissues that we weren’t serviced.
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?
Joe – As morning host, producer, & panelist on a daily music talk segment (What It Is, available for podcast at wncw.org) & volunteer trainer & coordinator, I have very little time left to talk to labels & promoters. We get way more good music than we can fit into our shelves.
QRD – What’s the longest time you feel comfortable keeping a record in rotation?
Joe – The largest window is several months, which is reserved for discs that chart #1. Typically heavy rotation discs get about two months before being put into the library.
QRD – Do you listen to & review the majority of records you receive yourself?
Joe – Yes, however I just found a volunteer host knowledgeable enough with time to spare, so he is starting to take up some of that slack. Dealing with 50 or more new releases weekly leads to a hair-trigger response to selecting & discarding, which isn’t always as accurate as getting longer listens.
QRD – How much control do you let individual DJs have over what they play & how do they deal with requests?
Joe – We ask that they play four cuts per hour of heavy rotation discs. Being volunteers on an overnight broadcast, they pretty much do what they want. The best hosts challenge themselves & the listeners with unfamiliar material both new & old while keeping an eclectic but entertaining mix going.
QRD – What’s the importance of specialty shows at your station?
Joe – Weekends on WNCW feature some of our highest rated shows with the most loyalty: Jazz & Beyond, Going Across the Mountain, Saturday Night House Party, Celtic Winds, Dubatomic Particles, Local Color, & This Old Porch.
QRD – How is your station involved in the local music scene?
Joe – We promote live music through a paid calendar & free online listings, as well as hosting live music weekly from Studio B. From time to time we set up a booth at festivals & emcee as well.
QRD – With your experience in radio, are you jaded or hopeful for the music industry?
Joe – Music will always be with us & my hope is that the industry remains viable. While many harbor hard feelings toward the major labels, the possibility of ISPs & tech companies inheriting their role is disquieting.
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?
Joe – No, we’re still playing CDs & will so for the foreseeable future.
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?
Joe – Getting live bodies to volunteer in such an out-of-the-way place as Spindale has always been a challenge. At least nowadays we don’t have to shut off our transmitter when no one is here. We use Audiovault to automate those nights & for syndicated programs like The World Cafe.
QRD – I know that some labels & promotional teams are pushing towards digital download links over physical copies. How do you feel about this?
Joe – I pay little attention to them as I still have 50 discs a week to deal with, however I make them available to our hosts, who often use them in their shows. When something like St. Vincent rises to the top, I get a copy or make one & put it into rotation.
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?
Joe – Last year the Led Zeppelin Mothership
comp & Joy Division live double disc went missing within a week of
being put in the control room, even with “WNCW” plainly Sharpied all over
them. I don’t mind people ripping a disc or three, but theft is still
as much of a headache as ever. Honestly, it makes me think twice
about pointing out music to people. In the past two weeks I lead
a trainee towards Masters of Reality’s Sunrise On The Sufferbus
& although he says he re-filed it, I’ve not seen it since.