In Which We Ask The New KXT Program Director About #KXTFail, Among Other Things.
No, Mark Abuzzahab, the new program director at KXT-91.7 FM (and their very first, by the way), isn't here yet. Won't be for a few more weeks. He's still down in Austin, finishing up his stint as the music director at KGSR-93.3 FM Radio Austin. Then the Minneapolis native will be heading up to Toronto for a stint to check out the North by Northeast festival. After that, finally, he'll come back down to Texas and begin his new gig.
So, yeah, we've got some time before he starts -- which will be sometime at the end of this month, most likely.
But, still, we had some questions for the guy. Like, why come to KXT in the first place? After all, he's already got a pretty sweet gig down in Austin, and at a station many see as a model for KXT. We also wanted to know what his goals for the station will be. Mostly, though, we wanted to know if he'd heard of #kxtfail, and, if so, what he thought about it.
So we called and asked him about these things. Turns out, he had heard of the somewhat infamous regional hashtag. And he's got some hot sports opinions on it, too -- and on some other topics as well. Most important, though, is the fact that he seems to really like what he's seeing in the still-young station.
We'll let him explain. Read on after the jump as we put him through the ringer.
We kind of got the CliffsNotes version in the press release announcing your hire, but I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about your background and how you got to this point. I understand that you were an on-air personality before you were doing music director stuff?
Yeah. I actually do a little of both -- right now I'm at KGSR in Austin. I'm on the air in the afternoon, and I'm the music director. Music director is kind of an odd title, I guess. It's different everywhere you go. Basically, as a music director right now, I'm kind of like a filter. A lot of the music posts go through my desk before people process it. What I do is set up artist visits, live performances on the air, the live performances that we do for special events like South by Southwest or the Austin City Limits Music Festival. It's coordinating a lot of that stuff -- getting in touch with record labels, managers, sometimes the artists directly.
Are you going to be on-air at KXT as well?
I believe so, yeah.
What is the difference, title-wise, between music director and program director? Is there a difference? Or is it just semantics?
Like I said, it varies. Every radio station is different. Usually, the program director is in charge of the on-air product, really.
What made this gig particularly attractive to you? The station you're at down there has a really strong reputation up here -- to the point where people were talking about KGSR as a model for KXT to emulate once it was announced that it was coming. So why leave and come here?
The thing that excited me the most was that it's a new station, and the fact that it's a public station, which would enable me to have a little bit more close of a close tie to the audience. It's growing really quickly, and that's what attracted me. It's something different.
What's the time frame we're looking at? When are you actually coming up here and switching over from KGSR to KXT?
My last day at KGSR is this Wednesday, the 16th. I'm taking a little time off, then going up to Toronto for North by Northeast, which is like the Canadian equivalent of South by Southwest. I've always wanted to go. We've got a panel there with a few people, including Chris Douridas, who used to work at KERA back when they did music. I'm serving on that panel, but I've also got a few days up there to check out the neighborhood, although, looking through the schedule there, there's a lot of bands that I want to check out. I'm from Minneapolis originally, and The Replacements documentary is being screened there, so I'm very excited. It's so much smaller than than South by Southwest, though. South by Southwest can be a little overwhelming.
For sure. And that's another topic entirely, which we can save for another day. So, back to KXT: What are the goals once you do get started here?
My goals are really built on the foundation that's already there. Just to kind of build KXT into a big station, and to continue supporting local music and a wide variety of music.
What are your impressions of the station at the moment?
I'm real impressed with the staff, and everyone I've met so far. We're doing some really cool things. I'm really excited to work with all the people at KERA and Art & Seek, and the people at KXT that I've met.
The real interesting thing for us at the Observer is that, when KXT announced that it was going to launch, there was an immediate huge swell of support from our readership. I think it was a natural thing -- kind of a shared readership and listenership thing, where there was bound to be some crossover. Almost immediately, there a ton a lot of support for it. Then, on a dime, things flipped and there was a little bit of backlash. Are you familiar at all with the Twitter hashtag #KXTfail and that whole brouhaha?
Yeah, I followed it for a little bit.
What are your impressions of all that?
I think the best sign there is the fact that people feel so much ownership over it. I mean, I was following it too. There are not a lot of radio stations like KGSR and like KXT, so we all keep in touch, and we all know each other at these various music outlets. That's one of the things that I look forward to at South by Southwest each year; I get to see my friends from radio stations all throughout the country. So I was watching the beginning KXT as well, and, for the exact same reasons you were saying. I really believe in the format. Dallas is such a big area, and I think it's a really good sign that, to be that size, there exists a Triple-A station. I know that the station has changed a little bit, but radio stations are constantly changing. I mean, libraries evolve with new music. A lot of triple A stations are reflective about what new music is out there at the time, so things are always going to change and evolve. I think it's a really good sign that people are really passionate about the station. So when things happen that they are expressing their opinion over, it's important that the station listens to them.
