Radio stations aren’t shiny like they used to be; they tend to look more like a 70-something Mick Jagger, say, than a young Frank Sinatra.
And Townsquare Media Inc.’s offices on North Mesa are broken in like a favorite pair of jeans. The company’s radio stations in El Paso have experienced a longevity and stability unusual in the radio world.
Rock station 95.5 KLAQ, often just called “The Q,” has been playing “popular rock” for 36 years. Brad Dubow has been its general manager for 25 years.
Known before as Regent Communications Inc., Townsquare is the third largest owner of radio station in the United States, with 311 stations in 66 small- to mid-sized markets. The company went public earlier this year.
In El Paso, it operates The Q, 93.1 KISS-FM and 600 KROD-AM, which is an ESPN Radio affiliate.
Inside, in a narrow hall between studios, the carpet is artistically covered in coffee stains. One gets the impression the stains might carry a hidden message revealed only when looked at backwards.
The Q is consistently one of the top-rated stations in the area and its morning show, described as “funny/nasty/newsy/crazy,” often draws the most listeners.
But the station is more than the sometimes-controversial morning show. It is also behind many successful local events, including Balloonfest, Streetfest, KLAQ Barbecue, Mexican Cook-Off, Battle of the Rock-N-Roll Mariachis, Taste of El Paso, Haunted Warehouse, Halloween Parade, Great Purse Giveaway, Great River Raft Race and an adult party called Q-Rotica.
Then there’s the popular website, Facebook page, Twitter handle and station on Townsquare’s personalized radio app, called radioPup.
So really, Dubow is in charge of three businesses: radio, events and digital, which includes the web and mobile.
KLAQ was a pioneer in the events business. Dubow created Balloonfest in 1986, at least a decade before non-traditional revenue would become a buzzword in the radio industry.
This fall, his newest creation is a business expo. It takes place this Thursday, Oct. 23, and will feature a keynote speech by Daymond John from the ABC television show “Shark Tank.” The BizTech Expo, which is entering its 15th year in El Paso, has been folded into the new event.
Inside Townsquare’s El Paso offices, the walls are covered with old advertising campaigns and event posters, as well as various platinum and gold records and cassette tapes.
Dubow’s office is like a mini-museum, and his favorite piece of memorabilia is a photo of him with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. The Who, he said, is the greatest rock band of all time.
He also has a photo of him with Ozzy Osbourne.
“That was just a weird experience,” Dubow said.
On a recent Wednesday morning, Dubow popped his head into the dark KROD-AM studio and somebody trying to sleep on a black vinyl coach rolled over and only managed a garbled groan.
“That’s a morning jock who’s resting,” Dubow said, closing the door. “If you ever get up at 3 in the morning, that’s what happens to you every day.”
Across the hall is the studio for The Q Morning Show. Host Buzz Adams was done for the morning and wandering the offices wearing plaid pants and a mismatched plaid shirt.
“I didn’t realize the shirt also had checks on it, because I do dress in the dark,” Buzz explained when he popped into Dubow’s office.
Dubow, who gave his age as 27 plus 30, grew up in Chicago. His father worked as a CPA and his mom as a housewife.
“You learned to walk backwards because it was so cold,” he said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications from Southern Illinois University, Dubow, who is married with five kids, moved to where it was warm.
He got his start in radio in El Paso as an account executive and has since gained a reputation as a marketing guru. In 1989, he was made general manager – the same year rock band Chicago, R&B artist Bobby Brown, and metal band Poison topped the U.S. charts.
Dubow is also the board president of non-profit Candlelighters in El Paso and president of the El Paso Association of Radio Stations.
He has been described as both laid-back and intense at the same time. It’s a good description.
Dubow sat down with El Paso Inc. and talked about adapting, why the city needs a business expo, the most overrated rock band of all time and the demise of the Spanish Armada.
Q: How did you get into radio?
I grew up on great radio in Chicago. I always had music on in the background when I read or when I was writing.
Later, at Southern Illinois University, I took a course on wordplay and it was great. I discovered it was something I was a natural at.
