One of the stations I consult had packeted two versions of Way Maker early in the songs’ release; one by Leeland, and then as Michael W. Smith’s version erupted behind the scenes, that version as well. They were playing it as one song, but every other play would rotate the versions equally.
As research quickly showed, both versions were among the most loved songs from their audience, so in this case, despite Leeland’s label not officially taking this song to radio as a single, this station continued to play them both.
One morning I got a call from the Program Director.
“Hey, I got a call from a promoter asking if I could play only the Michael W. Smith version because they are so close to number one, that the spins I’m presently giving Leeland would get them close to where they need to be.”
He didn’t want to do anything unethical, so I shared with him this story.
When I was the PD of WAY-FM, Good Good Father by Chris Tomlin was Top 5, and I got a call from Grant Hubbard, who was the head of Capitol CMG at the time. He had explained that if he were going to get to number one, it would have to happen by Monday. He had called me on a Friday afternoon.
Two Timing The Father
I was playing both versions of Good Good Father, which included one from Zealand Worship, and like my client was seeing with Way Maker, both versions tested equally well.
As a Programmer, I believe it is essential to have a good, open, honest relationship with the label community, but I don’t believe in being swayed, manipulated, doing backhanded or backroom deals, helping one label to hurt another, but on the other hand, I believe in synergy and great partnerships, and in this moment, I offered Grant a short term opportunity to hit number one.
Because Zealand Worship’s version was not in contention and at that time wasn’t even charted, I knew it didn’t bend anything ethically to pull that version for the weekend and let Grant have the best shot at getting a song that more than deserved the glory, to hit the mark of number one.
Because Grant is good at what he does, it was all that he needed to get the song there and by that Monday it got the crown. I, immediately, returned Zealand Worships version to the airwaves and not so many weeks later, Grant had come to my offices to hand deliver a plaque, to celebrate the moment, and with this one, he proclaimed, “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
The Kind Of Plaque A Toothbrush Hates
I have received close to 300 plaques over my career, yet in my house you will only see 11. The others aren’t in storage somewhere, but instead I had given them to employees I worked with or fans of the artist, but mostly because most of the time, more prevalently on the secular side, a plaque is used as a subtle form of manipulation for the next single. Over the years, I’ve only kept the ones that had a genuine connection to the song’s success.
However, this moment, with Grant was a rare one, even to have the exchange, as Grant and I didn’t speak on a weekly basis – we didn’t have to, as my local rep from CMG was Jordan Smith, who was phenomenal at her job. I have never been that programmer that demands or needs to be connected high up in the ranks, as long as the person I work with understands the station’s vision and brand, respects it and is adequate in creating synergy for the best ways to partner to create fun, entertaining opportunities for the listener while fitting in with the mission of the ministry.
Jordan hit grand slams when it came to this scenario and she knew that I would never do anything with a song until the song was proven, so many times the label’s promotion budget would have been fully used on a single, yet she’d get the finance folks to agree to an artist related experience for a listener, like the time we had Crowder eating at Cracker Barrell with a listener, simply because his current album at that time had been released solely through them.
Word To Mother Hubbard
My point with that is that I believe there was no way to respect the position of Grant Hubbard, better, than to empower his local to do the full job that she was hired to do, and then when time came to need the one-to-one or face-to-face, then we were close enough to make that happen, as was apparent that night when he called me concerning Chris Tomlin. I was out shopping with the family that evening, but for Grant, I picked up. His request was strategic, and on my end, and on the end for my audience, it didn’t gray any lines to tell him yes, as they continued to get at the same velocity a song they had come to say they loved enough to be in heavy rotation. And, by doing so, I didn’t spite any other competing single.
And that’s similar to what the station I consulted chose to do. Since Leeland wasn’t vying for a chart position and since the audience clearly loved either version, they rested Leeland for a time, but once that time allowed their partnership to aid in Way Maker getting to the top, they returned to both versions, and continue to this day with the packet.
It doesn’t matter to your audience which songs get to number one, because to them, they already know at any given time which song is number one to them. Often their number one, and the number one in our format are the same, but many times, because of the ebbs and flows of people’s tastes, they are not; so in that rare moment when you are able to aid in a song’s journey to the top without putting your audience or your character, morals or ethics at risk, then by all means, be a good good partner.
While it doesn’t matter to your audience it matters to artists, labels and their families and friends.
Since 1991, Rob Wagman has been known first by his faith, and then by his skills in the secular side of this Industry, and now is known by his versatility, having succeeded in both radio and records in multiple formats from Christian Contemporary, Rock, Alternative, Top 40, Rhythm, Urban and Hot AC, in various roles from On Air to Programming to Marketing and Promotions.
Wagman has worked in all of the Top 3 markets, LA, NYC and Chicago, and returned to LA in 2012 as his entry way into CCM, in PM Drive at KFSH, 95.9 The Fish before becoming the Network PD for WAY-FM.
In 2013, Wagman launched Straight Path Media + Entertainment, a consulting firm which hyper focuses on talent and each station’s greatest need for growth, supplying a la cart programming services for branding, from music strategies, promotional and marketing think tank brain storming, promo and imaging creative, talent coaching and airchecking. Wagman presently coaches 27 air talents, consults 13 stations plus 4 clusters.
Contact Rob Wagman at StraightPathMandE@gmail.com