“I have the perfect-sized head that will fit into just about any hat.”
That’s Smokey Rivers‘ theory behind his longevity at KPLX (99.5 The Wolf) Dallas, where he celebrated his 20th anniversary earlier this month.
“Over the years, I’ve done a lot of different duties, and I rarely say no. So if they need me to do something, I can do it,” says Rivers, the station’s assistant PD/midday host who, during his tenure at The Wolf, has also served as its PD, morning host and research department head at various times. “I’m a pretty flexible guy, and that has served me well.”
In that time, Rivers has earned a reputation as a straight shooter and all-around likable guy, making him well-regarded not just among his peers, but along Music Row as well. “I want to treat people like I know I want to be treated, because there are enough jerks in the world,” he explains. “I don’t need to add to it.”
He also appears to have mastered the art of time management. Working a five-hour airshift — all of it live — wouldn’t seem to leave time for much else, including his duties scheduling music and doing production and ratings analysis, but Rivers says that with the exception of after-work appearances, he usually manages to get home to his family every day by 6 p.m. “I’m not ashamed to say I’m a real Ward Cleaver kind of guy,” he admits.
In his 20 years at The Wolf — and 32 in radio — Rivers says the two biggest changes he’s seen have been PPM and the social media explosion. As a self-described “research nerd,” he says PPM has been a positive. “I love digging into that stuff. PPM is a treasure trove of information now. It’s almost as close to real time as we can get.
“There’s always a story there somewhere, and I like to dig out those stories,” he continues. “For me, it’s fun. [PPM] can be a little frustrating, but that’s why I like to try to encourage younger people in the business to really know how PPM works. Don’t just accept the number that you get without knowing where that number came from, how that number was achieved and what you can do to influence that number next time, because you can.”
Rivers thinks PPM has “increased our understanding of how people really use radio … Once you begin to understand where these numbers come from and how people truly use radio, then it takes some of the mystery and some of the fear out of it … It’s a reminder that people aren’t glued to us all the time and people do have lives, but if you do your job they’ll be back.”
As for social media, he says, “We have so many ways of interacting with the audience now. It can be a little overwhelming.” But it also has a fun side for the self-described “weather nut,” who has slept at the station many nights as a result of severe weather in Dallas.
“When the weather gets bad here we can do a lot more on our Facebook page and on our Twitter than we can on the air,” he says. “We can still be the music station that we need to be, but we can also inform our listeners, give them a lot of real-time, detailed weather information online, and it doesn’t take away from the on-air product. That helps flesh out the Wolf brand even more … [so they] depend on us for more than Keith Urban [songs].”
Rivers worries that many younger jocks are getting too distracted by social media to focus properly on their real job, which is the on-air product. “Nobody’s getting bonused on how many likes you get” on Facebook, he adds. “I know I’m not. My bonus is based on the rank of 25-54, so that’s what I’m worried about.
“You’ve got to take care of business. You’ve got to take care of the station. You’ve got to make sure that you’re doing good radio,” he says. “These other things are important for you to reach the audience in another way, but the main way is still talking into the mic … If that’s not always the first thing you do every day, then the rest of this stuff isn’t going to do you any good.”
Looking ahead to the next 20 years, Rivers says the advantage of the country format is its “6 to 60” appeal. “If you get into this format, you can stay here forever. You never grow out of it. You will always be relevant as long as you do your job, do your homework, stay up with things and pay attention to what’s going on — and you can relate that on the air.
“I should be able to do this until they put me in the ground,” he jokes. “And that’s the beauty of country.”
This article first appeared in Billboard’s Country Update — sign up here.