Interview with Radio Programmer Dana Jang

by Alex Cosper

Conducted June 12, 2015 on Facebook

Left: Stevie Nicks and Dana Jana. Right: KBAY staff with the Doobie Brothers

Alex: Ladies and gentlemen, with me today is radio industry Program Director Dana Jang, who programs KBAY in San Jose and has been a radio fixture in the market for many years. He also programmed rock station KSJO and worked at KOME. Today we'll talk about his radio career and how the radio industry has changed over the years. Dana, thanks for joining me today.

Dana: Alex, Thanks for inviting me and reconnecting with me after many years. by the way I also program the Hot AC in San Jose, Mix 106.5.

Alex: Nice picture of you with Stevie Nicks. Where was that taken?

Dana: At the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, one of my favorite concert venues.

Alex: I love that place as well. So before we get into your rock radio history tell us about how KBAY and MIX 106.5 are owned by an independent chain.

Dana: Yes, Digity Media out of West Palm Beach, Florida whose principal, Dean Goodman is a veteran broadcaster. He owns a dominant cluster of stations in West Palm Beach as well the the former NextMedia cluster of stations in Myrtle Beach, New Bern/Jacksonville, suburban Chicago, Saginaw, Canton, North Dallas as well as the former Three Eagles group.

Alex: How different is Digity Media from some of the bigger radio chains?

Dana: We're not centralized in programming and rely heavily on local staffing as opposed to voicetracking from out of the station's locale. "We Live Here Too" is the company's slogan.

Alex: Sounds like you're hanging on to the concepts that made radio great, which is to serve the community. The radio industry sure has changed a lot. Whatever happened to rock radio, which is where you came from?

Dana: I don't think rock radio's declining popularity in the Bay Area is due to any one thing. First, the population diversity. The Hispanic population is growing in the Bay Area especially in San Jose as you see the impact of stations like KBRG. Second, the fractionalization of radio with Classic Rock, Alternative, Rock, AAA and in some cases Hip Hop. Third, the music becoming more produced by computers with less instrumentation. You see the number of music stores selling guitars on the downswing.

Alex: I remember you were very successful programming rocker KSJO in San Jose during the 90s while I programmed alternative station KWOD in Sacramento. I ran into you at concerts and conventions and I think I learned a lot about radio from you. Here's the only known picture of you and me with some music and radio people. It's David Lowery of Cracker, me, Johnny Hickman from Cracker, Julie Goldstein from Virgin Records and Gabby Medecki from Live 105.

Dana: Thank you. Part of the success we had at KSJO was brought on by the beginnings of Active Rock which embraced the Seattle sound of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam. It was a point of difference from the artists of the 70s and 80s in rock played by our competitor, KOME.

Alex: So let's talk about those earlier times when rock radio was developing into a monster. Tell us about how you got into radio in the early 70s.

Dana: I was a college student at Santa Clara University and I sensed a new trend in radio listening in my dormitory. KMPX in San Francisco with top 40 refugees, Tom Donahue, Bobby Mitchell, Bob McClay, etc were playing album tracks and embracing the San Francisco Sound, Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, Grateful Dead, Santana, et al. I was hooked and when KSJO debuted in San Jose during my senior year, I applied for work there. I didn't get hired but I kept trying and finally in 1971 was hired to do weekend overnights.

Alex: You actually worked at KSJO three different times. Tell us about how each time it had a different sound.

Dana: In the early to mid 70s KSJO was programmed by Douglas Droese who used a format wheel, we had core groups, hit singles, LP cards and also several positions where we could play what we wanted. It was compromised between freeform and having a format clock. During the mid 80s I was the Program Director at KSJO, we focused in on the top rock tracks from core artists playing from index cards. When I returned to KSJO in the late 80s, we were able to ride the Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica wave as an Active Rock station.

Alex: Here you are with the KOME staff in the late 70s .. How was KOME different from KSJO?

Dana: KSJO went through several transitions while I was at KOME. Sterling Recreation Organization moved us out of progressive rock in the mid 70s to Top 40, then former RKO exec Bruce Johnson hired Don Wright and Steve Rosetta from KSFM in Woodland to bring the Earth Rock format to KSJO jettisoning the Top 40 format for a tight rock format of uptempo tracks. Later in the early 80s Lee Hansen brought in call-out guru, John Sebastian to install a 12-24 year old format playing Danny Joe Brown, Billy Squier, the Tarney Spencer Band, Shooting Star, The Sherbs, etc in high rotation which was enough to beat KOME in the 18-34 demo.

Alex: Were either stations - KSJO or KOME - affected by the fact that a lot of rock radio was taken over by consultants such as Lee Abrams starting in the late 70s in the rise of "album oriented rock"?

Dana: Yes, after John Sebastian's success with KSJO, Infinity Broadcasting under Mel Karmazin brought in Jeff Pollack to consult KOME from his success with WMMR in Philadelphia. KSJO also had several consultants in the 80s, Jon Sinton and Dwight Douglas, who both worked with Lee Abrams.

