In all the years we've been doing this podcast, we've seen lots of radio lovers come and go. That might lead you to believe you've seen the most knowledgeable, radio-obsessed folks in the industry already, but believe me when I say they pale in comparison to Kat Carter.
Kat, also known as The Radio Nerd, has made her whole brand based on knowing cool things about radio (if that wasn't obvious from her title). She started The Radio Nerd in 2019 after ten years of working in the industry, and has since grown to have tens of thousands of followers across her various social medias.
To catalogue all the things she touches on would take ages, but to give you an idea: Her website contains blog posts about the state of radio and voiceover, as well as preserving radio dramas of years past from legends like Orson Welles. Her TikTok features tons of helpful tips for aspiring broadcasters, as well as just being generally very funny. Her Instagram is full of neat little tidbits of information, history, and plenty of motivation for anyone interested on radio... The list goes on. The point is, Kat knows radio and isn't afraid to show it.
We discuss Kat's radio days, especially her time as a program director and music director at CHUM FM in Toronto, which is where she says she really started to get her confidence up. She shares some of the secrets to building a great program, as well as what caused her to eventually pivot away from working in radio to pursue voiceover instead. If you consider yourself a radio nerd of any degree, you'll enjoy everything Kat has to offer.
As mentioned, you can find Kat on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and of course her website.
Tara Sands 00:00:00
The Sound Off podcast. The podcast about broadcast with Matt Cundill starts now.
Matt Cundill 00:00:10
Kat Carter is the radio nerd. She loves radio. A lot. Her social media really says it all. There are retro radios, transistor radios, clock radios, portable stereos, and those devices you used to record the songs off the radio. Kat has worked in Canada's two biggest markets, one of the best small markets, and today, is voicing from her studio just before I get my chance to chat with her.
Kat Carter 00:00:37
All of our operators are currently assisting other customers. Please stay on the line and one of our representatives will be with you shortly. This call may be monitored for quality assurance.
Matt Cundill 00:00:48
And with that said, Kat Carter joins me from her home in Toronto. Hey, Kat.
Kat Carter 00:00:53
Matt Cundill 00:00:54
Why did you ever want to get into radio in the first place?
Kat Carter 00:00:57
So my family was big into radio growing up. It was always on. We always had CBC on in the background at home, different music stations, too. And I just kind of became obsessed with radio at a young age. And I remember my love for radio really kind of punched in when I was, like, 9,10 years old. I started having sleeping problems at that age. I still do. And what I would do to just kind of not be so lonely at night was listen to the radio. So I'd steal my dad's Sony Walkman, the yellow one, and listen to FM radio at night, like midnight one, a type of thing. I would listen to CHUM a lot, and I'd say, you know what? One day that's going to be me. I'm going to be on air, and I'm going to help people at night who also have sleeping problems, and I'm going to be there for them so they have somebody to listen to and somebody to connect with at night. So that's kind of how I really got interested in radio in the first place. But it was also high school that kind of got me interested, too. My grade ten teacher, I always think of her because if it wasn't for her, none of this would have happened. She would always choose me to read Shakespeare aloud to the class. I was like, Miss, I hate this. This is so terrible. Like, why are you always picking me? And she said, you're one of the only people in this class who can actually read it out loud, so maybe you should join the Announcements Club. And I was like, oh, I don't know. It sounds kind of nerdy. It doesn't sound like my thing. Ended up doing it because she kept pushing me to do it, loved it. Became, like, my obsession. I was like, I have to find something to do afterwards as my job that is behind a microphone. So I basically was lucky enough to know exactly what I wanted to do out of high school and went to Loyalist College for Radio Broadcasting. That's in Belleville, Ontario. I had a great time there. It was a great school and yeah, ended up getting a job directly out of college. And here we are. That was back in 2009, so, yeah, it's been a while. That's how my love started.
Matt Cundill 00:03:11
And that first job after Loyalist, that was up in Belleville, am I right?
Kat Carter 00:03:15
Yes, that's right. So I was working for Mix 97 and CJBQ Rock 107, those three stations. It was definitely great experience, for sure. I started off in the promotions department because I knew that was going to be my ticket into the station. Getting your foot in the door seems to be the hardest part. So once I was able to get my foot in the door, I was quickly able to be on air. And then I was music director as well. And yeah, things kind of just blossomed from there, but it was great. Kind of starting in a small market, I was able to make my mistakes and learn and make those mistakes in front of a much smaller audience, which was nice, and then all I could go was up from there, so that was nice for me to kind of start small.
