To say Chris Kinard (“CK” to most people) is a DC radio-lifer would be an understatement. He started working on “The Sports Junkies” at the age of 18, while a student at American University. Fast forward 20 years and he’s the Program Director of 106.7 The Fan, Washington, DC’s dominant sports radio station.
(For a look at the Washington, DC and other major market fall ratings click here: https://sportsradiopd.com/sports-radios-2018-fall-book-report/ )
Unlike many of his contemporaries who have traveled the country working their way from smaller markets to larger markets, CK has been in DC all this time. Wednesday I sat down with him in his office in Southeast DC.
Matt Fishman: Let’s start off with your fall book. You guys had a gigantic fall book despite the Nationals being out of it and the Redskins having an up and down season..
Chris Kinard: I was very happy with our performance. I think it does show we have a really strong brand–a consistent brand. That’s one of the things I preach to my guys. Our audience has an expectation that they’re going to get a certain level of programming every day. We’ve had the same lineup now for nearly five years. They want their shows–They want the Junkies in the morning, Grant and Danny in the middle of the day and Chad (Dukes) in the afternoon.
My guys come to work everyday with that commitment that they’re going to provide a very consistent product and be entertaining. This is a unique market. It’s a transient market. We do talk sports but we talk sports from a perspective of trying to be entertaining no matter what’s going on. Win or lose.
The Redskins had an up and down year. They were 6-and-3 at one point and then you saw a collapse and I think that became an interesting story that helped propel us through the December book and even the Holiday book. The Capitals have a ton of interest because they’re coming off the Cup. The Wizards–that’s gonna be a tough one down the road.
I think the Nationals fan base has changed a lot in the last four years. It has matured to a point where we can really have great baseball discussion and really engage with the audience at a level we couldn’t nine years ago when we launched or even seven years ago. I think something really changed within the last three to four years. I think we just hit a tipping point–a big enough audience that is passionate and knowledgeable enough to be able to debate what the team’s doing. What moves the Manager is making. What moves the General Manager is making, what ownership is doing. That wasn’t necessarily the case five, six, or seven years ago. That really helped propel us in September and even into October.
So it’s a good time to be in DC sports even though none of the teams are doing all that well right now, it’s still interesting.
MF: To your point, if you can do well even when the teams are up and down, you’ve done something.
CK: This is a TSL format and we’re a high TSL station. It’s all about listener passion and loyalty to our personalities. No matter what’s going good or bad, they want to hear what our guys have to say about it. That makes us a little bit stronger in bad times than we would be otherwise.
MF: Speaking of personalities, you re-signed the Sports Junkies (Morning Show) recently. What was it like getting them re-signed and what does that mean to The Fan?
CK: They are the backbone of the radio station. Entercom made a great commitment to them and to the radio station to keep them here for years to come. What makes me really proud of them and of the company is that after 23 years they are still growing. That is almost unheard of.
I think we see a lot of great shows that have incredible staying power but very few have been on the air in one market for 23 years and are still growing. Their ratings have never been higher. Their digital metrics are off the charts–a million podcast downloads a month. Now for us to be able to expand the show into other markets regionally is a really great opportunity. Our TV deal (NBC Sports Washington) has been mutually beneficial. I think it put them on another playing field.
For me, someone who started working on their show when I was 18 years old, it is incredible to see that not only are they still going strong, but the show has never been better, never been more relevant to the city. I think it has never been tighter and those guys haven’t changed. They’re still great guys who are great in the building. Great to their co-workers. It’s awesome to see this happen to great people.
MF: I love your radio story because it’s the opposite of the typical radio story. You’ve been in DC your entire life and career.
CK: It’s insane to me. I feel incredibly fortunate. I grew up listening to the station when it was a guy-talk station with Howard Stern and Don & Mike. I heard the Junkies first show because I was so obsessed with the station growing up that when they started this “Sports Weekend” thing and they had three shows, the Junkies were the third show 5-9pm Saturdays and Sundays–I was listening to it. I remember their first show and their first several shows. I was very fortunate that I got in on the ground floor when they were starting out. They were looking for help. I started “interning” no one ever asked me for any paperwork. I couldn’t have gotten college credit if they had asked me. So thank God for that or I probably wouldn’t be here at all today. I was kind of in the right place at the right time. Two and a half months or so after starting as an intern, their call-screener left and I got that awesome $7 an hour job screening calls for them and they haven’t shown me the door yet.
