Interview with Roland West

by Alex Cosper

Conducted May 13, 2015 on Facebook

Alex: Ladies and gentlemen, with me today is radio/music industry pro Roland West ... Today I am interviewing him for my site Playlist Research ... We'll be talking about his radio and music career involving Live 105/SF, Universal Music Group and Sony Music's Red Distribution, where he is currently Senior Director of Radio Promotion for the Pacific Northwest .. Hi Roland, thanks for joining me.

Roland: Hello Alex Cosper thanks for the invite and hopefully I can provide some good content for you.

Alex: Well, Roland you're someone who has worked in both the radio and music industry. When I was at KWOD In Sacramento you were at Live 105 in San Francisco. Tell me about how you got that radio gig.

Roland: I really have Big Rick Stuart to thank for that. He and I had worked together at KNAC/Long Beach, back in the days when it was "rock & rhythm" KNAC and before it became the legendary "pure rock" KNAC. I had spent 3 years at KNAC after college, going from intern to nights, to afternoon drive DJ and music director. Then the station changed format and I was out. I went over and did weekends/fill in airshifts at KROQ, at the time under the leadership of Rick Carroll. That all would've been circa 1985 thru about 1988.

I got a call from Big Rick Stuart, who had just gone back up to the Bay Area to work at LIVE 105, doing afternoons. He told me about this "start up," as they were changing from Top 40 to Modern Rock ... and so, I auditioned and won the night time slot working for an amazing PD, Richard Sands and the MD at the time was Steve Masters.

I gotta add, that KCSC Radio Chico State is where I got my radio chops! Working alongside some great people, like Dred Scott, Marc Milhous Kordelos, Pam Pamela Nova Wolf and many others.

Alex: Describe what it was like to work for Rick Carroll, who is often considered the "father of modern rock radio" when he was at KROQ / LA. By the way, Rick Carroll went to my same college, Sac State.

Roland: Rick Carroll was amazing and I thank my lucky stars he saw/heard something in me, enough so that he gave me a shot at KROQ, where I got to work with legends, Dusty Street, Jed the Fish, Freddy Snakeskin, Richard Blade, Swedish Egil, Van Johnson, April Whitney and many others ... that one year was a big highlight for me.

Alex: At Live 105 you worked with the dream team of Richard Sands, Steve Masters, Aaron Axelson .. What was your role in finding music for the station?

Roland: At LIVE 105 ... when Mark Hamilton left middays to go up to Portland and run KRNK, I moved into his slot. A short time later, when Steve Masters jumped into the Record side of things (joining Mike Jacobs at Way Cool), I think I became Music Director. My role was to assist Richard Sands in weekly music meetings pouring over the pile of CDs we'd receive ... a dauntless but FUN task.

Alex: You guys at Live 105 did have an impact on my programming at KWOD ... I felt your vibe all the way from Sac .. Mark Hamilton gave me lots of good advice.

Roland: Aaron Axelsen became the Assistant MD, along with his duties with various other radio programs (including the "Modern Rock Doc" show we did with Eugene L. Schoenfeld) ... He is the real superstar and LIVE 105 legend at this point, surviving so many changes over the years. We (LIVE 105) had a certain idea/vision for the station, that had nothing to do with the rest of the format (12 stations at the time, ha?).

Mark Hamilton and what he does at KNRK probably represents more closely the LIVE 105 model, to this day. He takes chances and does what's best for his city, Portland, without really giving much concern to charts & other citites.

Alex: LIVE 105 historically has broken several alternative acts. Tell us about how you made the transition to the music industry.

Roland: As I recall, my transition was forced upon me ... as Entercom sold LIVE 105 to CBS, and in the course of a year they made some changes, bringing in Howard Stern to replace Johnny Steele, who did a great job, despite the odds stacked against him. But, I was let go that year as well, that's show biz. I spent some time looking at other radio opportunities, but really didn't want to leave the Bay Area. Timing is everything and Geffen Records was looking for a regional promotion person, so I interviewed with Bob Catania. He too is another person who I will forever be grateful to, as he saw something in me, bucking conventional wisdom, he hired me.

Shortly thereafter, Geffen, along with numerous labels inside the Universal Music Group umbrella had a restructuring ... I ended up as part of the Island Def Jam Music group, where I worked for almost 17 years, up until last year. When once again, restructure was the order of the day. I since joined the amazing Danny Buch and now enjoy the company of RED.

Alex: I'll be interviewing Bob Catania next week. He did lots of great stuff at Island Records and other labels. So you were at Universal Music Group for many years, promoting records to radio, which is what you do now for Sony's Red Distribution. Tell me about what you do.

Roland: Simply, I'm reaching out to radio stations (Pop, Rhythm, Triple A, Alternative, Rock and Adult Top 40) trying to influence their musical choices with new music from with the RED/Sony group. RED is a distribution & artist development company, with many smaller labels coming to us for services, including marketing and radio promotion; that's where I come in. When I say smaller labels, it's a variety from Red Bull, Mom+Pop, 10th St and so many others.

Alex: Who are some of the artists you are working with these days?

Roland: Some of the artists currently on my list of things to "get played on the radio" include AWOLNATION, Shaggy, Steve Aoki & Moxie Raia, The Ting Tings, Courtney Barnett, Cold War Kids and many others, including the new Third Eye Blind .. and a new young pop star (to be), Daya.

Alex: I'm curious if any indie artist or indie label can approach Red to try to get radio ariplay.

Roland: Yes, many do ... we often seek out relationships/deals with smaller labels too. Looking for stories (sales, cyber buzz, radio play, etc).

Alex: How important is radio airplay these days for record sales? Is it still essential to sell a lot of units?

Roland: Usually the approach begins with discussion of distribution and can lead into radio promotion, depending on the label/act and what the goal is. Not everything (a majority) is something that gets promoted for radio. In the world of "popular" music, radio is still the strongest outlet for exposure in relation to sales.

Alex: I'm curious also how much social media is becoming a factor in the music promotion paradigm.

Roland: Social media, too, is very important. Smaller indie artists, as you like to say, can really get their foot in the door via social media. Oftentimes a social media profile will get the attention of record labels as well as radio stations (programming depts).

Alex: Roland, you've been very informative ... Anything else you want to add?

Roland: In my conversations with new artists I always suggest they concentrate on the music, the fans, the performances ... the rest will come if they really "have something" to offer. Thanks Alex Cosper, it was fun ... and now my fingers are tired from all the typing! Carry on!

Alex: Roland, thanks for this interview.

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