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Sunday, December 5, 2021

A Conversation with Kevin Ross and Colby Colb

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Colby Colb Tyner has always been one of my favorite industry people. I’ve seen his growth over the years and we have talked about the ups and downs of the industry on many occasions. He is well deserving of his current position at Radio One as the VP of Programming and I admire his work ethic. Manning many stations he still finds time to do his podcast BackStory which consist mostly of old interviews that he transferred from cassette to digital. Here we honor him with the Executive of the Year Award for his contributions to Radio One’s success and we get to see a more personal side of perspective of him 

Colby Colb

KEVIN ROSS: (Zoom) I see you have a lot of label plaques on your wall. I have lost most of mines

COLBY COLB: Yeah, I’m a collector. That’s why I’m able to do that podcast because I saved everything that I did, I just saved it. So I was able to have all this archive of stuff of interesting content from a time when many of the artists were just beginning. Do you know what I’m saying? So that was like pretty cool that you know, I was able to do that, and have it, and then use it.

How did you transcribe the tapes to digital?

Ah, that was easy. Like when I was out of work in 2008 when we had the great recession, I had you know about like 10 boxes of tapes; and I have a tape recorder, and it will be something like i-Rig now, but whatever it was at the time, you know, you plug it into the back of the tape deck, and then it has a USB on the other side, and then it just you load it right into your computer and just record, but it’s painstaking because you have to kind of like go through every tape. I wasn’t working so I spent six months doing it, and then I had it on a hard drive and just didn’t really do anything with it. And then I happen to see Combat Jack who did this amazing podcast about Chris Lighty’s life and you know, the information around his death, and just a little bit of his story. And, you know, I and Chris Lighty are the same age, so we kind of came up together. So I thought I knew a lot about him, but I learned more about him. 

And there was this one interview that they had done with Fat Joe, in that podcast; and he was just talking about, it was a great story of, you know, Joe was like, basically a criminal  in the streets. And Chris Lighty had to go to the streets to find him to get him to do a record deal and get off the streets. He literally saved fat Joe’s life. And they really combat Jack did a great job of explaining that moment. And I was like, man, I got all of this audio from all these people in those days. You know, like I’m gonna drop Eazy E, because I don’t ever see anything on Eazy E, but I had an interview with him a few months before he died. 

Isn’t Podcasting something that Radio One is doing with a lot of the jocks? I don’t know about the programmers, but I thought I was reading someplace where that is a part of the job description for the corporation.

Well, it just depends, everybody’s got a different situation or system in place. And we’re very early into it, but we have some of our stations and our shows where a talent has podcasts that we do work in conjunction with the shows. We had a show that’s no longer with the company, but it was on one of our pop stations, and they had a really good podcast. I mean, they had a lot of numbers for that. But again, it’s a non-African American audience, you know, that they’re reaching, but I still think it’s the Wild, Wild West. I know a lot of people are doing stuff with it. And most of the stuff that you put out doesn’t do anything. It’s like literally a one-percenter game and 1% becomes, you know, massive. 

But I’ve sort of mentored a lot of podcasters; because a lot of people had come to me because I had a podcast. And, you know, I would just kind of help them with just the structural part of it. And so I’m anxious to see what we look like in five years, but you know, I think it’s exciting. 

Okay. Um, another question, do you listen to Joe Budden? Have you ever checked out his show?

Yeah, I know Joe. I have known Joe for 20 years.

He recently did a piece, which I thought was really interesting. He was talking about how the record labels are connected to social media, and how you know that trend is gonna continue even though they may not like each other at times, they will marry an effort to bring music to the listeners. And this podcast was probably like an hour-long, and he did not mention radio one time in the process. What do you think about where radio is right now concerning so many other outlets? I mean, it’s, uh, you know, it’s really a broadcast industry that extends, you know, to audiobooks, to podcasting, voiceover, to YouTube. I mean, you got a lot of people on YouTube who are, I was telling somebody the other day, I don’t get it, absolutely horrible. They do shows about, you know, dedicated to the industry. They talk about behind the scenes things, but they have absolutely no skill sets, no talent and they are making thousands of dollars a month. And I cannot figure out I’ve tried, but I stopped. I cannot figure out why, and maybe you said it earlier about black people not really being into the whole podcast industry, why? We’ll sit here and wait for another lateral radio gig instead of creating an opportunity for ourselves online that’s wide open right now. 

