Strange, but today, I feel like I’m channeling my inner Stevie Nicks.
Yes, we’re on the cusp of the 17th anniversary of JacoBLOG, which launched on a cold February day back in 2005. Today’s post is a modified and expanded version of the self-indulgent post I’ve run on previous birthdays of the blog.
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Malcolm Gladwell believes that it takes 10,000 hours of doing a task to gain mastery, whether its horseshoes, hang gliding, or antique collecting. In the case of me and this blog, I’m probably coming up on the 10,000 hour mark. A little back of the cocktail math reveals that I’ve personally written well more than 4,000 posts. On average, it requires a couple hours, more or less, to write and edit a post. So, I’m approaching Gladwell’s line of expert demarcation.
For the last 17 years, I’ve posted content every weekday. Now, it’s true I get a little help from my friends – outside contributors who write occasional guest posts. And I typically take the Monday of a 3-day weekend off. And we move to “Best of” mode around Christmas time through New Year’s Day.
Still with all these posts, I don’t feel particularly expert. But I have developed habits, rituals, routines, and protocols that have helped make me a better blogger. And a better broadcaster.
The blog was born from a suggestion (OK, goading) from Tim Davis (pictured), who served as our first Director of Digital back then. We were wrapping up our first Techsurvey, YouTube was coming online, Facebook was still for college students, the iPhone didn’t exist, and Howard Stern was still on terrestrial radio. There was a lot going on, and there was a lot to say.
As I grappled with the blogosphere, I asked Tim how often I should post. He told me successful blogs put up content on a regular basis, but there was no right answer. In my mind, regularity translated to “every day,” and that’s how I’ve done it over these past 17 years.
I’ve learned a lot about you, me, the radio industry, and our digital world during this time. I’ve made a few mistakes, hit a few home runs, and created something that appears to have value to both of us.
That’s not just based on the metrics that grow every year, but on the anecdotal “blog bumps” that happen on almost a daily basis. That’s when someone – a client, a friend, a colleague – mentions that today’s post or maybe one from a year ago was interesting, insightful, thought-provoking, or dumb. Those organic moments tell me the blog has made an impact, and the right people are reading it – and thinking and talking about it.
So, thinking about these last 17 years of JacoBLOG, here are some ways it has changed me as a media person. It’s become my morning show. I program it like I used to program radio stations.
I’m not recommending you go down this path. I’ve had a number of people tell me blogs are passé – I should have moved over to videos or a podcast years ago. But there’s something about this that just clicks for me. While I’d never rule out trying another platform, this one has served me well.
Perhaps there’s something in here for you, whether it’s starting your own blog or another initiative where you can express yourself, and perhaps build a community.
The best day to have started a blog like this was many years ago, so it would now be popular and established. The second best day to start your own blog is today.
Here are 17 things I’ve learned from blogging – about myself, about you, and about the worlds of radio, media, and technology.
1. It makes you more disciplined
Doing anything every day – working out, playing a musical instrument, or a sport – shows your commitment. Not just to writing a blog, but to everything. Some days it’s easy; other days, not so much. But when you know you have to do it because you’ve made a commitment to yourself, you find a way.
It can get especially challenging on a day you feel like crap or you’re on the road, or you’re just jammed up with other stuff. But you make time, and you do it. That regularity ends up translating to other commitments you have in life, and that’s a good thing. As Seth Godin says, “The writing isn’t the hard part, it’s the commitment. Drip!” Yup.
2. It makes you a better writer
I thought I was a pretty decent writer before the blog started. I had been consulting for more than two decades, and that entailed a lot of memo and letter writing to clients and to staff. And before that as a programmer, I wrote a lot, too – copy, imaging, memos, etc. But nothing compares to banging out a respectable blog post every weekday. You can’t help but get better at the craft of writing.
Back to the Malcolm Gladwell theory, I’m getting closer, but I still have a way to go. Actually, that’s a sobering thought.
