By Christopher A. Pape
As an arbitrator of musical tastes in the country, Sharon Dastur, has no equal. Although Ms. Dastur’s name may not be of the household variety, she is nonetheless extremely influential. If you or anyone you know listens to Z100 (100.3 on the dial) than you have been affected and swayed by her decisions, for she is the program director whom overseas all of the station’s content, hiring of staff and is the point person for the station’s highly sought after party, Z 100’s Jingle Ball. In other words, the buck stops with her.
As my readers know, we are strong proponents of and have aligned ourselves with Z100 and Elvis Duran. Mr. Duran, who was featured on our cover in June and now, writes a monthly column for us, works closely with Ms. Dastur. Together and with the help of all the staff at the station, they are responsible for creating content and playing songs that have made it the largest Top 40 station in the world and the envy of all.
In our lengthy discussion, Sharon spoke of her passion for music, how she broke into the business, what it means to be a New Yorker, how she decides on what to play and the planning for and executing of Jingle Ball – the bonanza of talent that is displayed every December at Madison Square Garden. The whole time Ms. Dastur was informative, engaging and a pleasure to speak to. I hope you like the interview as much as I liked interviewing her.
Resident (R): Tell us about yourself.
Sharon Dastur (SD): I was born in New Jersey and moved, as a child, to Texas. I always loved music because I was around it. While in college, I got an internship at a Pop radio station – KBRE 104.1 in Houston. Even back then, I had a connection with Elvis Duran. He had worked at KBRE at one point in his career. When I finished my internship there, I went back to Austin, where I went to school, got another internship at a Top 40 station; and someone told me about the new program director and morning guy. It turned out to be Elvis and he had just moved from New York. I couldn’t believe that someone would move from Manhattan to work in Austin. I never met him, but it’s just such a twist of fate that all these years later, I’m the program director and he’s the morning guy on the biggest radio station in the world.
R: What does a program director do?
D: Everything you hear on the radio is guided by the program director. I put together the on-air staff; I pick the people who I feel are the best fit for the station during the morning, midday, afternoon and evenings. These are the people that represent our brand, people who know who our core listeners are and what motivates them.
Before I got to Z100, Elvis was doing afternoons for years, but my first day there was ironically his first day doing the morning show. At that time, the station was going through a big transition and we had to rebuild practically the entire staff. But, putting Elvis on in the morning was one of the best decisions we ever made. He is absolutely incredible, and makes such a personal connection with the audience. Music is the most important factor of our radio station. With so many different outlets to get music, our goal is to be playing all the hits and playing variety. You’d think that be easy because there’s so much great music. But, understanding the way listeners consume your products – in spurts and at odd moments – compels you to always be playing the best.
R: Can you describe Z100 for us?
SD: We are a mass appeal station that plays the best of pop, rock, rap, hip-hop and R&B. We take all the genres and all the styles and just play the best songs. So every time you tune in, you’re hearing a hit. We play just the cream of the crop from all of the different genres. The music product that is available at the moment hasn’t been this strong in years.
Recently, Billboard Magazine described what’s known as the Z100 factor. The magazine reached out to record labels and asked them what influence Z100 had on their decision making process, in regards to music. It was interesting hearing their responses. If we are the first station to play a new song, all of the other stations around the country and world, take note. So we are a focal point, which I don’t take for granted, for many artists and record labels that are searching for our stamp of approval. It makes all of us proud to be associated with the station.
We work on many different projects with many different artists. We have a theater, the iHeartRadio Theater; we’ve had everyone from Katy Perry, Harry Connick Jr. to Earth Wind & Fire to Lady Gaga. So many artists have performed there and many listeners get the opportunity to go for free – we give away tickets. Booking events like this, in such an intimate setting with only 200 people – it’s such a positive thing.
One of the coolest projects I’ve ever worked on was with Taylor Swift. The winner of the contest got to spend a day with Taylor and her family in Nashville. Taylor and her parents, all went fishing with the winner. In fact, Taylor and her mother even made sandwiches and baked cookies. Everyone involved had amazing time; we love to create really special experiences for our listeners.
R: How much actual research goes into choosing a particular song?
SD: You have to have a balance of art and science. We do phone surveys with our listeners, asking them to rate songs being played – that’s the science. We do that every week. We really what to know what they think about each of the songs that we are playing; through this we can really determine which of the biggest testing songs are. The most popular goes into what is known as a power rotation.
R: Tells us about your involvement with Z100’s Jingle Ball.
SD: The event is in December – this year it’s December 7th. We start to think about booking artists in March – working with record labels to pencil the date in. We want to make sure that we can secure the best talent. We don’t ever actually confirm artists until the September time frame because some that were hot in March may not be hot now. Because it’s such a big event and gets so much press, I’ve actually had talent beg to participate. Obviously, we have a budget and it’s my job to make sure we don’t go over it.
We have a variety of styles that perform; the show has so much energy. There is a huge support team that puts it together. The show goes from 7:30pm to 11:15pm and it feels like only minutes have gone by – that’s how engrossing it is.
R: On another note, what does it mean to be a New Yorker?
SD: Everyone has their own ‘wanting to make it in New York’ story. But literally, once I had graduated from college, I would always listen to Barbra’s, New York State of Mind. Every time I’d hear it, I thought – I don’t know how I’m going to get there or what I’m going to do there – but I know I’m going to be working in New York and be successful doing it. Finally, when the call came for a job here, I didn’t even have to ask what the details were, I said, “Is it a job in New York? Yes.” Technically, I was moving away from for the first time – it was in 1996.
I still, to this day, am obsessed with this city. This city is always changing – there is something always different and exciting going on. I’m a big foodie; I love trying new restaurants. I love that there are so many different experiences that no one could every do them all in a lifetime.
For Elvis’ birthday, he rented a NY Waterway Taxi to take 20 of us around Manhattan. It was late at night and we were on the boat, staring at the skyline and thinking this is the most unbelievable and magical city in the world. Here is anoher good one. Recently, I was at Alicia Keys’ gorgeous studio. It was just me, two record label executives and Alicia. She had a rooftop deck and we stood there looking at the skyline. I asked her, “Do you ever get sick of this view?” And she replied, “I could never get sick of this. This is why I love New York; you take it in and can never get enough.” •