Matt Cundill 00:03:59
What was the experience like going to a smaller town? I don't want to call Belleville a small town because there's a lot of people who live there and it's a great radio market. But when you're going from Toronto to Belleville, you're moving to a small town. So what are those feelings like when I'm like, oh, I'm not in Toronto anymore?
Kat Carter 00:04:15
It was definitely different. I kind of knew what to expect. My mom's side of the family lives there, so I did kind of know what to expect. But at the same time, it was still quite different for me. Just the quiet at night that I would hear. I was like, what's going on? I don't like all this quiet because I'm used to being in Toronto and I'm being here by the subway and constantly hearing traffic and noise in people. So adjusting to that was probably one of the biggest things, but otherwise it was a nice place to live. They got the water there and great market to kind of just start in. So, yeah, I'm appreciative of my time in Belleville, and I was happy that it was able to move me on to Vancouver immediately after that.
Matt Cundill 00:05:02
How long was it before somebody in Belleville said, we should get you to do the announcements, but now you can do them on the radio?
Kat Carter 00:05:10
Yeah, gosh. It wasn't that long, to be honest. I don't even remember. It was like a few months and then I was kind of on air just doing weekend stuff, which I was super excited for because I'm like, oh my God, I can't believe I'm actually on air. This is crazy. So, yeah, started doing weekends and filling in for people when needed. And then I did get that full time midday job as well as being the music director for all three stations. So I was quite busy there. It was insane. I was like, this is not okay, I need help. So I was very happy to move on to Vancouver because all of a sudden I don't have to be MD for three different stations, so my workload definitely went down after I left the small market.
Matt Cundill 00:05:57
Okay, so you're not going to get a job as an MD unless you have a passion for music.
Kat Carter 00:06:01
Matt Cundill 00:06:02
And now I'm thinking back to the young woman who is under the covers at 1:00 A.M. Listening to CHUM. Give me some favorite songs.
Kat Carter 00:06:12
Oh, gosh, that would have been like late 90s, early 2000's. I love hip hop from that time, especially from the nineties. God, how do I choose? I love everything, to be honest. I think there's something great in every different genre, so I don't know, it's hard for me to choose. But yeah, hip hop is my favorite. Love some pop and I'm a big Motown fan. My dad got me into Motown, so I love Motown. Was able to go to the Motown museum in Detroit recently too, which was incredible. Definitely, definitely recommend that. It was just so cool being in that same space as those incredible artists. So, yeah, those would probably be the things that I would generally listen to at night.
Matt Cundill 00:06:59
So now you're moving from the Eastern Time Zone clear across the country to Vancouver, so now you're far away.
Kat Carter 00:07:07
I was, I was only 22 when I moved and I had moved by myself and I was like, panicking. I had never been out there, I had never been on a plane before. Like, this was so big for me, just such a crazy thing for me to do. And I think back and I'm like, oh, I was so young at that time, how did I do this? But I'm glad, I just kind of pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone and take that risk and it worked out so well. I loved living out west, it was so beautiful and I took advantage of the mountains and camping and hiking and just being outdoors and really taking in the beauty of our country. So just to have that experience, I'm so grateful that I got to go out there because it just kept leading to bigger and better things after that. So, yeah, I love the West Coast. I would absolutely go back there again to live out there. I miss it so, so much, but it was such a great opportunity to go out there, especially at such a young age, and start my career. And I started off as the assistant music director and on air and then moved up to music director and midday. So, yeah, it was exciting.
Matt Cundill 00:08:21
Okay, so one of the things that we haven't mentioned about this trip out to Vancouver are the call letters. Is it Z95?
Kat Carter 00:08:27
Yeah. CKZZ, Z95.3. So when I got there, it was actually Virgin Radio. Virgin 95.3. And then two years later, we did the whole flip back to Z95.3, which was super cool because that was such a huge station in Vancouver in the 90s. So it was just great to bring that back. And it was crazy how excited people were to bring Z back into the market. So it was wonderful to be a part of that. And that was kind of my first flip, too, just to get that experience of actually flipping a radio station and how much work that takes. Again, I'm super grateful for that because that's experience that I was able to take with me over to CHUM when we kind of did our little flip from CHUM FM to CHUM 1045. So that was good to have that experience.
Matt Cundill 00:09:21
I'm thinking back to that building in Vancouver. I think I paid a visit to it in 2014, which would be, like, halfway between your time that you spent there. But I guess you got to work with Paul Kay.
