Bill's Q & A
The following questions and answers appeared on the Radio website ALLACCESS (10 questions) the week of November 30th 2009.
NAME: Bill Rock www.billrock.com
TITLE: President/Owner/Announcer/DJ/ Producer
STATIONS: WOR Radio/New York, Sirius-XM (Elvis Radio Channel 13 &18), NBC Television Network
MARKET: New York (and America actually).
COMPANY: Bill Rock Productions Inc. www.billrock.com, Sirius XM, NBC-Universal, Buckley Broadcasting
Please outline your radio career so far:
WSOU-FM/Seton Hall University - S. Orange/NJ 1965-69
WERA/ Plainfield New Jersey - 1966
WOR/New York, NY - 1966
WDHA/Dover, NJ - 1967
WDRC/Hartford, CT - 1968 (imaging voice 2003-present)
WAVZ/New Haven, CT - 1969
WFBG/Altoona, PA - 1969-1970
WIXZ/Pittsburgh, PA - 1970
WIXY/ Cleveland OH, - 1971
WTRY/Albany, NY - 1971-72
WWDJ/Boston, MA - 1971
WMEX/Boston, MA - 1972-73
WAVZ/New Haven, CT - 1973-74
WNBC/New York, NY - 1974-77
WELI/New Haven, CT - 1977-81
Insilco Broadcast Group CT, OK, FL, LA- Vice President - 1980-81
Bill Rock Productions 1981-present
WYNY/New York, NY - 1981-1996
United Stations "Motor City Beat" National (Syndicated 1987-89)
Unistar Radio Network, National - 1989
NBC Television Network NY, International (1996 to present)
News 12 NJ - 1996 - present
MSNBC National - 1997-2002
CNBC, National - 1997-2000
Sirius Satellite Radio National 2001- present
WCBS/New York, NY - FM 2004-2005
SiriusXM National - 2006 - present
WOR/New York, NY - 2008-present
1) What Got You Interested In Radio?
I became interested in radio by listening to the last of the great CBS dramas on Sunday nights when I was four years old, visiting my local station (WDRC), and having my own little radio station as a kid.
2) Who were your early influences?
Perhaps the earliest were people like Steve Allen, then Dan Ingram, Arthur Godfrey, and later Imus (with whom I worked), Marshall Mcluen (a brilliant professor who wrote such things as "The Media Is The Message," and Jean Shepard (a monologist).
3) Who do you consider your radio mentor(s)?
Early on there was a PD named Charlie Parker, one named John Anthony Piccerello, Phill Tompkin (a staff announcer for WOR), and Rosko (Bill Mercer).
4) What was your best gig ever?
There were two. In radio, it was hosting the "Saturday Night Country Club" on WYNY/New York. I had the station's top ratings. I was on the air 2 % of the time and I had 20% of the station's cume. I had TOTAL control of what went on the air including music. For every song I played, I did one or two phone calls. It was a party show. I was always in the top 5 in the largest market in America!
My best overall gig was NBC-TV. I'm still at NBC but I'm doing different kinds of voice work. From 1996 until 2001 I was THE voice of NBC News. This included "The NBC Nightly News," "Weekend Nightly," "Meet the Press," and "Dateline and Today." I was also the imaging voice for MSNBC Stone Phillips, the exclusive announcer for Weekend Magazine (MSNBC's version of Dateline) and I also did CNBC. I have also been (and still am) the exclusive prime-time and "Saturday Night Live" voice for billboards.
5) What makes your station or market unique? How does this compare to other markets or stations you have worked at?
I have worked in New York, the nation's number one market since 1970. It started on air with WWDJ, then WNBC, WYNY, WCBS-FM, United Stations, Westwood One, Unistar, NBC TV MSNBC, CNBC, WOR and Sirius-XM Satellite Radio. Once one gets to New York, there's no where to go except national or international.
New York is the number one market in America. Where I am now at WOR it's the only local News Talk station in NY. Sirius-XM is unique because it's satellite. NBC TV has the richest history of any TV network in the world.
6) What's been the biggest difference from being a jock to being a PD?
I could write volumes about this as I've been both in my career. In fact I started in management as a PD, OM, VP of Programming, Group PD etc. Being a PD gave me the overall big picture of what it takes to run the entire radio station. It gives one the sensitivity for all aspects of broadcasting and a perspective as a business. I also realized, for me however, that it was the creative that always interested me.
It was for this reason that after my last PD job I decided I did not want to be "steered." (Or as it's called today, "coached" by anyone without a true open mind). Being an on-air personality is much more fun, provided you really know what you're doing (not think you know) which is the case for many people. If you have earned the privilege of on-air freedom with success, then the on-air position is much more rewarding. However, many PD's are jocks who are promoted and then try to impose their thoughts on the rest of their air staff. The successful PD recognizes talent, hires it, and then inspires them to grow. Many PDs try to put their DJs in a box. It's like caging a wild animal. If the air personality is talented but needs experience, then there needs to be a mutual trust between the two that the PD is guiding the talent in their best interests, not just molding them to show who's boss.
7) How are you using technology to work with your program on your station, in production, and in your personal life?
For the past 30 years, I have had my own production company for audio / video, radio and TV in my home. I foresaw the emerging technologies and I figured out early on how to incorporate them to my advantage and work in my work space, not the traditional studio setups. I did this before computers, ISDN, Satellite, CDs or DVDs. or any other technological advances.
