As program director for hip-hop hits purveyor KS-107.5, Cat Collins was largely responsible for transforming the station from a chronic underperformer to a perennial ratings powerhouse -- usually one of the two or three most listened-to signals in the city. But rather than resting on his laurels, he's moving on come mid-October in order to take the helm at KYLD-FM/Wild-FM, a Clear Channel-owned rhythmic Top-40 outlet in San Francisco.
The reason, Collins explains, has a lot to do with familia.
"San Francisco is my hometown," he says, "and I've got a year-and-a-half-old daughter -- and I thought it would be really neat to have her around my family." Plus, he continues, "San Francisco is a bigger market, and I wanted to take on a new challenge."
He certainly succeeded at altering the culture at KS-107.5. The station aired R&B-based music even before it moved from 104.3 FM to its current dial position, but it went through periods when hip-hop was all but verboten during prime time. For proof, check out this February 1994 Westword article, in which then-program director Chris Lane noted that the station was staying away from harder edged stuff because it "skewed male," thereby potentially alienating the young female demographic execs wanted to attract.
That changed when Collins came aboard a decade ago. Still, it wasn't easy to convince observers inside and outside radio that upping the hip-hop quotient was commercially wise. "When the music was breaking in the mid- to late-'90s, no one outside of the format understood how mass appeal it was," he maintains. Nonetheless, he and his crew "embraced it wholeheartedly" -- and they were eventually proven right with a little help from untold thousands of Denver listeners, who turned out to have a big appetite for rap whether they were black or white, urban or suburban.
"I'll never forget something that happened in 1998, back when I was just starting," he says. "I took a meeting with several influential promoters in town -- I'm not going to name names -- and I told them we were going to do a summer concert at Fiddlers Green. They laughed and said, 'You can't do an urban concert there.'" Collins ignored their warning and booked the KS-107.5 Summer Jam, which has become an annual staple of the live-music season. "We've done ten in a row and they've all sold out," he boasts.
Collins gives the credit for such achievements to his staff. But he deserves kudos, too -- and his decision to hire DJ Chonz demonstrates why. Chonz was an acclaimed underground DJ whose skills were well known to scenesters, but he had virtually no big-time commercial-radio experience when Collins put him on the air and gave him the opportunity to mix live at 5 p.m., one of the outlet's most popular time slots. "I knew he'd make a few mistakes, but he was brilliant the rest of the time, and he's only gotten better," Collins says. "He's a fantastic guy, a true talent and one of the keys to our success over the years."
At this point, KS-107.5 hasn't chosen a new program director. Still, Collins believes that whoever ends up with the gig will be able to keep the operation humming along thanks to support from Lincoln Financial Media, the firm that purchased the outlet from previous owner Jefferson-Pilot a few years back. "They've got a real commitment to win," he says. "I know that sounds corporate, but they've been very generous with funding, and I think we've been able to spend their money wisely."
Indeed, 107.5 looks practically bulletproof right now. Witness the mediocre numbers generated to date by One-FM, at 107.1 FM, which is directly targeting the station. For Collins, this performance has made it easier for him to head west. "I really, really love Colorado, and I've had a great ten-year run," he allows. "But the time is right to try something new." -- Michael Roberts
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