Howard Kroeger: When Classic Hits Was Born
Updated: May 31
Howard Kroeger was there in 2002 when a new radio format was launched in Winnipeg. The program director of Hot AC Q94.3 was apart of the programming team that had recently acquired AC Magic 99.9 from Standard Radio. It was obvious that Magic would no longer be an AC station, but what would it become in Winnipeg's competitive radio market? This is when BOB was born.
Classic Hits is now in its 20th year as a radio format; straddling the divide between Boomer and Generation X - the original station is still on the air doing what it has always done with similar imaging and presentation to the original product - with some musical and presentational updates naturally. In this episode we speak to Howard about how the format came together, why Winnipeg was the place to make it happen, and how the format began to spread across North America. We also asked Howard about the other formats he has created including Duke and Hank.
By the way, I also pulled out some recent audio from my conversation with "Bad Pete" Marier who was Bob's first morning host in 2002. Hear that podcast by clicking on the link at the bottom on the page.
There's also a bunch more about the other stuff on our episode page, including the CTV report from 2005 about how the format grew across the continent.
You know that thing we've saying about - "It Takes Three Years To Build an audience".
Well after three years, CTV thought it was time to do a National News piece on the Classic Hits format.
Tara Sands (VO) 00:00:01
The Sound Off Podcast. The podcast about broadcast with Matt Cundill... starts now.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:00:01
This week is one of those episodes that I've been meaning to do for a long time. I was reminded by Troy Scott a few weeks ago that it was high time to have Howard Kroger on the show.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:00:01
And I always thought Troy was brilliant because we hired him to be- as a board off when Troy was like 17, 18 years old. And just to kind of see him in his career where it's gone to now, I'm just so proud of the guy. I always look at him as almost like a son. I do. He's a great guy.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:00:01
Troy is currently writing his own podcast episode for this show as content director at CHFI in Toronto. In a perfect world, I would get in the car and drive down highway 330 for the 25 minutes drive to La Salle, Manitoba, to record this episode in person. And I know what you're thinking. Why am I driving with my blinker on? The truth is, I don't know. It's just what everyone does around here. In 2006, he started Kroeger Media and works with radio stations on branding, including formats across America like Duke, Hank and Bob, the classic hits format that got its start in 2002 in Winnipeg. This is about the birth of the classic hits format in radio as we know it today, and Winnipeg was the perfect incubator for this radio format concoction. Howard can tell the story, because he was there, and he joins me from Kroger Media headquarters in La Salle, Manitoba. Why does Winnipeg punch above its class when it comes to rock and roll and radio? And is it for the same reason?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:01:49
Matt, that's a really good question, and I've often thought of that. It's also come up in discussions with some pretty big and bright radio people. I remember talking to Steve Young, former program director at City FM, but of course going on to WNEW New York and KISW in Seattle. Funny story about Steve and myself. We went back a long, long way because before I started my radio career, I was in a band. We won City FM's homegrown contest, and that's how I got to how I actually originally got to know Steve. Anyway, years later at CMW, we were talking and I asked him the exact same question you just asked me. And he had said, Howard. He says, I don't know what it is about Winnipeg, he says, I look at all my accomplishments in my radio career and I hold my tenure as program director at City FM as one of the best gigs I ever had. And I never thought it was anything to do with the only later on in life, as I travel and experience more in different markets, that I think that maybe it's an isolation thing. I don't know. There's certain things that have always happened here that I've always taken for granted. But other people go, really? That actually happened in your market? So I think what happened is that a lot of people came through here. There's always been good radio, the influences from outside markets. There was no big Metropolitan that was really influencing us. So I think it was a bit of a petri dish. And I think about the Bob format, I don't know if that could have happened anywhere else the way it did here, because that in itself is like a Winnipeg, like a total Winnipeg story. I just think that people that have come through Winnipeg, they've loved the city, they've made their market. It's always been a fierce, as you know, a fierce competitive market. The other interesting thing that we talked about, Matt, just before we signed on to talk to each other about this, you had mentioned about how when you go to CMW, we don't share ideas as much. I always felt there was that kind of camaraderie here. Some of my best friends when I was programming Q, 94 FM and Bob FM, like some of my best friends were over at City FM. Right. And these other places. So I think there is that that may be contributed to the I don't know what you want to call it, but I think the fact that we're isolated and I think the fact that there's a certain camaraderie that has created an isolation, I don't know. But anyway, whatever the fact it's worked, it was a great place to actually start my career and basically continue it for many years. I was with Chum for 22 years. It was a magical place to work. It really was.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:04:57
So I do my research for these podcasts. So what did Steve Young think about the band Slipstream?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:05:06