I graduated and moved here when I was 22 to sell Disco 95, which was KSET 94.7-FM.
Q: But you’re a rock guy.
I hated selling it, but it was a job. I worked at KLAQ beginning in 1980 and became general manager in 1989. That was a long time ago; don’t go there.
Q: I was surprised to learn that, even today, you write a number of the ad spots for radio.
I do a lot of the writing, because it comes easy. Some people can hit a 300-yard drive, I can write.
In this building are some of the best people in the business. With Buzz and the whole team in the mornings at The Q and with KISS and what Mike and Tricia have done in the mornings over there – my business manager and sales manager. I mean, we have a team that has been around for a long time.
Balloonfest is entering its 30th year next year. The Halloween party will be 30 next year, KISS will be 20 and KLAQ is 36.
Q: How do you stay relevant?
You grow up, but then you watch your kids and their friends. We have a lot of people in the building who have kids, so you stay in that world.
Trying to keep it hip for the room is the challenge and not get old with it. Staying relevant is real important. You want to be good to traditions but try to stay fresh.
Q: How have you, personally, adapted to all the sweeping changes in the industry?
How old are you?
Q: I’m 29.
I’m 27 plus 30. I may see my true age when I look in the mirror, but in my head, I’m younger.
There are times that I’m talking to somebody younger like you, and in my head, I’m younger. Then I realize later: I’m the oldest person here. That sucks.
Q: One person described you as the kind of guy who sits in a meeting and suddenly throws out a huge idea. It didn’t catch on unfortunately, but one idea I particularly liked was raising money for the YWCA by bidding out the opportunity to press the button to demolish City Hall. Where do these ideas come from? Do they just pop into your head?
That’s what happens. You’ve got to come up with ideas pretty quick in this business. I’ve got a friend in Buzz who is very creative and sometimes we just have ideas and they turn into very funny long-lasting ideas.
We try to create a very creative environment around here, because I think that’s what you need in this business to make it work.
Q: How did the El Paso Business Conference & Expo come to be?
The business expo is less for consumers and more for businesspeople to meet each other, mingle, network, join forces and hopefully more clients do more business together.
I look at us as a hub for business. I’ve noticed throughout the years how businesspeople have met through some of our events, and I always thought it would be cool to do a business expo.
WestStar Bank said it would sponsor the event and then my bosses said yes and we had a date reserved at the convention center.
We knew how much it would cost to bring in a “shark.” I’m a big fan of star power. It’s very important no matter what event you are doing.
Q: How much does it cost to bring in a “shark”?
I can only tell you if it is not published.
Q: Why do a business expo?
We’re building our business and I felt that one of our strengths was to bring more businesses together and to help more of them work together.
Q: KLAQ is more than a morning show with the events and digital and such.
People don’t just live in rock music, they have a life – they have kids, they play sports, they go to the grocery store. If a radio station is good, it will create great companionship. That’s key to having loyal listeners.
Q: Is “live and local” still important to the radio business? It seems like fewer radio stations now have live DJs and more nationally syndicated shows.
We have a lot of listeners who have become companions, and live and local is one of the reasons they stick around. It is very important for Townsquare, and they are live and local where they can be.
A four-person morning show on The Q is huge, and KISS has two people. We also have a lot of part-time jocks who want to stay part of the station.
Q: What is the breakdown? What is the investment in radio versus events versus digital?
Townsquare has invested significantly in digital. We have a digital managing editor, which is a position we never had a few years ago. I also have a digital sales manager, as well, to help grow the digital sales business.
Q: But what is the driver of the business these days? What brings in the most revenue: radio, events or digital?
The digital alone is anywhere from 14 to 17 percent of our business. Events add, say, another 20 percent.
Townsquare wants to try to do 40 percent of its business from event and digital so it is not so dependent on just radio. The typical Townsquare market is much more digital. El Paso is one of the most event-driven markets you’ll see in Townsquare.
Townsquare is very focused on growing its digital assets because so many people are moving into the digital world. They have invested heavily in that.
