Dino Conard is program director and on-air personality for iHeart TOP 40 Heritage radio station WQEN and others in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Dino also created, produced and hosted the first ever Just Show Up Show in Birmingham, which has become one of iHeart's signature events and a favorite among Alabama music lovers.
This weekend, WQEN hosts another Just Show Up Show with a star-studded lineup including The Catching, Stephen Puth, AJ Mitchell, Echosmith and Alessia Cara. For tickets and information visit:https://ihr.fm/2L5aNZ8
LEG: In 1975, WQEN became one of Alabama's first Top 40 FM radio stations and has been a strong brand in the market for over 43 years. What do your multiple professional tasks consist of and what is the biggest challenge of being director and manager of such a traditional brand?
DC: In addition to WQEN I program WQEN-HD3 (Alt 99.1), WMJJ-HD2 (104.1 The Beat) and WZBQ (94.1 ZBQ) in Tuscaloosa… Roll Tide! I also talk about my pup and the iced coffee at 4:00 p.m. m. to 7:00 p.m. m. on Q and on various iHeartRadio stations.
Honestly, the challenge of being a leader is motivating people to work on something they might not see the vision for so they can achieve something they want to see. Programming 103.7 the Q and working with the amazing team at iHeartMedia Alabama is a fruitful and rewarding job!
LEG: How did you get into radio, what stations did you work for, and what did you find most challenging and exciting about moving to a new city?
DC: I started at Midwest Communications as an intern in high school and learned from some great people. My first full-time job in radio was at KCLD/St. Cloud, a great midwestern town that has produced some great talent (except me). WFBC/Greenville was my next stop where I learned a lot about programming and relationships. I always wanted to be a program director and I finally got that opportunity when iHeart (then Clear Channel) opened a CHR station in Memphis. I programmed KWNW from inception until the acquisition in Birmingham in 2014. I used to miss Minnesota because it's home... but I don't miss -30 temperatures and 6 feet of snow!
LEG: Can you name some of the artists you have chosen as pioneers in supporting radio over the years? What factors go into supporting a new artist and album?
DC: One couple that comes to mind have interesting standalone stories from last year: Max, Lauv, and NF. They all built their respective armies of fans and delivered massive hits, which is hard to achieve in today's saturated landscape. Programmers need to be very open when talking about new music. There's a reason "Old Town Road" stayed at number 1 on the Hot 100 for 15 weeks. Take calculated risks and find ways to keep your brand relevant.
With more tools (streaming, Shazam, etc.) at our disposal, finding songs that have the potential to become hits is incredibly helpful. Dean Lewis "Be Alright" and Dan + Shay "Tequila" made local brands before exploding across the country.
LEG: You have a reputation for having close relationships with record labels, artists, and managers alike. What is the secret behind developing these relationships and how have you benefited from these strong partnerships over the years?
DC: Both parties have a job to do and it doesn't have to be a constant tug of war between the two. The ground rule of treating people as you would like to be treated: with respect and honesty is central to my approach to the relationship between radio and record label. It's been beneficial in the sense that we not only put on some amazing events and artist experiences, but I've also developed friendships that go beyond a Tuesday music call.
LEG: The Just Show Up Show was so successful that broadcasters in other markets are now working to repeat it. How did you get the idea? Can you describe the event? What is the hardest part of running an event of this size with so many moving parts? What are some tips for creating and building a successful brand? Who were some of your favorite artists you've had so far and do you already have plans for the next show?
DC: It went from being a little backyard show and now it draws 7,000 people! Without strong partnerships and an unmatched team of promotions and aerial talent, we'd still be in the backyard. #JustShowUpShow is a hit for the artist and broadcaster trying to reach new fans...and listeners get to see a concert 100% free! I am passionate about community events and staying relevant in a crowded landscape. Seeing a radio station fill an amphitheater is one of the proudest moments of my career. For anyone looking to start their own blockbuster event, I would say start small and stick with building. If this event/action is your baby... fight for it and inspire others to get involved. I'm a history nerd and I love the Teddy Roosevelt quote "Nothing in the world is worth having or doing unless it involves effort, pain and difficulty..."
AJR holds a special place with us having played the very first #JustShowUpShow and now repeating sold out tours around the world. They are great guys who built their fan base from their New York apartment and did it their own way.
LEG: Despite your success, we always fail somewhere along the way. How did you fail? How did you get over it and what did you learn from it?
DC: Until recently, I would rate myself a 5 for nurturing and influencing young talent and programmers. As Chase Murphy once told me, "You don't get into the Hall of Fame unless the next class votes you in." "the next class". Find an outlet, leave the door open, and hear what the next generation of talent and coders have to say.
LEG: In addition to radio and live events, iHeart is also known for some of the best podcasts. Can you tell us about the recently started The Bingecast podcast? What inspired you to start doing this? Where can listeners tune in to hear it?
DC: We've been called the Netflix of podcasts...we've also been called much worse. My friend Wade and I watch and relive great TV shows and we started with The Office, my favorite series of all time. iHeartRadio is #1 in podcasts and a leader with great content like Disgraceland and Charlamagne tha God's Brilliant Idiots (amazing podcast by the way), so it's great to be featured alongside them on the iHeartRadio app.
LEG: For someone who works so hard, what do you do when you're not working to clear your mind? Is there a special place where you can relax and recharge?
DC: Most of my day is what I call "hanging out and hanging out." Spending time with my wife and children refreshes me and energizes me. Since living in Alabama, I enjoy walking across the state, coaching my son's soccer team, and being involved in our local church.
LEG: What advice would you give to a young man who wants to enter the radio and music business today? What do you wish someone had told you when you started?
DC: Hard work always pays off. Stay humble and prepare to leave the pack behind. Take your time to figure out what you want, and then work towards it like it's impossible to get lost. One trait that I wish I had developed sooner is accepting failure. I have learned much more from my mistakes than from any victory or triumph.