Colby Colb, VP of Programming Radio One
Colby Colb started as an intern at WUSL in Philadelphia and over a 16 year period, he rose through the ranks. From Board Op to Producer to Promotions to on air part-timer with a speciality show, nights, Assistant Music Director, Mornings then APD. He left in 2002 to help launch Power 105 in NYC and serve as the Music Director/Afternoon drive Host there. In 2003 he came back to Philly for his first PD job at WPHI. in 2009 he went to Cleveland to serve as Operations Manager for the Radio One cluster. In 2014 he became VP of Programming and moved to the corporate office in DC.
You’ve really managed to keep your radio and management careers afloat simultaneously. Tell us about your podcast Backstory?
One of my passions was being an on-air talent. It’s such a good usage of creative energy. When you are in a corporate role you have a lot of administrative duties. I also had this unique content that was sitting on a drive, there were so many stories to tell so I started Backstory and used classic content to give a historical viewpoint of an artist. Almost like an audio Wikipedia of an artist. What was Jay-Z like before he was a star? I have 20 plus years of content. I also have a lot of great relationships with many artists, industry tastemakers and the business community so I’m also going to do current interviews. This exercise helps me in coaching talent because they listen and learn from how I interview.
While we were told to do airchecks back in the day, most of us kept them on cassettes which are pretty beat up now. How did you keep your audio in such great shape?
Here’s the secret, for the first 15 years of my career I hated the way my voice sounded so I was obsessive with taping everything I did then listening. I was my best and worst critique. I would throw these tapes into boxes and they’d piled up. When I was out of work before I went to Cleveland I digitalized a bunch of them where I discovered some hidden gems. It took me several years to get to it but I did in 2018.
When you listen to those tapes how does it feel?
[I ask myself] What are you thinking? I’m amazed by how layered I was early on. I know I got on folks nerve because I was so anal about details and preparation. It also helped me light a fire to my creative juices which really fuels me. Those tapes are my legacy and I’m glad I was able to hold on to them.
You were on the beach for a while. How long did that break last?
I was out two times in my career. The first time was a cup of coffee, literally 60 days. The second time was during the financial downturn and I was also kind of married to Philly. I was entrenched in the community and didn’t want to move. Looking back that was nothing but God telling me I needed change. I started teaching at a local High School and I was miserable then a job offer from Cleveland came and it changed my life. I was blessed to leave. It made me a better leader, husband and father. It brought my family closer together. I never want to go back now.
Do industry people need to take a couple of years off during their career?
Time off is good to recharge and refresh for any career. It can be stressful though because you still have to pay bills. Working as a school teacher was eye-opening for me. I was teaching at the school I attended as a child. It was the hardest job I ever had, made me appreciate doing radio. It’s a blessing to do what you love and get paid for it.
You posted a picture of your daughter with the former President Obama. What was that moment like?
It was life changing for her. We sat on this tarmac for hours and weren’t in an ideal spot but somehow he saw her, she had a “girls love Obama” shirt on and he came over. Secret service told us to put our phones down so I couldn’t get a good pic. The next day that picture was on the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. She wrote him a letter several years later and we got a letter back from him on his last day in office. She cried like a baby reading what he wrote. She was scared about the future and Trump and in his note, he inspired her. Most of her life Obama was President and that was inspiring for a black child to experience. We grew up thinking that was not possible.
During your tenure, how would you describe “Leverage” and why others should use it
It’s relative to your situation. You should be wise in how you play your hand because it could backfire. I’ve had it both ways.
Tell us about the legendary Miss Cathy Hughes and Alfred Liggins. What is it like to work for them?
I highly recommend How I Built This podcast with Cathy. Her story is a true American story of building something from humble roots. She is in the office and is a great resource for ideas. What she and Alfred have built is a testimony to having a vision and making things happen. Working for them is a pleasure, they are accessible and honest.
What are your thoughts on Podcasting?
I was just talking to Troy Carter about Podcasting yesterday. This is just the top of the iceberg what we are seeing. This content is more valuable than music. The content is a historical marker, almost like an audio encyclopedia without all the rights fees like music. I’m excited about the future of Podcasting and glad I have my foot in the door.
What do you think of the growing festival market?
It’s headed for a bubble, festivals have increased artist costs because they pay top dollar as they compete with one another.
With the festival market exploding without radio, how do you think big summer station events will fare in the near future?
We have to develop artists which we have been doing. Ella Mai was a great example last year of an artist we broke. The biggest artists are tough but there are so many up and coming that we have to get in front of.
What’s the most challenging slot to fill in radio? Why?
PD, you’re only as good as how you lead. Leadership is hard to teach and that will define how good a job you will do.
Are we recycling programmers too much is there room for new talent?
There is always room for new talent. It’s not a bad thing to hire experienced people.
Where have you seen other programmers go wrong in their approach to radio?
Not being open to change how they lead especially leading younger people. My way or the highway era is dead and gone. A good leader is always recruiting and coaching. It’s a thankless position and you need to know that from the beginning.
What is the BEST promotion you’ve ever seen in radio
We did this private jet promotion years ago where the morning show got a jet and we took listeners to a concert in Miami. We had a lot of fun with that one. Everyone wanted to go, we painted a picture of what that experience would be like and it was a great promotion.
What is the worst?
That pee for a wee promotion in Sacramento years ago where a woman died. That was awful.
If you could break bread with three great industry people dead or alive, who would they be?
- Frankie Crocker, he was a pioneer for the urban radio broadcaster
- Howard Stern, he did it his way and through the good and bad he succeeded on his terms
- Jerry Boulding, The Doctor was a great mentor and good person to bounce ideas off of plus he always had an answer.
Three pieces of the best advice that you were ever given?
- Work hard
- Have integrity
- Believe in yourself