Okay, so this is a great story. I think I've shared it before, but what happened was that our band, we were from Morden, Manitoba, of course, men and white background as all of our members, except one, except Guild Dungeon. But anyway, so what happened was that Steve, we were recording at Century 21 Studio. It was like Brick for Brick, the same as the record plant, Los Angeles. This place was absolutely amazing. And anyway, Steve calls me up like 19 years old and Steve says, yeah, listen, Howard, Ralph Watts and myself want you and the guys to come down to the studio. We got a final mix for your single, and we want to know what you think about it. So all of us guys would crowd into the studio. And of course, you got to remember, we were young and we had visions of being rock stars, right. And the fact that we were in this big recording studio that street hearted recorded in and all these other people, it was a pretty heady time for us. So anyways, Steve says, okay, I want you guys to listen closely to the mix. Ralph, roll it. So they play this mix back, and it's really great coming out of these big monitors. And then all of a sudden, towards the end of the song, like, all of us were listening with our head down and our eyes closed, just digging and going, man, this sounds really good. And then all of a sudden, I could have heard what I swore were Moose of a cow. Right towards the end of the song, I'm hearing in the background, and I'm kind of looking over at the guys and they're kind of looking over at me. We were kind of too in odd to say anything. So at the end of the mix or at the end of the playback, Ralph Watts. He says, okay, guys, what do you think? And I said, Well, Steve says, yeah, I really want to know what you guys think about this. I go, Well, Steve, I could swear we heard cowmus at the end of this mix. And he's gone, yeah, you did. And I went, really? Like, why? And he goes, well, this is all part of the marketing thing that we've got planned for your band. We want your band to change its name from Slipstream to Mannoites with Hats. And then what we want you to do is we want to release this single of yours, and we think it'll do fine. And of course, we were going really thought he was serious for two minutes. But anyway, that kind of got off to where it was a funny time. It really was. I felt very relieved after I found out he was just joking.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:07:36
How did you spend most of the 1980s? Was it on the air in Winnipeg?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:07:41
Yes, Chris Tanner, actually, what had happened was that our band, we had come off the road, and we had been on the road for like nine months at one point. And I remember before, I think we were playing an Ada Coconut or some place in Northern Ontario. And I asked our guitar player who I roomed with, who was also the accountant. I said, his name was Howard Dempe, still a very good friend of mine. And I said, So, Howard, you're doing the books. How much money have we made so far this year? Believe it or not, before we went on stage, it was like a hockey player, right? I was the vocalist, so I always have to take care of the voice. They had a little nap. I remember waking up and Howard looking at me going, okay, we've been on the road for nine months. I think after all expenses and everything, I think you've cleared $3,000. And I just got married, too. So it was kind of like, oh, man, financially this isn't really working out the way it's anyway, making long story short, we came off the road. We still actually got together and played with plans of doing other projects. In fact, another band kind of spawned out of that. But anyway, it was at that point that I figured, oh, man, this music is great, but there's a vow of poverty that I've taken is not so great anyway. And by the way, I had been on the radio before this in Morden, Manitoba at CISV. I had applied at Q 94. I dropped an aircraft tape off and I got a call back from the program director at that time, Pat Holiday, who hired me. And I remember he hired me to do all nights and evenings. And I guess Howard Manchein and Iran would be on the air at the same time. So Pat Holiday made me go through a telephone book start at the back. And it was like we stopped at T and it was Tanner. And then we went to the front of the book and it was Chris or C for Chris. And that's how Chris Tanner was on the air for I guess it was till about 89, 90 till I became program director, actually, in 91.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:09:48
Look back at the 1980's Q94. I'm just thinking back in my head and I've done about 240 some odd episodes. And the people who've been at Q94, Alan Cross comes to mind.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:09:58
Yeah, Alan Cross. Yeah, we were great friends at Q 94. In fact, one of the first things Alan told me when I started there was, yeah, you know what, Howard? Make sure you pick up the Rock and Roll, the Rolling Stone, Rock and Roll Encyclopedia, because you really got to know about the bands and stuff like that. So you knew what direction these guys are going in. Another guy that I started with, Todd Fryfogle, aka Ron Ralph, aka Lamont Hollywood, now working in San Jose. When I met Todd for the first time, he told me right out, hey, my goal is to work in the US. I want to work US radio. This is like back in the early 80s. So it's kind of interesting when you look back, everybody kind of had their path carved out back then and everybody ended up where they thought they were going to work. Another guy worked with Pat Cardinal. He was across the hall from you at CFRW. We became very close friends.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:10:48
I didn't even want to talk about earlier in the podcast when you mentioned Street Heart and Terry Demante was at 92 City FM. He managed Street Heart and Brother Jake Edwards, also in the market. So it's not only you got a great radio station in Q 94, you got to go up against some of these people.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:11:03
Oh, yeah. Actually, a funny story too, is Terry Damonte and Steve Young. They would come for gigs to watch us play. It always made us quite nervous because we thought we got two guys. In fact, they even came out to Morton to watch us play one time, which is kind of interesting.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:11:21
How did you know you wanted to get into programming? Was that to pay the Bills thing or did Chum what was it with working with Chum that spurred you into programming?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:11:29