3. It makes you more creative
No, this isn’t improv comedy, nor is it like doing a morning show. But daily blogging forces you to find your creative energy and focus. And unlike standup or radio, I get more reliable “ratings.” Every day, I’ve got metrics that tell me how many of you are reading the blog, as well as the prodding of Seth Resler to keep me on-point with my titles, my keywords, and my subscriber emails.
Of course, not every post is designed for mass readership. I’ve learned there are some topics that will never reach thousands of you, but they contain salient messages aimed at the right people. Hopefully, they’ll read those posts. After all these years, I’m still trying to figure out that creative balance.
4. It provides you with a platform
Over the years, I’ve learned I have a lot to say, and there’s a lot going on. The first 15 years were disruptive, tumultuous, and exciting if you’re in the radio and media business. (More about 2020 later in this post.)
I think this period will one day be thought of as transformative for the medium as the days when Marconi first figured out the technology, Wolfman Jack learned how to connect with his young audience, and Howard Stern started asking the questions we would ask – but didn’t have the moxie to do so.
I’ve found there’s no shortage of stuff to talk about. I had always believed that, but it’s never been more true than right now, whether it’s the world of radio, technology, or politics. If you have something of substance to say, there’s no better place to say it than a blog.
5. It gives you a voice
That is, if you take advantage of it. And a blog is very different than the industry trades that tend to be more factual. I read All Access, Inside Radio, RadioInk, RAMP, Jockline Daily, FMQB, Radio World, and others religiously. They’re great at thoroughly reporting the stories affecting the radio business. But they aren’t like a blog that has a definite angle – or what I think of as its voice.
It took me a while to find mine. JacoBLOG is hopefully different than what you read from Mark Ramsey, Sean Ross, David Oxenford, and Jerry Del Colliano who have been at it a long time, as well as, Dick Taylor, Steve Goldstein, Lori Lewis, Scott Westerman, Paul Kaye, Buzz Knight and so many others who have started blogging in recent years.
Everyone has a unique POV, and yes, their own voice and personality. I respect all those folks, especially the ones who have done it for a long time, and who have staked out their own turf. I think the industry is better for it.
6. It’s personal
Similar to #5, but it took me a long while to realize the more this blog is written in first person – that the more I share about myself – the more genuine it is. For a private person like me, this hasn’t come easy. But in recent years, I’ve been more revealing about my personal life, my wins…and losses, and some of the joys and frustrations I feel about the radio industry.
When you think about some of the best personalities on the airwaves, self-deprecation, authenticity, and storytelling are usually a key part of their success formula. And so it is with a blog – or at least that’s been my experience. Whether it’s growing up in Detroit, or talking about my favorite teams, athletes, and bands. Or letting you know when something has moved me – one way or the other – those are the times when I feel like we’re connecting. When I reveal more of myself, many of you do the same.
7. It’s a conversation starter
Some of those conversations I’m aware of because the blog has turned into a way for people to connect with me when I meet them at a conference or when I’m speaking to a client, a colleague, or someone I just met. If they mention today’s post, one from last week, or even months ago, it’s a welcome ice breaker.
JacoBLOG is often forwarded within companies, clusters, and organizations. It’s a flattering thing when something you write resonates and kindles dialogue in all sorts of places. That tells me it’s doing its job. Sometimes, it ends up in a trade or online newsletter or “paper.”
For more than a decade, I was disappointed about how few comments most posts generated. In recent years, that’s changed. If I write something of value, I get comments – on occasion, a lot of them. JacoBLOG has developed a posse of regulars I always enjoy hearing from. There are also occasional commenters who chime in when something resonates with them. And then there are my version of “long time listener, first time callers” – a newbie who’s been moved to give an opinion.
I know I’m doing something right when I hear from a lot of you on a topic. I had always hoped JacoBLOG would be more of a conversation between media professionals rather than an orator on a soapbox. These days, it has become more like the former.
