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Radio Interview

Darren Marlar
 

Morning Personality

 

WQFL

 

Rockford
 

To contact Darren click here
 

Darren's Career Capsule
Darren Marlar has been hosting morning drive since 1994, and filling commercial production and station imaging responsibilities from the beginning of his career.  He’s also a working comedian and writes a monthly humor column.  Darren’s career began in 1990 at KCNW-AM in Kansas City working for free every morning until 8am helping the morning show before heading to his “real job” at a local credit union where callers to the help line thought he was a recording because of his voice.  It wasn’t long before Darren was hired and spending most of waking hours either on the air or in the production room – eventually working his way to mornings, Program Director, and Creative Services Director for both KCNW and sister station KCAZ. In 1996 Darren took a position as the Network Operations Manager of Bott Radio Network, overlooking thirteen stations at the time, while spending weekends on the air at Country station KFKF in Kansas City.  Not satisfied with having every single second of his day filled with work, Darren started his own station imaging, voice work, and show prep business: Marlar House Productions in 1999.   Also in 1999 Darren changed his environment by taking a position with KCWJ-AM as Program Director, morning show host, and Creative Services Director.  In 2004 Darren relocated from Kansas City to Rockford, Illinois to take the morning show and Creative Services position with WQFL-FM, occasionally filling the role of Program Director as well.  It was about this time that Darren also began performing standup comedy regularly, and began writing a monthly humor column (now featured at TheChristianPulse.com).  In 2008 Darren Marlar purchased ONAIRprep.com, and again began writing on-air material for Christian and family-friendly radio.  And now, on top of everything else, Darren Marlar is launching his own syndicated radio show, “The Darren Marlar Radio Show” (a.k.a. “MARLAR 24/SEVEN”). 

 

1. We hear your morning show is about to go into syndication…what can you tell us about that?

Actually, the syndicated show is something I’ve been thinking of for about five years now, and I’m very excited about it.  The show is called “The Darren Marlar Radio Show” (clever title, eh?), but the product itself is “Marlar 24/Seven” (http://www.marlar24seven.com).  It’s not exactly syndication though... it’s more of a blending of syndication and voice tracking.  One thing that really has bothered me about most syndicated shows is that they don’t sound local.  I don’t expect a show to continually talk about things happening within city limits, but the jock still needs to sound like they are coming from the station.  I’ve also not been a huge fan of voice tracking, because it’s typically sent dry – no production value.  Even the best trackers out there don’t usually have the time to put in the music beds, sound effects, audio drops from TV/movies, etc.  And if they did, it’d cost a fortune – you might as well hire them to be on staff.  Marlar 24/Seven incorporates the best of both... it has daily tracks that are fully produced and ready to air – major market quality stuff, plus it comes with pages of dry work each month to make the show virtually local for each individual station – even going so far as to introduce the weather guy, the news person, promote the upcoming station event, etc.  It’s also priced to cost less than most typical voice tracking – so it makes sense for a station’s budget.  We’re packing a lot of extras into it as well.  Along with the daily produced stuff and the monthly dry voice work, affiliates also get a daily podcast of the show for their station’s website, they can access my blog (which is VERY active), they get five monthly “Power Charge” promos, and they get my monthly humor column to use on the station’s website, newsletter, etc. (samples of everything can be found at www.Marlar24Seven.com).  Essentially, it’s like buying a Porsche but only having an AMC Gremlin budget.  It’s amazing how fast word has been spreading about the idea too.  We’ve already signed our first affiliate (WWIL) in Wilmington, North Carolina – and we’re talking with several other stations saying “tell me more about this thing you’ve got going on...”  But this interview with you, Ted, is really the first public word we’re releasing about the show. 

