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QRD #39 - April 2009
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Melissa Spence Gardner of XO
Lisa Uber of WRSU
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Interview with WRSU Music Director Lisa Uber
January 2009

Lisa Uber is the music director at WRSU.  Sheís a busy lady, so her interview came in a bit late to us for the radio special.  I hope you enjoy the interview & if you havenít read the special, you may want to check our archives.

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

Lisa Ė I was asked to fill in for the previous MD during a meeting, then I was asked how Iíd feel about being the next MD.  Up to this point I hadnít considered it, especially given that Iíd been at the station only about a year.  Iím not sure if anyone else wanted to do it & I ran unopposed in the elections, so I see it as a matter of timing & background (Iíve been DJing since 1988 & have always loved music, all types of music).

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

Lisa Ė I think a good music director has to love the music.  Loving the music includes: making sure a variety of new releases get out to the DJs as quickly as possible; having good relationships with the people who make, send, play, & listen to the music; having an open ear to all submissions whilst being mindful of the stationís reputation/identity; making sure charting gets done (if your station does charting), & taking care of the music thatís at the station.

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

Lisa Ė Our music library is busting at the seams, & it seemed to make sense to reorganize this over the summer while school wasnít in session for most people... but that didnít happen.  We got a lot done, but I thought people would be more into helping out or available than they were.  So itís gonna take a bit longer, but weíll get there eventually!

QRD Ė How much do you let your personal taste in music affect your stationís music?

Lisa Ė Iíve always loved electronic music, especially the type that doesnít have words.  I get to indulge this a bit by also being the RPM Director at our station.  I donít expect or wish that everyone would be into electronic music, but itís nice when musical tastes overlap because then maybe you have someone to hang or go to shows with.  That said, I allow myself some guilty pleasures in celebrating certain releases we get, but I donít tell people what to play or manipulate the data from our charts to my tastes.  There are also other music directors & DJs who make decisions about the music that makes it into our playlist, so itís never all about my opinion or taste.

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

Lisa Ė Iím not sure because our online stream was setup prior to my arrival at the station.  We broadcast to a local geographic region & have an online stream that listeners can tune in to.  Itís a great thing to be able to get our broadcast online - we can reach people who otherwise may have no access to our broadcasts.  I donít think we compete with other stations - thatís not part of our mission.  Instead we focus on being the best college radio station we can & have been operating since 1948.

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

Lisa Ė Oh, wow... I could write a lot here, but Iíll behave myself!  Getting our attention: mail us CDs of your music, tell us if any tracks are FCC dirty, & sound awesome no matter what style you have.  Losing our attention: e-mail me giant mp3 files that waste my time in downloading my webmail, send goofy glossy photos & posters of your band along with an expensive press kit to try to make up for your music being awful, send CDs of music where most tracks arenít FCC clean, try to get my favor by telling us how many MySpace friends you have... you get the idea.

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

Lisa Ė I see the CMJ charts, but not charts for other stations.  Once in a while I might see DJ charts online, but I never look for charts.  We are really busy at the station & honestly I donít have time to read other peopleís charts.  So Iím gonna say that other peopleís charts have little or no effect on our charts when it comes to me & my job.  That said, itís possible that our DJs look at charts.  They are much more hip than I am.  :-)

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

Lisa Ė Weíve been around a long time (60 years) so we have a good base of stuff that comes in from people who already know & take good care of us.  A few times a month Iíll hear of something new or try to find music on a particular label, so in these cases Iíd solicit labels directly.

QRD Ė 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?

Lisa Ė It seems to be a bit of both with our station.  Iím still getting the hang of this because there are so many people we work with.  Both the labels & promoters who send us stuff treat us very well.

QRD Ė Whatís the longest time you feel comfortable keeping a record in rotation?

Lisa Ė 3 months.

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

Lisa Ė I listen to all the RPM (electronic) releases plus a few from the other CMJ categories if I either know of them or something about them relates to something Iím interested in.  We listen to music as a large group once a week to decide whatís going into rotation.

