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?
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
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
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
5. What is the advantage of being live and local such as your show
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?
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
7. Do you use any show prep services… tell why or why not?
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
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
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?
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
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
It’s not a morning show... but it very well could be. The guy
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.