More and more people are going to their devices, be it tablets or smartphones. Through radioPup they can hear the stations.
It’s our personalized radio app.
Q: Like Pandora or iTunes Radio?
The thing about Pandora or any of those is they are good for music listening, but if you want to know what is going on in the marketplace – traffic, things that are happening locally – they don’t do that. That is one of our big advantages.
When the ballpark was being built, for example, a lot of people came on to our stations to discuss it whether they were pro or con.
Q: How do you incorporate the Internet?
First of all, we have our DJs discussing things and pushing people to the website 75 to 100 times a day. And it works the other way. People are finding the station through these other means, versus before when they could just tune into it.
Q: Why does radio still exist?
It’s one-to-one communication.
Q: What do you mean?
Like when you’re in your car listening to the morning show and they tell a joke and you’re laughing – that is one to one.
Q: Will radio ever die?
It will keep changing. It is an audio delivery system – that’s all it really is. It is on transmitters, but now you can also get it on an app on your smartphone.
Q: How is revenue in El Paso?
We have grown the past couple of years. We work very hard.
Q: Can you put a number on it?
It’s in the millions per year.
Q: What does a 30-second prime time slot sell for these days?
It depends on the station and time, but 30 seconds on KLAQ during the morning drive is anywhere from $90 to $100, KISS $70 to $80 and Sportstalk about $30 to $40.
Q: When KLAQ launched Balloonfest, it was well before “non-traditional-revenue” became a thing in radio. Where did the idea come from?
In Chicago growing up, there were big concerts and other big get-togethers that were cool to go to as a kid, and we thought we could do big things here in El Paso, so we just kinda made things up.
Q: How has the radio business changed since you became general manager?
Back then there were fewer choices for audio entertainment. The radio was the driver then, but now there is YouTube and satellite and all that – so many different ways to get media.
The competitive landscape has changed a lot, yet radio, if it was brand new today, would be considered a very cool thing.
It’s still very popular and still a great way to communicate to the audience for advertisers. We are only as good as we can sell our audience to advertisers.
Q: But now those advertisers can also buy ads through Google or Facebook.
But they want the people who are going to spend the money, and that is our audience. Think about all those times you’ve gone Christmas shopping and there’s traffic and you’ve got your radio on.
We are not everything to everybody. If you’re targeting women ages 25 to 54, for example, we have KISS. They have one thing in common, they are the spending demo.
KLAQ is very focused on men ages 25 to 54. We’ve got doctors and lawyers and convicts; we have everything. The Q is a monster.
Q: A number of stations that have tried to challenge KLAQ’s dominance have come and gone. I can think of Eagle and Hero.
We won that championship, and it kind of feels good to know we still have it. You know, it’s a fun place to come to work. It has its pressures to try to produce a show – it’s part show and part business.
Q: You have said before that you are in the shipbuilding business. I don’t get it.
You would think I am in the media business; I would tell you I am in the shipbuilding business. The “ships” I work on building are great relationships, partnerships and, if I’m lucky, great friendships.
I use craftsmanship, which is the product; I use marksmanship, which is to be totally on target; and leadership.
The concept becomes rocket ships, which is growing and building projects like the business expo. In business, getting projects into orbit takes everything.
Parts of this whole philosophy have come together through conversations I have had. One of those was a conversation with somebody about why the “invincible” Spanish Armada lost the battle to the English back in 1588. The main reason was those three things: craftsmanship, marksmanship and leadership.
Q: The English ships were smaller but more agile.
Q: I didn’t expect this conversation to turn to a discussion of the Spanish Armada.
Q: Three questions in 30 seconds: What is the greatest rock band of all time?
The Who. I love the lyrics and the sound. I think it is real rock.
Q: Most overrated rock band?
Kiss. I can’t handle people with makeup on trying to sound real. It’s show but not real rock.
Q: What is the craziest concert you’ve ever been to?
Probably the first KLAQ Barbecue at Magic Landing, the old amusement park. The drinking age was 18 back then, and it kind of got out of control.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105. Twitter: @ReporterRobby