I think one of the things that’s special about this place is that it is kind of a family atmosphere because so many of us have grown up together. From 18 and I’ll be 40 in June I’ve seen those guys get married and have kids. I’ve had interns who have been with us for a long time. I hired an intern in 2002 who’s Chad Dukes, our afternoon host. Most of our producers if not all of them started out as interns. We’ve all grown together. One thing that’s important for our company and certainly for the station is to foster that kind of personal growth for our people. That’s really important.
MF: Over the years, what has evolved or changed about your programming philosophy or has it mostly stayed the same?
CK: I hope it has matured in terms of content. I think our world has changed, too. There are a lot of pitfalls you can fall into. For me the biggest sea change was from diary to PPM–huge. From a host’s standpoint or a programmer’s standpoint, you had to completely change your way of thinking twice. We were told all these things when PPM was starting about shorter production and programming to the meters. We made all those mistakes but then you had to get back to having a strong brand or none of that really matters. You really had to relearn it twice because of the PPM.
One of the challenges for personalities who started in diaries is to always remind them–there are certain things we can do that can impact listener behavior and there are certain things that can’t. There are certain things we have to do for our brand regardless of how we are being measured. A lot of people on the air had to re-train themselves as to “what is the show?”
People (listeners) are coming and going every second. It really has to be reinforced to talent that you have incredible competition even more so today than there has ever been in terms of other things they can do to listen, watch, or click at all times. That your show is not a movie that someone is listening to from beginning to end. The beginning of your show is whatever time that person happened to start listening.
That’s when one of the key things people have to always be thinking about when making content decisions is the reality of the environment that people are listening in. We are a component of their day and they (listeners) are living their life.
MF: Building on what you just said, you’re going to be part of a forum at the upcoming BSM Summit about Inside vs. Outside radio thinking–What goes into how you think about reaching listeners and whatever habits need to be broken?
CK: In addition to people thinking about their shows having a beginning and an end, what has stood out to me in terms of talent conversations is that when they talk to listeners they are often surprised what listeners latch onto. What we find is that listeners latch on to the personalities. It’s a great thing for our hosts to know that their power is not necessarily just their sports opinions but that their P1s especially love to hear the personal stuff and that’s what they remember about them. The little quirks, the little things that make them special. The things that make them in some ways irreplaceable–or at least very difficult to replace.
When you have a show that’s hitting it’s because of the people on it. That’s what makes the difference. Yeah we’re a sports station but there could be three or four stations in a market the things that differentiate them is the people. For the talent to understand that they have to let people in and they’ve gotta find that part about them that makes them unique and makes them special. I think that’s one of the big things.
One thing I think a lot of hosts are maybe not aware of, or take for granted, is that they think people listen everyday. Our P1s don’t even listen four days a week, maybe three and a half. For us it’s about how can I do great, compelling content and also make a connection in terms of benchmarks for people to come back to certain content every day or later in the day and how can I translate that to the next day. Building occasions throughout the day and throughout the week. That’s for us the name of the game as far as building TSL: having the realization that people are living their lives and that we’re just a part of it. Our path to success is to get people to listen just an extra time that day or to remember that on Thursdays we do a great benchmark that they won’t want to miss. If we can get that extra day out of those couple of meters again you’re building a strong brand while also programming to the meters. That’s a huge, huge focus for us!
MF: Speaking of the BSM Summit, how import is it for a PD like yourself to get out of the building to hear what else is going on out there?
CK: It’s very important for me since I’ve been in the same market for 21 years. It’s incredibly important to get different perspectives and different views on things and meet people with different ideas. I thought last year was incredible in that respect.
A lot of these great programmers have been all over the country and in all sorts of different formats and different companies. I think you can really learn a lot and pick up on a lot of things from each other. You’re going to get ideas on how to do things differently or how to look at something a little differently. Some of the things I learned last year on how our industry is handling diversity and how much of a focus that needs to be is completely valid because I think it’s a struggle for us in this format every year. I’m very much looking forward to it and looking forward to seeing it’s growth as well.