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Peter Verhoeven played DJ as a young boy in the 1980s. He is now one of Belgium’s best-known broadcasters and hosts the afternoon drive on dance station TOPradio. He also lives in Los Angeles. He sat down with RedTech to explain how that works and why amazing things can happen in radio when you take chances.
RedTech: Tell us about how you started in radio.
Peter Verhoeven: My earliest recollection of radio was around the beginning of the 1980s when I was nine, recording radio shows on cassette tapes with my best friend. We told jokes, read our schoolbook reports as content, faked call-ins from so-called “listeners” and played mostly old vinyl 45 rpm singles from Elvis Presley — that’s what my friend’s dad was into. We had one microphone and used his older sister’s Hi-Fi tower to record, despite her explicitly forbidding us to touch it.
I got my real break in FM radio when I was 15 at a local station and started working professionally at 22 for Belgium’s biggest national radio station, VRT Radio 2. In 2000, I stood next to the cradle of Qmusic, and for the next 20 years, helped build it into the biggest commercial player in Belgium. Just before the summer of 2021, I got an offer from Belgian dance radio station TOPradio to host and produce the afternoon drive. It was a welcoming challenge to use over 30 years of expertise to help a smaller player rebrand and move up in the ranks.
RedTech: How has the role of a radio personality changed over the years?
Verhoeven: I don’t think the radio host’s task has changed that much — they are still a friend to the listener, accommodating them in an entertaining, not too-forceful way. My goal is to give people something that surprises them in a way that they will pass it to others, be it new music, an important news fact or just silly trivia. One of my best compliments would be knowing a listener will say to someone, “Hey, did you know that six doctors swallowed some Lego blocks for science? I just heard that on the radio.”
On the other hand, the pressure to stay relevant as an on-air personality has changed a lot over the years. Since media outlets have diversified over social media, it is important to have a presence on as many digital platforms as possible, and the demand for media personalities to provide more personal content has skyrocketed.
Back then, a lot of my peers declared my plan a failure before I even started, saying doing a live radio show from the other end of the world was technically impossible.
RedTech: Your daily TOPradio show from 4–7 p.m. is broadcast live to Belgium from L.A. How did that come about?
Verhoeven: I first visited L.A. some 25 years ago and immediately fell in love with the city and the mentality of the people, which is very different from that of my fellow Belgians. In 2014, I decided to move here and do my show. Nowadays, especially after the lockdown, it’s common for broadcasters to have a small studio setup in their bedroom, but back then, many of my peers declared my plan a failure before I even started, saying doing a live radio show from the other end of the world was technically impossible. Well, I’ve been broadcasting from my home studio for the last nine years now, and things are better than I could have ever imagined.
RedTech: When did you launch the show, and what does it focus on?
Verhoeven: In 2014, when I was still with Qmusic, it was a simultaneous radio and TV show. With TOPradio, we focus mainly on providing listeners an entertaining drive home with the hottest dance music, new tracks, captivating news and playful content.
RedTech: How has the Belgian audience embraced the program?
Verhoeven: You never know beforehand how a loyal station audience is going to welcome a new show and an entirely new voice. Most people don’t even know I’m in L.A. — they think I’m in the TOPradio studios in Ghent, Belgium. That’s not a selling point for us — it’s a gamble. They might consider me an outsider since I don’t live in Belgium; who knows? The most important thing is to relate to listeners and be a companion to someone who’s maybe in a traffic jam and just wants to get home. So far, things are going great, and I’m grateful for the love listeners gifted me over the last year and a half.
RedTech: Your show has risen by 80% market share in the 18–44 demo within a year. That’s remarkable. How did you do it?
Verhoeven: It is a great team effort with our CEO Peter Huyghe, our program director Stephan Vanden Berghe and an exceptional research team that assists with the show. Furthermore, for me, it’s about consistency in personality, recognizability without being predictable and, most of all, connecting with listeners in a sincere way, making them feel as if they belong somewhere and providing something to talk or think about. After every traffic report in the show, I say to listeners, “I think about you guys!” and I mean it. Nothing’s as frustrating as being stuck in a Belgian traffic jam.