Well, first of all, Chum was like going to go to University and getting paid. Right. I was just exposed to so many smart people. The first thing I did, in fact, when Alan Cross left because I remember when he went, he went right to CF and why in Toronto. That was back in 86. I remember. Well, you know what? Alan's gone. I really want the music director. I eventually became music director, and that's kind of when I learned that you got to remember, too. This was back in the days for radio when it was just shut up and play the music unless you were doing mornings. That was Kenny Loggins on The Sound of Feeling Good. Q 94 FM. Whether next. It really wasn't very exciting for me and the programming side really intrigued me. So I got into the music library music director for a few years. And then when Mark Mayhew, another brilliant radio guy who taught me an awful lot, actually, Ironically, more after he left because I kind of got to know Mark way better after he left when he hired me to do research when he was over at Newcap. But we had guys like Mark Mayhew there. Jimmy Waters was just this fabulous radio President who really deferred to his local markets. Mark and Bob Lane had hired the research group out of Seattle, and I think we were one of their first Canadian clients, and that was an experience in itself. So when I became program director after Mark left in 91, four Q 94, then that's when I kind of fell under the wing of the research group. And there was two gentlemen there, Mike Dorne and Mike Anthony. They were both VP of program and research for the company, and they taught me an awful lot. In fact, also Ross Davies. I can't forget Ross, like Ross really opened the door for me as well, introduced me to these guys and they took me under their wing. And all three of those guys I would consider mentors to this day. In fact, I remember when I decided to leave on my own. I think I talked to Mike Anthony every day for five years as he drove to work in Palo Alto, California.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:13:48
Q 94 was a monster radio station when it came to ratings. I mean, what it was like 30 shares of women.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:13:56
Oh, yeah. It was humongous. Yeah. It was really funny because when I started programming it, I always felt like I'm having to saddle up on this Dragon. I didn't want to screw it up at all. But it was I think the best book we ever had was like a 21 share. And the people that I was working with, like Bow and Tom, two of the nicest guys over the years, there was Botom and Caroline, and then there was Botom and Fraser and then Botom and Des, you couldn't have worked with better people. Chris Brooke, another guy that a very close friend of mine. We worked together and we were just allowed to make mistakes. And we were told that, listen, you know what? Don't be scared. You got a great idea. You feel strongly about it. Tell us why we'll buy into it. If you can tell us why we should go this direction, just be accountable for your mistakes. And that's kind of how it worked for many years. And yeah, we learned a lot. Like I said, it was like going to University and getting paid to go to University. Every time there was an opportunity to go somewhere or change gear, something would come up and new experience all over again. It was an awesome time. It really was.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:15:14
You never really get a good idea for the scope of the power of the radio station until you sit down and have a few beers with some former sales people from Q 94 who they love those numbers.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:15:26
Oh, yeah. Actually it was really funny, too, because it's radio. Well, I call it radio physics, right. When I look back now and I look at some of the softer books we had, those were most radio stations, good books at that time. But yeah, I remember, like the Billings that we did on that radio station were incredible for the time. They were amazing. They really were.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:15:55
So sometime around the year, like late 90s, there's a little bit of deregulation. We're all allowed to bring on an extra FM or two stations, depending on the market, and Chum and Standard make a swap, which is very difficult to explain, but it involved, I think, a couple of radio stations in Winnipeg and showmetham in Montreal. It was almost like flipping trading cards the way to take in place. And there might have been a small exchange for cash.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:16:20
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:16:21
Income is a new radio station at 99 nine that is going to come into your building, which I believe is on Pemba Highway. And what are you thinking? What is the strategy at that point?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:16:34
It's interesting because we already had Q 94, which was this giant, and we were, for all intents and purposes, a hot AC radio station. We were pretty broad, but we had it covered pretty good. Magic 99.9. They had always been kind of over here. We had thought to ourselves, you know what the thought always was that it's better we own the signal. If we can figure out something to do that will complement our signal, great. But if we can figure out what to do with this signal and get a bigger piece of the pie overall, let's think about that. And we were pretty wide open. I remember when the deal went through my head, I was going, man, what could we do with this? Because I thought there was something going on at that time. And you got to remember, too. This was like 1999. Napster was on everybody's. I mean, even my father, who was 78 79, even he was downloading songs off Napster back then, right? So there was this whole thing going on. And I remember I went to a friend's birthday party. It was his 40th birthday party. It was right by the hockey. It's such a Canadian story, right? It was by the hockey rate. My buddy Bert Siemens, he was turning 40. His house was next door to the Sanford Hockey Arena. And I show up at this party and he had this flatbed trailer outside his place and he's two big speakers, like two Cork and big speakers up there. And they're blasting City FM. I get to the party and Bird says, yeah, Howard, thanks for coming, but we're not going to be playing that Winpass Music your station place, referring to Q 94. We're going to be rocking out the City tonight. And I go, okay, great. And he says, yeah, we're going to be rocking out to the music we grew up with. And we were talking and I'm going, okay, well, that's really interesting. You say that, Bert, because at that time I'm listening to City and it was playing Jimmy Hendrix and the Animals and early Stones and stuff like that in The Doors. And I says, Bert, this might be music that you think we grew up with, because Burton and I actually have gone to the same school. We went to a boarding school, Mennonite Collegiate Institute in Gretna, Manitoba. And I says, Bert, the music that we grew up with, it was the cars, it was Meatloaf, Tom Petty, Damn the Torpedoes. I mean, Elvis Costello, Leonard skinnerd. I mean, a lot of our music was focused on 80s, not 60s. Anyway, make a long story short discussion got around to talking about music. And you got to understand there's like over 100 people at this thing. We're all standing around a fire and there's all these great conversations going on about music. After the night was over, I thought to myself, okay, I got to investigate this little further. So I went and I came home and I grabbed Joel Whitburn's Top 40 pop hit book. And I started in 1971 because that's when I remember my musical taste buds just totally being juiced by something. And I started at 1971. And I just went through and I listed all these