by Fred Deane
After cutting his teeth as a jock, Mike McCoy launched his programming career in 2000 in his hometown of Binghamton, NY at STAR/WMRB. In 2002, PA radio called and Mike answered as he first programmed WLAN/Lancaster, and then a year later landed at WHKF/Harrisburg.
But it wasn’t until late 2004 that McCoy would land a gig in a market he is currently passionately attached to, Columbus, OH. Yes, in 2004, it was off to program WNCI, where he planted the seeds for the next level of programming steps his career would follow.
In 2009, iHeart shifted McCoy to WKQI/Detroit for a three-year stint, and then in 2012 it was a return trip to Columbus as OM of the entire cluster. A cluster that today incudes: WNCI, WCOL (Country), WZCB (Urban), WTBN (News/Talk), WODC (Adult Hits), WYTS (Hip-Hop throwback), and WXZX (sports Talk). McCoy’s oversight portfolio also includes the Cincinnati, Dayton and Chillicothe markets.
His current job title and scope accurately depict his successful ascension to the upper echelon of the iHeart programming ranks he’s achieved.
You have several responsibilities (and oversight) within your region. Let’s start with the Columbus cluster and the personnel involved in programming those stations?
I have a real good team in place in the iHeartMedia Columbus market. Mike Elliott programs WXZX and WTBN, and Dan Zuko programs WCOL which is a huge station in the cluster regarding its ability to generate revenue. I personally program WYTS and WNCI, and just recently Konata Holland became the PD for our Urban WZCB station. He is still in learning mode, so I do work closely with him right now.
How would you classify the synergy you have between you and your Columbus PD’s and how autonomously do they operate?
The team works together well and does a good job keeping me informed and communicating with everybody. Konata is still new in the position, so I tend to spend more time with him than the other guys. Mike Elliott and Dan Zuko are veterans with a good grip on their respective stations and the listeners they serve, so they operate pretty autonomously.
You’re the hands-on PD of WNCI, one of the industry’s most notable Top 40 leaders. How important is it that you maintain a concentrated effort on that station among all of your other cluster priorities?
WNCI is my day job. It’s the first thing I do every day and the last thing I look at before I go home. I also listen to WNCI the most. It’s a big revenue generator for us, so I want to make sure it is always running at peak efficiency.
I mentioned NCI as one of those leadership Top 40’s that other programmers follow closely. Do you feel NCI is a leadership station given all the respect it gets from both the radio and label communities?
People tell me this a lot, but honestly, I don’t really think about that. I just keep focused on how to bring the best station forward for our listeners, partners and community, and make sure we are doing what we need to do to keep WNCI competitive and successful.
You don’t hide your affection for Columbus. What attracts you the most about the market and what makes it unique?
It’s a hidden gem, and very different from a lot of cities north of the Mason-Dixon in that it’s growing at a tremendous rate. There is a vibrant downtown scene, plenty to do for families and singles, it’s easy to get around, AND we have the Buckeyes!
Venturing outside Columbus, how does the programming management structure unfold in the Cincinnati, Dayton and Chillicothe markets?
Similar to here. Solid programming leadership with Christina Wolford in Chillicothe, Jeff Stevens in Dayton and Scott Reinhart in Cincinnati. All of them know what they need to do to keep their markets running at a high level. They make my job easy.
Given all of your managerial responsibilities in multiple markets, what lessons have you learned as a manager and programmer since your days of single station involvement?
Hire good people and let them do their jobs. Judge them primarily by results. You can’t be intimately involved in every aspect of what they do, so don’t try. Trust is key.
Among the vastly talented programmers at iHeartMedia, who do you find yourself networking with the most and what have you gained from these relationships?
There are a TON of great programmers at iHeartMedia. Brian Michel in Atlanta, Tony Travatto in Detroit, Rich Davis in Minneapolis, Michael Jordan in Louisville, Tommy Austin in Chicago, etc. are all people I really respect and can bounce things off of. I also can’t forget guys like Tommy Chuck, Alex Tear, Dylan Sprague, Johnathan Shuford, Brian Mack and Maynard that are all very, very smart, as well as really good people. Plus, when you add in our incredible senior programmers likeGene Romano and John Ivey, you have a formidable team that can come up with solutions for any situation or issue.
What do you feel are the qualities you have imparted to this network group given your experience and the intuitive sense you have about programming?
They could answer that better than I can, but I would hope it’s a sense of stability and calm in chaos. It’s radio and if you are doing it right, there is a certain amount of frenetic activity, and that requires someone to keep people focused on what’s important for the stations and in life.
How important is it for programmers to use their innate programming skills to balance the science aspect of evaluating music for a market?
Using your gut feeling is just as important as all the other tools available to us these days. There will always be judgement calls to counter the science and you have to trust your knowledge of your market enough to make those calls.
An example I can turn to is Imagine Dragons “Whatever It Takes.” When I first heard the song, I thought it would be a #1 record and a great record for NCI. Fact is, it took forever to test unlike other Dragons’ singles. I didn’t get good research on it until a couple months in and I had it in power for six weeks. But I knew in my gut that this record is what NCI is all about, and it was the right thing to do to leave it in power for that period of time.
So, market and station awareness overrode the research and you were willing to trust your instincts.
I think that filter to know your market is constantly being reset if you’re keeping your ear to the ground. Because tastes and trends change over time, and markets ebb and flow regarding music tendencies. If you’re tuned into the market and you know your tendency may be to play Rock leaning songs, it doesn’t mean ALT crossovers are going to dominate your music mix. It’s a constant tweaking and resetting exercise you go thru for the right balance of Rock, Rhythm and core artists.
In terms of market awareness and the consumer data metrics available to PD’s, are you a believer that listeners discover new music from these sources or that radio is the prime discovery outlet for new music?
Radio will always be a leader in the music discovery process, it’s been proven over and over again simply by the rise in market reaction in those consumer metrics the more your station plays particular songs. It also depends on the nature of the record and the priority of the artist. I believe there is a certain degree of crossover between streaming and live broadcast listening. But there is no question that in order to introduce new music to the masses (more the 90 percent of the population that radio reaches weekly) you need radio’s reach.
Does it truly get back to the old adage of maintaining a balance of tools in your arsenal when evaluating new music?
I think we’re still discovering how much some of the new metrics should be influencing what we are doing. It is certainly better to have more info on how a record is being consumed so you can make the best decisions possible for your station.