8. It keeps you current and plugged in
You simply cannot write a daily blog without being plugged into what’s going on. I’ve become a voracious reader, and JacoBLOG has forced me to be aware of everything around me. You’re always looking for tomorrow’s post, a new angle, something relevant and hopefully interesting.
Lorne Michaels has been the executive producer of SNL since it first went on the air way back in the ’70s. I love this quote:
“If you’re not about what people are thinking about that week, then I think you don’t have any relevance.”
I suppose it’s a lot like prepping for a personality or talk show. You’re always trawling around for something that resonates and connects. If you work hard enough at it, you can do it on most days.
9. It helps you connect the dots
This has been a big one for me. As a consultant, I’ve always been pretty adept at taking an idea – yes, even one that’s not my own – adapting it, riffing on it, turning it on its side, and maybe making it into something better.
I do that a lot with this blog – take a piece of research, an article or a story, and maybe even something from well outside the business – and find ways to bring it home, make it interesting, and applicable to what we all do every day. There’s a lot to learn about radio by spending time outside radio.
It’s why going to CES these last dozen or so years has been important, because that experience is all about making those connections. And I can use the blog as a place to talk about them – not just in January, but all year long.
10. It teaches you about content marketing
Truth be told, I didn’t figure this out until I started hiring people with skill sets well beyond my own. (That’s good advice, too.) It started with Tim who got me going in the first place. Then Lori Lewis came along and taught me how to use social media to more effectively share and communicate the blog with others.
And later, Seth Resler – Mr. Content Marketing – elevated my game by showing me how the blog could be amplified with search and other tools, and also how it could lead to growing our database, our reach, and both of our companies. I only had a very rudimentary knowledge about how to connect all these moving parts going in, so it’s been helpful to have people around me with a better understanding of how to better use and move the content.
I think the basic daily product we put out has been pretty consistent. And yet, when you look at the metrics, the last six years have ushered in a meteoric rise in the blog’s reach, subscribership, and influence. The database is now 10x where it started in 2005. My writing hasn’t gotten that much better, so, I have to attribute that to Seth who understands the fine art of using all the digital tools to strategically share content. If you’ve never had that conversation with him, you should.
11. It’s a way to acknowledge deserving people
From time to time, I’ll use the blog to go off about something (and very occasionally, a company or a person). But more often than not, I like to point to positive examples of people, stations, and organizations doing it right. Or taking chances and risks that are worthy and admirable. Some of these things never show up in the ratings, spreadsheets, or the trades, but they matter because they make the industry better.
Not everyone will make the “40 Most Powerful” roster, but that doesn’t mean radio isn’t loaded with unheralded all-stars who just don’t happen to (or want to) sit in the corner office. We started our “Radio’s Most Innovative” series a few years ago for just that purpose. It’s important to acknowledge people dedicated to uplifting the industry whether they’re clients or competitors.
12. It’s great for business
I sure wouldn’t have suspected this in 2005, but I believe it today. JacoBLOG has opened the doors for both our companies, Jacobs Media and jācapps. It has introduced us to people in businesses we never knew, but they feel like they know us from reading the blog.
And yet, there are no ads, subscription fees, or anything else. On a spreadsheet, it’s a stone cold loser. But I would argue the blog more than monetizes itself, but in ways that are more subtle but nonetheless important. In an age where everyone hungers for attribution, JacoBLOG has absolutely none. There’s no way to draw a line that connects it to new business.
But I’ve been doing this long enough to have learned the signals and signs that tells me someone new I’ve met is reading our posts. And when we get a client inquiry, we’re often talking in shorthand because as a result of the blog, many already have a pretty good idea of how we think, how we view the world, and how we respect and value radio.
13. It makes you walk the walk
Blogging for 17 years has generated an awful lot of content. I’ve gone out on the limb many times. Sometimes, I’ve been right, and other times I’ve been proven wrong.
But it’s important to stand for something, and to be responsible for your words. Especially these days.
