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Spinning Some Time with Radio Disc Jockey, Aaron Childs
By Kenny Love
(more articles from this author)
2000-01-06
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Mr. Aaron Childs is a disc jockey, producer, and host of a musical presentation program on radio stations WCSR-AM and WCSR-FM (1340 and 92.1, respectively) based in Jackson, Michigan. He shares some general insight with us on the process of obtaining radio airplay.

[Kenny Love] Okay...here we go. How long have you been working in radio?

[Aaron Childs] 7 years. I started at WSHE/WSRF in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

[Love] What are some of the positions you have held in radio during that time?

[Childs] Oh goodness...News Anchor, Technical Engineer...part-time DJ, and On-Air Producer.

[Love] And, what is your current position at WCSR?

[Childs] Currently, I'm a part-time jock. I work weekends and fillers during the weekdays. Mostly evenings and holidays, though.

[Love] As you are aware, what brought us to this interview is that I saw your post on an online list in response to, what I believe...correct me if I'm wrong...musicians who were questioning you regarding adding their record to your station's roster...is that an accurate assumption?

[Childs] That would be correct.

[Love] Care to elaborate for our readers further, as I believe they would be interested in the etiquette required in order to effectively and successfully promote their recordings to radio?

[Childs] I had a few artists that had received some airplay, but hadn't received it in a while. It's not that I've yanked their material from my show, but that I'm trying to give more artists airplay and I just can't play their CD week after week. It's not fair to those who have been waiting for their chance to get aired.

[Love] I understand. Is it safe to say that you have what is known as a "specialty program?"

[Childs] Hmm...yes and no. When I and/or most people think "specialty programs," I think the first image that comes to mind are programs on college and community radio stations that specialize in one genre or style in music. In a sense, I do, but not really. WCSR is a CHR/AC station, but I have a tendency of tossing in a lot of mainstream rock, classic rock, college music (i.e. They Might Be Giants, 10,000 Maniacs, Kate Bush, etc) Blues, and Indie music into the mix. A little too broad to be considered specialty, but at the same time it fits the term.

[Love] Oh, okay...so please explain the process of how an artist should go about submitting a product to you for airplay consideration.

[Childs] I go about it a TOTALLY different way than most radio stations, so I do not want people to think that my way is the industry standard. I accept unsolicited material. Basically, if an artist has a product that they feel is marketable for airplay, then they can mail me a CD copy of it along with a promo kit. The promo kit should contain a little info on the band, some contact info (e-mail address, phone number, mailing address, web-site, etc.) and a bio. That's really all that I require. Most stations will NOT accept unsolicited material. At least, most commercial radio stations. I really can't say on the college and community radio ranks, but I can say that most artists that I work with say that they've had little problem giving college stations unsolicited material.

[Love] Yes, that seems to be true. After a product is submitted, what are the general steps or criteria it must pass in order to get consideration of making the station's roster?

[Childs] First off, it must fit the form, and must be airable!!! You'd be amazed at the stuff I get that either doesn't fit my format, or has language that is not suitable for airplay. I recently received a CD that had more profanity in it that a gangsta rap CD! And it was country music! So I'd make sure that your CD fits the format of the station, AND has content/language that is airable.

[Love] Oh, my God! American Heartland's music? Surely, thou doth jest, Sir!

[Childs] I jest not! The second thing I look for/listen for is the product itself. Out of every 20 CDs I get, maybe 5 or 7 will get aired more than once. Most do not get aired bacause the CD is, let me think of how to phrase it, lacking in talent somewhere down the line. I also get CDs that are a great act, but the production is horrible, or I get a band with a singer that would clear out a kareoke bar! And, I know a thing or two about clearing out a kareoke bar, believe me!

[Love] Well, "jest" a cotton-pickin' minute...what's next for Country? Rappers in Country songs? Now, there's an idea...hmmm...

[Childs] Why not.. the big thing right now in Rock is this Rap-Core. Why not Honky-Tonk-Core or Hip- Hop Tonk? By the way.. I'm going to go copyright those names after this interview!

[Love] Aaron, I truly shudder to think...

[Childs] Hey.. the way the music world is evolving, you never know. Look for Puff Daddy to team up with Alan Jackson on his next CD! (laughs)

[Love] (frowns) So, you're capitalizing and expanding on the Cyber-Squatting craze, ha? You know...where someone buys a famous name, then sells it back to the rightful owner?

[Childs] The next thing is the "15 second" test. This is an industry standard, and here's where a song lives or dies. Basically, I listen to the first 15 seconds of a song. If I think there is a hook, or something catchy in it, then I'll listen to the song all the way through. If not, off to the next song. Sometimes, it's also the first 15 seconds that decides whether I listen to the whole CD or not.