The answer to your initial part of the question; we all have recognized that there are more competitors to the radio. I mean, it’s not what it was, you know, 10, 20, 30 years ago, where radio was the king. You know, if you wanted to be a star, you have to be on the radio, but the same adage of if you want to ascend from regular artists that may get five to 10 grand a show to $100,000 artists that you know, selling millions, usually radio is the piece that you know, triggers that part of the superstar. I don’t want to call everybody a superstar because they’re not all superstars, but that radio helps with the growth because of the exposure. But I will tell you this Kevin Ross, you can quote me on this is that, I think that the COVID really showed the importance of radio to the music business because everything was shut down, but radio was not shut down. So this has been the most competitive year from a label perspective in regards to material given to us in urban AC and mainstream than We have had in years. There is so much music coming at us, because guess what, they need us to play it so that people can hear it, and they can start jamming it, and streaming it, and growing the streaming, right? 

So you know, we still play our part in regards to building stars in the format. And I think we have to do a better job because we’ve built so many stars, but they don’t necessarily do anything for radio, right? So we’ve got to do a better job cultivating stars, and working with stars because I think it’s going to be a coexistence relationship; and if not, you are right. If you want to do your own thing, you should be able to do it. If you’re out of work, and you can’t find a job, and you have a great idea, do a podcast, you never know what’s going to happen.

 You know, a couple of guys from Philly that I’ve known a long time, you know, street guys. one used to be a recording artist, the other one was literally in jail for most of his life. And they would do these really cool videos on Instagram. And they started a podcast, and I was helping them out early on; because they just were trying to figure the whole podcast thing out, and they had a big social media following. They had no filter, I was actually trying to do something on the radio with them a couple of years ago, but there was just no I couldn’t do it. They’re just not the kind of people you could put on the radio, it just wasn’t gonna work. They were not going to be able to filter themselves down, they had to be authentic to who they were. And they started doing this podcast, and it just exploded because they both have huge social media footprints, and then their videos together, which is really funny and interesting. And they ended up signing a multimillion-dollar deal with a podcasting company. Had it not been a podcast, they’ve only been a podcast for eight months and they got that deal because they grew so quickly. So you know, if you got a great idea, or a great concept, you should just put it out into the universe and see what happens. You know, like, I think what I offer in my podcast; I did it because I knew it was different. And I’m not surprised that, I mean, I’m surprised that other people like me in the business aren’t doing the same thing. But most of our people don’t save stuff, they don’t, they don’t hold onto things, they don’t have audio for a prominent personality. 

 But at the end of the day, man, you know, to your initial point, I know I’m long-winded on it is that you have to if you have an idea, you know, there’s not always going to be a place for you to go in like a corporate radio structure. But we’re always looking for talent; and if you’ve got the talent and you show the world, what you can do, that’s a great resume to get a job down the line, and then you can still do your podcasts. You can still do your podcast, and then you do this other thing, and you get multiple streams of revenue. But a lot of people don’t necessarily think like that, or they’re waiting on the job. And the job is tough right now. It’s hard to, there’s not a lot of opportunities in this in anything. The internet has changed everything.

Well, I’ve been an entrepreneur for 25 years, so perhaps we see things differently in that sense. But I know that if you create an opportunity, it could go much further than sitting around waiting for a job. And I constantly tell people that in the 25 years I’ve been doing Radio Facts, I can tell you with certainty that the people who end up dying, or get sick, it’s always the same set of circumstances. They are waiting to get back in. They’ve been out for a minute, nobody’s returning their calls. They’re frustrated, and they get depressed, and they get sick, and they die. It’s like 99.9% of the people. 

But you just got to have, and it’s not just radio people as people in general; like people are very scared and comfortable. They don’t like change. Most people are like that. It’s a very small group of people that will, you know, and people want the comfort of a job. And I understand that the comfort of a job is great, you know, you just have that peace of mind that you have the money coming in. But what I’ve always recognized and I’ve been out a couple of times in my career, is that the first thing you do, and I tell this to anybody because I’ve returned all phone calls, and emails, and people out of work, I always make sure to at least give them a response. Because I remember when I was out of work and I know people and people didn’t  call me back, you know what I mean? 

