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Radio Interview

Jeff Cruz





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Jeff's Career Capsule
I started my radio career in 1987 as an intern at I-95 (WAPI-FM) in Birmingham.  In 6 months I was an official employee and in a year I was on the air doing weekends.  For the next few years I worked weekend on air shifts on several of the local Birmingham radio stations until settling at Oldies 106.9 and WZZK for a number of years. After jaunts doing radio in Panama City Beach and Tallahassee, I met and married my wife Tina. My first work in Christian radio started in 1998 when I did mornings and music at Reality Radio 101.1 in Birmingham, AL.  When they were sold a few years later, it led to the desire to get a “real job”.  Once my degree was completed at UAB, I went to work for Arbitron training and supporting agency buyers and radio sales people how to use their Tapscan software products. Then after quite a series of unusual event, I found out about the new APD/MD opening at Z88.3 in Orlando, working for Dean O’Neal.  As good as I had it at Arbitron, I jumped at the chance to work for Dean.  Now, here I am three years later.


1. How has WPOZ evolved over the last few years

We are far more involved promotionally than we ever were before.  When I first came to work here 3 years ago, we really only did our own promotions or vanstops, creating them to promote ourselves in the community.  Now we work hard virtually every single week to make sure we are out around town involved in existing events like county fairs, art shows, vacation bible schools, Easter egg hunts, car shows, and more. Two years ago we first participated in the Southern Women’s show putting ourselves in front of tens of thousands of women in our target audience. This is something we would not have done just a few years ago. It paid off too, since the next year won the People’s Choice award for favorite booth.  The positive experience there led us to create a baby expo of our own and work with lots of local community groups to share the information women need for babies and toddlers.  We call it the “Little Ears Expo” and we are planning out third annual expo right now.


2. Has WPOZ made any changes due to economic situation, been affected in any way?  

We have felt the impact of the struggling economy. It has hit Orlando particularly hard, much of which is driven by tourism.  We were unable to raise our entire 2009 budget during our annual Fundraiser in November. Even with a make up day in January we only got to 92% of our budget.  This has forced us to make a few changes primarily in the growth plan of the radio station. Tower and signal upgrades, HD installs and power increases are all on hold for the time being as we focus on tightening our belts to cover operational expenses.  However we have not seen the expected fall off in donations coming in that we thought was possible, so we are confident that God is now providing for us (and always has)!


3. How is Orlando a unique Christian market? 

There is a LOT of competition for people’s time and money here.  We have theme parks, resorts, concerts, professional sports and NASCAR, beaches, state parks, lakes, and dozens of local events, art festivals and more every single week! Even in the Christian music arena we have at several venues with regular concerts and festivals, 3 or 4 major churches always hosting concerts, and that’s in addition to Disney’s Night of Joy and Universal’s Rock the Universe festivals.  All this adds up to create a very busy market where listeners are very particular with where they spend their money, knowing that no matter how good an opportunity sounds, there will be another good event in another week or two.


4. What criteria do you require for a song to be played on WPOZ? 

First, it must be a song by a Christian artist.  I know there has been a lot of discussion about playing spiritual songs by mainstream artists who are also believers, but we have decided that we going to only play songs by Christians musicians doing music as a fulltime ministry.  Carrie Underwood, The Fray, U2, and many other great artists are bringing their faith to their music and we appreciate that, but feel that since we keep a pretty tight playlist and have a promise to be “Safe for the Little Ears” with our audience we are not going there. (Interestingly that is one thing I have never ever gotten a question or complaint about.) 

So since the artist we consider are all CCM artists, we really are just looking for the best song each week. I listen to dozens of songs every single week and have the difficult task of pairing it down to one song.  When you are getting 15-30 singles promoted to you by all the labels each week, it is a tough thing to do, but we usually only make a move or two at a time, so a song has to really shine to stand out.  Lyrically it has to be solid with a clear message and be something that “Kate” (what we call our target listener) would truly care about.  Songs like Mighty to Save, Your Grace is Enough, Voice of a Savior, Give Me Your Eyes and You Are Everything are great examples of songs we felt had something special and they became 5 of the biggest testing songs we had last year. 

