When Ross Kaminsky won our Best Radio Talk-Show Host award in 2012, he had a lowly Sunday show on KOA — but you could tell that he had the desire, and the talent, to take on much bigger challenges. And now he has: At this writing, Kaminsky is debuting as the host in the 5 to 10 a.m. slot on KHOW 630 AM — a spot previously occupied by Mandy Connell (who's now moved on to Mike Rosen's KOA slot) and, before that, the legendary Peter Boyles.
Kaminsky, whose expertise outside of radio is in financial markets trading, had been looking for an opportunity to make radio his full-time job — but that "required being on a big-enough station, in a big-enough market," he says. But now Kaminsky, who just turned fifty, is not only a full-time host, but an employee for the first time in his life. In advance of his first show, we sat down to talk with Kaminsky about why he loves radio, and the way this gig came about.
Westword: How did you get into radio?
Ross Kaminsky: The first time I was on the radio was KFKA in Greeley, as a guest to talk about political blogging [on rossputin.com]. That was the first place I ever guest-hosted a show, for Amy Oliver, and I was instantly hooked. It was like heroin for me — not that I’ve tried heroin. I’ve loved radio ever since, and I made it my mission to get a full-time job in radio that would actually pay the bills. And that’s not easy in radio.
This is a dream come true for me, really. A morning-drive show is a dream job for a talk-show host. It’s very influential, lots and lots of people are listening, and it allows me to be home in the afternoon with my kids.
How did you find out you had the KHOW slot?
I found out about three weeks ago, and I was only about half-surprised. I’d been working very hard to put myself in a position where I’d be a viable candidate. But I’m very grateful. It’s a big job. There would be dozens, if not hundreds, of hosts from around the country who would move here for this job….so I don’t take it for granted.
How will you start out?
Management knows me already, they know what I do, and they told me to just go do it. I feel like I have a tremendous amount of latitude to experiment, to find out what works best for the audience, the advertisers, for everybody.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time introducing myself. I think the audience knows me fairly well already, and the best introduction is just to do my show, and we’ll get to know each other that way….
What's your schedule?
Four hours live, and one hour recorded the previous day that airs at 5 a.m.
Is four hours a long time on the radio?
I would generally say any additional hour of radio on any one show is exponentially more difficult…it's hard to find great topics every day. But it becomes easier when you do it regularly.... In a certain way, you don't need fresh topics for all four hours. In a four-hour show, especially in the morning drive, when the average person is listening for only as long as their drive to work is, it’s possible that if a topic works really well early in the show, you can repeat it later in the show. Three hours later…you’re going to have a whole new audience.
I’m almost always over-prepared. I almost always come into a radio show with more material than I get to. I spend more than an hour in preparation for each hour of show.
What's your favorite part of doing radio?
My favorite part is when I feel like I’ve made a difference, particularly when I feel like I’ve changed someone’s mind about something important....And then, I also love it when I feel like we’re just having fun.
What's been your biggest surprise?
How much I like talking to the people who disagree with me. Although radio hosts can’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether people like them, it’s also better to be liked than not....I’m respectful to everyone who isn’t an idiot.
What topics will you tackle?
I’m not going to debate about god, abortion, or anything based on faith — it's boring radio, those debates.
You learn early on as a talk-show host that even though you take calls, the show is not about the callers. They’re like a catalyst for additional conversation. Even if a caller is interesting — and most callers are — generally the listeners want to hear the host, and not the callers...although I love them.
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Did you have any mentors?
Mike Rosen although he has a different style, for someone to have the kind of success he’s had, it’s inherently inspirational. He’s been a real mentor and teacher. Something I’ll forever be grateful to Mike Rosen for: When management changed at KOA a few years back, he went to the new program manager and asked him to give me a chance…and they gave me a chance. And I was at KOA filling in weekdays and on weekends ever since.
I’ve greatly benefited every step in my short radio career so far from people willing to give me a chance, and put me on the air, even when they didn’t have great reason to know what I could do. I’m appreciative to all those people, and I still remember who every one of them is.
Ross Kaminsky is on the air right now at KHOW 630 AM, and he'll be back again tomorrow from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.