by Candice Anne Marshall
IMB – Hello Mike! Feel free to be as in-depth as you want in this interview! Let’s begin with your role with your station WhatTheFunday InterFM897 Radio in Japan. Can you tell us about yourself?
Mike – This is the bio I like to use: “About Mike in Tokyo Rogers: Mike has been a professional music/TV/radio/anime-related program producer in Japan since the eighties. He began in the music business in 1977 as lead vocalist with the legendary Los Angeles Punk Band, “The Rotters” (Sit on My Face Stevie Nix.). As a university student, he was assistant to the legendary Rodney Bingenheimer (Rodney on the ROQ – KROQ Los Angeles from 1980 ~ 1981) Mike was the first and only foreigner in Japanese history to become the General Manager of a major Japanese broadcasting station (TV Tokyo owned InterFM). Has produced a few smash hit programs (some real losers, too!) and several of Tokyo’s highest rated and most famous radio programs. A recent hit program was “The TV Show” (Set Program with “Ninja Slayer”) which, between April – Oct. 2015, garnered over 10 million viewers. He is currently producing and hosting “WTF?” (WhatTheFunday) the hugely popular Sunday live show on InterFM 89.7. And his life’s dream is his just completed full-length motion picture, “Ghostroads – A Japanese Rock and Roll Ghost Story” which will be released by a major Japanese motion picture company and in theaters all across Japan in Autumn 2017.… Oh, and he likes to write about himself in the third person!)”
IMB – Nice! So, what inspired you to start/be a part of this radio station?
Mike – A few years after my band broke up, I worked as a stock broker. The people I worked with were criminals. So I quit and moved to japan with my Japanese wife. I decided to get back into show business and got a slot as a regular on a daily morning kid’s show and then got some radio station gigs. I figured being on TV or a DJ was better than being in a band, because, by myself, I only have to worry about one asshole. When you are in a band, you have to worry about three or four other assholes.
IMB – Tell us about your show’s format and the genre’s you support.
Mike – I worked for Rodney Bingenheimer and got my start in punk music, so that’s what I do: I play the same kind of music Rodney Bingenheimer does. I am always the first to play new artists in Japan. It is my duty.
IMB – Who make up the majority of the listeners on your station?
Mike – Japanese people.
IMB – Do you have difficulties in finding music to fit your station? If so, what do you think is the reason for that?
Mike – The station itself is a Top 40 station, mostly, so I stopped bothering worrying about what those guys play a long time ago. They play stuff like Justin Bieber. Ugh! For my show, I spend a long time searching for new bands on the internet. One way I like to find news bands is by checking out concert line ups with some of my favorite bands. For example, Japan’s “Neatbeats” (Japan’s best Beat band). I look at their concert posters and see who is playing along with them and then I check out those artists. I also would religiously check out God’s playlist, er, I mean, Rodney Bingenheimer’s playlist and pick up some of those artists.
IMB – Do artist’s still send untagged music and in the wrong genres?
Mike – All the time. I don’t play Death Metal. Please don’t send me Death Metal. I think artists could at least take a moment to look at a show’s playlist online before they bother sending music. Here’s the first hour or so of last week:
08:00 “BODIES” THE FONTAINES
08:03 “I WANNA BE SEDATED” SYLVIA BLACK
08:09 “105” SLOAN PETERSON
08:12 “SORRY I STOLE YOUR MAN” JESSICA HERNANDEZ & THE DELTAS
08:17 “GIRL WITH A BLUE GUITAR” COTTON MATHER
08:20 “I CALL YOUR NAME” THE BEATLES
08:27 “I GOT SOMETHING” BLAIRE ALISE & THE BOMBSHELLS
08:30 “WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO?” THE SUPREMES
08:33 “POWER MY POP” THE BOPP
08:36 “そして熱海秘宝館” 柳家睦&ラットボーンズ
08:41 “ALL FOR NOTHING” MOLLY & THE KRELLS
08:44 “THRU’ THE FLOWERS” THE PRIMITIVES
08:50 “VOULEZ VOUS” THE ATOMICS
08:54 “I’M A FOOL FOR YOU” HIGH LEARYS
08:57 “REAL BOY” LOLA BLANC
09:03 “I WANNA LIVE IN ST. TROPEZ” ST. TROPEZ
09:05 “JAIL GUITAR DOORS” THE CLASH
Please check these things, like playlists, before you waste your time and the DJ’s time by sending music that won’t fit. Oh, and don’t send me Soundcloud links (without an MP3 attached.) I can’t play Soundcloud links. I won’t even listen to them.
