Q&A with Hurricane Dave Smith, VP of Programming & Operations, Radio One, Atlanta

Q: You’ve been in radio for quite some time. Tell us which stations you are currently overseeing.

A: WHTA Hot 107.9; WAMJ Majic 107.5/97.5; WPZE Praise 102.5; WUMJ Boom 102.9. This also includes the nationally-syndicated Ricky Smiley Morning Show and the Ed Lover Show. I’m also the consultant for Radio One’s Richmond market.

Q: How different is the ATL radio market versus other markets with large African American populations?

The biggest difference is competition. There are no less than 12 FM stations going after the African-American pie in some form or fashion. This doesn’t include the number of AM stations that are playing Black Gospel to Black talk. It’s by far the most competitive urban radio market in the US if not the world. I absolutely love it!

Q: WHTA-FM (Hot 107.9) has been on the air roughly 20 years now? Explain the reason for the station’s continued success? And how do you keep it relevant, especially since there are so many competing platforms for entertainment.

A: The station is constantly reinventing itself both from a programming standpoint and staying relative in the community. The station has a long standing of breaking new artists.

When I arrived, we continued that tradition, but cut out a lot of mediocre artists, and focused on the biggest records in the streets.

One of the things that I was adamant about when I arrived was changing the station’s image of just being a club/party station. I wanted to focus on community and giving back. My team is 100% on board. Now, Hot (107.9) is seen as a trendsetter with a heavy involvement in the community. We teamed up with Pay USA and have successfully repositioned our brand. To this day most people look at Hot and our playlist every week and decide if we are on it, then it must be hot. That’s something I don’t take lightly, we must believe that it’s going to be a big record and not just a mediocre song between two hot records.

As far as distractions and millennial’s showing up at other places, we try to forecast where they’re going to be and meet them there. We were one of the first radio stations to set up Snapchat and Instagram. Wherever millennial’s are hanging out, and whatever they’re doing, I want Hot 107.9 to have a presence there.

Q: For those of us who don’t live in the market, how responsive is WHTA towards local ATL artists and the indie scene?

A: I think that’s one of the things that has kept us connected to the streets. We invite independent artists up to our radio station once a week. My team will meet with them, critique their music and give them advice on how to get to the next step. We also test new records nightly on the Durtty Boyz show and we have a show called the 10 spot where we play new music several nights a week. We are definitely committed to new artists and up-and-coming artists in Atlanta.

Q: Talk about the Majic format, and the Majic HD and what Atlanta adult listeners expect from your station?

A: Majic is programmed to touch the sweet spot between Hot 107.9 and V103. We’re looking at Black females in the 25-54 demo, with the focal point right in the middle. Majic has some of the highest income ratios in the market; college-educated mothers with disposable income. That’s perfect for Atlanta. The goal is to never be that boring Urban AC that our parents grew up listening to.

Q: Adult formats have always moved a bit slower when it comes to turning over playlists and embracing newer music. Is that still the case?

Yes, it absolutely is. I think part of that has a lot to do with tempo. Slow or mid-tempo songs could last a year in power rotation. They just don’t come back with bad research for a long time. That’s one of the challenges; when do you just move it to a re-current so that your station continues to sound fresh?

Q: You also schedule music for the Ricky Smiley and Ed Lover shows…they are nationally syndicated. How does that differ from your local programming?

A: Ed Lover’s show is pretty easy; just play the biggest classic Hip-Hop songs of all time and you should be in good shape. Rickey Smiley’s show is a bit different. I pull a list together of most of his major market affiliates and that’s my path to what should be on. Old-school thinking is you don’t break stuff on morning drive, but we have had success because we’ve had to adapt to what millennial’s want and when they want it. If enough of his stations start playing something new, it goes on the show.

Q: Talk a bit about grooming and mentoring talent for your stations. Audiences today seem to expect non-traditional on-air personalities.

A: I’m assuming when you say “non-traditional on air personalities” you’re speaking of talent who sound like DJs in the DJ voice. Years ago that style went out (Thank God, laughs). The audience nowadays wants to hear someone who sounds like them or their neighbor; regular sounding people who just happen to be on the air enjoying life. In today’s environment, we also look at talent that has a large social media following. Years ago you just had to sound good, now you have to have a following and look presentable. Radio is becoming more visual every day.

Q: With the various formats and syndication programs you oversee, directing staffs, how do you remain focused, and how do you prioritize?

I can’t tell you how important it is to have an amazing team around you. There’s absolutely no way I could do any of this if my team was failing me. I’m pretty good at delegating but I’m also very demanding with what I expect out of my talent. Most know what I want because I’ve made it crystal clear.

I treat everyone with respect and demand that in return. If you disrespect the team, disrespect the station, disrespect the company then you’ve disrespected me and that something I don’t tolerate. I learned a long time ago people just want to be treated respectfully and they want to be treated fairly. That’s my goal with each and every one I work with.