songs down that I thought were great songs that I hadn't heard on the radio or radio wasn't playing anymore. And I kind of came up with this playlist. We had a strategic session a few months later. There was Jimmy Waters, Mike Dorne, Ross Davies, Chris Brooke, the programming team, Bryan Stone, the general manager. We're all sitting in this room. We were talking about what we want to do with this radio station. And I says, well, I got a crazy idea, like, what do you think of this playlist. I mean, nothing is happening. Nobody's playing these songs. I says, I got to tell you, I was born in the early 60s. There's nobody playing my music. I'm too young to be a baby Boomer, really. And I'm too old to be a full fledged generation actor. So there's got to be like some sort of missing generation that's not hearing this music. And so they say, okay, let's try it. You really feel good about this idea. So anyways, great big discussion. We put together these musical montages. We had the strategic study that we did, and the study came back and the hole was just massive, right. For this type of format. In fact, I remember Mike Dorne saying that, yeah, I don't remember ever seeing a format hold this big. The Passion scores were huge and we call it the P One Index. It was massive. Anyway, we decided, yeah, let's try this. I mean, what do we got to lose? I know that sounds cavalier now, but anyway, next came the idea of what are we going to call it? And I remember us talking about it. I go, yeah, you know what? I don't want to call it the bear or the Eagle or any inanimate object. I think what happens is give it a name. So it's got a personality so it could be people's buddies, right? I said, we talked about different names. And I said, what about Bob? And they said, yeah, because everybody knows a Bob and it just kind of falls out. Nice full disclosure, too. I am a bit of a radio geek and I would actually drive to Minneapolis and quite a bit because we only live 8 hours from there and going for concerts and so forth. I listen to radio and I was down there and there was a station, it was a country station, it was WBOB. And I always thought, man, I liked that. That's kind of cool. And this was back in the early 90s. So I kind of tucked out my back pocket. And then when the time came for this, we decided, Bob, let's call it Bob. That's kind of how it started. And I remember in the boardroom, everybody was laughing. We were talking about all these great turning out to Bob and all these crazy positioning lines and so forth between Ross Davies, Jimmy Waters, Chris Brooke, Brian Stone, myself, we came up with this plan. We said, okay, what we're going to do is we're going to set this thing up. Howard, you do this, Chris. We'll look after this. The only thing that we're going to do, though, is we want to make sure that when we launch this, we do it two weeks into the book. Because if this thing blows up in our face, at least we can always say, well, we didn't catch the whole ratings period. So what I did is I actually commissioned a small tracking study. This is back in the days, Matt, when we had research budgets, right? So anyway, I commissioned a little tracking study to go along from when we launched it. And I knew that we were on to something. When we ran these ten second ads on TV, all they said was, It's coming, Bob, 10 seconds. And my mom and my dad, they were out with their friends bowling one night. And my mom told me, yeah, Howard, we were talking about bowling tonight, and friends of ours were see this Bob thing all the time. And I figured you're in radio, you might know something about it. Like, do you know what this is about? Is there a new furniture store coming to Winnipeg? And I says, no, mom, it's not a furniture store. I don't think. Anyway, I kind of knew that we tapped into something. And then when these little tracking studies started coming back, I kind of took a double check because I looked at them and they were like, they were massive and they kind of cooperated. What we saw with the original strategic study information we saw then when the ratings came out, it was a smashing success. First guy that phoned me was Pat Cardone. My buddy Pat was always like, Pat. We go back a long way. Like Pat. Whenever he came to, he had a place to stay here all the time. We were very good friends. And he had said, you know what this means, right? And I went, yeah, we got a great radio station here. And he goes, no, people are going to be looking at this, man. This is something. This is a new format. And you kind of planted the seed there. It was a great time. It was a great ride. That book or Bob, it did amazingly well. I'm still doing well here in Winnipeg. I have nothing to do with it, mind you, but it's still doing phenomenally well. And it's celebrating 20 years.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:25:15
And you hired Pete Mary at the time. And I know that because I was at the other end of Montreal trying to get shown back together and sort of put the shine back on a heritage institution. You were starting something completely new at the other end. But then I said, Pete, would you come work afternoon? And he told me in no certain terms that I was to go fuck myself with the offer, and I'm going to win a peg.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:25:35
Bad Pete. Oh, yeah, Pete was great. We had just so much fun. And I got to tell you, too, Matt, I mean, this was a big venture, and of course, there was lots of money involved and so forth, but we really did have fun. It was just an amazingly great time. And as I said before, I don't think that would have happened anywhere else. I really don't. And the thing is, when it was successful, that made it even better. Not just Pete, but there's other people that worked in Winnipeg. They're like rock stars, right? I mean, I know Botom and Fraser, they were like rock stars. Going back further. Jake was a rock star in Winnipeg. Tom and Larry Winnipeg has always embraced their radio personalities, their media stars. I guess it makes you grateful to be part of the industry here. Okay.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:26:31
I might have exaggerated Pete Mariette's departure over coffee that one day in February 2002 when I had him on the show last year, he spoke very fondly of his move to Winnipeg and the launch of Bob FM.
Tara Sands (VO) 00:26:43
So what he did was carefully put together. A staff, myself included. A bunch of other people were part of the deal, too. And he began an ad campaign teasing the station with billboards and ads in the winterpay, free press. Bob is coming. That's it. And that's all I would say. It was a half page ad and a big Billboard, and it just said not showing the whole logo, just Bob is coming. So people would see that go.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:27:16
What the hell is that?
