Interview with All Access President Joel Denver

by Alex Cosper

Conducted September 24, 2015 at All Access

Joel Denver launched All Access with his wife Rita in 1995. It has grown to be the top radio and music industry website for news and information. In this interview at All Access Joel discusses his career leading up to the present. The story includes being a programmed and air talent on several radio stations across the country then moving to Los Angeles in 1980 to become CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio) Editor for 14 years at R&R (Radio & Records). All Access got over a 25 million page views in 2014 and has helped thousands of professionals in the radio and music industries build their contacts and careers.

Joel: Hello, my man, nice to see you, Alex.

Alex: Yeah, great to see you in your office again here in Malibu. All Access, great, great place, it's the number one music/radio website for the industry.

Joel: Thank you. Well, we got about 25 million pageviews last year. We're pretty excited about that. It's a business to business site. Google or Facebook does that in about five seconds, but we're pretty happy about that. That's pretty exciting for us.

Alex: Joel, I want to ask you about your career. I've been documenting people's careers in the music and radio industry, and of course, you know a lot of people in the industry and a lot of people know you, and so I'm just curious about your history. Now everyone knows that you had been the CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio) Editor for many years. Tell us about your career that led up to that.

Joel: You know, I really desperately wanted to be in radio when I was a teenager and I knocked on a lot of doors and at 15 I got my first break in January of 1968 and my mom had to drive me to the radio station. I didn't have a driver's license.

Alex: What station was that?

Joel: It was at WNIX, an AM radio station in Rockville, Maryland at 1600 .. couldn't be a worse frequency (laughs). Its 1,250 transmitter was like .. it was 1,500 I'm sorry but it was pretty bad, it was a pretty bad signal.

Alex: So you couldn't get it everywhere?

Joel: No, it was like if the wind was blowing it helped (laughs).

Alex: Alright, and so you were on the air?

Joel: Yeah.

Alex: And then how long were you on the air before you ended up at R&R?

Joel: Oh, I did about 13 years of radio and that included being a Program Director and you know, traveling around the country. Different jobs, different markets, stuff like that.

Alex: What were some of the markets?

Joel: Well, I started out at WINX in Rockville then I went over to WPGC in Washington as a part-timer and that was back when WPGC was a mono 25,000 watt radio station. The owners at the time did not want to spend the money for the stereo exciter and stereo boards and stuff like that so it was pretty funny. I was going to the University of Maryland and I did one semester at University of Maryland and I said "I'm just going to stick with radio, I like this." And that's what I did, I just put all my emphasis towards that. And my next job was at WNOR AM in Norfolk. I did late nights there. Then I went to WAYS in Charlotte and I was doing nights for about two weeks then they moved me to afternoons .. and then I got the opportunity of a lifetime. I applied for and got the late night show at WFIL in Philadelphia. So I worked 9 to 1 at night.

Alex: That's legendary!

Joel: Exactly, and I followed this amazing guy, George Michael, who taught me a lot. The whole staff taught me a lot. I got the chance to work with a legend, Jay Cook .. and shortly after I was there George left and he went to WABC and the Music Director's job came open and I just stuck my hand up and waved and said "I want the damn job" .. and I got the job. So, I just took over as Music Director and I had a lot of connections at that point, and you know, just networked around and I had my first opportunity to program in summer of '77.

So I went to FIL in Philly in '73, so I was there four and a half years. January'73. And my friend Charlie Wake - he and I had worked at WINX together as part-timers and we were just amazing friends - and he became the Vice President of Programming for Bartell Broadcasting. And he brought me to Miami and I programmed 96X in Miami, WPOW - uh no, WMJX were the call letters back then. And then they moved me to San Diego at KCBQ and then they moved me to KSLQ in St. Louis .. and I got fired (laughs).

Alex: It happens to everyone in radio (laughs).

Joel: It does, it doee .. and then I was on the beach for a few weeks or so and I got an opportunity to program WBSB, B104/Baltimore. I put the station on the air .. and I had a terrific time. And they had a change in management and the guy that hired me left, E. Carl, a terrific guy and he went to work for a research company. And the new guy that came in was an equally smart guy but he and I did not sort of see the same vision for the radio station, so I was out of there.

Alex: It happens a lot in radio (laughs).

Joel: It does (laughs). So I was looking for the next thing and I kind of thought "maybe I don't want to do programming anymore" because, you know, just running around the country and changing jobs and then I'd have to change markets .. it sucks moving. So I grew up in the DC area so I had a chance to, you know, hang out with some friends from school ..

