“The beauty of local radio is that we can respond. It’s one of our greatest strengths. We’re in the community and can be with our listeners as things happen. We can commiserate with the listener as things happen.”
— WRAL-FM Program Director Michele Williams
Social media exploded when the world heard the news that music legend Prince had died suddenly at the age of 57. The loss was felt both personally and professionally at CBC’s adult contemporary radio station, MIX 101.5 WRAL-FM. The MIX team wanted to honor the man and his music, and respond to the loss also felt by their viewers. And the work needed to happen fast.
“Prince is one of our core artists,” said WRAL-FM Program Director Michele Williams. “He’s meaningful to this format and this audience, so it was very, very important to be immediate.”
The team reeled personally as they worked hard to do both Prince and their listeners justice.
“I’m feeling the same shock as I did when Michael Jackson passed,” said WRAL-FM Asst Prog Director/Music Director Jim Kelly. “Prince was such a huge part of my high school and college years, I mean the Purple Rain soundtrack…amazing…had it on Vinyl, then cassette, and then CD. It is in heavy rotation in the car CD player now along with Diamonds and Pearls.”
Williams explained how Thursday, April 21, 2016, unfolded, “It was a really interesting scenario how it played out.”
When the news broke, the MIX programming and promotion teams – Kelly, Williams, Promotions Director Jason Newton and Promotion Coordinator Brittany Goodman – were in an off-campus meeting with the Children’s Miracle Network talking about Radiothon. Then Williams got an email from MIX On-Air Personality Diane Ramsey. TMZ was reporting that Prince had died. Williams had to interrupt the meeting; they confirmed the news with a report from the Associated Press and leapt into action.
“The beauty of local radio is that we can respond,” said Williams. “It’s one of our greatest strengths. We’re in the community and can be with our listeners as things happen. We can commiserate with the listener as things happen.”
Goodman immediately rushed back to the station to get social media going, while Williams and Kelly started working on Prince songs for Ramsey to get on air.
“We wanted to do something to celebrate his career so rolling a block of his music after the news broke was important,” said Kelly. “Letting listeners hear the great music, call in and share their memories or what Prince meant to them was important. The toughest part was figuring out what to play…he has SO many great songs.”
Williams and Kelly looked through the MIX library to find all the station’s Prince music. They connected with engineering to get the songs they didn’t have in the library but wanted downloaded quickly. Soon they had 30 minutes of Prince music queued for Kelly’s drive time that evening.
Williams then reached out to MIX’s voiceover artist in Atlanta to put together montages celebrating Prince’s life. They were back in Williams’ inbox by 6pm on Friday night, ready for air.
At the same time, Williams and Kelly connected with Gene and Julie Gates from MIX’s Morning Show. They were already off work for the day when the news broke.
“We got with Gene & Julie via email to discuss the best thing to do on the morning show and how to go about it and hammered out the details for what went on Friday morning,” explained Williams.
They planned a one-hour tribute to Prince, complete with music, interviews and comments from listeners during the Gene & Julie Show. Then Ramsey’s MIX Café, the noon 80’s music show, featured Prince as well.
Williams stressed the team wanted an immediate response and worked to be sensitive to what listeners wanted.
“It’s hard to gauge,” she explained, “how much is enough and how much is too much. How can we do this tastefully and in the right tone?”
The MIX team worked hard to strike the right balance. And viewers responded with praise.
Williams said, “You don’t often get instant gratification for what you do.” But WRAL-FM continued to hear, “Thank you so much for doing this, it’s what I needed right now.”
WRAL-FM is not a news station. It’s rare for the MIX crew to be on the cutting edge of hard news with the type of music they play. But they play a lot of Prince. He’s a huge artist on the radio station.
“It’s one of those moments in radio,” she said. “This is what we’re here for. This is why we’re all in this business.”
Williams stressed that many members of the MIX crew came together to make sure Prince and his music received a proper homage, and that MIX listeners were served well.
“It was a team effort,” explained Williams. “Everyone thinks through for their day part and what their listeners want to hear. I’m proud that we saw the need and were all on board as a team.”