Tara Sands (VO) 00:27:17
Bob? Who's Bob? What's Bob? And they showed this dude standing there. It was very working class. It looked like the cover of Born in the USA. Springs to jeans and a white T shirt type of thing with a bit of a rock and roll edge to it. By the time we launched the morning that we launched in March of 2002, the ads popped up. It was like, Bob is here and Bob is flowing in, and he's going to rock Winnipeg with a format you've never heard before. And it worked. The ratings came out, and it was the station. I forget what the SharePoint was, but it was huge for a first book. It was like, this is going to be good.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:27:54
You can hear that entire conversation with Pete Mary in an earlier episode. A link, of course, is in the show notes.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:28:01
It ended up being a really amazing experience, and it still feeds my family 20 years later.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:28:10
And we're going to find out how all that happened, too. Wait for it. The Sound Off podcast. Do you remember that first book? And when you put a format like that on and you talked about how much space there was, you're going to get a lot of radio people, people who don't listen to radio, who are going to come to the medium and a lot of sampling. But do you remember what radio station you affected the most?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:28:33
Yeah, I do, actually. My favorite radio station, the station I never got to work at, the one that I always listened to, and that was City FM. I remember at Ford. I love Ford Gardner. And I remember it was a concert we were at, actually. I think it might even be a Steve Earl show or something like that. There's something going on at the Walker Theater, and it's the first time I'd seen Ford after the book. And I see him sitting there. I go over to just say, hey, Hi, Ford, how's it going? It's like, yeah, thanks a lot, Krueger. But it did, it really did affected city. And the thing was that it was never like the format itself was always designed and I still run it to this very day as 50% rock, 25% pop, 25% AC. I always find that if you delineate or you move away from that mix, what ends up happening is if you move too far to the female side, you'll have yourselves very like a neutered classic rock station. And then if you move too far the other way, you'll just have a very uninteresting Hyundai Sea Station or Gold based Sea Station. So it's very important to follow the ingredients.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:29:51
How did you wind up with a trademark for Bob?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:29:53
Well, that's an interesting story. I don't own it in Canada. Could be a whole other podcast, Matt, because that was like a very interesting journey. But what ended up happening was that I remember Paul Ski and Mike Dorna myself. We had actually talked about launching this in the US, bringing this to the US and I don't know whatever happened, I mean we drew up ads for it and we drew up marketing materials and at the very end, I guess there was just a lack of interest. In fact, I remember I was kind of told Howard, I don't think anybody will be interested in this in the US. And I figured, well, I really felt strongly that there would be. And of course Jack came along a year later and totally proved that assumption to be correct. What I did is I actually, yeah, I trademarked it in the US and that's how it works. This is the other thing that's interesting too is that in radio I've always felt that nobody the value of a brand. It just seems to be the last thing on. I mean, we're so quick to gas formats and try something else and all this good will that you've built towards a brand. We were always so willing to throw it out the door. I own all my brands. I also own the Hank brand, the country brand and the Duke brand in the US, which have actually done almost as good as the Bob brand. But yes, at the end of the day it is all about the brand because you can move things within the brand to move the needle on what you're trying to do. But yeah, we've always been so easy. We give things up so easy when it comes to the brand. I don't know if you agree with that, but it just seems it's like we've built these great brands and before we are able to listen, sometimes they just don't work. But that's probably another conversation because I think the metrics we use to measure our successes are just God awful.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:32:00
Listen, when it comes to brands, I'm the first person I think it happened to Cool in Ottawa and it was chum. They cashed out top 40. Cool turned it into something else. Actually, I think they turned it into Bob.
Tara Sands (VO) 00:32:13
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:32:14
Yes, they did.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:32:15
But at the same time, that's sort of in the moment you're telling your audience and giving them a Tshirt and getting them to buy in for years and years and then swapping out and saying, oh, here's something completely new. We were only kidding about the other format. Yes, it worked out for Bob in Ottawa. I look at Power 97 and Winnipeg. They took that off the air, tried something different. It's going to take you a minimum of three years to get any traction in the market. And I don't think anybody thinks about that when they make that change.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:32:43
No, they don't. And that's something I've experienced quite a bit over the years. It's interesting because for the formats that I do, maybe it's because I've always sold the integrity and the importance of the branding, but the attrition rate for what we do, it's not that big, right? So, I mean, if I had clients that have been doing Bob for like 1314 years, as long as you are able to continue to keep the brand fresh, as long as you're able to provide new ideas, as long as you're able to keep people engaged and excited, that's how you're going to keep it alive. Now, of course, there's a whole other thing about the metrics that are used to measure it because they don't help a lot of times. I mean, a lot of times you really are going north, but the sample shows you're going south. But yeah, no, the branding part is something that's always perplexed me, and that's why I've always made it pretty integral. Part of what I do is to make sure that, listen, I want to own the IP and I want to make sure that 100% attention is being paid to it before it gets decided to be jettisoned.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:33:52
What did you think of the knockoffs Jack for Rogers and Joe for Chorus?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:33:56