One other factor that we consider and take very seriously is the quality of the recording and mastering of the song.  So many songs recently have been “smashed” to pieces by the recording/mixing/mastering process that by the time they get to us, on cd or digitally, the sound is almost distorted.  If we air a song like this, once it passes through our radio processing (that has to happen) it gets smashed even worse.  Sadly the listener does not know that it is something in the studio/mastering process and wonder why the label would do that… they think it is something the radio station has done and changes the channel.   Thankfully in a few cases recently labels have worked with us to get cleaner or unmastered versions to air, but there will be songs that get passed over due to the fact that the recording is just too full of inner modulation distortion.  Hopefully that will change in the industry in time, but for now it is a major issue across the board.


5. What kind of promotions work best for Christian radio? 

We find that service is best. By this I am actually referring to when we do a promotion that works to serve our listeners.  We work with a local organization every year for example to do free flu shots for all of Central Florida.  We literally do thousands of them at about 4-5 daylong events at the start of flu season.  We also have done summer safety events, a year long blood pressure / heart health campaign, a major daylong event for families with special need children, adoption fairs, a Christmas toy drive and even a caroling event in local hospitals for kids on Christmas day. These types of events connect listeners with us and us with them on a level unlike any prize we could ever give away.  It allows us to get into parts of the local community in a way that we would not be able to with giveaways and is one of the things allow people to introduce the Z to their friends and family.  


6. How do you think Christian Record labels can better serve Christian radio? 

I think that promotionally the labels are doing great.  I say that because the only people I ever deal with at the labels are the radio promotions teams and publicists.  I feel like I have good relationships with most everyone I deal with and can ask for help if I need things, and they can too.  

Beyond my job or those radio promoters, I think the labels themselves have to get this whole Artist Royalty/Performance Tax issue straightened out. THAT is by far the biggest issue on the table between radio and records.  Off the record, most everyone I talk to inside the labels (artists and employees alike) think the bill as it is written now is a bad plan.  They agree that Christian radio (especially non-commercial) could be dangerously hurt by it and that artists DO get a tremendous amount of benefit from being exposed on the radio (hence the army of promoters paid to call me each week to get me to play their record…) so we need to work together (as difficult as that is) to work out a solution that is fair to all, and that includes the consideration for both sides of the issue (artist rights vs promotional value of radio). 


7. In your opinion what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio today? 

In most Christian radio stations salaries, benefits, and equipment are all terribly under funded and the product in many cases reflects it.  Promotions, billboards, events, and research are just pipe dreams in most stations.  Even in a radio station with a large staff and money set aside each year for auditorium music tests & research studies, promotions, events, equipment upgrades and engineering, we are still woefully behind what our mainstream competitors.  It is a constant uphill battle to get the best talent and do the best, most competitive radio as a result.


8. What do you believe is the primary role of the Christian radio air personality? 

The job of the on air personality is to make the connection to the listener.  That may seem simplistic, but the role of a Christian radio station today is to build a relationship with the people it touches.  The on air staff is the first line of contact and the ones who they actually get to know.  As this relationship builds people will come to events, concerts and other places where they can see and touch the staff, but 98% of our day to day contact with the community is done right there with the stories, songs and phone calls with the on air personalities.


9. What (if any) Christian radio stations do you consider as innovators today? 

KCMS has the most amazing website and does great promotions.  Morgan Wood at KTIS and Carmen Brown at JOY-FM are both super creative minds who are doing really different, out of the box promotions with their radio stations and both of them are using technology like Twitter or Facebook in imaginative ways to reach their audience.  Shannon Steele at KDUV has a fantastic understanding about what their listeners want to hear in the music as well as their on air presentation.


10. Where do you see Christian radio in 5 years?  

Well I have to say that I do not know, but I am afraid that if our industry does not work together and move quickly, we will find ourselves out of date and too far behind.  Radio as a whole is going to experience so many changes and influences in the next 5 years from PPM ratings changes to WiMax projects to fast moving mobile technology for streams, the industry could be in big trouble.  Like I mentioned earlier, with out low budgets and lack of resources at most stations, it is going to be even harder for us to keep up with it all.  I have to say I agree with what Tommy Kramer said recently.  “If you do not twitter, if you do not have an iPhone, if you are not on Facebook, if you do not have a Podcast and if your website has not been updated in the past month, then you are already a dinosaur and in grave danger of becoming extinct!”   Hopefully we will be working hard for the next 5 years!


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