Last night we passed along news that KXT 91.7 FM has hired a new program director, Mark Abuzzahab, and we promised to have a little Q&A with him in the morning. And we keep our promises:
Art&Seek: Tell me a little about where you are coming to us from and what you did there?
Mark Abuzzahab: I’m music director for KGSR in Austin. I think musically there are a lot of similarities between KGSR and KXT. … And then a large part of what I do also is booking bands for live performances at the radio station. We host a lot of live sessions at our radio station, and then since Austin is the unofficial Live Music Capital of the World, we do a lot of things off site. Like at South by Southwest, we do a pretty popular broadcast at the Four Seasons Hotel. This year we had some amazing acts like Emmylou Harris, the Civil Wars, Ryan Bingham – it was a really good lineup this year. … And then we do other events around town. Austin’s a pretty active area, as you know.
A&S: What’s your first order of business when you take over KXT?
M.A.: I know one of the first things I want to do is get more local programming on the air. Also, expand the music library – I’ve been working on that in my free time. I also want to start getting more live performances on the air on KXT. I’ll tell you, that’s one thing I’ve heard from people I talk to in the record community and all the band managers – a common theme that I’ve heard from people all across the industry is, “I’m really glad you’re moving there. My bands when they come to Dallas don’t have things to do.” I’m like, “That’s great.” When Ryan Bingham is playing in Dallas, I would love to get him and his band in. I really want to make KXT a very artist-friendly place. I want to make it a station that artists look forward to visiting.
A&S: Can you describe what your approach to programming the station will be?
M.A.: The quickest way to sum it up is: it’s quality music. I want to play a wide-variety of music, but it’s got to be good music. I understand that that’s pretty vague and pretty subjective. Here’s an example: KXT would play Eric Clapton but not Boston. Why draw the line there? Well, Eric Clapton’s music is a little bit more timeless. Even though Eric Clapton and Boston released records right around the same time, the Eric Clapton records are better, there’s a little bit more quality, and there’re certain songs by him that just don’t sound dated when you play them now. … I think a successful radio station like KXT needs to embrace a wide variety of music – everything from rock to blues, a little bit of reggae, lots of local music, even slightly folkier things. If you look at people’s iTunes collections, they’re filled with a wide-variety of music. I know very few people who just listen to one style or one era of music.
A&S: You mentioned the local music. So far the station has had a strong commitment to local music. Is that something you plan to continue going forward?
M.A.: Yes, absolutely. There’s a huge pool to draw from in the North Texas area, and we definitely want to reflect that.
A&S: The station has consistently increased its listenership since it launched. How do you plan to continue to increase that without programming to the lowest common denominator?
M.A.: It’s going to take time to do that. What I really want to do is establish an identity for the station and establish trust. I want people to really trust KXT as the music source – not only for new music, but for older music as well.
A&S: Where do your personal tastes in music lie?
M.A.: It’s pretty eclectic. I listen to pretty much all styles of music. I listen to a lot of jazz, I listen to a lot of rock, I listen to a little bit of everything.
A&S: Is it tough as a program director to not just program what you like as opposed to what’s right for the station?
M.A.: I take the approach to programming the way I imagine somebody would take an approach to coaching a little league team if their kid was on it. You’d be really conscious of the fact that you don’t want to show favoritism to your kid on the team. That’s the way I look at programming. I treat bands that I like a lot a little bit tougher than I would treat other bands. The radio station is not my mixtape. And the other way you get out of that is by having talented people on the staff. You’ll second guess yourself all the time. You’ll hear a record and you’ll be like, “Well, I don’t know that I like this, but what do you think?” Or the other way around – I really love it, but I want to make sure I’m not completely off base. I’ve been in radio a long time, and there are a lot of bands that I heard the first time and didn’t like and have gone on to love, and there are a lot of things that I loved right away and didn’t like later on. You can’t be locked into your opinions in this business.