WBLS’s Skip Dillard (WBLS and WLIB): An Interview with Radio Facts Top 10 Programmer of All Time Winner


KEVIN ROSS: Congratulations on placing in the Top 10 Urban Programmers of All Time. How did you find out about it?
Skip Dillard (WBLS and WLIB): I got the blast from Radio Facts and people hit me up and they were excited and told me, “Hey Man you made it!”

KR: My very first question is you work for a phenomenal station known worldwide with an OUTSTANDING history… WBLS. Is it an advantage to work for a non (major) corporate station?SD: It’s a huge advantage today. A privately held company offers you the advantage of being able to maneuver, doing what you need to do.

You have a chance to really get your job done and the pressures at times feels more natural than a publicly traded company. There are much less distractions.

KR: What do you think the possibility is of “Mom and Pop” stations returning in the next 10 years?
SD: Funny you should mention that, yes, I think that’s very possible. I was talking to some colleagues about that recently. The question is will there be more black ownership and there have been a lot of suggestions such as returning the tax certificate.

Ultimately, minorities have to have a passion for ownership again and I don’t see that too much. Are there anymore Cathy’s Hughes’ and (the late) Percy Sutton’s out there? While it’s greatly possible, you don’t hear people saying ‘When I make my fortune I want to buy a radio station’ as much as you did when we were coming up.

KR: What’s missing from Black radio today?
SD: Creativity. Listener’s expectations are higher today because they have access to the lifestyle and music online. Also personality is missing. The Radio DJs that read constantly and do their research are able to relate that information to the audience. Whether it be the street or the boardroom.

Frankie Crocker, for example, no matter WHO I mention WBLS to, white, Jewish, Black, Asian, Latinos no matter what cross section of people I mention WBLS to they say “FRANKIE CROCKER.” There are very few people today who are able to come in and mesmerize a community and beyond like he did.

KR: You know, I get a lot of video from young Radio DJs today who want me to hear their shows and it infuriates me that they are under so much pressure and fear. Their creativity has indeed been destroyed and I know that’s coming from corporate. How are they going to be able to grow if they can’t be themselves?

SD: Well I have noticed that there was a common thread amongst the vets back in the day. They got on the air and they did not use their mics to bash people in order to have fun or hurt people. They were able to mesmerize and mobilize. That’s something today that Radio DJs don’t do, which boils down to laziness and poor show prep.

When you make negative comments about, for example, the Haitian community.. like a station in New York recently did, it’s (unfortunately) the only time you hear about a Radio DJ but one great example I can offer when it comes to show prep is Wendy Williams. Wendy read EVERYTHING. Show prep for her never ended.

She was ALWAYS reading. I’d walk into the studio during her show and she was reading, printing, using interns to print off articles. That the first steps in being a great communicator and giving it back to the community. That’s something that Steve Harvey or a big syndicated show has producers do that for them but if you’re a local talent you have to do it yourself.

KR: Once again, that’s another thing that upsets me. The local Radio DJ doesn’t have the tools that Steve Harvey and Tom Joyner has. But they are young, they are in the streets they are local and they KNOW the community and do more than get a haircut at the hood barbershop or sit in the limo while an assistant runs into Popeyes to grab a 2 piece snack.

The young Radio DJs today are stifled from being creative. I’m not talking about saying something stupid, I’m talking about saying something with substance too (lol). I asked Lee Michaels the same question. Commercial radio seems to be very comfortable with what’s working now and as a whole seems to ignore the internet.

I predict radio is going to have a very rude awakening like the record industry did in the early 2000s. Someone is going to come up with a gadget or a form of internet radio that’s going to explode. I know that WBLS is very active with its website as I check station websites all the time and that’s rare. How is that?

SD: It’s a financial commitment. There are so many other things stations need but we hired someone. It’s very tough for every GM, owner, president etc to make a commitment to something that may not pay off for a while when the stations need money now.

When you are looking for a webmaster to put your station’s information online you can’t get someone for $25,000. They are often very high priced. These people are six-figure people in some cases and the benefits may not be seen in 2 or 3 years.

KR: Out of curiosity, who are some of the programmers that you respect today? I can’t say up-and-comers because we’ve had the same PDS for the last 10 years (both laugh)
SD: I like Derrick Brown, Derrick Corbet, Reggie Rouse is a beast he never sleeps …he eats, breathes and lives radio. I like KJ Holiday, Jamillah, Brian Wallace who is a great mentor and teacher and several others.

KR: How can Black radio grow over the next couple of years. How can we prosper and gain audience.
SD. Developing our digital platforms, I think, will go a long way. We know where our listeners are. We often don’t want to go to them because it may cost us money and time but we gotta live where our listeners live.

Anywhere these people live we have to find a way to be there. Radio has to define a new and innovative ways to sell. A lot of gospel stations don’t make the kind of money they should make. You go to a megachurch and you will see more Mercedes in the parking lot than you can imagine. So we have to open up some of these project categories.

We finance luxury items, we buy the best shoes the best handbags but we get so little of that money back. We have to sell the power of radio. I have decided to learn sales myself. Not only to increase my longevity in the business but to understand how it works. Finally, we have to have an incubator. I’m going to work with my staff harder, the part timers and the college grads.

We have to get them excited about radio. There are very few conventions and conferences for information. We have to pass the passion off to a new generation of young Radio DJs coming up.

KR: You just took me back. I really liked going to different cities and hearing different Radio DJs and different music. Why don’t more stations teach various departments about their departments?
SD: Funny you should mention that, we do that here. Cross training has been very important for me because I think it greatly helps each department understand each other. There are similarities in how close we work together.

KR: I know the newer ratings system makes things very tight but a lot of people constantly complain about hearing the same songs over and over. Should Black radio open up the playlist more?
SD: You have to ask how many new records listeners are able to handle. The new ratings system means that you are penalized for everything that you do that does not satisfy listener expectation.

It’s a challenge and something that we talk about constantly. Perhaps the answer is finding a way online to expose more music or imaging promos etc. There are some creative ways but it’s part of the reality that we are in today and it conflicts me constantly.

KR: Lee Michaels mentioned the same thing and he had a great idea for creating a channel on your website. I know that you’re busy and I appreciate the time. Thanks Skip.
SD: I’m honored that I was one of the chosen ones for the contest and even if I had not been in the top 10 I was very excited about it. I’m really looking forward to the new contest (The Radio Facts Top 30 Black Women in Media) a well.


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