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Passion for the Profession: Radio One’s ‘Hurricane Dave’ Smith Talks to Radio Facts

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Non-Stop Radio Pro Hurricane Dave Smith

Industry vet Hurricane Dave is undeniably one of the hardest working pros in the industry. I’ve known him since his days at WBLK in Buffalo (perhaps even before) and to watch him today, his energy to learn and absorb as much as possible hasn’t changed. He’s the OM for four stations: WAMJ MAJIC 1075/975, WPZE PRAISE 1025 and also the Program Director for WHTA HOT 1079 and WUMJ BOOM 1029. He also schedules the music for two nationally syndicated shows Ricky Smiley Morning Show and the Ed Lover Show. In addition, he’s a consultant/advisor for the Radio One Richmond brands. They have four stations there.

He’s excited about the future of radio and very aware of where the industry has been and is going. He works in, what has to be, one of the toughest, most competitive urban radio markets in the country. Working in a market like this certainly test the true skills of a programmer and Dave is obviously the man for the job.  When I ask him how he can so so much he states:  “I’ve been doing radio every since I was a sophomore in high school. I wake up every day excited to go in to the office.  During his free time, he admits he also has a passion for photography, motion graphics, and flying drones.

RADIO FACTS: How did you do in the most recent PPM?

HURRICANE DAVE:  For WHTA Hot 1079, we came in at #1 in our target demo 18-34. In fact, we were #1 in every depart from Mornings to Nights.

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(Left to Right) Radio pros: Derrick Baker, Bill Black, (unknown) Hurricane Dave and (front) Travis Knuckles/Universal Music

RF: Many argue that PPM needs competition. Do you think it’s conceivable that cell phone companies will get involved in monitoring listener habits?

HD: I think competition in any form increases a company’s need to be responsible and have reliable data. When you’re the only game in town and have a captive audience you pretty much play by their rules. Obviously in Atlanta I’m loving PPM. While rating services may have shortcomings PPM, in my personal opinion, is way more dependable than someone writing down the stations that they listen to all day long, never go to sleep or never go to the bathroom it’s a better way to measure listening.

RF: So you work in the most competitive urban radio market (besides DC?). What is that like?

HD: I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. When you don’t have competition you can become lazy and boring. Competition forces you to sharpen your skills and keep innovating.

RF: You worked with Reach Media for a while with Tom Joyner, how did that help you continue your work as a programmer?

HD: A lot of people remember me from working at Reach Media but I was already in the broadcasting business for over 20 years before coming to Reach/Syndication One. I will tell you that having a syndication hat on causes you to look at the landscape a lot different than just looking at it from a programming standpoint locally. I have evolved as a program director from my experiences at Reach/Syndication One. I’ve learned to look at the complete picture not just the little corner of my world. It’s about winning the complete game not just winning a single quarter.

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Radio Pros: Yonni Rude, Hurricane Dave and Reggie Baker

RF: Why did you go back to programming?

HD: I needed to get back to feeling the people. Often times when you rise through the ranks you loose the very essence of why you got in the business. I still go out to remotes, clubs, and tons of community things.  Being with the people keyword “with” the people is the most enjoyable part of my job. You can’t get that when you’re sitting too far up in an ivory tower.

RF: You enjoy motivational speaking. How did that come about?

HD: Thank you Kevin, I’ve been told that by numerous people but to be honest with you I’m usually terrified (lol). One of the greatest things you can give someone is your time. Once you give your time away you can never ever get it back so you might as well give someone hope, good inspirational motivation or sometimes a good talking too. I take a lot of pride in my track record. I’m pretty sure because of the many stops I’ve had I’ve programmed more number one radio stations than anybody I know. I’ve also had more assistant program director’s that have gone on to be program directors in their own right then anyone else I’ve known. My count now is six. I enjoy teaching and pouring into individuals. I think  it’s my calling from God. I hope I didn’t get to spiritual.

RF: How do you measure your local listener’s interests? (stay on top of the latest trends)

HD: Of course I read all the cool blogs (yours included). I stay on social media. I generally try to congregate and find myself in rooms where my audience is. We have all the different analytical tools that the company provides but there’s no substitution for getting out in the real world and communicating with people and asking them face-to-face what they like.

RF: Now that digital has become incredibly sophisticated and more professional, do you think urban radio stations will start playing more local artists?

