by Fred Deane
Rich Davis entered the business in 1992 with CRB Broadcasting in Allentown, PA at the legendary WAEB/B104. A part-time gig at (Pyramid’s) STAR 104 in Philly led to a permanent position in his first major market. Ironically enough, both stations are now owned by iHeartMedia, a company Rich would be spending the next 21 years (and counting) with.
Subsequent lessons learned and valuable experiences throughout his career would lead him on a very successful course as a programmer and manager of radio stations and clusters that currently has him ranked as one of iHeart’s most prized and diligent programming minds.
You have a very intriguing background in the business. Going back to your earlier years in the nineties, you cite your two-year tenure at STAR 104 in Philly as one of your more memorable moments in your career. Can you elaborate on that?
I learned so much back then through all the people I was lucky enough to get to work with. I had been driving down from Allentown every week for my Saturday and Sunday shifts and (PD) Chuck Knight saw enough in me to give me the fulltime shot as the APD/MD and night guy. Best night show I ever had since I was only on from 6p-9p prior to our Between The Sheets show. What I had no idea of was all of the people I was going to get a chance to work with and learn from. I was still a young guy back then, so to be in a room with who I counted as some of the biggest and best programming minds in radio was a huge opportunity for me.
How did each of these people influence you and what were your main takeaways from those relationships?
A ton of talented programmers and consultants were brought in to help out with the station. That was the first time I met Guy Zapoleon, much of what he taught me back then are the principles by which I program today. I got to meet and work with Steve Rivers and always remember him saying, “Just play the hits.” I also got a chance to work with Dave Allan who not only was one of the best programmers, he was also one of the best people you could work for.
It was also the first time I met Cadillac Jack, Darren Davis and Kurt Johnson. I was just taking it all in. Not all experiences were good ones though, so some of what I learned back then was what not to do which became useful once I eventually became a Program Director.
After Philly, your love affair with Minneapolis began. What were the circumstances leading to your first gig at KDWB?
Dan Kieley had just left Minneapolis for KIIS in LA and Rob Morris was moving up from APD/MD to PD and needed to fill his position. It was perfect timing for me because after my couple years in Philly I was looking for a move back into CHR. Robbie and I hit it off on my trip into Minni and we were able to put the deal together. It was a crazy time though because Mandi and I were about to be married. I signed the contract to go to Minneapolis on my wedding day while at my in-law’s house. Nothing like getting married, getting a new job and moving to Minneapolis all at the same time!
You then headed to Nashville for an eleven-year stint, first as PD of WRVW and then spending your last 5 years as cluster OM. What makes both Nashville and The River such special places to be?
Honestly it was a couple things. First of all Nashville is a GREAT town and apparently everyone and their cousin knows this now because the place has continued to explode since I left. Our quality of life was amazing, the music scene is awesome, people are great, schools, housing, restaurants, I mean you name it, we loved it there and still go back to visit friends and old co-workers.
Secondly, the station people were also great. The staff I was lucky enough to inherit (Woody and Jim) or hire while I was there, really became a family. I know it sounds cliché but I loved those guys and gals and still do. It was one of those times in your career that doesn’t happen but maybe once or twice. We had a blast and were able to do some pretty big things in that town for a lot of years like my yearly Acoustic Christmas show which featured everyone from Lady Gaga to Maroon 5 to Kesha.
You mentioned the impressive music scene, just how enveloped can one get in Music City?
I just loved how on any given night you could be in the smallest place and have the biggest star onstage. Everyone was down to earth and seemed as legitimately happy to meet you as you were to meet them. You could meet a friend for dinner and while there be introduced to one of his friends who just happened to be the guy that co-wrote “I Swear.” Or be at a house party in line to grab some food at the buffet and realize that John Oates from Hall and Oates is standing next to you. Or meet Mark Slaughter at a Janet Jackson show and a few years later end up on tour with the band for a few dates (crazy dream come true). All those things happened to me while I was there!
In 2012, it was time for round-two in Minni where you went back as PD for a 3-year stretch. What significant professional changes did you experience after being away for over a decade?
I was a totally different programmer, probably not philosophically different, but from an experience level I was light years ahead of where I was the first time. Definitely from a talent coaching perspective. That’s one of those things that only experience can teach you. We all grow wiser with age and our experiences both good and bad. Honestly growth comes more from the bad experiences or the scenario’s that you reflect back on and think that you could’ve done better with this or maybe I should’ve done it this way.
In Nashville I was able to run a very mainstream CHR and I think I brought those sensibilities back to KDWB as the PD which makes sense when you look at the demographics and psychographics of the Minneapolis market.
In 2015 you uprooted and went to Seattle as SVPP of the iHeart cluster. You accomplished something very unprecedented there, can you explain that phenomenon?
It was certainly a challenging time and I did an extraordinary amount of work, flipping four stations on the same day which I honestly don’t think has ever been done before. Given the competitive landscape, we needed to make some bold moves at the time with the cluster. Obviously, many things have changed since then and our cluster has been reinvigorated once again out there.
Fifteen months later you were headed back to Minni for a third round! Honestly Rich, what’s the attraction?
