After Label Sojourn, Lois Lewis Returns to Radio and Builds Her Own Brand
After nearly seven years on the label side, Lois Lewis returned to her first love -- radio -- in March. In hew new role as assistant PD/music director/midday host for iHeart Media’s KWNR Las Vegas, she’s back on the receiving end of label pitches, but insists her time at Republic Nashville, where she was senior director of West Coast promotion, hasn’t made her a soft touch when it comes to adding records.
She says with a laugh, “I know all the tricks and how [label representatives are] going to sell me before they do.”
Lewis is patterning her approach to dealing with record reps after mentor Marci Braun, WUSN Chicago assistant PD/music director, who Lewis says is “tough, but so nice, respectful and fun. Any time I’m questioning something, I’m like, ‘What would Marci do?’ ” she jokes.
Her return to radio has been a reminder of the real-life challenges that programmers face. For instance, while Lewis learned the importance of daytime airplay while she was at Republic, her initial rotation category for new records at KWNR doesn’t include it. And, she notes, “I only have as many [playlist] slots as I have ... That’s not some phrase or saying that radio gives records. It’s true.”
Lewis got her start in radio at KNIX Phoenix in 1999 while still a college student. In 2006, she moved to the hometown station she grew up listening to, KIIM Tucson, Ariz., where she worked her way up to music director before joining Republic Nashville when it launched in 2009. While she thought she knew what to expect, the gig was an eye-opener, particularly when the label’s first single, Fast Ryde’s “That Thing,” stalled at No. 38 on the Country Airplay chart.
“That was what I left radio for?” she jokes. “I had absolutely no idea the amount of work, detail, execution and sales that was required in that job,” she adds, citing her first year’s travel schedule that included more than 150 flights. “Honestly, those first eight months were some of the most difficult months in my professional career. I owe it to people like [veteran regional promoters] Lisa Owen, Rhonda Christensen and Rick Young helping me. There were times in the first eight months I really, really wanted to go back to radio, but I stuck it out.”
But after that, she grew to love it, particularly after The Band Perry’s second single, “If I Die Young,” went to No. 1, soon followed by two more smashes from the group. She got so wrapped up in the job that on her third date with her now-husband Mike White on Super Bowl Sunday in 2011 — when the label was locked in a No. 1 battle for The Band Perry’s “All Your Life” — she got White involved by having him constantly refresh her computer to check spin counts.
Asked for her best memories of working on the label side, Lewis says, “Every single time I got an add. I would tell my radio people it was like Christmas or my birthday every time. People who know me know that I am extremely passionate, I have a boatload of energy, and I’m very excitable. I think that’s why that job worked very well for me, because I was getting a report card every single Monday morning, and it’s in my nature to get all A’s. In this case, the A’s meant adds or conversions.
“It’s such a funky job, such an unconventional job, but I was getting to make people’s dreams come true,” she adds. “The bottom line is you have a piece of music in your hands, and it is your responsibility to make sure that the people who get to play it for the people are as passionate and excited as you are ... For each add, each conversion, I thought, ‘I’m getting them a step closer to more ears.’
“I was never the rep that was on the artist’s bus. I really never formed my relationships with the artists because … my job was to be with radio. The artists had people for those other things. My main goal was to make sure I was representing that artist the best I could with those radio people.
“It’s not easy,” she adds. “Some of us radio folks are curmudgeonly or busy or just not open” to new music.
In fall 2015, Lewis signed a two-year contract extension with Republic that she had every intention of honoring. But when the job at KWNR opened up, she was intrigued. “I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” she admits, even though it involved a substantial pay cut. “There was just something exciting about Vegas and the amount of opportunities a radio personality could have [there] that maybe wouldn’t be presented in another market.”
One of the first things that surprised Lewis upon her return to radio was just how few people are staffing stations anymore, even in a five-station cluster like iHeart has in Las Vegas. “It shouldn’t have surprised me because I knew how many hats I wore [at KNIX], but the lack of bodies in a building was shocking to me,” she says. “I haven’t worked less than 12 hours a day since I started.”
But there’s one key difference. On the label side, when she was routinely putting in 14-plus-hour days while on radio tours with artists, she was working to build their brand and that of the label. As an air personality, her efforts now go toward building her own brand, as well as that of the station. “That is extremely fulfilling,” she says.
A plethora of new digital outlets has been another big change since her last stint in radio: Lewis jumped quickly on the burgeoning Facebook Live platform. She says, “I’ve had a couple that somehow have just gone viral. One reached over 1.5 million people, and all I’m doing is talking. It’s crazy.”
By using available video options, Lewis says she has been able to draw fans by taking them behind the scenes at the radio station, as well as showing them that she’s a real person based in their market. "They’re getting to recognize me and know me. And I have bright red hair, so it’s easy to find me. Every day now I have people say, 'I watch you every morning on Facebook Live.’ I’ve had more people say that they watch me, and then tune in, than [say,] 'I listen to you.’ That’s been interesting to me."
It’s a new kind of report card for Lewis, but she’s still earning all A's.
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.