Well, you know what? Success has many fathers, right? The Jack one was great. As far as them marketing in the US, I wish I would have got a head start jump like they did. They did a great job on it, man. Pat and I talked about it all the time, and Pat was the guy that launched Jack in Vancouver. Like some of the stories, the behind the scenes stories that we had, that'd be great for a book one day because there's probably some things nobody would believe about that period. And some of the thought that went behind the Jack Brown. I mean, I remember Pat telling me and you know what? I could be totally I don't think he was pulling my leg. He was telling me that originally the whole thought about doing adult hits for Jack was just going to be a stunt before they flipped it into AAA or something like that. Anyway, the brand was successful. Here's the other thing, too, which was amazing, is that eventually, like in April of 2005, Billboard magazine did a story. They had me at my picture and they had a little caption in the corner of the magazine saying, Radio does know Jack. Right? And so it talked about the creation of the format and the success behind it. And that was really heady time because all of a sudden there was this big story about Canadian radio migrating to the US. Right. And I remember CNN did a story on it. They did a national news story on CTV, on Bob, did an interview with the New York Times, Rolling Stone, New York Post, all these guys, all of a sudden it was just this very. This would have been about 2000. Yeah, it was 2005. So about four years after we launched Bob, that's when the wave hit the US, and that's when it really blew up. And I guess that's also the time when I thought to myself, there's the future for this. This is something that maybe this is something that I can bring to the table and do full time. And it was about 2006 when I actually did leave. Actually, Mark Mayhew hired me over at Newcap to do their research. They were kind of my first big client. Of course, I had a bunch of voiceover clients, so I use that to finance the beginnings of what Kruger Media is today.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:36:27
You were doing research for Newcast. Was that in Winnipeg or was that elsewhere?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:36:31
No, that was across the chain. That was actually a really interesting experience. It was fun. And again, getting to work with Mark was awesome. After I left that, that lasted about a year. Then Mark had hired me to help him out with a radio application for Ottawa. And here's the other thing, too. Mark was always so ahead of the curve. I mean, this radio station that he wanted to get on the air, he was thinking totally outside the box. Again, remember, this is the same guy that came up with Chamaroo. I don't know if you remember Chamaroo. Chamaru was like it was streaming formats before there was streaming formats. Right. So Mark wanted to come up with this station that was you sold sponsorships rather than spots. And if anything, it was a very cool project to be a part of. And I often found that over the years in my career, when I get involved in these things, it's just like you get whacked in the side of the head that totally changes your way of thinking. And I really do think it's being exposed to these people that are so bright and smart, that challenge the way you think about things and really force you to think and look at things through a different lens. And that's what guys getting back to my mentors in the business the Ross Davies or the Mike Dornes, the Mike Anthony's, the Mark mayors. That's what people like that did. You know, for me.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:38:04
Just to confirm, Pat Cardinal told you that people were going to copy it, then he copied it and then launched it as Jack.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:38:10
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:38:13
Speaker 4 00:38:15
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:38:17
In fact, Matt, it's interesting because I remember when Jack launched I remember on the marketing materials that were faxed to me, and I think Pat did Pat Fax them to me. Anyway, Jack has friends in other places, and it was all the ratings that we had in Winnipeg for the Bob format. It was good for them. And in a weird twist, early on in my consulting career, actually, I did some research work with Pat Bond and Gary Wall on the Jack brand. Small world, a lot of fun, great experience. I got to say, it was a life changer for me.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:38:59
You mentioned earlier that Bob has continued to do well all these years later. We're in the 20th year of it now, and not a lot has changed. You've talked a little bit about the music mix.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:39:09
I arrived in 2006.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:39:10
And the only time I saw Bob slip was maybe they got away from that music mix that you were talking about nearly 20 years in and nothing's really changed much. How incredible is it that it's that durable a product?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:39:25
Yeah. Well, there's a couple of things that are kind of built it in a way to be future proof. I mean, listen, eventually the brand I mean, there has been changes within the brand, music wise, but whereas most formats have tended to maybe drop off the 70s, increase the 80s a bit more and move into the 2000s, think about classic rock, where the sweet spot for that format is 70s, 80s and the tail end of the 90s or a beginning of the 90s, mind you, Bob format the same way. I mean, the whole idea of it is like, listen, we're going to play great songs. We're going to test the library all the time. Because really the thing that I've found out over the years is that really there's about over 1000 songs that work well with the format. These songs that are in power, they come down, they become secondaries. The ones that are secondary, they got rested, they move up to power. The key to it. And this is what a lot of people don't understand. The key to it, believe it or not, is the branding and the imaging that comes between the music. Because what happens is that more and more as TSL gets eroded by streaming services and so forth, what's the one thing that we can do better than anybody else on the radio that's tell stories and create great audio ear candy? And that's what's so important about the imaging and the branding for these radio stations. And frankly, that's how we make a living right now doing it. My sons, Travis and Lucas, they produce all the Bob imaging now, actually do all the Hank imaging. I still use Sean Caldwell for the Bob voice. I've used Sean for 20 years. And we just keep the writing fresh. We work hard at it and we don't let it go by the wayside. So many stations and clients stations that I've worked with, what happens, they get really excited coming up with these cute liners at the very beginning of the process, and then after about two months, they lose interest and interest in the station wage. You just got to keep it fresh all the time. That's the secret, really is. And they've done an awesome job of that over at Bob FM and Winnipeg, just keeping it fresh and keeping the creative content moving the way it should.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:41:40
I don't know, a successful radio station that doesn't have a weekly imaging meeting, and I used to crank out five pages a week of this stuff just to have the station image in a fresh way.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:41:54
Yeah, that's something that listen, I think what's happened and I feel it a lot because most of my client bases in the US consolidation there is. You think it's changing here. It's changed dramatically over there. There's just not enough people to come up with that. There's not enough people left in the room to come up with that sort of stuff. So that's a service that we provide well.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:42:22
In the US, I think they got rid of all the writers around 20 08, 20 09 when there was a recession. They just told the sales people, you guys write your own spot?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:42:29
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Actually, we came up with a solution for that. It's called Spot Voltage. It's a service that my sons and I put together with a company called Sun Broadcast that actually distribute all of our formats in the US right now. And it seems to be doing pretty good. The whole idea is just provide great copy and great production for people that sales guys that don't have time to go and write copy.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:42:52