It is much easier to type strong opinions than it is to stand by them in a meeting, on a panel, or in other places where you’re put on the spot. I am very much aware of what I’ve said and the importance of me living up to my own standards.
Talk is cheap. So are blogs. Actions and being true are everything.
14. It teaches you how to be a better researcher
You can’t help but become expert (and fast) at looking stuff up, discovering things, and using search engines and tools. I always like to link articles and stories so that readers can go directly to the source. In that way, I’m as accurate as I can be, and I’m not just blathering away on a topic. It helps to have data and the input of experts.
I make mistakes – we all do – and I acknowledge them, fix them, and move on. But it all starts with prep, doing your homework, and confirming your thinking. And your research skills become more fine-tuned over time.
15. You get more adept at social media
When Lori Lewis was here, I developed a better understanding of how social media wasn’t just a place to post GIFs of dogs playing poker (although that can be amusing) – there are platforms where ideas, humor, and thoughts can be shared. Social also helps me drive more traffic to the blog.
I don’t use all the platforms especially well. On Facebook, people are more interested in their lives than my blog. When I write a post that affects them or reflects their experience, I can get some resonance. The blog has daily presence on Facebook – hey, why not? It’s the biggest of them all. But I know its limitations.
On Twitter, the blog works better. I am guilty of overusing Twitter – but I have always enjoyed those quick-hitting tweets, along with the snark you only get on the platform. Plus, Twitter has been a way for me to interact with all sorts of people – celebrities, luminaries, and regular folks with great stories or an interesting point of view. I’ve also become a better editor because of Twitter’s boundaries on tweet length. (Frankly, I liked it better when it was 140 characters.)
Finally, there’s LinkedIn. I am getting more and more “lift” here because on most days, it a great place for the exchange of ideas that tend to be business-centric. LinkedIn can be humorless, but it may be the best place for exchanging the types of topics and ideas I usually blog about.
16. It got me through COVID
No one had any idea that virtually every aspect of our lives would be disrupted – OK, come to a halt – almost exactly two years ago. But it happened. Our jobs, our families, our routines – everything upended by the pandemic. Many of us took for granted those little daily rituals that seemed so simple. But as 2020 raged on and turned into 2021, it became clear this thing wasn’t going away anytime soon.
During the pandemic, many people started new hobbies, pursuits, and endeavors – some constructive, some whimsical, and some sadly destructive. But for me, JacoBLOG provided me with that daily repetitive brain motion I thrive on. Over the years, I’ve learned I can write these posts anywhere – airport lounges, hotel rooms at 2 a.m., the back seats of Ubers, or these days, from any room in my house.
On the one hand, COVID limited the types of topics I usually write about. For months, there was no sports. Concerts were put on hold. And so many other activities have been curtailed or cancelled. There were many days when I really didn’t want to write about the pandemic, but it became so omnipresent and all-encompassing that none of us could escape it.
For me, at least, the blog has given me a sense of continuity and purpose during these most trying of times. If it has brought you any joy, continuity, or sense of “normalcy,” then I’m even happier.
17. I enjoy it
More and more these days, people ask “How do you write fresh content every day?”
Why else would I still be doing this? Because it bring me great satisfaction.
Yes, there are tough days when I’d rather be doing something else – like sleeping in. But more often than not, the blog has most definitely been in the plus column (except when I’m on the West Coast and the blog posts at 6:10 a.m. ET)
The fact more and more of you read it, think about it, comment on it, and talk about it goes right to the heart of why I started doing it in the first place. I’m flattered that so many of you find it worthy of your time.
Looking back on this journey, I am so thankful I did it and continue to do so. And I’m appreciative of those of you who read and share it. It means a lot, and it encourages me to keep going.
Janis Ian says we learn the truth at 17.
P.S. A short note that Tim Davis, the guy who encouraged me to start JacoBLOG, passed away nearly five years ago. I think about him every time I sit down to write a new post.
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