Vicki Mann has toys on her desk. And one in particular holds special value.
Her must-have office ornament is a stuffed dog, Dug, from Up, whose line is “Squirrel!” “He’s always looking for the squirrel,” Mann says. “The idea, of course, is to stay focused on what you need to be focused on.”
Since coming on as general manager of KRCL Radio (90.9 FM) in late March, Mann’s focus has been increasing listenership and visibility at the 32-year-old listener-supported community station. However, at The Rose Establishment, where we meet and listen to her music library at random, it’s a cafe mocha.
The radio veteran sips her cup as she says that she comes to KRCL via Radio Milwaukee, after launching the station and serving six years as station manager. “It was an exciting project, because it was building a station from the ground up. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mann says. That station’s mission is to bridge disparate communities through music; it has become integral to the city’s changing cultural landscape—a lengthy accomplishment Mann speaks of proudly. She hopes to keep the ball rolling and leave a mark at her new community-minded, albeit already established, home.
Prior to her Midwest stint, Mann lived in Salt Lake City for eight years, working in commercial radio, as KCPW station manager and 2002 Winter Olympics ad manager. “So this is like coming home, in a way,” she says.
“I’ve been watching [the many programming changes at KRCL] from afar,” Mann says. “I was aware of what happened in 2008 [the move from specialty shows to consistent weekday programs], and how difficult of a PR thing that was.”
KRCL’s listeners are, if nothing else, really passionate. Thus, there was skepticism when changes began upon her arrival.
“It’s not broken, so I’m not changing much,” she says, acknowledging there’s not a huge need. As of May, listenership is up to 75,100 p.p.m. (portable people meter)—the second highest in the station’s history, she says.
Her first executive decision was to modernize the station’s catalog to allow for song names to show up on car (manufactured after 2005, in general) stereos. The station had to rebuild the library from the ground up, beginning in April. Song rotation was at first thin but has become more robust weekly. The process should be finished mid-August.
Next, WXPN’s World Cafe with David Dye was added to the morning rotation, from 6 to 8 a.m, beginning April 30. “I signed the deal, but they’ve been working to get it for some time,” Mann says. As some listeners raised concern about the non-locally produced show, Mann addressed issues in an open letter sent via e-mail, which, among other things, stated that KRCL had hired one-time Saturday Sage host John Florence to spin acoustic rock weekday mornings from 5 to 6 a.m. and host local weather and traffic updates during World Cafe.
KRCL will also produce song-length feature vignettes to air throughout the day, beginning mid-July. Mann says these pieces, produced by music-show and RadioActive hosts, will range in topic from local arts to meaty news pieces.
When Mann has time away from the station, she tunes in to her 2,000-song Spotify playlist—she’s the first person we’ve interviewed for this feature using the Internet streaming service. “I use it because my tastes are always evolving, and I don’t want to pay the money to buy everything,” she says.
Mann was surprised Taylor Swift didn’t play when we set her iPad on random—same with Glen Campbell.
“I like Spotify partly because, right now, I just want to hear everything Glen Campbell—even the hokey songs like ‘Like a Rhinestone Cowboy.’ I get the whole catalog,” Mann says.
Mann shows off every version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” that she could find by any artist, and says, overall, her tastes are streamlined to Southern California singer-songwriters. “What you’ll see here is that I’m getting older. I’m not as adventurous as I once was,” she says.
“But it’s always fun to find something new,” she says. Well, she works at the right place for that.
Vicki Mann’s picks:
Merle Haggard, “Pancho & Lefty,” Outlaws Super Hits
I’ve just always loved this song. I’m a huge fan of Townes Van Zandt; he’s such a great storyteller, and I love folks that can tell a story. It’s funny, I probably have six different versions of “Pancho & Lefty” on Spotify.
Paul Brady, “Sail, Sail On,” Say What You Feel
He doesn’t get a lot of airplay. He writes a whole lotta songs, but mostly does backup for folks like Bonnie Raitt. One of the weaknesses of Spotify is that I can’t see who plays on the songs, so I have to look that up, which I do. I love to know who’s playing on whose album. He plays for a lot of folkies.
James Blake & Bon Iver, “Fall Creek Boys Choir,” Enough Thunder
Sometimes that happens ... If you can actually understand the lyrics, they’re really powerful. So, for Bon Iver, I have most of the CDs, because I want to read them. Radio Milwaukee brought them in several times. He’s just a regular guy, an introvert; quiet, of course.
Dharohar Project, Mumford & Sons & Laura Marling, “To Darkness/Kripa,” Dharohar Project, Mumford & Sons & Laura Marling EP
We played a lot of these guys at Radio Milwaukee. They just sound different than most everybody out there these days. That’s why I like them. And they have just really catchy songs ... Hmm, I’m waiting for some more singer-songwriters to show up in this playlist ...
Various Artists, “The Story in Your Eyes,” Moody Bluegrass: Two ... Much Love
This is a CD of Moody Blues songs done in bluegrass. There’s a whole bunch of people, and I think Alison Brown and John Cowan are playing on this one. I was, for years, going to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and that just sold the deal [on liking bluegrass]. It’s just heavenly there.