RedTech: How much time do you invest in preparing your show, and what resources do you use?
Verhoeven: My prep is multifold. The groundwork consists of being a producer and on-air talent roaming the internet for news and music and topics to talk about, plus I manage a fully operational home radio studio, including keeping the music database and software up-to-date and being a technician and cleaning crew — a full day’s work every day.
There is also the time difference — Belgium is nine hours ahead of L.A., which means that when my show airs live at 4 p.m. in Belgium, it’s 7 a.m. in L.A. The day in Belgium has almost passed, so my research team steps in to brief me on the day’s events. All I have to do is get my energy level in afternoon mode at seven in the morning!
RedTech: What is your studio setup and workflow?
Verhoeven: I use OmniPlayer as my playout system in L.A. because of its unique flexibility and ease of use. The TOPradio studio in Belgium uses different software, mainly to accommodate nine separate local editions that go out to various transmitters, DAB+ and online channels with particular commercial breaks. I use screen sharing to fully control that system and send GPO start pulses for commercial breaks.
I also recently updated my home studio to a Dante AoIP setup, sending all my audio over a network. That took me over two months, since I had to replace all the cabling piece by piece, keeping the studio operational for my daily show. Similar to how engineers completely replaced San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge — piece by piece while it was still in use. It certainly felt like my Golden Gate Bridge.
RedTech: How do you ensure quality audio and video feeds?
Verhoeven: The switch to Dante AoIP made things a little easier routing-wise, and there are fewer cables to worry about. A Telos Z/IP One codec sends the signal to Belgium. The delay is minimal and almost unnoticeable in a conversation with someone across the Atlantic. We even did a few shows with a co-presenter in Belgium, some 8,980 kilometers away. Listeners were convinced we were in the same studio. For video, I use a Blackmagic Design Constellation ATEM that switches between the five studio cameras and feeds OBS software to stream to Belgium.
RedTech: What are the biggest challenges you have faced during this project?
Verhoeven: I guess dealing with naysayers and convincing people things ARE possible. That is one of the reasons I moved away from Belgium — all my life, I have been confronted by people telling me things are not possible and that I should be happy with that. It’s why a lot of Belgians who try new things and don’t immediately succeed get ridiculed. There’s a very different mentality here, across the pond. In L.A., people don’t judge you for trying new things and thinking outside the box. If you don’t succeed at first, you get up, dust yourself off and start over.
Bring some new rebellious ideas or try something never done before.
RedTech: What should radio stations be doing to attract Gen Z listeners with so many entertainment options?
Verhoeven: It’s not only Gen Z that radio stations should worry about — my generation is changing its listening behavior too. For the last 20 years, radio management has played it safe, taking as few risks as possible and sticking within the guidelines that worked in the past. This has created a sort of “ear fatigue” — predictability for listeners and loss of creativity for radio makers. That’s why you always hear the same kind of music and events on air. The time has come for radio to peel away the wallpaper and take some risks. Stations are diversifying through their online channels, but mostly with music-only solutions or podcasts. It would be refreshing to hear (or see) some daredevil stuff. Bring some new rebellious ideas or try something never done before.
RedTech: How do you see the radio studio evolving over the years?
Verhoeven: I hope radio will become less self-centered in the certainty of its survival and become bolder, more innovative and rebellious in its creativity. That might bring a dip in commercial success at first, but that is already happening. I don’t believe radio is dead, but it needs to reinvent itself quickly. It is exciting to see the possibilities on diverse social platforms to do more than simply promote a radio brand — to fully embrace them as a new way to communicate great content and entertain listeners. I believe the radio studio will evolve out of that idea — no longer a centralized audio-only platform with cameras showing a dull host and co-host, but a fully functioning tool to connect everyone and bring innovative audiovisual content in a way never seen before.
Today it is possible to invent an app to host a live radio and TV show from a beach in Costa Rica with nothing more than a phone or a tablet. That’s what I want to be doing!