IMB – Would you like it if a free service for pre-filtered music submissions was available? (Pre-filtered meaning, correct genre, tagged, under 5 mins, radio friendly and well produced.)
Mike – I don’t know. I don’t want to sound like a conceited jerk, but I’ve been doing this on the radio for over 30 years; I haven’t met very many people who have the connections and experience to find something before I do… (Kona Cindy and Alex Kish are exceptions). Though it does happen sometimes. But, generally speaking, wading through a bunch of stuff that gets shot gunned out to many DJs I find to be very low return for time spent.
IMB – Does your station play unsigned bands and artists?
Mike – No. Basically only my show plays that sort of stuff. My show is like a cancerous lesion upon the station.
IMB – What is your stations’ filtering process for artists? Perhaps their reach (avg listeners) & what they’re looking for song wise, genre wise, etc.
Mike – It’s a mystery. I think if you are not on a Japanese major or multinational, then forget it. On my show, we do play unheard of bands… Oh, in 2001 (was it?) The White Stripes were nobodies. I pushed them hard on my show. They came to Japan and played at a club and there were 80 people there. Now look at them. Those are the kinds of artists I look for: Sound I like, a buzz perhaps, Rodney Bingenheimer plays them, the band has some common sense (doesn’t tell me to go sign up to their fan club so I can download their new single – ‘Ain’t Gonna Happen’)… Writes “Thanks” on FB if I play them, comes and “Likes” my FB radio show… Etc…. Just common-sense stuff.
IMB – What are your Listening statistics?
Mike – Over 35 million homes in Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area; 2 million homes in Nagoya; nationally broadcast throughout Japan (130 million people) on internet. Sorry! Internet streaming blocked outside of Japan.
IMB – What has been the greatest challenge for you so far?
Mike- Not getting fired by the station for not towing the “Party Line.”
IMB – What has been your greatest triumph so far?
Mike – Just finished a feature-length rock n roll ghost movie that will hit the theaters in Japan in Autumn… Has also been picked up by famous festivals, but am not allowed to mention festival names yet. Stay tunes. Here’s the trailer: Ghostroads – A Japanese Rock n Roll Ghost Story (Check out the reviews below the trailer).
IMB – Can you tell us of a time that may have been difficult with an Artist who may have reacted poorly to rejection? How did you handle it?
Mike – No. I always try to be polite.
IMB – Can you tell us of a time where you had a sticky situation where you promoted an Artist and they may have not reciprocated their thanks, or worse, made you regret supporting them in the first place?
Mike – All the time. Rodney Bingenheimer gets the same thing. We don’t ask for much. But if we play you, you could at least click “Like” on Facebook when we tag you… A “Thanks” is always appreciated too….
IMB – What do you feel the trend in Radio is heading for in the next, say, year to five years?
Mike – On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone is zero.
IMB – Do you attend a lot of live shows to discover new music?
Mike – I go to shows sometimes. But haven’t been going to too many recently. I wrote about why here: Why I Rarely Go to Concerts in Japan Anymore: Guest Lists
IMB – Have you been invited to live shows where the expectation was to play the Artists’ music on your station? If so, how did you handle that if the music wasn’t what you expected?
Mike – If that were the case, I wouldn’t go. I only go to shows of artists I already like. The last time I went to a show when someone told me, “They are going to be the next big thing!” Was going to Enter Shikari’s Japan debut show. They were simply terrible. I walked out…. Hell, even my then 18-year-old daughter thought they sucked.
IMB – What can an Artist look for in terms of acceptance or rejection from your station?
Mike – If you are on the playlist, well done!
IMB – How can an Artist send you their overall best presentation of themselves?
Mike – Don’t send me downloads of full albums; haven’t the time to dedicate to sitting down and listening to a full album; send me your best one MP3. Email attachment is best. Make things easy for the DJs… Don’t make us jump through hoops to get your music. A short description; a photo, one YouTube video and an MP3 attachment. Perfect!
IMB – How much is ‘too much’ information that can be submitted for your show?
Mike – See the above. Oh, and photos can be embedded into emails. Learn how to do that so we don’t have open attachments.
IMB – Are there any specific Artists that you favor over others and why?
Mike – Difficult question. I like bands that are new. I mean, if I can say, “This band sounds like Green Day meets Souxsie and the Banshees!” That’s not good. It should be, “This band is difficult to describe.” Though sometimes comparisons are good for saving time… But I generally don’t like them.