[Love] Like the "Make It or Break It" programs many stations have for new artists?

[Childs] You mean, where the listeners decide whether it goes or stays?

[Love] Yep.

[Childs] Nah, but I do take any feedback from callers into account.

[Love] Oh, okay...so, what percentage of recordings pass your test?

[Childs] Goodness... I'd say about 35-45% get played once. Maybe half of those make it into my rotation.

[Love] So, the fact that today, it is mostly an independent environment, yet, only 15-20% are making it into regular rotation, seems a bit controversial, doesn't it? I mean, what aspects do independents need to improve upon in order to increase this percentage?

[Childs] I think the problem with most of the material I get is that there is a lacking in vocal talent. The music is wonderful, the production is good, and the group sounds tight. Then, when the singer opens his/her mouth, the whole thing goes up like the Hindenberg. There is also the case of the material lacking a 'groove', or something that "hooks" the listener and keeps him listening. Another huge factor is that I get material that is just not appropriate for my format. Remember, I'm on an Adult Cotemporary/Contemporary Hits Radio format...a COMMERCIAL radio station. It's not College, where I would have a lot of leeway to play a wider range of material, say for instance, play a Ministry song back to back with something by Mel Torme...don't laugh, I heard it done once!

[Love] (Laughs) Oops, you asked me not to laugh, didn't you? Sorry...

[Childs] Keep in mind that I am in Jackson, Michigan, probably one of the most conservative towns in the U.S. For people to get an idea of what Jackson is like, I suggest they alternate between watching episodes of 'The Red Green Show' and 'The Dukes Of Hazards', then occasionally throwing in the movie, "Deliverance." What I am trying to convey is that people here are more interested in mainstream radio than, say, people in Seattle, New York, or even a College town like Ann Arbor or Berkley.

[Love] So, if it is narrowed down to vocals, would you say that vocal training is what is missing, and that artists should concentrate more on it before releasing recordings?

[Childs] I wouldn't narrow it down to JUST vocals, though, I'd say that is half the reason. And yeah, vocal training would help. But, I'd say the MAIN thing is to make sure that their CD is going to a station with the appropriate format for their music. I cannot stress that enough!

[Love] What about follow-up? There seems to be a degree of confusion on how to go about that...just how much is too much, and how little is not enough? Know what I mean?

[Childs] Okay...Follow up.. the big thing to keep in mind is this. Most program managers are actually busy people with a million things going on. I'd say first that follow up should be done about a week after you send the CD out. Ask them if they got it, ask if they have had the chance to listen to it, and if so, what they thought of it, etc. If they haven't had the chance to listen, ask them if they have the time to do so, and once they have listened to it, to let you know what they think. Some may while some may not. I honestly can't tell you if they will or won't. I recently had a band ask me if they should contact a station every week after they mail out their CD. No! BAD idea! Radio people hate to be pestered...me included. Once or twice is enough. Again, during your call, ask them if they can notify you if/when your recording is played. I post my playlists on several e-mail groups, and will soon be posting them on newsgroups. Plus, I e-mail the artists themselves a playlist from that night so that they know what was played, when it was played, and so they can also see what else was played by other artists.

[Love] How great of an influence does a local record pool and local press play on a local radio station's decision to air an artist?

[Childs] That depends on the market. Every city and market is different. In Jackson, there is very little say. Since I'm the only one at WCSR that is willing to play indie and local artists, I do depend on local reviews to get info on bands. But, I never depend solely on the review of a band/act as a guide.

[Love] What independent artists do you see coming up that other Indies should watch in order to compare with their own marketing campaigns in attempting to gain exposure? Who's gotten YOUR eye?

[Childs] That's a TOUGH one! The band that has my eye right now is a Blues band from Laramie, Wyoming called Blinddog Smokin. VERY talented, very professional, and very business- like. They've been making waves in the Blues scene for the past year or two, and 2000 will be a good year for them. Antigone Rising is another act that I think is on the verge of doing something huge. They're currently looking for a new vocalist, but this all-female band got a break by playing Lillith Fair, and it won't be long before they get signed.

[Love] You do realize that this interview goes out to almost (100) publications, and will do absolutely nothing to decrease your incoming supply of independent product, don't you?

[Childs] Right now, I've got a month and a half worth of CDs sitting on the kitchen table waiting for review. If I get a ton or more of material, I would be delighted. When I first started my program back in January, I had no idea the amount of material out there, and some of the incredible talent out there. There is stuff out there that's decent, and then there is stuff that just floors me!

[Love] Aaron, this has been extremely informative and a delight to get some further insight into the actual mechanics of the industry...thank you so very much for your time.

[Childs] Thank you, and I hope that this has helped your readers.


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