by Fred Deane
Jagger has certainly acquitted himself well in building a successful radio career by being bold, ambitious and passionate. Getting a start in 1991 in his hometown of Youngstown, OH at WHOT, ignited the career fuse where his ambitious qualities were already on full display as he climbed the ladder from board op to PT jock to night guy/MD by 1997.
From there and in his words, “I did a lot of pawn jumping for a couple of years trying to find my way around the country.” From Birmingham to Mobile to Ft. Wayne, and then a noteworthy stop in Indianapolis to join RADIO NOW (2001) doing weekends and swing under David Edgar. Jagger continues, “WNOU really got me going, great radio station. That job really taught me how to be a better jock.”
Then he punched his ticket to Salt Lake City for a three-year stint with Jeff McCartney at KZHT as night jock/MD…and then to KC101 in New Haven (for the first time) as pm drive/MD, while also doing part-time at Z100/NYC.
After running back and forth between New Haven and NYC, Jagger landed a full-time gig at KTU in New York with Rob Miller in 2006, which ran for 10 tears, while adding Z100 MD duties in 2009.
In October of 2016 it was off to Hartford to assume the PD helm for both WKSS and KC101 where he is currently “having fun and doing the best I can” occupying the dual programming roles.
How do the two markets interrelate and what are the major differences in the two markets?
Hartford and New Haven have many similarities population-wise, but they also can be very different as well. For us, it’s all about strategy. Hartford is more of a typical Northeastern market where New Haven is more of a college town. The largest employer in New Haven is education with Yale and numerous other colleges there.
How much overlap do the stations have each other’s markets, and does this affect differentiation strategies between the two?
There’s a great deal of overlap of signals. KC101 has a very strong signal that covers most of the state of Connecticut. KSS’ signal covers the Hartford market and penetrates New Haven as well. With that in mind we try to make the stations different.
Strategically we program KSS as a true CHR where KC leans more Adult Top 40. Each station has its own lane. Adam Rivers (my APD/MD of both stations) got his start as an air personality in Hartford at KSS and has been with us since 2013 (based at KC101 with pm-drive hosting duties as well). He grew up in nearby Chicopee, MA, which is value added given his knowledge of the markets and the region.
Both stations have strong brands in their respective markets. What do you feel are the optimal methods to enhance the brands and stimulate growth in audience engagement overall?
We just try to be the best stations we can be, true to who we are. We have great heritage with both stations. KSS has been a CHR station since 1984 and KC101 just celebrated its 40th Anniversary as a CHR station. Today, we are in a more competitive battle than ever to grab as many ears as we can. Not only are we competing with other radio stations, we are competing with streaming, TV, NetFlix, video gamers and more.
We just have to continue to be the best place for our listeners to know that they’ll hear their favorite songs and also have the chance to connect with our air personalities as their Pop culture companions.
How driven are you by the analytical data that is now so pervasive and readily available to programmers regarding your evaluation of music?
Today we are fortunate to have so many great tools and great metrics, along with traditional callout, to help us determine what songs are hits for us here in Connecticut. It still takes a certain type of programmer that can read the metrics and still know how to use their gut and stay true to the core sound of the station. I’ve been blessed throughout my career to be the “music guy” on teams that I’ve been a part of. Music programming is my biggest strength.
Do any of the metric platforms influence you more than others as you prioritize meaningful data analysis?
As programmers today, we are fortunate to have the ability to observe songs react in real time. I think shazam and streaming information are very important tools for us to use in conjunction with traditional callout, for the more passive listener. The metric data available today is an instant snapshot of what our audience wants to hear. You can see certain songs grow quicker than others. These services are valuable tools in the instant gratification world we live in and I consider them very valuable to me as a programmer.
Given the proliferation and influence of DSP’s available to consumers, how aggressive should radio be in the new music discovery process?