I produced TV shows that ran on ESPN, ABC, and Pubic TV when only the "big production studios" or broadcast facilities were doing that. You see, I never sold my wares as a "studio." When people wanted a radio or TV spot, a non broadcast video or narration for a documentary, they hired me as a talent. So when people bought my company in any capacity to do any job, they were in fact buying me.
I started as a radio engineer and quickly shifted to on air talent. So I had enough working knowledge to build my own facilities. For the things I couldn't do I hired consultants. In the "early days" you had to buy a lot of equipment and it was taking a chance on one's ability to make it back though one's talent. There were tape machines, mixing boards, mics, processing, video tape machines, switchers, time base correctors, black burst generators, cameras, monitors, speakers, and on and on. And it was all built with one piece of equipment at a time. I did a job and bought each piece of equipment slowly building, expanding, and growing my client base and the services I offered. But I always kept the overhead down.
I always use the adage, "make more than you spend." It became necessary to expand services like spreading things around in your portfolio. It's a fun business, but it's still a business. Again, what I learned in radio about a delicate balance between programming and sales works in the production company world as well. When I needed camera mounts for airplanes for the TV show I did in 1985 about sport aviation, there were none available so we invented them. When ISDN came in I was the first to recommend to NBC-TV that they should go that route. I was the first announcer on NBC to use ISDN. I use it everyday in my own studio to connect their studios. When the internet made it possible to send .wav and .mp3 files to radio stations, I was on the case. The difference between what I do and what so many people who do voice-over on a part-time basis, or who just relatively recently entered the production field is EXPERIENCE. It's knowing when and why to do certain things. Having the talent not just the toys. And there in is the difference we hear today on TV and radio and wonder what happened to the "talent pool".
8) How do you prep yourself for your radio shift?
I used to do 11 shows a week for Sirius Satellite radio. Doing voice-tracks a day or more prior to them be heard in all 50 states is truly an art form. It takes years of practice, and many more years in the industry to truly do a credible job.
I used to do Channel 5 (50's) channel 6 (60's), Channel 32 which then became channel 61 (New Country) and the Elvis Channel 13 on Sirius and 18 on XM. I still do the latter and put more time into that show than just about anything else I did in broadcasting in 45 years and it shows. I have a highly recognized product. I was the very first voice on the channel as I was sent from New York to start it back in 2004.
As for prep on the Elvis Channel, I am dealing with the ultimate P-1 listener with one artist, 24/7 and 365 days a year. Of course there is probably more information about this artist than just about any other figure of the 20th century. And for that reason prep is not only advisable but absolutely essential. I take phone calls, emails do "Elvis Memories", Elvis News (yes there is news in the Elvis world everyday even though he's been dead for over three decades), do a special feature called "Soundtrack Saturday Night" and within that do other features like the "Clip from an Elvis flick," "E movie Trivia," and "The Elvis Movie Of The Week." Without breaking it down, because it would take too long, I put between 15 and 18 hours of week into prep and record time to make it what it is. It rivals anything on the air for real human, often emotional, communication while being informative, relevant, up to date, and entertaining.
9) What is the biggest change that you'd like to see happen in the business?
I would like to see an earnest attempt to return broadcasting to local involvement in the community. I would like to see the re-emergence of real local sales and promotions. I'd like to see Program Directors look for talented people and help them develop that talent to learn how to communicate again.
I'd like to see station owners responsible to the principles of serving their community with meaningful product. I'd like to see them invest in talent, to be creative and be willing to work with the community to become local and not take all the syndicated shows that everyone else does.
For new broadcasters to be responsible creative, entertaining and not shock jock wannabes, I would like to see local broadcasters once again take on the responsibility of doing public service programming as a real service that benefits the community and not just a long forgotten commitment. Be a big fish in a small pond and get everybody in the community involved, not just a carbon copy of every other market, or a means of JUST making money. There are talented people surfacing in broadcasting today, but the question is, do they have the venue to hone that talent and develop into great communicators? Obviously at least some will, but the question is how many? And part of the equation is that standards are changing. Society is changing so what is considered good broadcasting is changing as well.
10) What is it about our industry that keeps you wanting to do it for a living?
I get tremendous satisfaction when I have to spend all week reading E-mails and getting phone calls from listeners who not only "get it" in terms of what I'm doing by communicating, but they really appreciate the time and effort I put into it.
One of the things I've never forgotten (and far too many people in our industry have never learned) is if it wasn't for the people who listen to us, we wouldn't have a microphone in which to speak. They make you a "celebrity". Without them you are just a person talking on the radio. If you are really entertaining them, they will know it. If you're just entertaining yourself, they'll know that too. You can still have a whole lot of fun by giving of yourself and expecting nothing in return. When in reality you will get back ten fold what you put in, if your heart is really in it.
1) If you are voice tracking shifts or syndicating for stations outside of your market, how do you get familiar with that marketplace/community?
I've probably either worked there are visited there in the past 45 years. I also do a lot of research.
2) What do you do in your spare time?
I keep busy with serving on many commissions as a volunteer. I'm a six-term Chairman of the Waterfront Commission, a Commissioner on three other Maritime Commissions as well as a Captain in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.
I'm also an avid boater. I love aviation and I spend as much time with my growing family as I can. I spend more and more as time goes on. It's a reward one receives for paying dues for a successful career.