by Fred Deane
If you know Kobe, you know he’s driven by pure passion, desire and dedication to doing his job. His insights about programming, music trends, social media and digital platforms are always informative and on point. There are no issues he shies away from, he’s known to confront challenges head on and be a measured problem solver in the spirit of forward progress and momentum.
His experience also speaks volumes as he has held assorted PD, APD, MD and air-talent positions at stations like WAPE/Jax, B94/Pittsburgh, WLDI/West Palm Beach, WFBC/Greensville and WPXY/Rochester.
Today he runs programming for iHeart’s Syracuse Top 40 outlet, WWHT/HOT 107.9, where the depth of his experience and programming knowledge has help guide him to that next level of accomplished PD’s.
What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your prior programming jobs that helped make you a better programmer today?
I have a great management team here at iHeart Syracuse. My VP Rich Lauber and Market President Rick Yacobush really are the best I have worked for. They’re the type of managers who know what their employees’ strengths are and put them in position to perform using those strengths. If I have learned anything from my past few stops, it has been how to be a better and more effective leader.
You’ve worked in a few markets throughout your career, do any of those markets mirror any of the nuances you have discovered about the Syracuse market?
Syracuse is a blue-collar market, people work hard for what they have and the money they earn. Some people are selective on where they spend it. It reminds me of Rochester, which I’m very familiar with since I was born and raised there, as well as have worked in the market. I also understand snow and cold weather which is why I think I actually got the job here (lol).
How does spinning at the clubs help you understand the temperature of the music that’s hot in your market?
Honestly, this is one of my biggest tools. I have two gigs a week, one is a teen night and one is more of an older crowd. To see the difference in their tastes is really an asset I don’t take for granted. I can see how the teen audience is so far ahead of the curve, and how long those same records take to “hit” with the older group. It’s like having two focus groups. It comes in handy when a label tells me their record is the hottest thing in the clubs. I have the real story, they can’t try to slip one past me.
You’re a big proponent of EDM music and its value for HOT 107.9. Do you think this trend continues at Top 40 radio in general and continues to flourish or does it start ebbing a little this year?
I love EDM personally and was so glad to see a lot of it become mainstream a few years ago. I don’t think the genre is trending down so much so as it has become mainstream. It has influenced the way a “straight ahead” Pop record sounds. I do think this year we will see more EDM and Hip-Hop collaborations. There were a few last year, and in the past 6-8 years EDM and Hip-Hop were the extreme musical styles in our format. I think it makes perfect sense that they start working together.
Your music passion has always preceded you as a programmer, how rewarded to do you feel when you become an early believer of a new artist that winds up delivering a big hit?
It honestly is one of the most gratifying feelings you can experience. I haven’t felt like I’ve had a real hand in contributing to breaking a new artist until this year with MAX. We were very early on MAX, not only “Lights Down Low”, but his first single as well. To see his record go top 10 and just now reaching platinum status is an amazing feeling. I am so proud of him, he’s like the station’s little brother.
What criteria do you look for when you decide to support a new artist, and is there something specific you look for with that artist?
As well as having a solid record, they have to have “it.” I know, that sounds very cliché and is one of those “I don’t know what it is, but I’ll know it when I see it” kind of things, but it’s the best way to explain it. MAX and Jordan Fisher both did shows for us in the past, and if you’ve ever seen them perform you just know they’re stars. It has not surprised me that either of them has found success and will grow to being even bigger stars.
Of all the cross-media platforms available to radio today, what do you think has especially strong value to enhance radio’s brand and the brand and exposure of air-talent?
I’m a huge believer in podcasts. I don’t see it as taking away from our brand, I see it as enhancing it. Podcasts are popular because when it comes to having the listener in mind, they do a better job at providing content. It’s the most convenient way to consume content. A listener can get exactly the content they want, when they want it. Also, they can stop it whenever they need and then come back and it’ll be right there waiting where they left off. Why chose not to embrace that? We need to have our brands relevant on all forms of media because each form of media or content distribution does the same thing, it builds our brand.
What are the advantages of working for iHeartMedia and the multitude of national resources they provide?
We have so many assets at iHeartMedia it’s really a privilege working here. In addition to our iHeartRadio branded tent pole events we have some of the best programmers in the country. Experts who share the belief that it’s very important to teach and share any insight with programmers that may not have as much experience as them. They really are only a phone call away. Also, our digital teams are amazing. We always have great digital content and are on the forefront of any technological advances.
Outside of radio, what are your main sources for inspiration on content and programming strategy?
I am a HUGE Gary Vee (Vaynerchuk) fan. He is so inspiring for me when I need a boost for content creation. Not just for our station’s brand, but our individual brands as well. Now more than ever we need to be personalities, that is what will separate us from our competition. How can we better document what we do every day and push it out as content? We are too close to what we do on a daily basis, even the most mundane and repetitive task to us is something extraordinary to our listeners. Why not share that with them? I think we need to encourage our personalities to be just that…personalities. Sometimes we need to go outside the industry to get some new ideas.
What is your opinion of artists who use awards shows as platforms to make social and/or political statements?
I’m all for it. I think that sometimes they give a voice to the voiceless. I get that some people don’t think it’s a place for political expression that will turn an awards show into something political, but somebody needs to do it when people are listening, because otherwise it’s falling on deaf ears.