 

2. How has the recent announcement of the WQFL sale to EMF impacted you personally?

It was quite the blow when I first learned about it in May.  I immediately assumed (incorrectly) that the station would be shut down and replaced with the K-LOVE network signal.  In a way it was a good thing, because it motivated me to look hard at the syndicated show idea and move forward with it.  I doubt I would ever have done it had it not been for the sense of urgency that was thrust upon me with news of the station being sold to EMF.  But something even more exciting has happened in that EMF has decided to keep WQFL local.  (What?!?!  K-Love is keeping a station local?!)  Yes.  In fact, it looks as if we’ll be the only local station under the EMF banner.  All of us at WQFL are surprised and excited about it too.  We now have the opportunity to move forward as we’ve always wanted to, owned by an organization that lives and breathes radio and understands what needs to be done in order to succeed – and can give us the tools to do so.  I’ve been at WQFL for five years now and I’ve felt like the station was standing still because it was being held back by previous ownership and board of directors – none of which had any radio experience whatsoever.  Suddenly now we’re being told by EMF, “Hey... you guys know how to do radio – how about you go out and do it?”  We still have a lot of questions about how the transition will be made from one owner to the other, but suddenly now rather than sulking and mourning the loss of a great station, we’re energized and anxious to get out and make a difference in the community.  It’s strange... for five years I’ve been at a career standstill, and now suddenly I’m working for the only locally-operated EMF station in the country and I have a syndicated radio show to boot.  God rocks!

 

3. How has your morning show evolved or changed over the last few years?

We don’t have a lot of giveaways, so contests are pretty much non-existent, so I’m working to make the show bigger in other ways.  I spend more time with callers, email back-n-forth with listeners a lot more than before, and spend a lot of time social networking during the show too.  I’ve created a Facebook page for listeners to keep up with me (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Darren-Marlar/79797193342?ref=mf) that is separate from my personal profile.  I’m there all day – so the show doesn’t end just because I turn the microphone off.  Same goes for Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/darrenmarlar) and my personal blog (http://www.darrenmarlar.com).  While I’m doing show prep, for instance, if I find something funny or interesting I’ll post it online while I’m working so that I’m always entertaining listeners even if it’s 5pm and my show ended at 10am.  My blog has the capability of scheduling posts for future publishing – so I place news items, weird holidays, my monthly column, etc., there so that even if I’m on the road on my way to perform standup comedy (yes, I’m a standup comic too) I’m still “posting” and staying connected.  I have posting capabilities for Facebook and Twitter via my cell phone as well – just in case.  Also, the show is more highly produced now.  I want the show to sound as full as possible, and while I’m the only person creating production for the show, I want it to sound like I have a producer – and that takes preparation.    

 

4. What morning show topics seem to be hot right now?

Anything related to life.  Unfortunately, I do not have children to talk about – so I try to talk about other things that apply to just about everyone.  Household tips, things that affect the pocketbook, etc. A lot of the stuff that has always been effective. 

 

5. What is the advantage of being live and local such as your show is?

Immediacy.  I know a lot of people say that being live and local is important because you can talk about local stuff, but really, what kind of interesting things take place in Olathe, Kansas or Cameron, Missouri?  We have a local station here in Rockford that talks about nothing BUT local stuff – within city limits, I mean... and I just can’t stand it – it’s boring.  To me, “local” means to be engaging to your local listeners.  If your local audience wants to hear about Michael Jackson, talk about him – it doesn’t matter if MJ didn’t live in DeKalb, Illinois where your station is located.  The best thing about being local is the immediacy you get with listeners.  They can pick up the phone and call you – and talk to you.  They can drop you an email and get a reply immediately, making them feel appreciated and important.  You’re a celebrity to them – and you took time out of your crazy-busy day to send them an email back!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard back via email from listeners saying, “Wow – I didn’t expect you’d actually email me back!”  Unbelievable.  That means their experience with DJs in the past is that they don’t get replies.  For shame.  That’s one thing I really try hard to do – answer emails personally and promptly.  I plan to do the same with my syndicated show as best as possible.  I might not live in that person’s town or market, but if I can make them feel special and needed, I win.... as does the station my show is on.

