When iHeartMedia needed a programming ace to take the reins of two of its most valuable assets, they called on Tommy Chuck to tackle the challenge, and after spending eight years at WFLZ/Tampa he was certainly up for the task. So a year after his arrival in D.C., CHR WIHT/HOT 99.5 and Country outlet WPOC/Baltimore are operating in the highly successful manner in which they both have grown accustomed to.
You spent eight years at WFLZ and have such strong bonds with that station that many thought you would never leave Tampa. What were the most compelling factors that lured you to D.C.?
I certainly was blessed to build very strong bonds with the team at WFLZ and WMTX. After eight years, I just felt that for both me and the radio station, it was time to turn the page. The right step-up came along and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to continue to grow my skills and career. Adding experience in the Country format was a big growth opportunity, as well as working daily with the nationally syndicated Kane Show and Country Radio Hall of Fame member Laurie DeYoung.
In taking over the programming at HOT what branding similarities does the station share with FLZ that have contributed to the success of both stations?
The Kane Show in the morning is obviously a huge part of the success of both stations. Beyond mornings, both stations also have a legacy of allowing big personalities across all day-parts the freedom to be creative entertainers.
HOT is pretty unique in that all of your personalities (save Seacrest in mid-days) are locally based with no (other) air talent or programming importation of content. How central of a feature is this in the overall success of the station?
I believe that the quality of the content is more important than the location of the creator. That said, I’m blessed to have content creators housed right here in D.C. that are some of the very best. My job is to give them the environment, tools and resources to maximize their talent.
HOT’s talent line-up is very solid. What are the strongest assets of your staff that truly differentiates them from anyone else on the radio during their given day-parts?
The Kane Show is as real as it gets. Kane, Danni, John, Rose and Erick are always right on target and keep things moving in the morning. Each cast member represents a different segment of the audience and they do a great job demonstrating that the show appeals to many different types of people in a real natural way.
Toby Knapp is a future hall-of-fame talent who is always looking for what’s next. D.C. is the worst city for traffic in America and his traffic reports are famous! Our night host, Elizabethany is special. She’s local and IS the target demo. She’s amazingly talented on all platforms and does all the stuff that most just talk about doing. They are all so coach-able and this team really is a dream to coach.
I just mentioned the names most people know, but I’m blessed to have an all-star group of role players like Kim Wood and Sydney Galkin who are promotion Rock-stars. Darrin Marshall produces our imaging and does an incredible job keeping us sounding fresh. Jerry Houston leads our digital efforts and has helped us grow our audience on all platforms.
You are also programming Country stalwart WPOC in Baltimore. What have been the biggest challenges as a hands-on PD of a station in a format you haven’t previously dealt with?
The dual role was one of the most appealing things about the opportunity iHeartMedia presented me with. The biggest challenge is that literally everything is different and there is only one Tommy. On a daily basis I am responsible for the programming of two different stations, in two different cities, with two completely different formats and two completely different teams. I really have to lean on technology and surround myself with GREAT teams in order to succeed. I’m lucky to have strong help on both sides.
What conceptual similarities have you discovered between the Top 40 and Country formats as your experience continues to grow in the new format?
Play the hits, have great air personalities, do great promotions, find creative ways to market ourselves, serve the community, be available everywhere the audience wants and expects…and have fun. The formula is the same. The ingredients are just different.
What have you discovered about yourself as a programmer operating in these two distinctly different markets and formats?
This unique challenge has helped me become better at prioritizing, delegating and coaching leaders among the team. I thought I was good at those things coming in, but I’ve really had to step up my game.
Given the vast number of quality programmers and managers at all levels of your company you get to interact with, what are the takeaways from these relationships that have helped you grow as a PD?
I’ve been blessed throughout my 15+ year history with iHeartMedia to have great support from my managers. Meg Stevens and Thea Mitchem are both great resources. In addition, former program director of HOT 99.5 Mark Medina and CHR Brand Manager John Ivey are always just a quick phone call away. I wouldn’t be where I am today without great coaches pushing me to improve. They continue to help me get better.
John Ivey has taken me under his wing over the last five years. He’s a hillbilly like me, so we relate well to each other. He has taught me how to have a million plates spinning in the air at the same time and handle them all calmly. Marc Chase taught me that I am creative and still inspires me to try and find the edges. Dennis Clark has taught me so much about coaching talent. Meg Stevens, Clay Hunnicutt, Gator Harrison, Rod Phillips, Michael Bryan, Travis Daily and a long list of others have taught me so much in the last year about the Country format. I have grown close to WZFT Baltimore PD Rob Kruz. I stay friends with him because I will likely be working for him one day. He reminds me of a younger version of me. I’m so excited to watch his career continue to grow.
You have a very close relationship with your predecessor Mark Medina. How often do you interact with him and in what ways has he helped in you in the transition process?
Mark and I interacted for the first time when he got to D.C. and quickly grew our relationship primarily because of the fact that we shared a morning show. Mark is a great programmer and I admire his work very much. That said, Mark Medina is an even better man and the things I respect most about him are how he loves his wife and kids and always puts them first. He provides a great example and he always gives wise council. I’m proud to call him a friend.
As forward thinking and pacesetting as iHeartMedia has been and continues to be, what do you feel are the distinct advantages for programmers who work in such a stimulating paradigm?
The environment never allows you to get lazy. It always challenges you as a leader and fosters rapid career growth. I’m a great example. Fifteen years ago, I was a baby PD in Chattanooga, TN. Four stops later, I am programming in a major market. If you want to truly be the best, THIS is where you have to be.
You’ve been in D.C. for just about a year now. Can you contrast the cultural differences between the Tampa and D.C. markets?
Are you implying that D.C. isn’t as culturally immoral as Tampa? I can assure you, the politicians here make the adult entertainers of Tampa look like saints!