Kat Carter 00:09:33
I did, yes. I loved working with Paul Kay. We seemed to work very well together, and it was just easy to speak with him and work with him and learn from him and get all the insights about radio. And he's just so knowledgeable. So, yeah, he was a great program director to have because we did have quite a few out there at that time. There's quite a few coming in and out. But Paul was wonderful, and I know he's doing some really big things now, and he's doing so well. So I'm happy that I know him, and I'm super happy for him, too.
Matt Cundill 00:10:08
And hands on with talent. So help me out here, because I did not get a chance to do this, but what's it like being in an air check session with Paul?
Kat Carter 00:10:16
It's great. It's not, like, scary at all. Some PD's are just terrible and they're just trying to bully you, basically. But no, he would take the time to really lay things out, okay, try this or do this, and lay things out in a very nice way that made it possible to actually grow, because you were getting decent advice. I remember I had one PD who would just say, do what I do and never give anybody air checks. So to have Paul Kay actually take the time with the talent every single week, that was, like, huge for us. So I loved working with Paul.
Matt Cundill 00:10:56
You already mentioned that you went back to Toronto to work at CHUM. There was a transformation at that point. So tell me about your experience in CHUM on Yonge Street. Were you on Yonge Street or Queen Street?
Kat Carter 00:11:09
So this is the Queen. Queen and John so in that big building there, which was amazing, first of all, to be able to work in such, like, a heritage building in Toronto was super, super cool. But that was the moment that I finally got my confidence. It was weird. I felt like I was just living this lie almost, and I wasn't talented enough to be here and that kind of thing. But when I got at CHUM, I was like, oh, maybe I actually am good at what I do, because CHUM isn't going to hire people who are bad at this job. So that finally gave me the confidence I needed. Working at chum was amazing. I learned so much, especially about music scheduling. It is so cool how they schedule their music, and they take such care with it, and you can tell sounds great on the air. CHUM is an amazing station, but just the talent there and the people that I was able to learn from some great program directors there as well. It was definitely a great experience, something great to have on my resume, and I'm just happy that they hired me. Oh, my god, it was such an honor for me.
Matt Cundill 00:12:20
Give me one little piece of the secret sauce of scheduling music. What did you learn about scheduling music at CHUM? You just have to tell me just one thing that you learned, because we don't want to spend all day dissecting their entire plan. Which is kind of weird, by the way. It's kind of weird because we always think, oh, we don't want to give away, like, the secret sauce in the plan. Yet it airs 24/7.
Kat Carter 00:12:39
Exactly. The secret is doing every song by hand at CHUM. That's the secret. No auto scheduling. That's the secret. It really made me hate auto scheduling after that because we were really taking the time to literally do every single song by hand. So that would be the secret.
Matt Cundill 00:12:58
Over at CHUM, you spoke a little bit about confidence, and that all. Through your time in Vancouver, you had the voices in your head that said, you're not good enough, and you shouldn't be there.
Kat Carter 00:13:10
Matt Cundill 00:13:11
At what point did you stop believing yourself? Or did you stop talking to yourself like that?
Kat Carter 00:13:19
Yeah, it was probably around the CHUM days, to be honest. Because it's weird. I knew I was doing a good job. I knew I sounded good. I knew I was doing a good job as a music director. But I don't know, there was something that just kept telling me that, no, you're not good enough. You're not good enough. You're not good enough. You're not good enough. Constantly. And really, the only thing that helped was getting that job at CHUM. That finally just kind of gave me that confidence.
Matt Cundill 00:13:47
Yeah. I asked that because there's a lot of people who actually get that, and they still don't stop listening to that particular voice.
Kat Carter 00:13:52
I know it's very difficult. And to be honest, that's why I just started doing voiceover work, because this whole time I was like, no, I don't think I'm good enough, blah, blah, blah. And it was my husband who kept telling me, what are you doing? Do you know how good you sound? Because I'm always doing I'm practicing around him, and I'm just reading commercials around him, and he hears me every day. He's like, what are you doing? You are killing yourself here. You are really good at this. You can do well at this. And so he kind of pushed me to do it full time because I was like, I don't know. I don't know. So I'm super glad he did, because things have been working out pretty well in this last month, so I can't complain. So I'm always grateful for him to have him by my side, because he kind of pushes me to do stuff that pushes me out of my comfort zone, which is what I need sometimes.
Matt Cundill 00:14:46
In just a moment, more with Kat, including getting underway in voiceover, sharing her mental health struggles on social media, and making the pivot out of radio. There's more on our episode page, including a transcription and how to connect with Kat, at soundoffpodcast.com.
Tara Sands 00:15:06
Transcription of the Soundoff Podcast is powered by the Podcast Superfriends, five podcast producers who get together to discuss podcasting. Sharpen your podcast and creation skills by following the show on the Sound Off Podcast's YouTube or Facebook page.
