Surely you’ve heard The Steve Miller Band’s song ‘Rock’n Me,’ right? You know, the one that goes, “I went from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A.” If that doesn’t ring a bell I’ll have to seriously question your knowledge of music.
Jim Graci, the program director at 1020 KDKA and 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, used to jokingly tell people that song was about his resume. If you didn’t know any better, you could see how it might be true, seeing as Graci’s radio career has taken him to just about every corner in the country, including the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Deep South and now the Northeast. In reality, as many different cities are named in ‘Rock’n Me’ it’s pale in comparison to how many markets Graci has actually worked in.
In two weeks, Graci will be one of the many talented industry professionals at the BSM Summit in Los Angeles. Along with others, he’ll be featured on the Evaluating Content and Talent panel. I can’t tell you how excited I am for this portion of the conference. The opportunity to learn from someone who’s been in the business since 1974 and developed talent in markets such as Dallas, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and others is a unique opportunity. Plus, I wouldn’t even mind hearing about his experiences as a public address announcer for both the Atlanta Hawks and Seattle Supersonics.
Graci first dipped his toe into the sports radio industry at 16 years old. Since then, he’s gained a wealth of knowledge and experience that has turned him into one of the most well-known and respected program directors in the country. With the unique duty of being a PD at both a news talk and sports talk station, Graci has to equally balance time between both stations to make sure each is successful. Obviously, that’s easier said than done.
Being a PD at two different stations probably means long days, constant coaching and countless planning and programming. It even means watching a long State of the Union address from President Trump, as Graci did on Tuesday night, seeing as he needed to be familiar with the speech, considering his daily programming duties with 1020 KDKA. But it’s still a blessing way more than it’s a curse. Graci knows this and looks forward to each task and challenge the everyday life in radio brings.
Truly, its guys like Graci who will make the BSM Summit in a success. The ideas and suggestions that will come out of the summit will be invaluable to every host, producer, program director, etc. in attendance. But Graci isn’t coming to Los Angeles just to help out all his other comrades in the industry. He’s eager to learn, too. We talked about the BSM Summit and much more.
TM: What do you look for when someone sends you their demo?
JG: First of all, personality. Whether they sound confident, whether they’re a good story teller, whether they’re concise, whether they catch my attention, those are just the basic things of what makes a good talk show host.
TM: Are there certain things you don’t like when someone sends you their demo?
JG: When people send demos, they should send their demos with them right up top. They should lead off with their best foot forward, they should give us their A-game in the first 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Sometimes, people will wait 2, 3, 4 minutes into the demo until stuff starts hitting, whereas you’re never guaranteed that a program director is going to listen past the first 30 seconds. If you only get 30 seconds of their time at the very start, don’t you want to grab them with your best material? When I would build a demo I would think about how to keep the program director listening for the next 30 seconds of my demo.
TM: Pittsburgh is always going to be a Steelers town. It’s always going to be football heavy. But the Penguins and NHL still have a big draw. Is it a requirement of a host that you hire to be able to talk hockey? Or do you think you can train a skilled talk show host that’s maybe lacking on that side of their sports knowledge?
JG: Well, I think you need to know what’s going on in your town. Certainly, hockey is important in Pittsburgh, as well as a lot of other northeastern cities such as Buffalo, Boston, Toronto, I can think of a lot of other cities where hockey is a relevant conversation during its season. But hey, if it were an NBA town, I’d expect them to know NBA.
If I was in Seattle or Atlanta I’d expect a host to be able to know about soccer. You have to know what your town’s fans are really enjoy to be able to relate and talk about it. So yeah, hockey is important in Pittsburgh, so sure I would expect anyone coming in here to know what they’re talking about with the sport, along with the Penguins.
TM: You’re a PD of both Newsradio 1020 KDKA and 93.7 The Fan. Which station takes up more of your time and is it difficult to juggle both a news and sports talk format?
JG: Well, its talk so we’re all trying to relate in spoken word format, so there’s that similarity. It’s easier to be able to coach in that regard, because you’re approaching the same dynamic, whereas, if I was doing news talk or if I was doing a music station, I would coach the disc jockeys a little more differently than I would the talk hosts. But which one takes up more time?
That’s almost like asking which of my children I like best or which finger I would keep over the other, I can’t make those choices because I go by the day and coach by need, listen to both and try to spend as equal time as possible on each.
I’m blessed because I have two stations that are live and local from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. 7 days a week. That’s a lot of local programming, so for me, it’s a constant level of trying to relate to our talent on both the news and sports side. Which, both are very vibrant in Pittsburgh.
TM: Is there a particular name or set of names you’re looking forward to hearing from at the BSM Summit?
JG: I’ve been in this business so long, it’s hard to name just one. Really, I’m just excited to see everyone there. I am really excited though to meet some people I’ve never met before. Those are the fresh perspectives that I want to hear.
TM: What do you hope to get out of the BSM Summit in Los Angeles?
JG: I love sharing ideas. I love talking to my contemporaries and comrades. I love everything about the business of radio and everything that goes into what we do and how we do it. To talk to and see a bunch of my old friends, as well as talk to a bunch of people about how we can all make our radio stations better, because let’s face it, our industry, when we’re compelling, people will turn to us.
When there’s something that’s going on, people want to know and they’ll turn to us. To be the best we can be, is what we all strive for. The only way to be better than what you are today, is to use your mind with fresh ideas. That’s why I love going to sports radio conferences like this one, because I just love to remind myself of the basics, the blocking and tackling, but also what trick plays I can use down the road.
TM: How would you describe yourself as a PD?
JG: I try to be honest with whatever feelings I have with anybody. If it’s my opinion and how I feel, I’m going to tell you. But at the same time, I’m going to try to be sympathetic to delivering news that you don’t want to hear, but I think it’s beneficial to know what you’re dealing with. It’s my job to help talent be better and identify what kind of road blocks I can get out of their way to perform better. I look at constructive criticism as a way to remove intimidates rather than something that’s hard to do.
You still have to talk to people about accenting their strengths and showcasing what they do right as well as what they do wrong. I try to balance that out to help people be better at what they do. I would hope my bosses would do the same for me, point out my flaws that I need to work on and improve to be a better person and performer.