Top 40 radio has always been about new music discovery blended with the listeners’ more comfortable favorite songs. Whether we make a decision on adding a new song based on existing metrics or use our gut on a new song that doesn’t have metrics yet, we always try to keep the station fresh. I think that’s what Top 40 listeners want. Hot music, Pop culture, what’s happening now.
You’ve consistently supported topically pertinent artists and songs regardless of artist history (like Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, BTS). Is this a trend that radio needs to embrace more to remain relevant in the music discovery process?
Yes, we should always be aware of new artists with strong metrics. The labels are getting better at identifying artists like Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, BTS, and also Lizzo as another example of an artist that has broken out this past year.
As for Billie, she sounded so different to many of us but we could judge by the metrics that our audience was passionate about her. We had to get a piece of that! We played “Bad Guy” and “When The Party’s Over” early and often. Now “Bad Guy” is researching as a Power.
“Old Town Road” has been the surprise hit of the year so far. We were virtually forced to play the song because of metrics. Team Columbia saw the numbers early on and fought the battle to get radio to respond and congrats to them on breaking the record for the most weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. BTS has passionate fans but they just haven’t had the same chart success as the other two. We played BTS early because we knew the passionate fans were there.
Lizzo is another great example where “Truth Hurts” had early metrics from Netflix exposure with sales, shazam and streaming. Now Lizzo is a power or sub-power for almost everyone in the country.
As Top 40 programmers, I believe it’s part of our job to help find and expose the future stars or future smash hits for our format. I got into this business because I was passionate about music and that has not changed.
You describe your weekly Weekend Throwdown syndication program as, “A four-hour non-stop Pop culture party!” How does this program help keep you informed about various Pop culture trends?
Working on The Weekend Throwdown with Jagger has always been fun for me. We are always doing our best to have great content on our show, from our music, to our interviews, to our features. If it’s happening in the entertainment world we talk about so it’s very natural for the show to help me stay on everything about Pop culture moments.
What have been the positive supportive effects of your syndication show on your programming abilities in general?
When I started doing the show, it was the only time in my career that I wasn’t involved in day-to-day programming. I was just the night time personality on 103.5 KTU, and it would be almost a year until I would become the Music Director at Z100. I still wanted to be a programmer so working on The Weekend Throwdown with Jagger was a way to keep me involved in music and programming and also allowed me the opportunity to achieve a major goal of mine to host a nationally syndicated show.
Throughout your storied career, you’ve worked with several accomplished programmers. Who have influenced you the most and what were your takeaways from those individuals?
I believe that every opportunity presents itself as a lesson on how to learn, grow and get stronger. I started my career in my hometown of Youngstown at WHOT with a great mentor named Tom Pappas. Tom taught me all of the basics and helped me get stronger in every way as a jock. David Edgar, who I worked with at WNOW (then WNOU/Indianapolis) helped make me become an even stronger jock on the air. Jeff McCartney at KZHT/Salt Lake City helped me learn programming tools that still help me today.
Of course, I’m blessed to have had the chance to learn from Tom Poleman, Sharon Dastur and Mark Medina while serving as the Music Director at Z100. Also in New York City, Rob Miller, my Program Director at WKTU, helped shape me into an even stronger jock and overall radio professional.
My current boss Dave Symonds (SVPP for Hartford and New Haven) has also been a great mentor in helping me make the adjustment from being a Music Director in NYC to a Program Director today in Hartford and New Haven.
How important (and influential) was working in the Z100/KTU environment for all those years and being so close to one of the central hubs of iHeartMedia in NYC?
It was very influential on me in many ways, professionally and personally. Having the opportunity to work with so many great programmers and personalities at both WKTU and Z100 was the best way to learn and take myself to another level. I loved being involved and helping with the day-to-day programing of Z100. What an amazing brain-trust and team! Plus, I loved hosting a live night show in market #1 at 103.5 KTU.
It was the ultimate boot camp for me, just listening and observing how people I admire go about their days. It was not easy for me to leave completely. I still do one weekend shift a month at Z100. Working at iHeart New York really did prepare me, like no other place could, for the next step in my career here in Connecticut.