We Found A Great PD Hiding Out In Akron

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Sue Wilson is the Vice President of Operations for Rubber City Radio in Akron. She has 36 years in the business, 30 of them as a programmer. Today, Sue oversees the operations of Classic Rock WONE, News/Talk WAKR, Smooth Jazz WNWV, and Country WQMX, and programs WQMX. Her GM Thom Mandel tells Radio Ink, “Sue is an amazing leader who just keeps getting better. She hasn’t just made us a great Country station. She has made us a great RADIO station.”

An employee of Rubber City in Akron told Radio Ink, “When it comes to heart, Sue Wilson never says no, she says ‘Let’s talk about it and see if there is a win/win for the client and the station.’ Her door is always open.” What else can you ask for from your peers.

In addition to her many radio station duties, Sue is also active in many local non-profit organizations in Akron, she’s an animal welfare advocate and professional emcee who volunteers her time and talent to many local non-profits and their fundraising events. Sue serves on the board for the Red Cross of Summit and Portage Counties, and Pay It Forward For Pets.

In our May 8 issue, we interview every PD, including Sue Wilson, about how they manage on-air talent, who they admire, and what advice they have for the PDs of the future. It’s a programmer’s training manual for sure. Where else are you going to get expert advice from radio’s best programmers? Here’s a special extended interview with one of radio’s best programmers Sue Wilson.

Radio Ink: What is your day like, and how are you able to accomplish it all?
Sue Wilson: Every day is just a little bit different. Almost every day involves a meeting with a member of my airstaff, scheduling and editing music, and meeting with a member of our sales team regarding various things; from a promotion to NTR. I work really hard to use time-management tips that work for me. When I get to the office, I tackle the project I look forward to least, first. I put my phone on DND and then return important calls when I can set aside uninterrupted time. I have an amazing team, including a right-hand person (music director/promotions director Jody Wheatley) that I rely on. The team concept is fundamental. The more authority, decision-making, input you give your team, the more invested they are to achieve the goal. I have additional oversight of our other stations, so on any given day I may be in a meeting or part of a strategic plan for one of our other stations.

Radio Ink: Who do/did you look up to or admire, and why?
Sue Wilson: A number of people, inside the industry and outside. Although I haven’t worked with Beverlee Brannigan or Becky Brenner directly, I have followed their careers and seen them speak and emulated from afar their philosophies. They, along with other strong, successful female programmers like Mary Ellen Kachinskie and Shelly Easton have beat the odds and have had great success in a mostly male-dominated business. I have worked directly with and for Mike McVay, and he is someone who I have learned and continue to learn from. I am a huge fan of the minimalists Ryan and Josh, and listen to their podcasts and work daily to live more simply, manage more mindfully, and add those philosophies to my everyday home and work life.

Radio Ink: How do you manage talent to get the most out of them every day?
Sue Wilson: I am pretty laid back at this point in my career on how I manage talent. For many years, most of my programming career, I was an off-air PD. I always felt I was a better coach than a player. I knew how I (a female, working mom, right smack in the target demo) used the radio and so I worked to remind talent what the listener was doing at any given time when they were on the air…what they might be listening for or needing from a morning show, 9-5 show, or an evening show. When I started doing mornings, I had a whole new perspective on what it was like to “be” talent as well as direct it. Our sessions now are informal, conversational, common sense two-way discussions. Making the talent part of the process positive reinforcement and the freedom to play to their strengths gets “buy in.”

Sue Wilson and Tim McGraw
Sue Wilson and Tim McGraw

Radio Ink: What is your biggest accomplishment over the past year?
Sue Wilson: I am so proud of the work we do in our community. We are locally owned, a small, private company and the owner/GM right in the building. He lives in this town and using the station for the good of the community is important to him. So we do a lot of fundraising for local charities. This past year alone, we raised 50K for a local breast cancer foundation that provides mammograms for those who can’t afford them. We raised 40K for a local homeless shelter. And countless smaller amounts for other charities. I feel proud to use our microphone for good! And I’d be lying if I said our nominations for ACM and CMA Station of the Year, as well as our Morning Show for Personality of the Year, weren’t huge for us. (Even though we didn’t win this year getting nominated was cool.) And my personal recognition as one of Inside Radio’s Top Country PDs was pretty nice too. But the thing I love most about being the team leader of this great station, is I love music. I love the challenge of being able to use radio as a resource for music discovery (on our Country station), and just entertaining people by playing their favorite songs on our Country, Classic Rock, and Smooth Jazz formats.

Radio Ink: Tell all the young broadcasters reading this who want to be successful PDs exactly what they have to do to make that happen.
Sue Wilson: Be an advocate for the medium! Believe in it. There’s so much being written about millennials, and people in general, not using radio, but Tech Survey and the Share of Ear studies tell a different story. As long as radio is free, and portable, it is still the resource to keep people up on not only their favorite music…but their communities. I would also tell them to find a mentor, keep an open mind to the integration of the old technology into the new. I would say the same for PDs who are well-seasoned in their careers. Keep an open mind to what the younger people we are mentoring can teach us so that we too can integrate new media into what works in traditional radio.

Reach out to Sue to congratulate her on a fabulous 36 years in radio at [email protected]

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