Alex: Some politicians? (laughs)

Joel: (laughs) No, no politicians. My mom was there .. and so I started working in the Washington office for R&R and I'd put on a coat and tie, you know, every day, which I kept on the back of my door because I didn't want to wear a coat and tie to work every day. And I'd run over to the FCC and search their files over there and I learned how to do that, learn the process at R&R. And Bob Wilson had said when he hired me that if I did ok he'd bring me out to the West Coast. I did not know what the job was at the time .. but I was there about two months, starting in September 1980 and then around November he called me and said, "ok hire your replacement." And I said "what am I coming out for?" And then he told me I was going to be the CHR Editor and I was like "WOW!" So that was another amazing opportunity. So I spent 14 absolutely terrific years at R&R.

Alex: And as CHR Editor you got to know just about everyone in the nation that was a CHR, which was Top 40, Programmer and Music Director.

Joel: Yeah, it was just a fabulously fun job. I mean I did get to meet a whole lot of people .. and you know, a lot of artists, record executives and managers, I mean it was a gateway job. You know what I mean? It was a gateway to opportunity. And you know, I was able to put together a syndicated show that ran for 11 years, Future Hits .. and I also took over for when Lou Irwin left Earth News, I did that for a short period of time, too so I did a lot of fun doing that. It was actually a lot of fun doing that. So, you know, I was there 14 years and I kind of felt it was time to do something a little different and I had had a computer since about 1981 ..

Alex: A little before the home computer revolution.

Joel: Yeah, but I had one and it was like one of those acoustic couplers, you know, so that's how you got online with the phone.

Alex: CompuServe?

Joel: I was on AOL and I basically started thinking about where things were going and at R&R they had had a computerized system where they were trying to do their version of BDS. But they were tying some news into it and I thought that was smart but they had a lot of system problems and it was not really reliable. So when it came time to leave, I had a couple of opportunity choices, I mean I could have joined a label. I had a couple of labels that were talking to me. I could have joined another independent promotion outfit or I could have, you know, been a consultant but I decided to do this. And my wife and I, Ria, formed this company in January 1995, and we started promoting music to radio stations. I knew how I wanted to be promoted. It was, you know, not push real hard but, you know, facts and great information.

Alex: Like a trade magazine online.

Joel: Well, this was before we put the site up. We didn't put the site up until .. October of that year. So it was basically me on the phone talking to all my friends and starting to generate revenue that way and it worked out really well. So in June I met with a company and the company was called Fountainhead .. really nice people .. and Jonathan Hartman was the guy and we laid out the site. And of course back then you couldn't just generate graphics as easily as, you know, you can today. So it took several weeks of fine-tuning and I think we had nine pages to the site in the very beginning. So we put it up in October 1995 and it got found real fast because I was talking to people about it and telling them about it, of course, and the word spread.

And the next thing you know we were like doing thousands of logins a week. And it was like "WOW," so I knew we had something. And when I would go to the labels to do our first demos, I had a version 1 of IBM ThinkPad, which at the time was a revolutionary little computer, you know, and I took it to New York because nobody had a computer at their desk at that time in '95 or early '96 .. and they had PBX systems for their phone systems .. the only place I could find a dial tone in the building was at the fax machine. So I can't tell you how many demos I did plugging this little IBM ThinkPad into a dial-up, you know, at the fax machine to do a demo (laugh). So it was pretty interesting. Of course, we were 2400 baud or 5600 baud back then and it like took forever.

Alex: Dial-up, but broadband kind of took over around 2003, 2004.

Joel: Yeah, but we had already started in '95. We had a lot of years of spool up and ramp up or whatever you want to call it, just to making, you know, and winning over people to like putting down the paper, putting down magazines and you know and faxes and looking at news in real time and information in real time. And you know we were blessed to form some great strategic alliances with people like Mediabase and Promo Suite and you know it's been a really remarkable run and I have to tell you I've been so blessed to have a great staff of people. I mean we have an office in Nashville and we have people all over the country that, you know, work for us.

Alex: Some came from R&R, like Shawn Alexander.

Joel: Exactly, exactly and when Shawn was out of work over there, I grabbed him .. Paul Colbert from sales, Matt Parvis who was our Vice President of sales, he was an R&R alumni as well too, so he came aboard and joined us. And, you know, it was just kind of fun to like, to see these wonderfully experienced people that wanted the job and just wanted to come work for us. And it's all worked out, I mean most of our employees have been here as long as the company has been up. We've had very very little turnover.

