Profiling the People Behind the Scenes that Make the Industry Great
Skip Dillard – Operations Manager WBLS/WLIB/New York
Skip Dillard is one of the most respected programmers in the industry. I always enjoy talking to him and getting his perspective of radio and the industry. Skip’s career began during his senior year at Hampton University when he worked at WOWI in Norfolk at the time. Since then he has programmed: WYLD-New Orleans, WMXD-Detroit, WBLK-Buffalo and WPGC in DC. After working in Buffalo at WBLK, he took a break from programming and worked as the Top 40/Urban Editor for Billboard Magazine. Shortly thereafter he headed to San Francisco for a short stint at KBTB then it was back to Detroit to handle a cluster of Radio One stations, then WPGC and currently Dillard is the OM and PD of WBLS and WLIB. In his spare time, Skip is an avid family man who has a talent for digital photography. (Truth be told we should all be taking more pictures in the industry to fulfill our legacy.)
KEVROSS: What’s it like being in New York right now with all the Trump protests?
SKIP DILLARD: Concern would be the word. The election really caught so many off guard. We’re living in some very “divided” days.
KR: How did your listeners respond to Trump’s victory?
SD: Mostly shock. And most are very worried about how the policies Trump discussed in the campaign will affect them.
KR: Did you give them airtime?
SD: We opened the phones from election night through this evening between the music. One of the questions I heard mostly throughout was, “What do I tell my children”?
KR: I notice a lot of people are very focused on the turnout of the election but rarely talk about the voter suppression in the black community. Why is that?
SD: Sometimes it’s hard to prove, and most often our efforts at radio are locked into encouraging people to vote. Thankfully our community affairs/talk shows on our stations with Rev Al, Imhotep Gary Byrd and Open Line address the voter suppression constantly.
KR: Do you think urban radio is doing a good job of encouraging black voters to get to the polls?
SD: I believe we do. Our stations direct tons of airtime to getting out to vote and we partner with local community organizations pushing voting as well. Perhaps the outcome of this election is the ultimate wake up call.
KR: WBLS, from what I see on social media, is probably one of the most dedicated stations to the black community in the country (I know I’m going to hear from other stations for this). I have to also say that Lindsay Salandra is one of the best marketing people in the radio industry.
SD: Thank You! Lindsay is a “press release beast”! We have really amazing people and letting listeners know what you’re doing is just as important as doing it. Emmis not only allows us the opportunity to do it, they give us resources and support to make it happen.
KR: You and Colby Colb Tyner post the most interesting things on social media be it in or out of the industry. You actually say something. I know a part of that has to come from your programming experience. Am I correct?
SD: Programming experience and constant training from our digital team make the difference. Social Media is a powerful resource for any brand but requires constant learning in order to make it cut through effectively. One key is finding great stories. After all the gossip and stuff everyone’s talking about, local/regional stories of innovation (making life easier), motivation, love and triumph win big.
KR: Radio Facts is about the future, longevity and having rewarding careers in our industry and beyond. Who are some of the other people you most admire over 40 who reinvented themselves in our industry?
SD: There are so many. Hilda Williams, a former Record Exec is a very successful real estate broker in New Jersey. Roy Sampson, although he recently left, played a huge part in the transition for stations to HD Radio. One of my mentors Tony Gray left programming radio at the end of the 80’s to become the most successful Urban radio consultant. I also think of those I’ve worked with for years including Morace Landy, Jay Dixon and quite a few others who stepped out of their comfort zones and are finding successful opportunities.
KR: When was the last time you were on the air?
SD: It’s been a minute. About 2003.
KR: Do you miss it?
SD: Oh of course. Something about being in front of that microphone stays with you.
KR: If we want longevity, who are the people that we should be surrounding ourselves with?
SD: Positive, always learning, innovative, driven people who LOVE the business and life itself. I have no time for negativity. As a young jock, the second I stepped away from the “water cooler” and started focusing on my job and learning how to do it better, the quicker I found the opportunities I dreamed of.
KR: How is your photography going?
SD: Hey! I still play around. Love capturing memories and great moments. I try to carry a real camera with me everywhere vs just a camera phone.
(Editor’s Note: the digital camera industry is dying and a lot of stores will stop carrying them next year, if you are an avid photography fan like Skip and I get your cameras NOW, it will take a while before retail cell phones get up to 20 megapixels, if ever).
KR: How important is it that industry people have outside hobbies and a separate life from the industry?
SD: Oh it’s crucial. Stepping away allows me to be more creative when I return to work mode. Hobbies force you to broaden your thinking.
KR: What is the one thing that you miss most about yesterday’s industry that you think would be of value today?
SD: Of course record labels that took time to “grow” artists for the long haul. I think many stars today wouldn’t be where they were had a label not invested in two or three albums before they got the big one. I also think we as PD’s used to share ideas and connect more often than today. We have so much on our plates, but I always find myself energized when I talk with PD’s in other markets.
KR: As you post a lot of videos online from the station available worldwide, what are some of the responses that you get that are different than the local ones?
SD: I actually find that we have more in common. Compelling content gets people talking regardless of distance.
KR: Do you seek new talent, or do you rely on the other markets when seeking on-air personalities.
SD: Bit of both. It’s a challenge to bring up UAC talent in NYC from the ground up. It still happens on the hip-hop side but thanks to social media that is beginning to change. I believe my next part-time and perhaps full-time talents may come from their work in digital and social platforms.
KR: Have you seen any new interesting trends that the industry should be paying attention to?
SD: Still Praying Next Radio continues its forward motion. An over the air radio option in every phone is a wonderful must-have goal for our industry. I recently attended a New York Times seminar on Virtual Reality (VR) initiatives. The cameras are prohibitively expensive at the moment (up to $60,000), but it’s going to be the next great wave for video. You’ll see it take hold for both news and entertainment.