 

6. What kind of promotions work best for Christian morning shows?

Of course, anything “free” to the listeners is great – and you can always get rid of tickets to concerts and such.  We’ve had monster success with our midday munch promotions.  Right after the morning show we’ll head to some fast food joint and people will get something like a burger and a drink for just $1.01 (101 is our dial position).  Our listeners eat it up.  This will be one of the war stories I tell to generations down the road – the day my morning show went out to Culver’s and the place got so busy from our listeners that they ran out of buns.  (Yesss!)  Our very next midday munch was any six-inch sub for $1.01 at a local Subway.  People waited in line for more than 90 minutes to get their sandwich.  It was unreal – and the coolest feeling ever.  But we’ve also found that our listeners like to get involved with promotions that help the community.  And if the morning show is involved with those promotions it becomes twice as successful.  We’ve been doing a “Ton of Turkeys” frozen turkey drive for four years now and each year we just keep getting bigger.  Our goal the first year was for one ton (2,000 lbs) of turkeys for the local mission... our listeners brought in over two tons. Now we have youth groups challenging each other to see who can bring in the most “poundage” each year.  We just got finished teaming up with several local churches for something called “Sharefest” (www.RockfordSharefest.com) in which we encourage listeners to get involved with a city-wide community service project.  The morning show actually became “Sharefest Radio” for a whole week.  In all, 5,000 volunteers from Rockford stepped up to help refurbish schools for no reason other than to show the love of Christ in a practical way.  But it doesn’t have to be big stuff like that either.  We, like many other stations around the nation, do the Drive-Thru Difference here where we encourage listeners to buy the food for the car behind them if they are in a drive-thru somewhere (or at Starbucks, or at a toll booth).  We constantly get calls and emails from listeners telling us how excited they were to do it and how they can’t wait to do it again.  You can’t ask listeners to do this stuff all of the time – we do it maybe once a quarter for the big stuff, we don’t want to fatigue our audience – but they do love stepping up like that.

 

7. Do you use any show prep services… tell why or why not?

I have to be careful how I answer this one, because I also happen to be a show prep provider.  (I have got to loosen up my schedule!)  Along with my own show prep (warning: shameless plug coming), ONAIRprep.com, I also use Radio-Online for the Hollywood news, and I’m looking seriously at a new service from All Star Radio called “60-Second Briefing” to just fill out some spots in my show.  The hardest thing about using any show prep services is finding one that has enough useable family-friendly material.  Aside from my own – which is clean for obvious personal reasons – I really don’t know of any, and that’s sad.  Christian radio isn’t the only format that could benefit from good, clean, family-friendly show prep.  But apparently the comedy writers find it too easy to go directly to the blue humor or dig in the sewer for stories in order to feel relevant and entertaining.  Sorry... got on a soap box there, didn’t I?  Can you tell I have an opinion about show prep services?  Hey, if you have a family-friendly show prep service, let Ted know, will ya?  We’d all like to get a look at it!

 

8. What are the biggest obstacles facing Christian morning radio today?

Lack of sleep combined with the inability to pay for Starbucks.  Honestly, my biggest obstacle for years has just been the attitude of “that’s not how we do it in Christian radio.”  Stations want to get out and make an impact for Christ, but then do things that only preach to the choir.  If that’s what you want your station to be for, that’s great – all power to you.  Do the verse of the day, the daily devotional at 7:20 each morning, and come up with a bible verse between each song that goes along with the lyrics or title.  If you want to bless those who are already in the church every week and reading their bibles daily, then do that.  But if you want to reach out to the community – to those who do not know your station even exists - then you have to make a few waves.  You need to break the mold.  Think about it... you’re already playing Christian music.  So 40-45 minutes of every single hour are devoted to singing about Christ already, right?  Why not have some fun with the rest of the hour?  Tell a joke, have a contest, give away a prize (or have a contest where the winner wins “absolutely nothing!”).  Don’t make it bible question – make it a trivia thing.  How many bowling pins would fit lengthwise in an elephant’s trunk?  That kind of thing.  Also be willing to think competitively when it comes to promotions.  Is the mainstream CHR station doing a remote at Subway next Wednesday?  Any reason you can’t park your vehicle across the street and do a remote at the same time at the McDonald’s?  Don’t do it to be mean, do it because the people listening to that station need to know you exist.  Will the CHR station get mad?  Maybe – but only because you might attract some of their listeners - and isn’t that your job?  And if you have a comedian on the programming staff (such as myself) why not let him go and perform in comedy clubs and (gasp!) bars to do ten minutes of comedy?  Not to host it – just to appear?  If that person is mature in their faith, what’s the worst that could happen?  Either the people in that bar will want to give your station a listen because they loved the comedian and want to hear more of him... or they’ll think, “Isn’t he the Christian DJ?  Wow – he’s here doing comedy at a bar!  That’s pretty cool!”  Just remember that radio is a zero-sum game.  In order to gain listeners, you have to take them from somebody else.  Sometimes that requires going into uncomfortable situation (just don’t compromise on ethics and faith).