IMB – How is your Show different than others? What sets you apart from the crowd?
Mike – On my show, I get to play whatever I want.
IMB – Do you feel there is a lot of competition among stations?
Mike – The stations? Tokyo has over 35 million homes in the Greater Metropolitan area yet we have only 5 privately run FM stations… They all are basically the same thing. You wouldn’t know one form the other until you heard their station ID jingles. On my show, just from the music, I want people to hear it and know, “Ah? That’s those crazy guys on WTF?”
IMB – What is your biggest challenge when competing for listeners against other stations?
Mike – 1) Young people do not listen to the radio anymore. 2) Avoiding eye-contact with management.
IMB – Do you look to Artist competitions run through entertainment websites in terms of sourcing out new talent? SMC & Indie Music Bus have run Indie Music competitions quite regularly in the past and present….
Mike – These artist competitions are important because they are all part of a process; the process of learning the business end of the music business, so bands need to participate. I look at them.
IMB – Who would you like to give a ‘Shout out’ to in terms of being a huge supporter of your show?
Mike – The listeners in Japan… We have a sort of Cult Following, and have had it for over 20 years.
IMB – Have you ever come across an Artist whose high demands were a turn-off?
Mike – Sure. If they ask for something dumb, I don’t write back. Problem solved!
IMB – Have you ever come across an Artist who was a ‘dream Artist’ to work with?
Mike – Siouxsie Sioux came on the show once about twenty years ago. She was a dominating, imposing figure. She sat in the studio and lit a cigarette (of course, inside the studio it is No Smoking). She took a long drag and looked me straight in the eye and said, “It’s alright if I smoke, isn’t it?” I said, “The rules do not apply to the queen.”
Also on the show in the past: Rodney Bingenheimer, Cheetah Chrome, Richie Ramone, Marky Ramone, Ginger Wildheart, Placebo, Elvis Costello, Guitar Wolf, The Neatbeats (Jpn), The 50 Kaitenz (Jpn), Yoko Ono, Suicidal Tendencies, The Donnas, Vincent Gallo, The Routes (Jpn), Pere Ubu, The Privates (Jpn), Lee Popa, pinksideofthemoon, Alec Empire, Atari Teenage Riot, Buckcherry, Maximo Park, the Mirror Trap and tons of others I can’t recall off the top of my head.
IMB – In terms of your Station and radio shows, how many do you host and what do you look for in an Artist to bring them live on your station for an interview or live acoustic performance?
Mike – At this moment in time, I am only hosting WTF, along with Japan’s most famous radio personality, George Williams and DJ Furukawa Taro. Now, I am focusing on the movie and some other projects… As for WTF? We are running a skeleton crew and so we do not generally allow artists or live performances. Those are for the afternoon shows.
IMB – Which Artist has brought your station the largest number of listeners? Is there a trend you watch out for and notice when that certain Artist is being played?
Mike – Definitely some Japanese Pop Artist. I am clueless about Pop stars from Japan or the west… I know Japanese Indies artists, and western indies artists…. So, I could name names of these big Japanese pop stars who came, but you guys reading this wouldn’t know who they are anyway.
IMB – What are the top five things you look for when sourcing out an Artist in terms of their Social Media and media platforms?
Mike – For my radio show, I don’t really care. For the Top 3 Video Countdown, I do care (The top 3 video countdown usually guarantees radio airplay). The most recent Top 3 countdown is here.
IMB – You have some other projects that you are involved in, can you share?
Mike – I have made a movie (mentioned above) and am starting on the next film. I also make music videos for bands with my partner Ken Nishikawa for free because we like the bands. Here’s a few recents that we made that I really like:
- Su Ko D Koi – Busu: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCTjm5YGJ-c
- The Pat Pats – A.A.A.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7-4IWBiSSU
- The Baby Shakes – Do What You Want: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xF6Yl8RAqc
- WrayBlake – Chopin Impromptu Op.29 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGg9FEXgqTY
(WrayBlake is an 11-year-old piano wiz kid in Japan!)
IMB – Alright, final question: If you were not a Host at WhatTheFunday, you would be _______________. (finish the sentence)
M: I could work at a Haberdashery. “What size do you wear, sir?…. I think we have that.” Yeah. I could do that.
IMB – Thank you Mike! We look forward to sharing this insightful interview with our readers at Indie Music Bus!
Social Media Links (click to view)