#Happens just took place in Las Vegas last month, and Metal Contraband’s Chelsea sat down with Viktor Wilt from KBEAR 101 (KCVI) during the convention for a quick Q&A about his radio career.

Let’s start out with how you got your start in radio.

It all started with a public access TV show I did Wayne’s World style when I was a teenager, playing music, taking calls, pretty much what you would do on a radio show anywhere, but we had video elements and things like that. Then I moved into the world of being in a band, “All right, I’m going to be a rock star”, me and my friends started a variety of bands, played around the Northwest. Then I had some kids, and being in a band’s not the most stable of a job, and I knew the local Program Director because he was in the local music scene too, so I just called him up one day like, “Hey, you guys hiring?”. He knew me as a frontman, knew I could work a mic on stage, so he just chucked me into weekends, and I learned my way from the very bottom all the way up to where I’m now Morning Show Host and Program Director.

That’s awesome! So I’ve heard there’s a pretty heavy focus on metal at your station?

Yeah! I’m a metalhead, since I was a teenager, I’ve been more about the metal end. I feel like that’s an area that a lot of Active Rock stations don’t give enough love. Metal fans, to me, are the most hardcore of rock fans. When it comes to passion, metalhead are crazy, you know? Two things you hear people yell at shows: “Freebird” or “Slayer!”, so when I came in as PD, I kind of baby-stepped it up. Now, we’re really heavy, we’re one of the heaviest stations on terrestrial radio. I’ve got Lamb of God in all dayparts, Gojira, tons of bands like that. But when I came in as PD, I started putting in little bits of Lamb of God, more Pantera, and bit by bit, our ratings started going up. And I can’t speak for everybody everywhere, but the heavier I make my station, the better our ratings our. This last book, I just went crazy, I was like, “I’m going to see what happens if I go nuts with new and heavy music”. And it was the best ratings in the history of twenty years of the station. Number 1 in all adult demographics, all male demographics, and I think number 3 with female demographics, too. You know…it seemed like people like metal!

I think that’s amazing. I mean, we all know people like metal, and that’s interesting that you as Program Director were able to take those…I don’t want to call them “risks”, but a lot of Active programmers might call them risks, by playing a lot of new music, and a lot of metal. And you had such good results with it, do you think other stations would do well with taking those risks?

Absolutely, and I argue with programmers about this all the time, they’re like, “Well, you’re a unique market” — I mean, my market in the Pacific Northwest is the most conservative market there is, it’s a very high LDS population, one of the cities in my market is Rexford, Idaho, which has to be the most conservative place in the Pacific Northwest. But I think if we’re succeeding doing what we do…I’ve been to shows everywhere on the Western half of the U.S., but I don’t see any difference in the crowds in Minneapolis, or Las Vegas, or Salt Lake City, or where I’m from. A rock band’s a rock band, and Slipknot packs arenas everywhere. That, to me, when you talk about taking a risk, how is it a risk to play Slipknot? Their single “Unsainted” today, a year or so later, is still the second highest streaming song in the country. So Slipknot, to me, is the safest choice you could make right now in rock, it’s not extreme at all. But Slipknot is mainstream rock to a hardcore metalhead, you know? At the convention today, there’s a lot of talk, as there has been at all the conventions I’ve been to, about incorporating more Alt songs and expanding these other areas of sound, and the one place I never hear anybody at these conventions talk about on the mics, is incorporating more metal bands. And it’s never hurt me, it’s only benefitted the station.

I agree with you, but it does seem to be the mindset of, I don’t think it’s so much the individual programmers, but more the Active Rock genre as a whole.

Yeah! And we still play a lot of stuff that’s more mellow than a lot of Active Rockers have. I’ve been telling people today, we’ll go from Lamb of God into Queen. I throw lots of Classic Rock stuff in, we play Chili Peppers, Green Day…I truly, when I look at programming, try to make it the most mainstream station for the whole rock audience that I can, and give them all treats, and then if somebody’s not into a song, they know the next song’s going to be something completely different. It’s probably going to be something they like. So our TSL is the highest in the market of any station by far, because I think people know they can stick around.

So what has been a favorite moment of yours in your career so far?

The first rock radio convention I came to here in Vegas was definitely a standout moment, because I didn’t know anybody. I got the PD job, I was in contact with the Radio Contraband people, and heard about the convention, so I just decided to go. And to think back to then, hanging out with people I’d never met before, just trying to get my name out there, to today where I talk to people who look at what we do and know that we in little old Idaho have some kind of impact on what people think about radio and programming – that’s some cool shit to me. And then just, all the things my Operations Manager and people I’ve learned from in radio, little things that I would argue with them about playing heavy music or new music in the morning, all these things that are kind of standard radio knowledge, that, “if you don’t do it this way, it’s not going to work, it’ll never work”, to just say, “Okay, well, I’m going to try it anyway”, and then when it does work, it’s the greatest feeling ever. To go, “Okay, as a music fan, I know what I hate about rock radio”. When I got into rock radio, I wasn’t a fan of the station, I just knew I could be an entertainer, I like being on a microphone, and I love rock music. The playlist at the time? Thought it could have been better. But just to make those kinds of leaps to try new things, as that guy who was like, “rock radio should do this, this, and this”, and everyone telling me “no, you’re just an extreme music fan, that’s not the average listener”, to have those broad results and know that my gut instinct on stuff like playing heavier music, it can work and be successful, it just really makes you feel good.

And the fact that you went into the station with an idea of what you didn’t like, and would do differently, seems to me like you had the ingredients of a Program Director already, because that’s what you need to do as a programmer – “This is good, this is not, what would I do differently?”, and you were already thinking that way when you stepped into it. 

Yeah, and I’ve got a great staff. The other guy who’s been there as long as me, Jade, who’s been out to the convention before, we’re the same guys, both grew up in the local music scene, our bands used to feud with one another, we’d troll each other’s forums back in the day before Facebook and stuff *laughs*. And so he thought all the same things as me, but he was more from the Emo scene, and I was more from the Death Metal scene. So to kind of work as a team on what my scene, his scene — the most hardcore music fans I know of out attending shows in our area — to put our brains together and go, “All right. What can we do to try to excite these people who stopped listening to radio”, I think that’s one of the main problems with radio now, that we have driven away some of the most hardcore fans that we could have, and it takes a long time to get them back when they don’t have a lot of faith that radio is cool, radio will play the bands they like. Because a lot of stations, you can go around the country and they have the exact same playlist. I really think if more stations had the opportunity to have some time to try to bring those fans back in, all the people spreading memes online about how rock radio’s lame and, “Oh, Imagine Dragons coming up next, we’re so hardcore”, those are real, and I talk to those listeners! I’m one of them, you know? I think there’s definitely lots of opportunities for us to make rock radio huge again, and to make our personalities huge again too. In my market, it’s ridiculous, it’s like old school radio, we can’t go anywhere without…”Oh my god, Viktor, what’s up!!”…”I’m just tryin’ to get my groceries, man, but hey! What’s happening, good to see you!”

*laughs* That’s pretty cool, though, that’s fun. 

And I think that’s how it should be, because with all the different options people have for music nowadays, Spotify, Pandora, etc., our personalities are the number one thing we have to differentiate ourselves, and then also Pandora’s algorithm, a good programmer can beat that to appeal to a mass audience. If you’re firing up Pandora, you’re generally going to be like, “I want to hear…this”, you can’t just go “Rock”, and get what you could get on a very large library well-programmed Active Rock station.

Exactly, good stuff. Well, thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

Yeah, thanks for asking me to talk – I like to do it! That’s why I’m in the business. *laughs*