 

9. Do you think there will be more or less morning syndication in the future of Christian radio?

So long as corporate suits receive multi-million dollar bonuses for cutting on-air staff, and the only important thing anyone is looking at is the black ink VS the red ink at the end of the month, we’re going to see more and more syndication.  And if a Christian radio station is operating with those same values, then the answer is yes... you’ll see more syndication, even in the mornings.  But I think people often forget that there are legitimate reasons for using syndication (regardless of the daypart) as well.  If you’re a smaller station that can’t afford experienced on-air talent, but you need to compete with the big boys across town, then syndication might be a great option for you.  There’s no way that Billy Joe Bob who just got out of your local high school is going to compete with the likes of Mancow Muller or Rick Dees.  And even if you’re a Christian station, you have to keep your main competition in mind.  If your main competitor IS Mancow or Rick Dees, what can you, as a Christian station, offer to attract those listeners to your station?  A verse of the day and a morning show hosted by the General Manager who spends 75% of his day on sales calls and donor development?  He can’t possibly attract enough listeners to make it worth his while to get up at four in the morning and work until 10am.  Syndication makes sense for that guy... and he shouldn’t be blamed for doing what is best for the station.  What if there’s a big Christian station in town like Way-FM or K-Love, and you are the tiny Christian station just trying to make ends meet?  Syndication might be a good choice there too.  What I don’t think is right though is getting rid of someone who’s doing a fabulous job, is touching listeners’ lives, and is getting into the community, and cutting him out simply because you can save $40,000 per year using a syndicated show or a voice tracker in order to increase your already in-the-black profit.  That’s not good radio.

 

10. What (if any) Christian radio morning shows do you consider as innovators today?

Sadly, I’m kinda busy during times where I’d have the opportunity to listen to other Christian morning shows so it’s tough for me to answer this question.  Hopefully the day will come where someone says my name in answer to this question.  I will say that this guy named Wally is doing a great show called Total Axxess (http://www.totalaxxess.com/).  It’s not a morning show... but it very well could be.  The guy is amazing. 

 

11. Where do you see Christian morning radio in 5 years?

Five years older – and the same again five years later.  No... I mean it.  Radio is a great business, but I’m not seeing near as much new blood nowadays as in the past.  I’m sure technology has a lot to do with it – why sign up for something “old school” like radio when you can start your own internet radio station in your parents’ basement, or listen to whatever you want whenever you want through iTunes or on your iPod?  But I see the larger issue as the conglomeration of radio in-general.  When stations are firing all of their midday personalities, and cutting staff sizes down from 18 full time staff to only four full time staff and asking them to make it all work, what room is there for new recruits?  Five years from now, current staff will be five years older – and no new staff will be hired because the budgets won’t new hires.  Five years after that we’ll all be ten years older and still not have any new staff.  How long can we do that until we all realize we can’t get up at four in the morning anymore, but have no one to hand the reigns to?  I understand about budget cuts and slicing staff in hard times – just make sure there is a plan in place to bring people back on as soon as possible, and if you can bring on some younger ones that you can take time to train and mold, you might just save not only your own station – but radio as an industry. 

 

 

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