Tell me a little bit about Hank. I don't take from the country, Ben, but I have heard Hank across the United States. So tell me about it.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:42:59
Well, Hank kind of came off the heels of Bob FM and again, my close friend and mentor, Mike Anthony, he phoned me in 2005 and said, yeah, I'm doing some work with station in Indianapolis. Call letters eventually were WHK W L HK. Anyway, he says, yeah, what about taking the Bob idea and put it into country? And I said, yeah, that would work really well because I always felt the same thing that had happened to pop music and gold based 80s 90s music. The same thing was happening, could happen over the countryside eventually. It did happen, but not quite to the extent that it did with the Bob side of things. So anyways, we came up with I said, hey, we should call it Hank again just because I like to crank it to Hank. So they launched Hank that was in 2005 did well, I think it went from number 17 to number five. And there's a whole other thing that happened there, too, because I think serious at that time it was satellite radio. They had a what is it called? Hanks? It was called Hanks Channel or Hanks Place or whatever. They were very excited about me using the Hank brand. But anyway, it worked out and yeah, so that was the first Hank in 2005 in Indianapolis kind of use that as the launching point for the other Hank brands. That original Hank one. It was kind of one off almost. But again, I took the Hank brand. I own it in the US and we've been able to I think we have 20 some Hank stations right now that we do. I also have another brand called Duke, which is exactly the same as the Hank brand, but we just created it for another company called Midwest Communications who couldn't do Hank because they wanted to do a Hank in Terrell, Indiana, but it was too close to Hank in Indianapolis.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:45:05
Midwest Communications, aren't they based out of Fargo or Green Bay?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:45:10
Green Bay, Yes, Appleton, Oshkosh. Green Bay, Wisconsin. Great family company.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:45:16
I've actually featured Wi Xx 101.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:45:19
Oh, really? 101.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:45:21
Wi Xx. I featured that radio station on this podcast. At one point. They've got live people 24/7 they do.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:45:29
The owner of the company, Duke Wright, is a sweetheart of a man. They got some great talent over there. Jeff McCarthy, they are vice President of program. He's just a wonderful human being. That's the great thing about when you work on your own, Matt, if they're assholes, you can tell them to go away. Right. I've been very fortunate. The people I've worked with have been just very nice people, brilliant, smart people that are willing to try new things. And yeah, it's been really rewarding. Really has.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:46:00
Well, it's really amazing because being in Winnipeg, we can drive down to Minneapolis. And then I hooked up with the people at the Conclave and began to meet all these people that Midwest Communications and across the Midwest.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:46:11
Oh, yeah. When you go to CMW, you know, everybody right there's a certain it's just 18,000 radio stations there. But you do get to know certain groups of people and you do form this very close bond. I mean, the company that's about ten years ago started this research company. It was called Radio Doppler and it didn't fare too well. There's a lot of other things going on. One of them was my wife was involved in a very serious car accident which kind of took my eye off the eight ball. But the one thing that did come out of that was that company called Envision Networks based out of Cleveland and New York, picked me up as a client and they ended up distributing all of our formats for us. They eventually merged with a company called Sun Broadcast Network. They're the guys that sell our formats, and they've done an amazing job because that's one thing I needed was feet on the ground. Right. Because when you're the chief bottle washer, you're the programmer, you're the imagery. It's very difficult to get all your Ducks in row. But these guys have done a great job of selling our formats and even creating new business ventures with them. It's been a really great run that way.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:47:28
What are the market conditions that you need to have a successful launch, whether it's Bob or Hank or Duke?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:47:34
That's an interesting question because there are more stations in the US. What ends up happening is there's probably more strategic reasons to do it. Right? Like, you don't necessarily launch a station to be the number one station in the marketplace. I mean, guys that want to do Hank, it might be because they might be like the third country station in the marketplace, but nobody is doing classic country or they might want to protect the upper end of their mainstream country station. So one of the things that's very important is to have somebody on the other end who gets it. I'd like to think I partner with stations more so than dictate to them. But if you have somebody on the other end who gets it, who understands what you're trying to do, who is great at it's very important to have some sort of on the ground marketing presence. If you can pull those off. Those usually work out very well. I mean, there are some stations that we'll do everything for them. We'll do their music, imaging, everything. Some stations, it might be just their imaging that we will in branding we do for them. And that's the other thing, too, is that so many things that we do just kind of happened out of being at the right place at the right time. Right. I mean, like, for example, I'm the voice of all the Hank and Duke stations. And I never planned on doing that initially. I wanted Rocco with a Clown, right. Remember Rock with the Clown and those film house commercials? That's who I wanted. But when I started doing this, he didn't have his own studio. Greg Leland was his name. He didn't have his own studio. And he was kind of expensive for me at that point. I tried it myself only because I had to save some money. And it worked out. In fact, a lot of the Hank stations in the South, I don't even tell them I do the voiceover because although if they're listening.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:49:33
I guess they know now what's the balance of radio, art and science. I was watching the Stanley Two Chief series, and there's a chef in Rome who doesn't want to reveal the secret of parmesan to Pecorino in his pasta dish. I'm going to ask you to reveal the balance between art and science and radio.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:49:54