Kat Carter 00:15:22
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Matt Cundill 00:15:35
Why'd you leave radio?
Kat Carter 00:15:36
My mental health. Simple as that. I went through something pretty messed up when I was a teenager, and I never, ever had the chance to heal from that. I basically just had to go on from the day after it happened. And I never had a chance to really understand what had happened. And for so many years, I just kind of blocked it out of my mind, thinking, I'm okay, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, until finally, me not taking care of my mental health and addressing what had happened started to take a really big hold on me. And my depression got so bad. I've had depression half my life, anxiety, PTSD as well. So those three things just skyrocketed, and it just kept getting worse and worse and worse. And I said to myself, you know what? If you don't stop and take a break, you're not going to be here. Simple as that. So I said, My life is more important than a job. So that's why I left. The industry took a step back. I was like, okay, this is good. This is what I need. And it was amazing for me. I've been able to really heal and do the stuff that I should have done 15 years ago to help with my mental health. So this was very long overdue, and I am feeling amazing again. I feel back to normal. And I've had so much help from my husband and my family and friends, and I was actually able to share my experience with depression online, and a lot of people resonated with that, and I didn't think that was going to happen. I was so scared to tell people that I had depression, but when I did, wow, I was just so overwhelmed with the support that I got from people and the amount of other people who said, oh, I have depression too. I didn't want to tell anybody. I didn't want to know. So I just wanted to take the stigma away a bit and just let people know. This is something that a lot of people go through. It's really hard, very difficult. I couldn't even get out of bed for an entire year, leave the house, that kind of thing. It was so bad I could hardly speak, which was bad for radio. Like, how am I going to do my job, right? So that's why I left the industry. But about six months after I left, I started the radio nerd, because I was like, I need something radio wise in my life. I got to create something here. So that's how that got started.
Matt Cundill 00:18:13
I'm so glad that you spoke about that. And I want to thank you, by the way, for being in a complete depression when you turned on Instagram one day, I can't remember if it was live or you just posted it, but I thought there's incredible bravery to go on and just go, you're looking at somebody who doesn't feel very well right now. And I thought that's just pure bravery to be able to do that and to go into say that and sort of eliminating all that stigma. Because 20 years ago I went through something very similar where it's like, I'm not feeling very well. I can't get out of bed and go to work and oh, by the way, you're on the air at two.
Kat Carter 00:18:50
Yeah, those days were so bad when you've got to get out of bed and go to work and be on air and be happy. There were some days I'd just take my headphones off and just lay down on the desk until my next break, because I'm like, I can't do this. This is so bad right now. So it's very important that we talk about this stuff. It happens to way more of us than we think. And it's nice to see in the last 5, 10 years that more people are talking about this and opening up about it. It's super important. Everybody has mental health, just like we have physical health, and it's something that we need to take care of. And I'm just saying this off of experience, because before I'd be like, oh, mental health, whatever, I'm fine. But then when that finally kind of fully happened to me, I was like, oh, my God, this is so real, and this could be the end of me. So, yeah, I really had to take that time to focus on myself and my health because if I didn't, I would not be talking to you right now.
Matt Cundill 00:19:58
I think you mentioned a little bit about your husband who sort of pushed you to try out the voiceover thing, but what sort of caught your eye that said, maybe I should get a microphone and maybe we should be doing some voiceover work and let's see what happens?
Kat Carter 00:20:11
I guess it was the fact that I've always wanted to do voiceover full time. This was always kind of a goal of mine as well, but I don't know what it was. I had that push even though I didn't have the full confidence to jump right into radio, but I just couldn't make that same jump into the voiceover world. So it's great that I'm finally kind of getting over that. It's taken me so many years to just get to this point, and finally I just said, you know what, I just need to do this. What am I doing? I'm just making excuses at this point. I'm holding myself back. So I had to really get rid of those thoughts in my head again because those are those anxious, depressed thoughts like, oh, what's going to happen now? And I'm always thinking, oh, what bad is going to happen in the future? But I'm trying not to think like that anymore. I'm trying to be way more positive when it comes to the future. So I'm super excited to see where this year takes me. I don't think I've ever been this excited at the beginning of a year in a very long time, so I am super pleased and I see big things for myself in the next little while, so I'm just hoping everything works out well.
Matt Cundill 00:21:25
I'm so happy that you're doing the voiceover thing because I saw you put a couple of things up on Instagram, and I know you were just reading what is fairly rudimentary when it comes to IVR and telephone, but oh, man, that was good. I liked it.