Of  course. I’ve been there once in my 20s and that was all it took.

And the day I got a job everybody calling. 

Yep, Where have you been? I have been trying to reach you all that BS (lol)

Hey, like, bro, my phone number Kevin has never changed. It has been the same number for almost 30 years, right? So like my number didn’t change bro, you changed. But anyway, going back to it is that you got to figure out the first thing you should do, and this is good that we’re talking about it because we got a lot of friends that aren’t working right now, and you know, and unfortunately not just radio just in general. The COVID really, radio was already going through this, but COVID is really like affecting everybody. Right? So, you know, I think the first thing you have to do when you’re in that situation is lean on your creative, your inner creative part. What is it that you like to do that makes you happy, and you should just go ahead and do it, and don’t worry about anybody with no job. 

You reinvent yourself. 

Yeah, yeah, but you kind of got to do that all the time. I teach my daughter the same thing. Like, you’re like, this is nice that you were in high school was nice, but like, you’re going to get to college, and then you’re going to get to after college, and like every couple years is changing. You know what else, Kevin? Everything because technology is changing much quicker than it did for our parents. Our parents could roll out for 40 years and work somewhere. My mom worked at Temple University for 40 years, right? You know, she liked the job, she enjoyed it, right? She helped put me through college, and that’s all she did. Well, you can’t do that anymore. Everything is changing. You know, you got to and it’s scary. And it’s, it’s something that, you know, you got to just step out on faith. And sometimes God puts you out on that ledge, and then he kicks you off, and you got to fly, or fall, right? And I think a lot of people fall because they just like, I don’t know, what I’m gonna do. And guess what, you’re probably gonna get the door slammed in your face; you’re probably going to get people who won’t return your calls and they’re cool. You should never take it personally. First of all, none of this stuff is personal. You have to move forward, and whatever happens, happens. And you know, some people are just not good at communicating. Some people don’t want to talk to you when you go to work, and that’s just their problem, right? You know, I’m always trying to give people ideas, you know, like, what do you like to do? Like, you know, just what is it that you want to do?

There you are

We’re gonna be in an entrepreneurial space moving forward, meaning that, you know, like, there’s going to be a lot of independent things that people can do, and then they’ll work for hire, right? I think that’s the future. I think we saw with Uber, we see it with, you know, all these other apps, like, you know, I use TaskRabbit all the time, right? Think about all these people that have a skill set. I don’t have a skill set to hang pictures and put furniture together. I never had it, my wife will tell you nope, not doing it, and you’re not touching it. But then you got TaskRabbit, you can go in there and find somebody to do it for you, right? And as somebody that makes a nice living, you know, you get one or two of these things on a weekend, you got a nice weekend, and you still got your other job, right? That’s the world that we’re living in, and I think that people have to adapt to it. And it’s scary; it’s good to have a job. And the government got to figure the health insurance thing out because I think that’s really paralyzing; because you don’t want to die; like you want to have health insurance. To my friends that are independent contractors like you and I know what they are paying for health insurance and it’s staggering, and, you know…

Have health insurance before you pay rent, your mortgage. You can always find another place to live. But your health is like you got to you gotta have that. Um, you know what, it’s really interesting that you said something, I think I once read it, and I think it was a one-minute millionaire. A point you just made, it’s like, millionaires don’t put pictures up. You know, they hire somebody to do that, and while the person is doing that, then they’re working on the next business deal or whatever, which totally makes sense. Do you allow jocks to promote themselves?

Yeah, people promote themselves. I think social media has really helped talent be able to identify themselves because they have their own platforms, but we want them to promote the station platforms and we want you to know. You obviously always promote the station first, because the station is giving you an opportunity to promote yourself. I think it works hand in hand. I think that’s a simple, easy  and clean way to do it. I think some talents abuse it. I think maybe in some companies, you know, programmers don’t want them to do that at all, and it’s all about the station, the station, the station. But I think that you have to work with people, especially, you may hire people that are influencers, and they have a nice reach, and they have a better recent radio station, you should want to benefit from that. Right? 

What is the concept of approaching someone who’s already successful online, with social media to get them to work? I mean, I would think that that would be a little bit intimidating, because they know how to market themselves, and they know how to make money, and they’ve already made money. What is the process of how do you show them the benefit of having a radio show over what they’re already doing?

