It's that time of year when “It's A Wonderful Life” will be popping up all over television. Of course, since the advent of VCRs, DVRs, and Netflix, we can watch this Christmas classic – and pretty much anything else – anytime we like. Even in July.
Still, there's something warmly nostalgic about this Frank Capra film at this time of the year that resonates with viewers more than 70 years after its lackluster release. While a box office loser at first, it has gone on to become perhaps the signature Christmas movie because of its universal story, the quality and passion of the actors and the script, and its powerful message.
In the film, George Bailey is given the “gift” of seeing what his life would have been like had he never existed. In the process, he learns – the hard way – just how many lives he touched along the way.
I had an “IAWL” moment the other night at the National Radio Hall of Fame Awards induction ceremony in snowy New York City. Except it was sort of a reversal of the movie's theme.
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Eleven were honored that evening, and each and every one talked about the people who touched their lives along the way, giving them their first big break, mentoring them, taking them under their wings, or just believing in their abilities. It was like listening to a series of Ted TALKS from radio's biggest successes – and I paid rapt attention to them all.
Whether it was Jim Kerr‘s passionate speech about his career rise as a teen DJ growing up in radio in Michigan or Joan Hamburg explaining her unlikely rise to stardom on the biggest radio stations in New York City, each and every honoree talked about the seemingly insignificant people who made a difference in our career and life paths.
From Jonathan Brandmeier to Mike & Mike to Kid Kelly, one after the other pointed to those special people who took an interest in them when there was no obvious reason to do so.
Some of the honorees talked about their tough climbs. Others told funny and ironic stories about getting hired and later fired by radio executives who didn't recognize their talent or potential. But in each and every case, it was about the early years – those “salad days” – when career paths are cloudy and success is not the least bit inevitable.
There wasn't a single person who received the beautiful glass trophy who knew they would one day be welcomed into the Hall of Fame. We all needed help.
Now, I don't want to go all Zuzu's petals on you, but the evening was a reminder to all of us of the importance of that “touch” – the ability we all have to help others get ahead, recognize their gifts, and give them a boost along the way – especially when things aren't going swimmingly. And there wasn't a single honoree who didn't recognize the setbacks that made them stronger.
For those working in radio today – and the many who find themselves on the outside looking in – the industry has become a sort of Pottersville – a nightmare version of the business they first enthusiastically jumped into. The evolution radio broadcasting in the U.S. has experienced has echoed the fortunes of many industries – consolidation, recession, layoffs, cutbacks, and more consolidation.
But that's easy for me to say. I've managed to surf the changes – not always gracefully, successfully, or profitably. But for others, it's been a tougher, disappointing, and even heartbreaking road. And for them, I feel great sympathy.
And that's why it's incumbent on all of us in the radio business who have made it through the gauntlet of time and change to help those struggling to make their way in radio as well as those who have fallen on hard times.
There are many ways to accomplish this, from writing a check to associations as diverse as the Broadcasters Foundation of America to sponsoring and supporting Dan Vallie's National Radio Talent System and the curricula they create to give fledgling radio stars a chance. Each of these supports the industry, whether it's radio veterans who have fallen on hard times or the next generation of talent trying to get their foot in the door.
But I would submit that beyond your financial support, the other gift you can give is your time. As the many inductees reminded us the other night, it was often a pat on the back, an “atta girl,” and a kind word that spurred all those Hall of Famers onto greatness.
We've all got that in us, whether we're at the pinnacle of the business or still figuring out how to run the board. Sometimes it's as simple as a text response, an email, or simply reaching out to help connect people – something that's never been easier thanks to our great connectivity.
Service to our community means more than just helping when there's a national disaster, a mass shooting, or some other calamity. It means supporting the broadcast radio community – its past, present, and future.
George Bailey had to endure the trauma of a near-death experience to understand the impact he had on so many people in his community of Bedford Falls. In what turned out to be the first GoFundMe campaign, George's peeps banded together to help him overcome his tragic circumstances by contributing basketfuls of cash. (And no service fees.)
In the days that have followed the Hall of Fame ceremony, I've received many well wishes from people I've known throughout the decades as well as those who I barely remember. In so many cases, they're reminding me of the impact I've knowingly or unknowingly had on them. And that's gratifying.
But it's also a reminder to me that especially for those of us who are accomplished, for whom radio has been a great career path from which we've profited financially and personally, it is our responsibility to pay it forward.
And sometimes we don't realize when we're doing something good for someone in need because even the small, simple gestures and efforts matter. It's easy to forget just how insecure it can be for fledgling radio broadcasters, still not sure whether they're got the right stuff.
So, as we enter the holiday season, let's remember it's not just about finishing Q4 strong , playing the right holiday songs, or getting this year's “Christmas Wish” off the ground.
It's a chance for many of us to remember our wonderful radio lives, and give back where we can.
Thanks to Kraig Kitchin, Amir Forester, & the National Radio Hall of Fame board and committee for a memorable evening.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.