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‘Peak' Performance: The Hold Steady, Local Radio, and Why Customer Relations Still Matters

We don’t write about radio much at B&C, but I had an interaction with a radio station manager that I thought offered a valuable lesson for his counterparts in the local TV world. The GMs I speak to all the time are always talking about customer service-WBNS Ops manager Frank Willson even penned a guest column here on the topic–and the radio station manager was a good reminder that going the extra mile for local listeners (or viewers) can pay some dividends in the long run.The radio station is WXPK 107.1 and it goes by The Peak. A rock station owned by Pamal Broadcasting, it’s based in Westchester County, just north of New York City. The Peak bills itself as broadcasting to “New York’s backyard”–a small-town outlet with a loose vibe and almost all local advertisers in the shadow of the #1 DMA.

I started tuning in to The Peak when the Malones left the city for Westchester a few years ago. Everyone I know seems to dislike NYC rock radio–too formulaic, too corporate, too many format changes–and we took a liking to The Peak right away. It wasn’t a perfect match for my tastes–any station that would perfectly match my musical tastes would surely go belly-up pretty quickly–but the playlist was diverse (unlike NYC radio, you didn’t hear the same 100 records all the time), the DJs were appealing, and the local spots actually gave newcomers some idea of where the attractions were.

The Peak was holding its sixth anniversary party last week and had tapped the Brooklyn-based indie band The Hold Steady to perform at one of those suburban mega-arcades. I dropped my pal Frank a line about going–he’s big into The Hold Steady–and he said he’d buy the tickets.

A few weeks passed, and Frank being Frank, the gig was sold out before we got tix. He tried Stubhub, which had some tickets left. Believing the prices were trending downward, Frank shot me an email telling me he’d grab a pair the next day.

The next day, Stubhub was sold out of Hold Steady ducats. Feeling like a dork for dropping the ball, Frank called the radio station two days before the concert to inquire about how he might be able to score two tickets. As The Peak only employs nine people, he ended up chatting with the program director, Chris Herrmann. The two got talking about seeing bands back in the day in the City and the lack of good venues in Westchester, and Frank told him how he and his friend Mike used to go to lots of shows in the City, but now were old and boring and married (uh, not to each other), and had really been looking forward to shaking up our humdrum lives and seeing The Hold Steady.

Herrmann said he appreciated how badly Frank wanted to see the show, gave Frank his cellphone number, and told him to call back the next day.

Frank did. Hermann said he had had some guest-list cancellations, and we were good to go.

Herrmann of course had no idea I write for B&C and would end up blogging about the experience. He helped us out because he knew my pal Frank and I genuinely wanted to see the show, and customer relations are obviously a priority for him and his station.

“Our future path lies squarely in our ability to be hyper-local,” Herrmann told me, whether it’s super-serving local listeners or local advertisers. (Sounds almost like a TV GM, huh?)

(For what it’s worth, as we were on the guest list, we didn’t end up paying for our tickets. In case the Romenesko types out there are wondering, I donated the ticket value to the American Red Cross’s Haiti relief fund, and supported a local business by purchasing several pints of Captain Lawrence Brewery pale ale at the show.)

I don’t think Chris Herrmann had anything but good will in mind, but I do believe treating customers in such a way ultimately pays off for the station. Frank and I told a bunch of people about our good fortune in getting to attend the Peak anniversary party, because that’s what you do when you have a fun story to share.

And here’s what Frank posted on Facebook after getting off the phone with Herrmann: “May have to re-ignite the love affair with local radio that died with WLIR. Program director at The Peak (107.1 White Plains) put me on the guest list for tomorrow night’s Hold Steady show here in Westchester after I called the station with a sob-story about not being able to buy tickets before show sold out.”

(Three Facebook friends “Liked” Frank’s post, if you’re scoring at home.)

Frank tells me he has The Peak on around the house these days instead of 1010 WINS. “There’s a hook there. Even if there’s a song I don’t like, something keeps me tuned in,” he says. “You feel like you’re part of a community.”

Frank also started playing the station in his car, prompting his young daughter to wonder one day why the guy on the radio was talking about Miller’s Toys–a shop (and a Peak advertiser) around the corner from their house.

In summary, Frank and I got to see The Hold Steady (excellent show, by the way, and thanks to my B&C neighbor Joel Topcik for loaning me some of their old CDs), while The Peak got a dedicated listener and positive word of mouth–both the traditional face-to-face kind, and through social media.

Sounds like a win-win to me.

[Hold Steady image: Hudson Valley MetroMix]