I mean, I think part of it is that you just, it’s an addition to their, whatever their platforms are, it’s another, and it’s like, if it was an octopus, it would just be another arm of an octopus for an opportunity. And I think if you’re smart and shrewd, you figure out a way to get on as many platforms as possible. And the other thing is, it becomes a steady check, right? So like, you could be in a situation where it’s nice, and you work for yourself, but I mean, I’m married to an entrepreneur, it’s a cold world when you wait for that money to come in. That money doesn’t always come in, it doesn’t. It’s not always there. It’s owed to you, and you don’t get it when you’re supposed to get it, right? So it’s nice if you have this other arm of opportunity where you’re making some money, and then you have to figure out how you fit that into your, you know, bunch of things that you’re doing, you know. We work with some talents that have a bunch of things going on, and we tap into it. You know, we tap into it with the radio show, and, you know, it works for them and it works for us.

Do you listen to NPR? I’ve noticed that NPR has really come of age, um, at one time; they were kind of a joke.

Their Podcasts are amazing.

Yeah. Not just the podcast, but I mean, the just the news, the segments, the music, the, you know, everything is so well put together; like I listen to KCRW out here. And, you know, tiny, tiny desk concerts. There’s everything that they do. 

I went to a tiny desk concert this year too by the way, and that was amazing.

It is, and so is news, and I was gonna say even with music, like the jocks on NPR, I won’t even call them Jocks, I would call them broadcasters. I think perhaps everybody should change it to broadcasters. They are really into the music. I mean, the album cuts, educational moments and quiet storm segments etc. Can commercial radio afford to try new segments that are not available online?

Yeah, that’s it. That’s a good question. I think you have to be within a radio environment, have creative time, and have talent that can do creative things. It’s more, it’s difficult to do it now because you know, we just the ratings methodology of radio is a lot different today than it was when you could fill out a diary inside name to it right? So you could do a lot more crazier things, but, you know, PPM is the truth serum. So like you literally have to you know, people are listening in real time; and they tell you when they go away.

Right.

Got to get them in that 15 minute period at least five minutes. But I think you have to be, you have to find time to be creative. And it depends on the talent. And if they’re not just a Jock, like if they’re just a jock, they may not have the capabilities to or understand that part of radio. 

How did you participate as far as news is concerned? Did you have somebody, or people at different stations, or did you have to bring people in?

That’s a great question. We do a lot of, one of the things that we had been working on and it’s funny because it was my ultimate, my responsibility, or my idea came about because of it. It was nothing crazy, that would drive me crazier than listening to the radio station, and a talent doesn’t know what’s going on, or is trying to talk about something, but has no real knowledge of what they’re talking about and so they’re giving misinformation.

Right.

Just to scream at the radio, you gotta be kidding me that’s not the case. And because I cover so many markets, and I have my Alexa and that’s all I do is pop from station, to station, to station. It drove me to create a show prep, internal show prep that I send to every talent in the company, every program director, every division of the company, there’s somebody on this email that I send out daily; because I’m a show prep, like kind of addict. I really read and you know read the, you know, newspapers, magazines, I mean it’s all digital, I don’t physically do that anymore. But I’ll spend two hours a day, all together, not at one time, like consuming content, like what’s happening in the world, and then I lay it all out the night, at night. Like this morning, I started just pulling different stuff that I’m gonna send out on Monday, and I sent it out to everybody. So everybody gets sort of like this show prep, has all the information, what’s happening in the world, not just entertainment, but what’s happening in news, what are the things that you should know about? So when you’re talking about the election, or you are talking about the electoral college, you know what’s going on; and I will break down specific things, so there, you know, everybody’s this is not good at consuming information or giving it out.

Another thing is Sybil Wilkes has been working with us all this year. She does a news update, which kind of came out of COVID. And then she does it with the election that is available to every station, and she does several of them a day and we send them out internally. Like, look, if you listen to D.L. Hughley, or just from a syndicated side, he plays it on his show, but a lot of the local people, they play it in markets, where we maybe have two or three people and we just don’t have the manpower to do it. 

But I’ve told our program directors, I’ve also empowered them to just be more aware of what’s going on. And so when we have our meetings, internally, we talk about what’s happening in the world and how we’re going to react to it. Because to your point, Kevin, it’s more important that the local people that are on the radio, are given the right information, because they’re the ones that give that information. 

