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Skip Dillard on Never Being Off The Clock“You’re never off the clock. These days you’re always working while finding time to learn, teach and help grow your business.”

I have stated on this site, in the magazine and in several forums you never want to be the old man in the room with no purpose. This is not, in any way, referring to seasoned industry people in power positions. They are where they are supposed to be. This is for those of us who think that they have figured out the formula and they stop learning, stop growing, stop moving and stop taking on new challenges. Who we WERE is not as significant as who we ARE. It’s just the nature of the progressive industry that we work in.

From this perspective (national trade magazine). I have literally seen MANY industry people die from stagnation. Heart attacks, cancer, and strokes are the end result but first and foremost it starts with regret and a broken heart from allowing too many opportunities to pass us by. I can honestly say, while it’s not advisable to work yourself to death, it is rare that I have seen progressive, working industry people die. Fear of growth is our friend and the only cure to irrelevance and being the old man in the room with no purpose is to analyze the real estate in the market in advance and buy another house to AVOID “the room” in the house that’s getting smaller. Go to a part of town where the ROI is greater (take chances, dive in). The wise man constantly reinvents himself or he remains stagnant and awaits his demise. As communicators, programmers and broadcasters the opportunities are endless.

I have always greatly respected WBLS and WLIB Operations Manager, Skip Dillard (WBLS and WLIB), for this very reason, his ability to step outside the box of just urban radio and exploring other formats and various aspects of the industry like being an editor in 2003 for Billboard’s Airplay Monitor. He has consistently reinvented himself and he has a lot of experience, leverage, and value to fall back on because of it. He continues to educate himself and take on new challenges in order to KEEP growing. At the end of the day school is in session for a lifetime.

Skip started his career in Norfolk, VA. After working at WBLK in Buffalo as a PD, where I met him, he worked in several other markets before landing in New York at the world famous WBLS. In 2003, he took a break from the industry to work at Billboard writing for the Airplay Monitor.
Skip with Colin Kaepernick

Besides the format, how is WBLS unique with listeners in NYC

New York marches to its own drum. The impact of Hip-Hop, Dance and Spanish culture give NYC a very complex universe. WBLS also has an unmatched community connection. It was founded by Percy Sutton who, among other leadership positions, served as the Manhattan Borough President. He was an entrepreneur, lawyer for clients including Malcolm X, and caretaker of the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem that was slated for demolition before he rescued it with his own money. All this gives us not only our signature sound but our mission. We have over five hours of spoken word programming on WBLS alone weekly with more on WLIB, and proudly accept our mission of dedication to making NYC a better place for our listeners every day.

You’ve been a programmer for quite some time. What is your philosophy when it comes to programming that you rarely waver from?

Get out and talk to people. Get involved in your community. I’m currently active on three non-profit boards including the Living Legends Foundation, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and the American Foundation for the University of the West Indies and volunteer for other initiatives in the area.

What is WBLS’ landmark event each year?

Circle of Sisters is our signature event. We’re the largest expo for women of color outside of Essence and proud to grow this event on both digital platforms and innovative concepts yearly. It takes place at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan at the beginning of Fall each year

Do you also look at your online stats? Where are some of BLS’s biggest fans around the world?

We do well across the U.S. with much love coming from South Africa, Japan, and the Caribbean

How do your online stats help you with programming the station?

It’s research that helps you keep track of today’s fast-changing audiences. From content that drives engagement to music, there’s much to be learned from how your audience uses technology.
Skip with Iyanla Vanzant

What’s missing in our industry?

A talent incubator system. There’s lots of talent but identifying and grooming people that can “cut-through” is a challenge. We also need a pipeline for training young future sales executives. There’s money left on the table out there for radio but you need sellers who are savvy at digital, tailoring a targeted campaign and providing a recap outlining measured success at the end.

What are your thoughts on Podcasting?

Although it’s been around, advertisers are just discovering it. On-demand audio is as much a part of our lives as on-demand TV and fast food. Compelling content ‘to go’ occupies a major part of our universe.

Some PDs think the talent pool for new Radio DJs is drying up, do you?


Have you looked at Podcasters as potential Radio DJs on your station? Why or why not?

Yes. Podcasting is a great place to find communicators honing their skills. I haven’t hired anyone from podcasting yet but can see doing so in the near future.

Who would you consider to be your biggest competitors in the market?

In NYC it’s everyone but primarily we battle with WLTW for at work listening, Power 105.1 and UAC Radio 103.9 for overall quarter hours. And our listener’s tastes grow more diverse as they age with sports, all news and NPR shows figuring into the picture. There are only so many quarter hours and in any given month almost 20% of our audience come from somewhere other than African Americans.

What do you think of the growing festival market?

There are too many. Only a few will make money and you’ve really got to find a niche. Just throwing out a flyer and trying to secure artists isn’t a recipe for success. Most recently in our area “Curl Fest” and “Afro-Punk” have really done a great job breaking into a crowded field of festivals in our region. And certainly, both have a sizable niche that was previously underserved. We’ve had quite a few proposed events never materialize or quickly go away after a year or two as well.

What is your greatest challenge as a programmer?

You’re never off the clock. These days you’re always working while finding time to learn, teach and help grow your business.

What do you think makes a GREAT programmer today?

Strong management skills are crucial. You must have a love for research and a willingness to get out into your marketplace. The ability to adapt to change is a must and you are always a ‘student’ of what you do. Effective time-management is also very important. And, being a little nerdy, weird and an insomniac are all a must.

Where have you seen other programmers go wrong in their approach to radio?

Most often it’s treating it like a typical 9 to 5 job. Not getting out in the streets, not networking and poor communication inside your building with your boss, staffs and corporate are all recipes for failure.

Three pieces of the best advice you have ever gotten

  1. Get out from behind your desk and meet listeners face to face.
  2. There’s no ‘secret sauce’ for getting great ratings. It’s working to refine your station, have the best talent from morning to evenings and inspire them to perform better every day.
  3. Take time to improve yourself. Take a course, grow your hobbies and translate your growth as a human being into your programming efforts.

How has a PDs job changed over the last 20 years? What makes him or her most effective?

Programming is much more strategic. Structure, focus, and planning are all much more important traits than when I got in the business. We work with far fewer people and support staff, yet are busier than ever. Technology from smartphones to smart speakers constantly refine and redefine how we win.

How do you break away from the industry? What are your other hobbies?

Family time is most important to me. I read like crazy, travel, play the piano, love film, discover new restaurants and love photography.


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