Rob Conway Interview

Rob Conway
Music & research Director
WGTS
Wash DC

Career capsule: Like so many, my radio career started in my bedroom with a Boombox® and mic. I learned how to do linear editing on a cassette without hearing any gaps. I took this amazing skill with me to college, and someone had this crazy idea I should apply at the station on campus. Straight out of college, I was hired at WGTS as Production Director, and then a couple of years later moved into the Music Director role (making my mother extremely happy since I had dropped my Music major in favor of Broadcasting). And as anyone who has ever worked at a station with less than 5 full-time staff, I learned about every other job, and have found myself still holding onto a few of those (including digital/social content, email marketing, and fundraising).

 

Rob, tell us what’s new…news, changes, at WGTS & with YOU… etc?

I am a creature of habit. Just ask my wife. Changes to routine are not my thing. However, my team and I have experienced an incredible season of change this past year at WGTS. For those who don’t know, last year, WGTS was able to purchase itself from the university it had been under for the last 60 years. There’s a lot that is exciting–and daunting–about this. I mean, just the HR aspect! I have been in awe of how our team has pulled together to make this transition exceptionally seamless. 

The other big change has obviously been moving our studios and offices to a completely different part of our city. While we are extremely blessed by this new (and much larger space!) I’ve learned so much about things we (or maybe just I) took for granted. There is a culture that an office space creates, and we have been working hard not to lose the closeness the other building provided. I worked in the old building (and I really do emphasize OLD) for over 20 years. Moving into a new space was always a far off dream that I liken to “The Promised Land.” But the thing I like to say is, just because God has led you to your destination doesn’t mean you have arrived. This is really just the beginning of something incredible I believe God has given us to nurture and grow.

 

Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?

I love that our format has become competitive (in the most Christian way possible, of course). But the truth is, we’ve always had competition. YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, and pretty much ANYTHING that vies for our listeners’ attention is competition, whether direct or indirect. But if we’re going to where SHE is, and getting her involved in things that really mean something to her, then that’s a small win. Being on the ground and in the community any chance we get, helps us go deeper and establishes ourselves as a place she can count on to be there for her.

 

What is the best show advice you’ve been given? The worst?

Best show advice? Make your listener the star, and really care about what they have to say. Worst? Can’t think of any, but I’m sure I’ve given out some lousy advice over the years.

 

Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?

From a purely capitalistic standpoint, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, we all wish we could be the ONLY station playing Christian music in our markets. But I do believe there is a way for more than 2 or 3 to exist in harmony. And it really starts with knowing what your strengths are, and understanding your station’s personality and brand. Secondly, don’t underestimate the “afterglow” effect that can occur. Having another station in the market can (and should) create more interest in the format, and familiarity with the music you play. And of course, ultimately, having more Christian stations in a market is a win for the Kingdom. 

 

What is the ONE thing you must have every day to do your job/show?

A computer. I’m only half-joking. I mean, how did we do radio before these things?? But I suppose to be more philosophical, I need to have space to think more philosophically. If all I’m doing is just putting out the biggest fire each day, I won’t be able to plan a show, or focus on the big-picture items. 

 

Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?

I feel like I’m showing my age here, but there was that song, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” But I believe video is creating the next radio star. My kids can name more YouTube “stars” than favorite deejays (of which, I’m their fave). While there are certainly those that clearly don’t know the first thing about radio, there are some with an amazing knack for story-telling with heart that we should be on HIGH ALERT for.

 

Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?

The world is changing at a rapid pace. We can’t get stuck inside our comfort bubbles (I just made that up) and expect people to “get” us. What we consider “Christian” to the outside world is a strange, unfamiliar landscape. Justin Bieber and Kanye West have become the mouthpiece for Christianity to pop-culture. (Did I just write that?!) How we choose to embrace them (or not) will say a lot about us. Not saying that means playing their music…but it might. The other huge obstacle we need to be willing to admit is that we have a diversity problem in our industry as a whole. I see improvement, but there are far more people to reach than white evangelicals.

 

Who are your radio heroes and influencers? and why?

Yay! Name dropping! I have been incredibly fortunate to work with some of our industry’s best minds (clearly not my own). There is no doubt that my early influencers include the late John Konrad, our GM who had the vision for making WGTS what it is. He nurtured me straight out of college–sharing whatever wisdom popped into his head at any particular moment. He invested in me and others on our team. There are still a half-dozen of us still here that he saw potential in and believed in what could be. Also, my current boss, Kevin Krueger (hello, job security!) is another huge influencer and hero. His quiet, but steady leadership has helped create an amazing culture in our building. His work ethic inspires me to keep pressing forward and to search out answers to whatever dilemma we may be facing. And this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning those that molded me early on, including Alan Mason, John Frost, Tommy Kramer, and Ty McFarland. Each have played important parts in my development.

3 thoughts on “Rob Conway Interview

  • November 4, 2019 at 8:59 am
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    Good interview, Rob. Thanks for the work you are doing at WGTS. I was struck by your comment: “…there are far more people to reach than white evangelicals.” I would appreciate you expounding more on this topic (if you will please) and how you think Christian radio can better reach other people groups?

    Look forward to any further comments that you and others might care to share. Thanks!

    Reply
  • November 5, 2019 at 3:03 pm
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    Thanks for the question Bill! Yeah, I should have expounded on that more, but I could literally write several pages based on that comment. So here’s a little more on that…

    First, when I look at the music that is most popular (outside of our format) I see a lot more diversity. If we say Jesus is for everyone, then we–labels and programmers–need to be more open to seeking out artists that can expand our reach. I heard from some that Tauren wouldn’t work in our format, but he’s proof that our audiences are seeking out and are open to more than what typically comes out of Nashville.

    Now, I don’t necessarily advocate playing an artist just for reasons of diversity. The music should still fit your mission and who you are as a station. But some artists we often don’t take a chance on may fit better than you think.

    With all that said, our format has the potential to reach more than what we sometimes give it credit. WGTS serves one of the largest melting pots of culture in the country. Our Nielsen numbers consistently show that a majority of MINORITIES are listening to us. In addition, we have the most affluent majority black county in the US here, and we’ve found ways to connect with churches, organizations, and residents in that area through events and advertising. There’s a lot of untapped potential I believe a lot of stations are missing out on if we don’t engage them. In this way, it goes beyond the music we play–it’s about our conversations and how we make people feel when they listen that also matters. So let’s not shy away, or assume, that our stations won’t appeal to other demographics.

    Hope that makes sense of my comment.
    -Rob

    Reply
  • November 7, 2019 at 2:15 pm
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    Thanks for the response, Rob! You make some valid points, of course, WGTS, serves a very unique audience. But, as you have suggested, stations would be wise to test the market by reaching out to other demo groups through their programming.

    Keep up the good in D.C., Rob!

    Reply

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