But to your point, I want to mention something else about the headlines. There have been people who’ve gotten on my case; it’s so funny because I get so many emails each day and so many responses. Some people get on my case about the headlines, when I put ‘Vet Dies,” or “Jock Dies” in the headline. And they’re like, you know, that’s just clickbait…. SO  I’m like, you damn right, you know, it’s like, first of all, you’re going to click that. But if I print James Smith of Columbus, Georgia at WUUU has died. What reason would you have to click? The entire story is in the headline. 

Well, you always want to know what they died of though, you know, us we got to know what.

What would you like to be doing in 10 years?

That’s a good question. I mean, probably something creative where I could just like, I think I have moved into more of a position now that I’m more of an administrator, which is fine; because I’ve always liked you know, I’ve never I didn’t go into the military. I don’t have a military background, but I have a military approach to how stuff needs to get done, and to be organized, and focused. And I love being able to teach people the business and watch them flourish and grow in the business. But I mean, probably something creative. You know, I’m so bullish on a few channels. I know so many people are like boohoo. Oh, I’m excited.

I am excited about where we are right now. Because I feel like, you know, and I’ve been telling this to people, so I’ll tell it to you, right? It’s like people are just Oh, COVID, COVID, and COVID. You know, like COVID is just a moment. But when the Spanish Flu happened in 1920, following that was the roaring 20s. Now then 1929 was the great depression. The country is a much different country than it is now. I’m excited and energized about the future because I think that there are opportunities, and I don’t know what that is. Kevin, I’m just excited. I like that I work in a company where we have different tentacles, so I can go speak to the president of TV one, anytime I want to. We actually went to the same college, so we have something in common. And we talk about ideas and concepts, right? And that’s TV one, where else would I ever work where I wouldn’t be able to be involved with other entities? We have a huge digital entity, we own Bossip, and several other websites, and, you know, I’m able to not just be the radio person, right? So I’ve enjoyed this moment in my career. And I’m excited about the future, because there are so many things that I can do, because I’ve been able to touch a bunch of stuff.

 I would love to write a television show or you know, I have a bunch of ideas I’d love to do. But as you know, it’s a cold world out there, right? So like, there are a lot of great writers, and actors, and folks, and if any, if I do any of that, I probably it would be an additional stream of income, but not away from just sort of a regular, you know, the position that I’m in, but it’ll be something creative. I mean, I don’t know what that is. 

I’ve had a lot of opportunities given to me; or presented to me, you know, in my career that I’ve declined, because I just didn’t feel the time was right. I just didn’t feel that it was the right thing to do. But I am so bullish on the future, man, I think that what we’re about to get into man, it’s going to be an opportunity race. And if you’ve ever been in an opportunity, race, the sky’s the limit.

It’s so funny, I absolutely agree with you on that. I’ve always been very bullish and appreciative of technology; because I was saying that, you know there’s never been a black industry trade, for example, that I’ve seen, succeed beyond a certain point. So it’s like, well, who do I look at, you know, to see where I’m going? But then I told somebody, but I have something they didn’t have, the technology. You know, so there are other opportunities here. And I think that COVID, the whole thing with COVID is that it was a great learning moment, it is a great learning moment. Hopefully, it doesn’t last much longer, but I’ve never had this much clarity and peace in my life. You know, you truly come to understand the value of everything. And I would not credit, you know, this current administration back, because I don’t think that was the goal, but sometimes things are just meant to happen. There are some good things that are gonna come out of this.

It forces you to think about the future. It forced you to, it brought things to light that were injustices for many decades. It just made people really uncomfortable. And being uncomfortable is not a bad thing. I’ve been uncomfortable, you’ve been uncomfortable. I know what that feels like, that feeling is not comfortable.

Well, it multiplies everything, that’s for sure. And multiplies racism and multiplies it, you know, the situation that we have with the police; and just everything has been multiplied 10 times, and you see that the stuff that has been so well covered or so well dealt with in the past is wow, you know, I knew it was bad, I didn’t know it was this bad.

But check this out, the art that we are going to see, that was created and this time, in the next 10 years. There are some people that have written and worked on some stuff, and they are not even famous yet, then you don’t even know who these people are. In the darkest periods of time, the most creative, amazing things come about, and so that’s what makes me excited.

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