by Fred Deane

Matt Johnson

MJ arrived in Salt Lake City back in February of 2012 and instantly recognized the competitive race he was entering. After all, there were already a host of HAC and AC signals, and a very formidable Top 40 iHeart station in KZHT. Five years later, this competitive market got even hotter with Cumulus’ entry into the Top 40 arena, as Power 94.9 signed on earlier this year.  

In March of 2016 the lengthy and arduous process over acquiring a new frequency (105.1) came to fruition giving the station more strength and reach in the market adding another weapon to the arsenal of Mix’s make-up.


What were the biggest challenges behind the frequency change last year?
Obviously, moving the cume to preset the new frequency was the first challenge. Not only did we spend money on outside marketing (for those who both knew and didn’t know the station), but we did cash contesting incentivizing listeners to “Make the switch, with Mix, to 105.1.”

How did the availability of the new frequency becoming a full market signal materialize?
The funny thing about the 105.1 frequency becoming a full market signal for Salt Lake City is that it was about a decade long process, that started years before even KUDD was to become the recipient of it.  There were literally over dozens of other radio station moves, in multiple states, that had to happen over a process of years. In the months leading up to the final FCC approvals, we would prepare and then be pushed back.  Prepare again, and then be pushed back.  We’d had the product dialed in to where we wanted it for months before the change.

You’re in a cluster along with Rhythmic and ALT stations. How does each of those stations effect the mix of your music?
With SLC having soooo many radio stations, just about every musical lane is filled.  Alternative KXRK and Rhythmic KUUU have to be authentic to the formats that they are executing.  With KUDD, it’s more about playing the absolute best of what’s available.  There are local benchmarks on songs that we watch for which are indicators that it’s time for KUDD to pull the trigger on a song crossing from one of our sister stations.

You’re among a pretty crowded field of Top 40 and HAC stations in the market. How do the stations differentiate themselves among each other?
I’m not sure how deep I want to get into this, but I will say that there are some veteran programmers in a very crowded market here.  I have a healthy amount of respect for the competition. That being said, if you really want to understand the differences between all these CHR-type stations, come live in beautiful Utah.  #UtahIsRad

What characteristics of SLC make it such a unique market, and how does it impact your programming philosophy?
With a CHR specifically, Salt Lake’s Pop culture tastes tend to be a bit more polarized than other markets I’ve programmed in like Ft. Myers/Naples, Dayton, Jackson and Syracuse.  There’s a very strong religious culture here that people (at least publicly) have to abide by.  I’ve also learned that the universe tends to balance itself out.  The counter-culture also asserts its voice.  It’s obvious that the great SLC radio stations, over the years, have found the balance. 

How would you rate the music passion level of the SLC Pop audience, and which artists seem to draw the biggest plaudits across all genres of music?
I feel like countless labels are always telling us things like, “Well you know, SLC is so-and-so’s biggest market.”  The funny thing is, it’s usually true.  I don’t know the exact statistics, but SLC is one of the youngest markets in the country.  Mormons make big families.  So that population drives a passionate music scene across many genres.  Fortunately for KUDD, a lot of those artists are in our lane.  Groups like OneRepublic, Imagine Dragons, as well as Disney acts (and former Disney acts turned Pop stars) all seem to be loved by the masses of SLC.

Given the emphasis placed on of all the available metrics these days, could an overreliance of these metrics lead to all stations mirroring each other a bit too much?
I’ve been a PD since 2002.  There’s always been some type of music data to look at, from callout, to the “street sheets” that Jerry Clifton wanted me to do, phone requests (back when they were relevant), to social media (you better know the real from the fake), from Soundscan, to today’s consumption metrics.
No matter how much you trust all that data, you must blend it with your gut as a programmer.  Dom Theodore calls it “educated gut.”  I think if you have three radio stations all playing the same exact songs in a market, you’d better find other areas to stand out.  It’s just like having three restaurants serving the same food.  Over time, the preparation of the product, the ambiance of the brand, and the personality of the entity will sort them out.

How do you envision terrestrial radio trending with regards to all of the other digital entertainment options available to consumers these days?
We have to burn our ships right?  There’s no going back, and let’s be honest, in 20/25 years you won’t drive or own a car.  You’ll Uber (or whatever it is then) and get driven by your robot driver to your destination.  If radio doesn’t take the time it has left to be MORE than a music delivery system…we’re toast.  We must develop talent who engage listeners (in all facets)!  That emotional connection is the answer. It always has been in show business, if that’s what radio wants to continue doing.

What is the biggest challenge the medium (in general) faces among the customized digital options consumers have today at their disposal?
It remains to be seen if the collective stewards of radio will allow it to survive.  The digital age is disrupting so many industries.  Some radio stations were started in the 1920s by newspapers who were worried radio might replace the newspaper.   Many media companies are trying to figure out how to take radio brands and continue to put them where people’s attention is.  That’s the challenge that needs to be navigated.

You have been pro-active with artist initiatives in the market. What have been some of the more memorable artist events the station has executed over your time spent there?
During our #105DaysOfLove campaign (where we did three months of random acts of kindness for others), we had Sabrina Carpenter visit the local children’s hospital.  It was an emotional experience for everyone involved, from the kids, to the hospital workers, to the radio station staff, to Sabrina’s handlers, to Sabrina herself.

All photos copyrighted by: Mallory Fraughton, Nick Wimmer. For more photos click here.  

What are the most important qualities that mutually must exist to ensure a productive radio/label relationship?
The Sabrina Carpenter day was a great example of a productive radio/label relationship working the way it should.  Ultimately both music and radio need that emotional connection to real people to continue thriving going forward.  Anytime radio uses a label, or a label uses radio to connect real people to the music (art) they love, it’s a win for everyone.  If both sides can stay focused on connecting those dots, we’ll all matter well into the future.

Given the fact that we now (more than ever) live in an on-demand world and consumers are controlling their entertainment choices, how can radio convert millennials into loyal listeners?
You have to package your product in the manner the customer wants and make sure you are available where they want you.  You had better be “reverse engineering your shit” as Gary Vaynerchuck says or you’re already behind.  The best commercial media starts at the end users experience and adapts it backwards from there.  So find out what millennials are attracted to and deliver.  

Do you think the industry is doing its best regarding career interest to recruit millennials to possibly offer the medium an alternate perspective on attracting their peers?
You see all this data on how millennials are into podcasting.  Yet only NPR has figured out podcasting.  Fred Jacobs is right, we need to sprint to make the “podcasting” a high priority part of what we do.  It’s audio entertainment (no matter how you package it), and that’s where we will need to continue living in the future.
Letting the RIGHT millennials, who can understand radio’s challenges, have creative input is critical.  There are NOT as many entry level positions as there were 5, 10, 15 years ago.  But there are still entry positions.  Find the millennials and/or GenZ kids who are going to take radio into the next thing, and bring them into your meetings!  It’s just audio entertainment, and it’s just our industry’s future!  No pressure!!