Kat Carter 00:21:38
Thank you very much. They just blew up on TikTok too. One has like 1.4 million views and then the other two have almost 250 each. 250,000. So it's very exciting to see how much these videos have blown up. I've always thought, oh, whatever, this isn't exciting to anybody, like, hearing this stuff, but people seem to really like it. So I've been able to already grow, like, a decent following this month in the last week or two, so it's been incredible. So I'm just hoping that TikTok can continue to grow and then I can hopefully get some more gigs from there because, yeah, it's growing so much every day in the past, like week and a half. So it's exciting to see and it's really cool to see that people actually think what I'm doing is interesting and they like it so again, that's just me in my mind being like, oh, you're not good enough. So this has kind of been another confidence booster that I needed, just saying, oh my God, look how many people saved this video or saved it for later or shared it or commented on it or whatever the case is. It's like, oh, people actually don't hate me.
Matt Cundill 00:22:53
I can't really explain anything about marketing other than sometimes you look at it and go, that's good. And sometimes people do pieces of marketing all the time and go, that's not very good. But the pieces that you put up on TikTok, I'm like that kind of looks and sounds like the person who would be telling me that I need to be on hold or that I have to wait or press one to speak to an operator or something like that. I don't know. You just seem to have that look.
Kat Carter 00:23:16
Yeah, for sure. I get that. And you know what? I think my voice works perfectly for those types of things as well. I've always kind of had that announcer voice. I don't know what it is, but I can change it up for the phone messages and I love doing that kind of stuff. It's a lot of fun. So I'm always looking for more clients.
Matt Cundill 00:23:36
You'll always be the radio nerd, though, to us. I love some of the things that you post up. I mean, you gave me a little bit of- it's not quite an unboxing, but you gave me a walkthrough on a piece of listening equipment where I could play a CD, but at the same time there was a spot for my iPhone or my IPod dock.
Kat Carter 00:23:58
Matt Cundill 00:23:58
And I'm looking at that going, that feels very 2011.
Kat Carter 00:24:04
Oh, my God. Wow. You know what? And I love posting those videos. People seem to like them. I just head out to Value Village, take some video and leave. I never really buy anything, but yeah, it's good for content and I'm able to share some really cool radios, some stuff that's from the 40s they have there sometimes and then stuff that they have from like ten years ago. But yeah, I love sharing that stuff. It's fun to see those vintage pieces and holding them again and touching them and fiddling with the buttons and yeah, I love sharing that stuff and going out thrifting it's fun for me.
Matt Cundill 00:24:43
Here you are. You're known as the radio nerd. What relationship are you going to have with radio over the next few years?
Kat Carter 00:24:49
It's hard to say, because while I love radio so, so much and I think of it as like, my little baby, I know it's not the greatest for my mental health. And I know that I'm going to just stress myself out if I go back into the industry. I know I'm going to have to do, like, a million jobs, and it's probably not going to be worth it for me at this point, I think, because I've almost set those boundaries for myself. Like, no, I'm not going to allow myself to be overworked and underpaid and that kind of thing. So being able to work from home for myself, so incredible. So I don't know if I'll go back into radio, maybe like a part time, I don't know. I don't want to say. I do miss it, though. I really, really do miss it.
Matt Cundill 00:25:42
The correct answer is to image radio stations as their voice talent.
Kat Carter 00:25:47
Yes. You know what? That's the perfect way to stay in it. And I don't have to deal with all the drama, the day to day station drama and madness and nonsense that goes on, but you can still have that relationship with the station. So, yeah, I would absolutely love to get some more stations on as a client. I currently do just one and it's an alt rock station in Belleville, so do that for them. And yeah, I'm always looking to add more clients to my list and everything and just kind of grow my voiceover business and just see where things go. It's so exciting.
Matt Cundill 00:26:27
Yeah, it really is. And just congratulations on all the success, not only that you've had in radio, but I'm really excited for some of the stuff that you've done online, helping people with their mental health, as well as just giving me a little retro tour of some old radios I might have used in the past. And as well now with voiceover, as we both record now on Rode mics.
Kat Carter 00:26:50
Well, thank you so much. It's just exciting to feel healthy again and feel good and just be ready to get back into things. So that's what I'm most happy about is having my health again. That's the biggest thing. And I think that's something I've needs to remember. Your health is more important than your job.
Tara Sands 00:27:08
The Soundoff Podcast is written and hosted by Matt Cundill. Produced by Evan Surminski. Social media by Courtney Krebsbach. Another great creation from The Soundoff Media Company. There's always more at soundoffpodcast.com.