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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rocking the Russian Soul

From his hip goatee beard right down to his immaculately polished shoes, Reginald Thomas, director of rock station Radio 7, looks every inch the consummate music industry professional.

"It's really important," said Thomas enthusiastically. "Let me give you an analogy. Would you date me if I pulled up in a clapped-out car?"

Since his arrival from New York, Thomas, 38, has emersed himself in the running of the radio station, sometimes working "easily 16 hours a day without blinking," he said. "I micromanage this station. I watch every dime that's spent, I negotiate every expenditure, I look at all the drivers' time sheets. It's not a question of trust. It's responsibility."

Thomas said he extends his management skills into the area of staff grooming, encouraging his young team to cultivate a professional appearance.

"If you want to earn a million dollars, you have to look a million dollars," he said in a recent interview in his big, orderly office at the radio station while the phone rang constantly in the background. "Shoes should be polished, and people should smell good at work. I've had to talk to staff several times."

His "micromanagement" technique has worked well. Since Thomas was appointed general director of MetroMedia's Radio 7 station in April, the rock music station has climbed from No. 10 to No. 3 in the weekly ComCon ratings of commercial radio stations. The station's listeners now total 1,185,000.

"Other stations may not like our aggressive nature," Thomas said. "But I was hired to win -- it's the only thing I'm here to do."

Still, living in Moscow is not without challenges for Thomas, who said that being a black businessman here is trying at times. He said that Russians are not used to seeing successful African-American professionals. "When they find out I speak Russian it becomes really interesting for them," he said. "African Americans can do business on a global scale and get along culturally in a foreign environment. I'm living proof of that."

Thomas, who enjoys listening to soul or rap music in the little free time he has, said he has been impressed by the sophistication of the musical tastes in Moscow and has enjoyed discovering Russian jazz and classical music. In his view, Russians are "probably the most musically affluent people in the world."

Twenty years ago, Thomas became the first recipient of a MetroMedia four-year scholarship to study broadcasting at St. John's University in New York. Back then, he never imagined that one day he would be working for the same company, which owns Radio 7.

"It's so ironic" he said. "They put me through college, and now they're getting their money back."

Between the scholarship and the Radio 7 directorship, Thomas has worked for radio stations in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.

"Radio in the States is very competitive," he says. "It's becoming like that here. But there's more money on the table in New York. Every year $450 million is spent there on radio advertising." Thomas is excited by the expansion of the Russian radio market as local incomes grow and advertisers view TV as an increasingly expensive option.

Thomas is still adjusting to some of the more stressful aspects of everyday life. He can't bring himself to pay $15 for a hamburger, and he is infuriated by the rudeness he encounters in Russian shops.

"They don't seem to realize that in a few years, this will be a service-oriented society," he said. "Bad service will come back to haunt these businesses in a big way."