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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 Max Martin of WUOG
April 2008

I’ll be honest, though I am aware of WUOG as being one of the indie radio power houses like WFMU & KDVS, I’ve not really ever been in touch with them as much as I’d like to be….

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

Max – This is the second year I’ve done it (though not in a row).  Mostly it requires a willingness to do gruelingly boring things (checking the mail three times a week, talking to promoters about crappy albums, listening to awful music 90% of the time) & the ability to convince others that you can do it well.  The only reason anyone would ever want to do this job is if they love music & their radio station.  A lot.

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

Max – Make sure everyone who submits music gets fair consideration, make sure that any good music that would fit into your programming gets a chance, make sure that no bad music makes it into rotation just because someone’s telling you it’s good, & make sure that no good music gets passed on just because someone’s telling you it’s bad.

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

Max – Difficult to say, since it’s been so long since I was a new MD.  I initially thought that there were lots of labels I liked who would send us music if they just knew we wanted it; but it turns out that many labels don’t have the resources, or just aren’t interested.

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

Max – I don’t let my preferences get in the way of decisions, but I do base them on what I think is just plain good or bad for the style of the music.  If I feel like I don’t have a good handle on a certain style, I ask someone who does (so if a Celtic folk power metal CD comes in, I’ll let our metal guy review it, since I probably won’t be able to tell very well how good it is).

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

Max – Not much, as far as I can tell.  Of course, we have 26,000 watts & have been around over 35 years, so we can afford to rely on our radio listener base.

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

Max – To get into rotation: Make good music.  That’s about all (for us).  Nothing can help you get in if you have bad music; but if you have good music, you can help yourself by signing to a good label.  Good labels have reputations that can be trusted, & we’re going to listen to releases from trustworthy labels (I would say trustworthy promoters, but those don’t exist) before we listen to releases from no-name vanity labels.  If you can’t get signed to a good label, you’re better off self-releasing than signing up with a vanity label or two-bit company.  We take D.I.Y. releases more seriously than something from a label that’s never released anything good.
To not get into rotation: Make bad music.  Send tons of irritating promotional material (anyone who sends folders full of photos & one-sheets will get their CD thrown out).  Put your image before your music.  Attempt to convince us that your music is good with quotes & hype instead of with music.  Any number of other things.

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

Max – No.  Our charts are based purely on actual airplay figures.  We do not “cook” our charts in exchange for free promo swag or to get on the good side of CMJ & CMJ promoters.  The only thing that affects our charts is the playlists of our DJs.

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

Max – We will solicit labels if they’re releasing something good that we want or that one of our DJs wants.  Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t; but it’s always nice when it does.

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?

Max – Direct with the label is ideal.  Promoters are paid to hype up every release, regardless of quality.  They are not trustworthy in terms of quality of music.  There are (maybe) 2 or 3 people I have talked to from promotional companies who seemed honestly concerned with music, rather than what chart position I was giving their albums.  People who work for labels tend to care more about the actual music.

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

Max – About 5 or 6 weeks.

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

Max – We (myself & the other MD, Claire) screen every CD we receive, an average of 90 per week.  About 60 - 70% of these we will be able to pass on during the initial listen.  The other CDs get reviewed, either by us or our staff, & a good 75% of what goes out for review eventually gets rotated.

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

Max – DJs are required to play a certain number of rotation cuts during a 2-hour shift, but we let them choose which albums.  The only other guidelines are that DJs cannot play any song that has been played in the last three days, & they cannot play more than 4 cuts from the “Big Releases” category (which is where we put big-name indie releases & albums that received 10 or more plays the previous week so that they don’t get overplayed).  Within this minimal structure, DJs have complete control over their shift.

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

Max – Specialty shows attract the most devoted listeners, & specialty show DJs are the source of most musical expertise.  They give us a go-to person for reviews of certain genres, & they give listeners consistency from semester to semester despite the high turnover inherent in an all-student-run station.

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

Max – We have two weekly local music shows with live in-studio performances from bands.  We also host benefit shows.  We have a separate local music director, since Athens has such a huge local scene.

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

Max – The music “industry” is an obstacle to music itself, but music will always be able to overcome it because people want to hear it & they want to play it & even if labels won’t sign bands they want & are busy promoting crappy ones; they will get to the music they want no matter what.

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

Max – Who knows.  I don’t plan on having anything to do with the industry (obviously), but maybe I will write some about it eventually.  For the time being, I’m too busy doing this.

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

Max – Best: Hearing good music.  Getting the chance to spread this good music.
Worst: Having to deal with industry shills promoting music they know to be bad.

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?

Max – We have extensive vinyl archives, & encourage the DJs to use them whenever possible.  If they don’t want to, there’s unfortunately nothing we can do about it.

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?

Max – We may be doing this in the future, but we aren’t now.  I would not feel comfortable with anything less than 192 kB/s compression - & NO joint stereo.  Joint stereo makes everything sound like a drill going into your ear.  Additionally, we do not compress our outgoing signal to participate in the “loudness war” like most other stations.

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?

Max – We don’t do it.  If you hear music on 90.5 FM, there’s a human being playing it.

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

Max – We don’t accept digital copies.  We can hardly keep up with the pace of physical releases we receive on a weekly basis, so there’s no way we’re going to do extra work.  The promoters are getting paid to do this, we are volunteers.  It’s not our job to distribute the music to ourselves.

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?

Max – Our CDs are the property of the station & they cannot be physically removed from the station, but whatever people want to do with their laptops while they are in the station is their business.

QRD – Anything else?

Max – Not that I can think of.

Official WUOG Website