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

Lisa Ė Our DJs are free to pick & play whatever they like so long as itís FCC clean.  We ask non-specialty DJs to pick at least half of their tunes from new releases.  Each DJ deals with requests differently depending on the show type.  In general, listeners call in & the DJ either gets the music from new releases, his or her own music, or the stationís library.

QRD Ė Whatís the importance of specialty shows at your station?

Lisa Ė Specialty shows make up a large percentage of our weekly shows.  The variety offered by these shows is especially important given we are located within a university with one of the largest & most diverse student populations on the east coast.

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

Lisa Ė Very involved.  Our Music Director Emeritus co-hosts a longstanding weekly music show called Overnight Sensations featuring local bands performing live in our studios.  He also is connected to many local venues where artists play & helps to keep the station focused on supporting & building the local music scene.  Others at the station also support the local music scene & we constantly have local music in active rotation.

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

Lisa Ė I was never interested in radio before being introduced to the station by a long time friend who is also a DJ at WRSU-FM.  Since joining the station Iíve enjoyed radio a lot & feel hopeful for the music industry, mainly because most of the students who become DJs really know & like the music, & theyíre a lot younger than me.  This is a great sign that people still love music.  As long as people love & want music, there will be some sort of music industry.

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

Lisa Ė Itís a one year elected position, so who knows what will be for next year.  If I do a good job this year & still have energy left, maybe Iíll go for it again.  Iím glad to have tried this out & do enjoy it, even in the rough moments.  Iíll always be connected to music, I feel in some ways itís the glue that keeps my life going.  I donít have any specific plans other than to keep listening & playing music as often as I can.

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

Lisa Ė One of the best parts of my job is getting to open packages containing new music every week.  Sometimes it feels like a holiday, especially when we get stuff in that I really dig!  Another best part is being around the diverse group of people at the station.  We have a large volunteer staff made up of all types of people with many different talents.  Iíve also enjoyed talking with many of our label & promo people - some are really funny & cool.  The worst part is that sometimes everyone is busy & few people show up to help with reviewing & processing the music or doing other work at the station.  This makes the amount of time I need to devote sometimes increase hugely, which is difficult to manage with work & school.  Itís also exhausting!

QRD Ė 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?

Lisa Ė Personally Iím not a big fan of using digital files & prefer a more tactile experience of using CDs or vinyl to play music, but it doesnít matter to me what formats DJs prefer to use as long as itís broadcast quality (they have many options).  During training our DJs must learn how to use CDs & vinyl.  Once they are certified & receive their own radio shows, they can do their shows however they like using any format.  If they are playing 50% new music then they are playing a few CDs on their shows (because the new music is on CD format).

QRD Ė 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?

Lisa Ė We donít currently have a digital catalog & likely wonít for the foreseeable future.  Most all of our music arrives via CD & DJs play primarily CDs & vinyl on their shows.  We do have some DJs that use computers or portable MP3 devices to play digital files.  Once in a while if I canít get music through any other source than digital, Iíll download & then burn to CD.  For broadcast quality we ask for 320 kbps, wav, or FLAC files.

QRD Ė 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?

Lisa Ė We do run automation & I feel this is an important part of keeping our station continuously on the air.  Currently the automation selects material to play in a random manner from folders on a hard drive.  Iím not sure what program is being used, however we are in the process of updating this along with our FM studio.

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

Lisa Ė Weíre not setup to handle digital downloads & files well right now.  Labels & promo people do send me digital stuff weekly, but I often donít have the time or resources to download & burn to CD.  All of our contacts know that we prefer to get physical CDs - so if they want something considered for airplay in almost all cases they send us a physical copy.

QRD Ė 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?

Lisa Ė When I joined the station I heard stories of theft having taken place in the past, but I havenít seen much of it since Iíve been there.  DJs arenít permitted to remove music from the station & typically access the library during their weekly shows.  They can come to the station to listen to music whenever they want, but they arenít permitted to steal it.

QRD Ė Anything else?

Lisa Ė Thanks for the chance to participate!

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