That lovely aroma you smell: It’s the baker’s dozen affiliates that Woody Fife has just compiled. And we do mean “just.” A mere six months after entering syndication, “The Woody Show” added Raleigh and Honolulu this week, following late December’s addition of Atlanta, Detroit, and Indianapolis to his quickly growing posse of affiliates. All are iHeartMedia stations.
While the Los Angeles-based morning show entered syndication in June 2017 via Premiere Networks, Fife is hardly new to the airwaves.
Woody is a 20-year radio veteran who began his career while in high school as a nighttime on-air personality in Pittsburgh. While working in San Francisco, Woody brought together real-life friends Ravey, Menace and Greg Gory for what would become “The Woody Show.” Then, relocating to St. Louis, “The Woody Show” ruled the market’s airwaves in mornings, based at Emmis modern rock “105.7 The Point” KPNT.
That’s when iHeart came calling, moving the gang to “Alt 98.7” KYSR Los Angeles in April 2014, to become the company’s go-to alt rock morning show host. In 2016, The Woody Show was a NAB Marconi Radio Award finalist for Major Market Personality of the Year, and the next year, he renewed and extended a five-year deal with iHeart, including national syndication. He can also be heard in St. Louis, Portland, Bakersfield, Albuquerque, Des Moines, Wichita and on the Armed Forces Network.
Inside Radio talks with Woody about tailoring to a national audience, the longtime friendships he has with his show cast... and how radio is like French fries.
After holding court in St. Louis for so long, explain how it felt to come to the Los Angeles market via iHeart, clearly another world.
I’d worked in major markets like New York, Chicago and San Francisco before, so it wasn’t a market thing for me at all. It was all about the opportunity, and what would be best for my career. It was a risk, for sure. I had it made in St. Louis. I had built a monster morning show from the ground up, and was working for a great company with Emmis. But when I considered the upside potential, and saw the assets and resources that only a company like iHeart could offer, I knew it was a risk worth taking.
When you started there, was syndication already a goal?
It wasn’t. The goal was to come in and make our mark in Los Angeles. That’s the real win, not only from a business sense, but also personally, because there were a number of people betting against us. Everything that has happened since has been like finding a French fry in your order of onion rings… an unexpected, but pleasant surprise.
Ever feel overwhelmed coming into a market where you’re sharing the airwaves with so many iconic name brands and other syndicated morning personalities, in L.A.? Was that something you were conscious of?
Never overwhelmed. Of course I was aware of the competition, and just in case I wasn’t, there were people happy to remind me of it. But I’m a strategic guy. Our greatest strength, beyond the natural chemistry between the players, is our ability to connect on a very personal level with our listeners. So after looking, listening and analyzing the morning radio landscape, it was clear to me that we were hitting the market at the perfect time. Again, I had close, personal friends telling me that coming to do mornings in Los Angeles was career suicide…which I didn’t find overwhelming; it only made me professionally horny.
Now that you’re in a dozen markets, do you feel like there’s a different way you speak with a national audience as opposed to listeners in a single city? Do you talk about specific topics in a different way now?
We are the same show today that we’ve always been. I’ve never been a believer in talking local for the sake of local. Content is like music, play the hits. If there’s something happening on a local level that’s really interesting, it’s probably interesting on a national level. Include it. But if it doesn’t rise to that level…why go with it? I tell my friends hosting local shows the same thing. We should always have our best content on the air at all times. Where it comes from doesn’t matter. If it did, we would only listen to music from local bands, watch TV shows produced locally and see movies shot in our local market. But we don’t. We are here to entertain.
For someone who isn’t yet in love with “The Woody Show,” how would you describe the program?
Sales departments always ask this question. Usually, what goes out is what they think the show is. I have always had a hard time finding the right words—so, I actually asked our listeners to tell us how they would elevator pitch the show to people. We took what they said and put it into a Zagat/Yelp style review: The Woody Show is highly interactive, socially engaging appointment radio. It is described by listeners as “authentic,” “raw,” “unapologetic” and “recess/happy hour on the radio.”
