Valdis Melderis has been program director of Radio Skonto 107.2, currently the leading Latvian station, for more than 10 years now. With a degree in psychology, he went from working the late-night radio shift as a student to running his own morning show. TBT sat down with Melderis to get a better idea of the man behind one of Latvia's most beloved radio voices.
How did you get involved with broadcast radio?
We started as three psychology students on a special state-radio program in 1991. We had a weekly program where we talked about relationships, speaking as therapists and so on. This is how the Skonto founders discovered me. Two years later, Skonto invited me and another two psychology students to do a live night-show called "Six Hours of Talk." It was crazy. We had to be ready for absolutely everything. We started with a topic and moved on with phone calls. At the same time I was working as a psychology teacher at two schools, while also juggling this night show. There were times when, in the middle of a conversation, you just fall asleep, and then you wake up and there's nothing on air. You have to guess if the person's still on the line and all you can say is, 'Alrightâ€¦uhhh, could you say that again in one sentence,' and hope that he answers you.
How has Radio Skonto done over the years?
Radio Skonto began in 1993 as the third private station. Today we are number two in Riga, right after the Russian station SWH Plus- as you know, there are more Russian listeners than Latvians. This is the best result we could have, mostly because of new on-air programs and new scheduling programs. We select our music by listening tests. We invite people to come in and ask them what kind of music they like. We only play the top songs of their choice, so we really know exactly what it is our listeners want to hear, and what each song means for its audience. Our target audience is age 30-45. Those songs that were popular in the West during the '60s and '70s came to Latvia only in the '80s. So, for us these songs are still '80s - groups like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, ABBA. People are still asking for them.
What are the latest programs you've introduced to Skonto?
Mostly on-air contests, where we give away prizes or money. Our morning show is the most important program. We are very active and working hard to come up with new programs and contests. But for now, I have to keep our ideas confidential.
How do Latvian stations compare to those of Europe?
America has the most professional radio business in the world, and what we had - unlike of the rest of Europe - we had American stations in Latvia already 10 years ago. We came from nowhere to the top of professionalism using the American model. Latvian stations are more advanced than even Scandinavian stations, than most European stations. They had their own rules because of having private stations. Like with a lot of businesses, Latvians are more advanced than some of the Western countries because they went from zero to the top - with technology, ideas and so on.
How is competition?
In all three Baltic states, local music is the most popular. This is because we are competing in Riga's surroundings - we don't have a network across Latvia. We don't have the license for this. Only state radio has a network and two other stations. The radio and TV council that gives out national network licenses says there are no more left. So we are really pushing ourselves onto Riga and its surroundings. Our listenership is big enough - it's 1.3 million people.
What are your future aspirations? Do you have plans to branch into TV?
Radio broadcasters are willing and open to do anything. They're also warmly accepted in all sorts of businesses - on TV, hosting public events etc. - because they are self-thinking, self-driving and creative. I'd like to branch into TV, or try anything for that matter.