HD: I’ve been doing that my whole career. There’s nobody breaking records like we do at Hot 1079. Over the last seven or eight years we’ve been on the cutting edge and considered trendsetters when it comes to being ahead of the curve on local artists.

RF: Do you think that it’s important that urban programmers surround themselves with younger talent? (I mean we do lose interest in certain things, lol)

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Hurricane Dave and recording artist/entrepreneur Ludacris.

HD: Yes!!! It’s very important.  I think it’s imperative if you can’t do it or as you said lose interest. I personally think if you lose interest in it you should be in another format. I’m most comfortable around millennial’s. Millennial’s keep you young and set all the social trends. I would much rather hang out with a millennials than people my own age 9 out of 10 times. When people get to be my age they become boring. That’s just not in my DNA.

RF: I COMPLETELY agree! When you travel, are you seeing less or more interest in potential artists remaining local? (are they still trying to get to LA, ATL and NYC)

HD: Maybe it’s because I am representing Atlanta but everyone wants to come here. I think that can be a mistake because people from Atlanta have a certain sound. I personally think you should make it in your own city. With today’s social media it’s easier now than any time in history to become a star.


RF: What changes have you seen in today’s artist vs 20 years ago?

HD: They easy thing is the say there’s no artist development and it’s true. Everyone wants instant gratification and thinks their record should be played. We now live in a microwave got to have it right now society.

RF: Social media is rendering the middleman extinct, do you think commercial radio is going to have to work harder to satisfy listeners? (listeners have so many online resources)

HD: Oh yeah, the only way to survive is to become closer to the content creators. You want them to create it and put it right in your hands, again one of the things I find fascinating about the business.

RF: What elements do you think are still crucial to urban radio?

HD: I’ll just give you one. Stay connected to the community that you’re in. Don’t try to be anything but what you are. Community, community, community.
RF: You don’t hear too many stories of police brutality coming out of Atlanta; what makes Atlanta different?

HD: We really don’t have a BIG issue with that in Atlanta.  I’m sure there a little in every city but not enough to put it in this piece.

RF: What is your station doing to help listeners get out and vote?

HD: We had a very strong campaign across all four brands registering people to vote. We had voter registration booth set up at most of our remotes. When early voting kicked off We’ve been out at polling stations every single day on all four brands encouraging people to early vote. This will continue on election day complete within election night coverage from the historical Paschal’s restaurant.  We are all about getting the vote out.

RF: Any special holiday programming? What is your signature event?

HD: Our signature event is the “Christmas Angels” program where we and our listeners provide clothing and toys for kids in the social service programs. We also do a number of turkey giveaway’s for Thanksgiving.

RF: How do you do concerts in a market that is so competiive? Are all the stations using the same artists?

HD: The landscape here is extremely competitive. We do put on one of the signature concerts every year called Birthday Bash. It’s the premier urban concert show in the south and one of the biggest ones in the country. When the major tours come through they stay pretty neutral because they know how dicey it can be. We’re fighting tooth and nail for every one of those shows.

RF: You have an interesting set up at the offices of Radio One in downtown Atlanta. All the syndicated shows (a majority of them like Rickey Smiley, Ed Lover and Willie Moore) are done in the same space, who came up with the concept?

HD: It’s an amazing concept. There’s so much entertainment based out of Atlanta or coming out of Atlanta it only made sense to have a hub here. The higher-ups definitely came up with the scheme of things and I get an opportunity to interact with everyone.

RF: Are you using certain artists to hit more than one show each morning?

HD: It depends on the artist. Sometimes they’ll hit three out of the four stations. Since were at centrally located we do try to make sure that all brands get a good look.

RF: How can vintage urban radio jocks create more opportunities for themselves besides on air shifts?

HD: I tell my talent all the time that “you are your brand” build it, make it stronger, make it bigger than life. I’m definitely a believer in more than one stream of income. Just make sure you take care of the radio station first. The bigger your brand is the better that is for me and my radio stations. Build it, build it, build it.

RF: Describe your staff…

HD: I think I have the most talented staff anywhere. I have the World Series champions on each of my brands. I just want to keep pushing them and encouraging them to do better. When they look in the mirror at the end of the day I want them to say I put everything on the table today. If I didn’t win, I know that God is going to give me another chance tomorrow . . . make it GREAT!