My guys know that I want everything that comes out of the speakers to be authentic and delivered with purpose and energy. Our job is to have fun. And if we’re doing our job, it makes it an easy choice for new listeners to give us more and more of their time.
Tell me about Ravey, Menace and Greg Gory… how would you define their contributions? You guys have known each other a good long time.
Truly, the biggest asset I have with this show is the staff. Unlike most shows where it’s an arranged marriage, I got to handpick every hire. I have been friends with Ravey since I was 17. We worked together at a small suburban station outside of Pittsburgh. Friends immediately. Beyond being the biggest female voice on the show, she is the lord of nerd culture, talks sports better than most anyone I know, and she knows me inside and out. So she can challenge me in a way that others just can’t.
Menace, besides being a co-host, is also my social media/digital guy. He keeps the show going after the show. He’s also the second biggest female voice on the show. He knows everything about every lame reality show out there. He knows more about purses and shoes than any man should ever should. He’s been with me since “Live 105” KITS San Francisco.
Greg Gory was the local board-op/traffic report guy for “The Howard Stern Show” when we arrived to take over mornings at Live 105. I knew as soon as I met him that I wanted him to stay on as our producer. He’s a dynamic personality. It wasn’t long after that I realized he was miscast, and I made him a full player/co-host. I call him the dumbest smart guy that I know. He can speak so intelligently on so many real topics, but yet can’t wrap his head around technology to the extent that he’s still watching/listening/watching CDs and DVDs. Thank God he has his partner, Mario, to help him when we can’t be there.
Sebas is my executive producer. I had been a fan of his work long before we ever worked together. I hired him after we started here in Los Angeles. He’s been an incredible addition to the show. I mean that strictly from a professional standpoint—because he’s one of the most socially awkward weirdos I’ve ever met. He’s got his degree in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech, and is a member of Mensa. But it works for me, and more importantly, for “The Woody Show.”
There are so many other people on my crew behind the scenes that make the show what it is: associate producer Cameron Lewis, production director Brett Brady, video producer Randy Chavez, phone screener Julianne Miller and board op Danielle Krickl.
How do make the show work starting on the West Coast and feeding to the East Coast? Literally… like, as in the hours?
I tell people all the time, my job is amazing—and the hours suck. There’s just no way around it. I am out of bed at 2am, and all of us are in the studio and ready to roll at 3am PT. Thing is, this is how we worked even before syndication. It’s a lot of work, but someone told me long ago, “there’s a reason the ‘right’ way isn’t called the ‘easy’ way. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a show that is more prepared, day in and day out, than we are. It’s something that we take pride in.
How important is social media to you and the show… and streaming and mobile? I know you are also already keen on podcasting.
Social/digital is extremely important for every show, but especially for a show like ours that is so engagement heavy. We include our listeners in every aspect of what we do. We want to be available everywhere they are. The platforms have their ups and downs in terms of popularity, but we’re on all of them. We like Instagram best. We podcast the full-show each day, and also offer extra content with our “Woody Show MORE Show” and “Nerdin’ Out” podcasts. We also post daily/shareable in-studio clips on our YouTube and social media channels. I would still like to see Nielsen make a ratings system that takes into account AM/FM, streaming and podcast listening.
Any plans to take the show on the road… broadcast live from some of your other markets? Any surprises for us in 2018, other than more new markets?
Of course! We have some signature annual events, like our Woody Show Fiesta and Chrissymas parties that I can see taking on the road next year. Also, we are looking forward to being a part of the big events in our local markets. We are all in.
Even as technology continually evolves, we all know there’s nothing like the connection that listeners have daily with their favorite AM/FM radio personalities. What’s your take? Why does radio continue to reach 93% of us every week?
I think because radio is still so readily available. The challenge for all of us is to not take people’s time for granted. We, as talent and as an industry, need to work harder than ever to give them something worth listening to. The days of being someone’s only choice are over. Radio was my first love. And like any relationship, you have to work at it, and find ways to keep that magic alive. It’s important for us to embrace technology and stay hungry.