The opportunity presented itself, and for a lot of reasons personally and professionally, I jumped at the chance. Jeff Tyler the Market President here and I had worked together in the late 90’s when I left KDWB the first time to be his PD at Z104 in Madison. Plus, the opportunity to sort of come back to a town that feels like home and have my kids back in schools they knew with friendships that had already been established was important and appealing. I also missed my Minneapolis team, and to be working again with SVPP Gregg Swedberg, Dave Ryan, Falen and Steve O, Paul Fletcher and the Cities 97 team, along with my right hand for all our events and promotions Barb Neren, was great. The company was gracious enough to have me back here and sort of pick up where I had left off. It’s crazy that I’ve been back for over two years already and I’m so grateful.
Speaking of Dave Ryan, he just celebrated a pretty momentous anniversary, can you tell us about that?
Dave is amazing, he just celebrated 25 years as the morning man for KDWB. Hard enough to just be in the business all those years but to do it in morning drive at the same station in the same market and compete at a consistently high level is incredible. I can say too he’s just as energized today as he was in the 90’s when we worked together. He’s always coming up with wacky ideas for his show and even for the station.
On top of that we’ve all worked with people in this business who are not so nice but Dave has maintained his drive, success and connection not only with the audience but with other people on the staff as well. He’s a very willing and great teacher for the younger talent on his show. I’m lucky to be the PD that gets to work with him every day.
You’ve recently stepped out on a couple of interesting tracks on your HAC (Cities 97) by Bad Wolves and Weezer. Were they more about gut and feel?
It’s still an art you know. Sometimes you hear a song and think I just have to hear that on the radio. Interesting that they are both remakes but the vibes of those records are very cool. I actually just had the Bad Wolves guys in the other week for a Studio C and Tommy and Doc were great guys. Even though they’re really a metal band they stripped it down and were able to really showcase the kind of talents they are.
So cool when you play a song on air, it connects with your audience, and you’re able to put that act in front of listeners for a live show. It’s honestly one of my favorite things to do. Plus the fact that the proceeds of that song are going to Dolores’ Kids, showcases what kind of humans they are.
Weezer has been part of the 97.1 frequency going back years even when we were a Triple A. As for “Africa,” is there a better Pop song than “Africa” by Toto? Their remake is close to the original with just enough Weezer in it to make it cool for 2018. Another one I couldn’t wait to hear on the air. Bad Wolves has been stuck inside the top 6 in sales for weeks and weeks, and Weezer was #5 this week.
When you hear general talk about how Pop music is faltering or in a down cycle right now, how do you react?
I think it’s two things. Yes, Pop music is in a down cycle, as Guy (Zapoleon) says the doldrums, so you have to be even more discerning about the records you put on your radio station. What I hate is when that seems to become the excuse for ratings to be down. That’s when you really earn your money. We still have huge artists with big hits and I’d choose a down cycle with Ariana, Maroon 5, Camila, The Dragons, Taylor and some of our other big acts, any day.
If you were to advocate for radio’s importance in the entertainment matrix among all other digital options, what would be your strongest case?
How long have “they” been saying that commercial radio is over? How many competitors do we have to take on and maintain or even grow against before the naysayers stop it? We are still number one for music discovery, that moment when we play a new song that the majority of the audience hasn’t heard yet, that moment of wow!
Plus, people come to us for the music, the fun, the DJ’s and the giveaways for sure, but they also come for the companionship. To feel like they are not alone, to hear that our talent gets stuck in the 35W road construction just like they do, that we’re paying attention to the raccoon on the UBS building just like they are, that we’re here to help those less fortunate through the holiday season with Dave Ryan’s Christmas Wish, that we support local nonprofits and charities with our Cities Sampler. We still offer things in a full complement that other mediums can’t.
iHeartMedia employs some of the most accomplished programmers in the business and you’ve work with and alongside many of them. Can you describe this richly talented environment of programmers?
Well I’ve already talked about Guy and the programming fundamentals he instilled on me years ago. I enjoyed working with Jon Zellner who was my SVPP while I was in Nashville. Of course, John Ivey is a huge resource. The cool thing is just seeing the talent across the board in this company when we have our music summits. Knowing that I can, at any moment, pick up the phone and call my current EVP Tony Coles, or fellow programmers like Patrick Davis, Tony Travatto, or Mike McCoy to brainstorm or whatever is a huge asset.
You’re a renowned fan of eighties “Hair-Band” Rock. What made these bands so appealing to you at the time and give us your Top 5 Hair-Bands of all-time?
I think a lot of it was just timing. I was 11-years-old when Def Leppard released “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” and that band was with me through all my formative years with some of the biggest songs ever. Amazing songwriting, Mutt Lang production, Joe’s vocals, Phil and Steve’s guitar, Rick’s drums, and Sav’s bass. I mean what was not to like? Obviously I loved the music but I also would’ve given anything to be Joe Elliot or Kip Winger back in those days. Those guys just exuded cool to me. As for my top five hair bands: (1) Def Leppard (2) Motley Crue (3) Poison (4)Bon Jovi (5)Cinderella.
Rich’s Recent Artist Gallery!