First of all, as program directors, you know, we tend to come from the many of us come from the creative side. When you come from the creative side, you really have to learn to accept the science side. And when I say the science side, I'm talking about not just the research side of things, but also the sales side of things. Right. Because you can be so pure that you create this product that you're not going to let any client touch. I know that we were very fussy back in the day about who could sponsor this product when now it's like anybody else. We wouldn't even run funeral announcements or funeral spots during the day or at all. But now you hear them all the time. Anyway, the balance between science and art is understanding where the two intersect. Right. And the thing is that, for example, you do a strategic study. I became a science guy. I had to learn that I was always a creative guy, but I had to become a science guy. But the minute you understand that, man, if you understand the science, it can create the art. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's all about knowing how to read between the lines. I find that even with music tests, I've done enough music tests and so forth. And I found that the more records I would put into the mix that didn't test. But were Owl records, the better the ratings would be. And it's understanding how that works. And I always think as Canadian program directors, we actually got trained really well in doing that, in how we managed at least I'm talking years ago, because we're managing Canadian content. There's a tons of great Canadian content out there. But the thing was that depending on what format you were, there might not be enough or there might be a lot to choose from. If you're a gold based radio station, chances are there wasn't. You'd burn out certain titles after a while. So you have to be very creative in how you program things. And I think that really helped develop the science side of things. I know that I have done many music tests. For example, country. I did a huge test for our Hank stations, and the Hank stations are 90s based. But the biggest testing records that came out of this music test would be like 80s tracks. Oh, yeah. Number one testing song for I think like four studies in a row was the theme from Duke's Hazard. By Waylon, Jenny. Now common sense would tell you, oh, yeah, the 80 stuff test great. We got to play more of that. No, you don't, really. It's just there's a certain amount of 80 stuff that tested great. Just got to make sure you work it better into your music mix. The other thing is using the art to reinforce the science. I've always been a big believer in if you have imaging that talks about how your station plays the Legends of country, the great songs ever recorded, you got to make sure that you're playing one of the greatest songs ever recorded, like he Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones or something of that. Like you got to live up to the promise all the time, right? Yeah. It's understanding the science, reading between the lines and reinforcing it with the creativity. Does that make sense? It totally doesn't.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:53:23
In fact, it actually just brought on another question. I've had about two questions left now for about a half hour.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:53:28
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:53:30
The classic hits format has to play 35% CanCon yet. It has to be from an era when there was only 20 or 30% on the air. How frustrating is it for Canadian programmers to program their way through that?
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:53:44
Oh, you're absolutely right. I guess one of them in the US. I don't have to worry about that. But no, you're right. But you do develop skills in how to accomplish that, right. It's really funny, Matt, is that I remember when we had Bob, we would test our Canadian I always considered they're just great songs. Right. A Streetheart Thinking of you by Harlequin, like top five record that there was a lot of great music. We never had a problem because if it was great, we played it and all of that stuff, like so much of that stuff tested just as well as the Internet and why shouldn't it? Right. We never really had a problem with it. It's when you get into the older gold stuff, that's when you run into problems.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:54:34
I'd ask you what sort of wish you had for radio. But I think I know the answer is to get a better measuring system.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:54:40
Yeah. We're going to go through some real pain over the next few years. We do need better metrics to measure. Listen, we live in the digital granular age. Right. You think about digital advertising and mobile. It has eaten Radio's lunch for a long time. We don't have granular information. We're using technology that was well, first of all, if you're still in a market that has diaries, that's 1920s technology and Ppm. I remember not much has changed with Ppm since the first time they rolled it out back in 1994 when they came across Canada rolling out the here's what we're going to be doing. That's got to change. And I'm disappointed that we haven't been able to find like surely to goodness everybody in the world carries a cell phone. Why have we not been able to tap into cellphone technology as something that can measure radio listening? I mean, I think the reason we haven't is not because the technology hasn't been developed. It's probably because it's been squelched. Right. Difference being hearing in Canada numerous is not for profit. Nielsen is a different animal. So I think that will have to change. The other thing that's going to be very interesting is where we are going with our digital assets. I mean you look at what's happening at Iheart media right now and in the US and that will give you an idea about where things are headed as far as how we handle our assets. And the thing is it's not like it hasn't been done before. You look at what's going on over in Europe. I mean I have a friend of mine who worked in France for a couple of years and what they're seeing right now taking place in North America, that happened there a long time ago. What will eventually happen is that we'll be scheduling our music in the cloud. Digital assets will all be in the cloud. The Studios. You don't need a big studio. In fact, I remember visiting a client like about seven years ago and this is in Texas, actually, Waco, Texas. And I'm going through the Studios. Beautiful wheat, stone boards, brand new microphones. But there's nobody in there, right. I think that have laptop will travel. That's probably going to be your studio, you're going to be plugging into music feeds. I think that's going to change a lot that way. And maybe we'll have also figured out a better way to measure what we're serving to our listeners. But I think that is probably the way that things are eventually going to go. And I mean I have more days behind me than I do ahead of me in this career, so I don't know if that's going to fully show itself while I'm still doing this. My kids, my sons, they've shown an interest to keep on going, so they're probably going to be experiencing that. But yeah, I do wish we'd have a better system to measure.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:57:44
Howard, thanks so much for taking the time to be on this podcast. This has been years in the making. I apologize that I could not come out and we do this face to face, but again, we don't need to in this day and age, we don't.
Howard Kroeger (Guest) 00:57:55
But that being said, you do live in the same town as me now. So once the pandemic is done, you and you are going to go out and there's lots of other great radio stories that I want to hear from you.
Matt Cundill (Host) 00:58:04
The soundoff podcast is written and hosted by Matt Cundill produced by Evan Surminsky social media by Courtney Krebsbach another great creation from the soundoff media company, Imaging Courtesy Corps Image Studios There's always email@example.com.