Looking just at KXT in general at this point, are there things that you can immediately identify as strengths and weaknesses?
I definitely think that the staff is great, and that the commitment to local music is definitely a strength. I look forward to being there. I haven't even set up my place to live yet, or office, or anything like that. I'm really kind of looking forward to digging in and meeting everyone there, and learning how things operate, and going from there.
So no identifiable weaknesses yet?
It's a little too soon for me to comment on that. It's tough, because I'm still trying to wrap up things here, and get there.
What preparations are you going through at this point? Are you listening online when you can? Or is it just a matter of, you know you've got the gig and you've just got to wrap up in Austin and cross that bridge when you come to it?
I've definitely been listening a lot online, and I've been to Dallas for a few weekends so far. I was just there last weekend. I spent the whole weekend apartment hunting and relaxing and finding good places to eat. Someone recommended Bolsa, so we went there. It was really good.
One interesting thing that I saw on your Twitter account was your reaction to something you heard at the Austin Film Festival about how fear is running a lot of media companies these days. How does that apply to what you do in your day to day job?
I'm glad you brought that up. I think it was the agent from CAA who said that at this one panel I was at. She was describing how she's working with all these different people who were pitching scripts, and she says there's this tremendous culture of fear out there. I was watching KXT from the beginning -- I always watch Triple A stations -- and the ones that succeed are the ones out there taking chances. Everything gets more conservative as money's on the line, you know? When the economy starts to tank and advertising revenue goes down, people just panic. They're less willing to take chances. You see that everywhere. You see that on TV in the fact that prime-time lineups are dominated by reality shows -- because they're cheaper and less risky. To develop a new TV show is terribly risky.
Is that something you've dealt with firsthand in your experience in radio? Are you seeing that fear?
Well, that's the thing that Triple A does. We're the ones that are out there. Well, that's a generalization. I'm not saying that every radio station is like this. But, if you look at most formats, modern-day music is playing, but that only goes downhill. At Triple A, we're the ones that are like "Hey, we're going to give this band that nobody's heard of a chance." You think of all these new bands that have broken recently. A lot of them are coming up through Triple A, like Mumford & Sons, or Phoenix, or, well, they may be a little more alternative, but they're definitely representative of a modern style of communication. There are all these success stories, especially here in Austin. There are a lot of local bands that have come up through Triple A.
How do you balance that mentality vs the alternative format? I don't know how familiar you are with The Edge here in Dallas. Once upon a time it was hugely adored station -- it was kind of the alternative before it got wrapped up in the Clear Channel world. But even these days -- and I was just talking to a DJ over there the other day about this -- they're playing Mumford & Sons and Phoenix, and they are kind of picking up on some of those cues. How do you react to that at Triple A?
I think that's a good sign. We want to support artists. I wouldn't want to abandon somebody just because other people are playing them. But I think it's a good sign when KXT plays an artist for fun and it takes The Edge six months or so to find that song or that artist. That's a great sign.
You've worked at some great stations in the past: KGSR in Austin; KBCO in Boulder, Colorado; WOXY in Cincinatti. That last one's an especially revered station for those who pay attention to this kind of radio. What did you learn at those places? Anything you're particularly proud to have had a hand in?
I'm really proud of a lot of the stuff we've done here at KGSR. We had an incredible lineup during South by Southwest -- Emmylou Harris, Ryan Bingham, The Head and Heart, The Civil Wars, Bobby Long. There were a lot of really great bands. I was really proud of the lineup we had here at South By. My favorite things about the places I've worked is getting to work with artists, seeing those success stories, seeing someone blossom, and interviewing someone like Brandi Carlile, for example, when she would play for 30 people in the club, and then a few years later, she's opening for somebody at Red Rocks. It's great to see that kind of progression. I love seeing that, I love seeing those success stories. It's a very cool thing to see.
KXT hasn't really had a formal program director since its launch. From what I understand, it's been a grab-bag of KERA folks and the staff they've had on hand. Are there going to be any immediately noticeable changes that are going to happen once you do assume the role?
It's still too early for me to speculate on that. But I do know that that was part of their plan all along -- to get the station on the air, and then make these natural progressions. So, yeah, this has been part of the plan all along.
Is there anything that people need to know about KXT's future or your plans for it?
I can't think of anything else to add! I think it's gonna be a lot of fun. I'm just glad to be there and help out the station, to help build on their success. There's a good foundation, and we just kind of want to build on that.
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