Alex: So now it's .. it's basically the .. kind of what R&R was back in the day .. it's like, some might call it the bible of the industry.

Joel: That's awfully nice.

Alex: But I mean realistically, it is the central place where everyone goes to find out news about the radio and music industries.

Joel: Well, we really wanted this to create this one stop, this portal and it worked. I mean, you know, in radio it used to be you'd specialize in a format, you couldn't be all things to all people. But we felt we could do that and as consolidation happened and more people wore more hats and the Top 40 Program Director became the News/Talk Program Director at the same time and then you added Hot AC, we realized by expanding formats and you having these people used to coming to this place and offering them more for their visit, in other words like more opportunities to learn or to find the information that they needed in one place, it worked for us. It really did.

And you know I guess we've got this dynamic team of radio specialists. I mean we're in Top 40/Mainsteam, we're in Rhythmic, we're Alternative, we're in Rock, we're in Christian, we're in Country, we have News/Talk, Sports, we have Hot AC, we have Urban, we have - I mentioned Christian, you know it's very diverse. We're trying to cover all the main food groups of music.

Alex: So, obviously the music industry will always be around. The names might change but just like the radio industry's probably going to be around for several more decades.

Joel: Oh absolutely, there's not reason for it not to be.

Alex: The internet, on the other hand, I mean you have lots of internet radio stations developing but it still hasn't really become mainstream, wouldn't you say?

Joel: Well, I mean there's a lot of users to Pandora. There's a lot of users to Spotify.

Alex: But I understand that less than 1% subscribe to all those services.

Joel: Yes, well exactly. Because like they've been weened to get their music for free. Radio has taught them that you should be able to turn a button on and hear what you want hear. So that's the problem that they have. But that works ok for radio's business model. You know, I mean we're used to paying, running spots and stuff like that. And it's just become a little bit more of a challenge for traditional radio.

And you know, I believe that Pandora is a form of radio and Spotify is a form of radio. It's self-curated, though, you know what I'm saying for the most part. There's been some research that shows that the self-curation process is getting a little old. People don't want to spend as much time formulating their own playlists. If you look at the numbers, the people using radio has continued to rise. It's not falling off. You know, the time spent listening, that is falling off.

Alex: In the car.

Joel: Yeah, the car is the main place, exactly. But, you know, as you have iHeart and these portable platforms that are available on your phones, people use those in that manner, too, they'll toggle back and forth. As Nielsen is getting ready to be able to monitor all of the streams and stuff like that and add that into the ratings, that's something they're working on, you know all the digital listening, that's going to help radio too, where it's duplicate programming. You know, going off and missing unencoded streams and stuff like that, they're going to be able to hear unencoded streams, you know what I'm saying? And they're going to pick up all that listening.

Alex: Well, Joel I know whatever the future is of music, radio and internet, you'll be there.

Joel: I hope so, it's like we're working hard to stay relevant .. I think anybody that's in any business today, Alex, you've just got to go forward and keep your ears open. It's like, you know, we started All Access downloads, which is a musical delivery system for the business. You know, there are competitors out there. But we felt that we could do it better and we have. And I think we're doing business with just about every major label in wvery format. And radio, because they come here already, they've decided well, why not get our music here too? So it sort've became a synergetic, you know, line item growth or new silo for our business.

But I think one of the most gratifying things I think for all of us up here is when we can talk to somebody and they've just lost a job and we give some publicity for them and, you know, all of sudden their friends reach out and there's that sense of rally, that sense of community for them, that sense that people care about them. And then when, you know, we're able to hook them up with a job, in other words, we don't necessarily open the door, they get the job themself, but we might point out an opportunity. Or, you know, we might say to some Program Director, they know this guy got blown out and he's a really good on-air jock and somebody in that same format that didn't know about him and they didn't know about this opening and all of a sudden the guy says, "I need an afternoon drive guy." And all of a sudden he knows somebody. And you put them together and they work out a deal. I don't think there's anything more gratifying in the world than, you know, seeing something like that happen where you're making a difference in somebody's life.

Alex: Definitely. Joel, you've helped thousands of careers and it's great talking with you.

Joel: Thank you, very much, Alex. I appreciate this and continued success with your website as well, too.

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