Alex: What's been your favorite decade for rock music so far?

Dana: In the 70s I loved the creativity of the artists with the multitude of songs written, in the 80s I was quite taken by the rise of Modern Rock of U2, Talking Heads, REM, artists like Dire Straits and the Cars and in the 90s the Seattle Sound was truly a sound that got me engaged with music.

Alex: I'm curious how much of your programming, particularly at KSJO, was gut level. I know you follow music stats closely, but to what degree did you allow yourself to put a song or artist in rotation simply because you liked the sound?

Dana: KSJO had the ability to gather music testing information a couple of times a year. MY gut was based upon my observation of what worked in the past. KSJO only added one or two songs a week, gut is the tie breaker.

Alex: What about when it came to new artists? Did you go out on a limb much to break new artists, or did you wait to see development in other markets?

Dana: Most of the time, we watched what the alternative stations were doing with songs by new artists. Because a great percentage of our playlist came from songs from the last 5-25 years, we could afford to watch the alternative stations' airplay. Bush, Disturbed and Offspring are examples of artists who crossed over from alternative to Active Rock.

Alex: At a certain point can a radio station become too reliant on research? It seems like most formats have gotten tighter over the past few decades. Dana: You're absolutely right and part of the reason is the Nielsen measuring system is indicating listeners are only listening in short windows so stations want to play the only very best testing songs. Top 40 rotations have gone to every 45-50 minutes. The danger I'm seeing is the record imdustry is relying a lot on a core group of producers and songwriters who tend to homogenize the sound of popular artists. This sameness drives the changes in the music cycles as listeners grow tired of a particular sound and the quality of the writing goes down with time. Alex: How have you normally reacted as a programmer during the times when it seemed the music industry was putting out too much music that didn't fit your sound?

Dana: When you're not receiving quality new songs, you tend to stay on the songs that are working longer and often you become more recurrent driven.

Alex: Here's something we've talked about in conversations. What effect did Howard Stern have on the San Jose market when KOME started running his morning show in the 90s? How did you respond as programmer of KSJO?

Dana: Howard Stern was a monster for KOME in morning drive. They ran his show into well into the 10a hour to affect the midday numbers. We knew, however, that because he attracted listeners from many formats that KOME's numbers would dip significantly in the other dayparts. The one key campaign we did was to insure Lamont and Tonelli were active at local appearances and focus on air content with local mentions.

Richard Sands (comment): Don't forget that Dana Jang worked at Live 105! Dana Jang = one of radio's good guys!

Alex: What was your philosophy on the rock jock?

Dana: Thanks Richard, it was fun being at Live 105 in its infant year. My philosophy as a dj is to always respect the music and to show passion for it. Also be relevant to your audience.

Richard: So tell us about your time at Live 105.

Dana: Working with Richard Sands, Steve Masters, Alex Bennett, Lori Thompson, Mark Van Gelder, Big Rick Stuart, Harry O, Roland West, et al was a terrific experience working with a team of empassioned radio professionals debuting an active and fun format in San Francisco.

Alex: Looking back at your entire radio career, what are some key memories that stand out as enduring?

Dana: My early days at KSJO looking at the incredible large record library and being on the air for the first time, being appointed Music Director at KOME with a tenure of over 10 years, being appointed Program Director at KSJO twice with second time coming immediately after the 89 Loma Prieta Earthquake, being appointed Group Program Director for Pride Communications in suburban Chicago, making programming decisions during 911 and finally making my way back to San Jose as Program Director of my former competitiors, KBAY and Mix 106.5.

Alex: As far as rock radio, what's your opinion on it today?

Dana: As you know, Alex, the Bay Area doesn't really have a rock radio station. My only direct knowledge of it is from our Digity Program Director, John Perry in Kenosha at WIIL. I know in pockets of the Midwest like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, etc., it is still thriving.

Alex: Since the 90s the rock and alternative formats have been somewhat mirror images of each other .. Have you thought of it as all under the same umbrella or separate formats with distinct identities?

Dana: The difference I feel is the library material where rock radio still plays material from the 70s like Led Zeppelin while alternative will play 90s stuff like Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, etc. Current material for rock is heavily male driven while some of the alternative currents actually evolve to AAA and Hot AC like Bastille, Capital Cities, Imagine Dragons, etc. so is appealing to women.

Alex: You've always impressed me as a leader in rock radio, Dana, and I'm happy you're back in the Bay programming. You've shared a lot of insight on radio and your career. Any closing thoughts?

Dana: Alex, thank you for the opportunity to share with you. Music and radio continue to be the major passions in my life. I have been truly blessed to have worked with so many talented and equally passionate people during my career. Without them my career would not have been as fun.

Alex: Dana, thank you very much for this interview.

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