No, there were no balloons, no confetti, and absolutely no champagne.
Not because 35 years in business isn't a meaningful milestone (just because it's not a round number), but it is.
It's just that it didn't even register with me Jacobs Media was celebrating an anniversary until I started getting those LinkedIn notifications from a bunch of nice people, congratulating me on my “work anniversary.”
Of course, I'm on the road this week, “celebrating” my anniversary in a hotel and later on an airplane – as are Paul Jacobs, Bill Jacobs, Mike Stern, Seth Resler, and Bob Kernen. It occurs to me one of the reasons why we've been around so long is that while these birthdays/anniversaries have meaning and significance, we know we're only as good as our last market visit, rating book, mobile app, or strategy session.
And that's OK. We may have expanded into digital media, public radio, automotive, podcasting, mobile, and other disciplines over the years, but we still very much take a radio attitude to everything we do. We operate on a 24/7/365 basis. It's the only way to get the job done in the media environment we're living in.
I actually had a glimpse of just how fortunate I've been for all this time when National Radio Day hit social media last month. I am always amazed and even a little bit stunned by all the radio pros who list more than a dozen of call letters they've represented during their careers. Some even mention how they've forgotten some of the stops along the way.
I never submit a post because my entry would look like this:
Happily boring, right? I feel a little like Derek Jeter or Alan Trammell – spending my radio career with “one team.” Lucky me.
And one of the greatest things about being with the same company – my own – for three-and-a-half decades is that I haven't had a single worry about my next job. It turns out one of the worst things about me as an employee (and it was not a short list) is that my brain was often occupied trying to figure out where I would go from here. It's nice to be ambitious, but this is obviously not a good trait for you or people on your staff.
I walked out of WRIF after a great rating book in the spring of '83, took the summer to decompress and figure it out, and decided (without a business plan or a budget) to use my research and radio programming track record to start a consultancy – and launch the Classic Rock format.
With damp business cards in hand, I flew to San Francisco for the NAB Radio Show, and Tom Bender was kind enough to let me sleep on his hotel floor of the St. Francis for three nights as I worked the convention, talking about my new business, and hoping I made the right decision. It was more than a little scary.
And I was not an overnight sensation, to be sure. I had no industry profile to speak of, and no one was interested in a music format that played only gold-based music in an era when MTV was exploding on television, and Hot Hits were all over the radio.
So as the reality of another year goes flying by, I started thinking back to the early days – known as the '80s – and some of the things that worked out for me when Jacobs Media was a young company. Maybe some of these are bits of advice that could help you call U-Haul a little less often and maybe find happiness and success in the radio or media business, whether you work for someone else or run your own company.
Here's my 12 pieces of career advice:
- Commit – It's not just a paycheck, so don't work business hours. Radio has always been a commitment, and in the current environment, that's even more the case. I have known very few highly successful people in this business who didn't work their butts off.
- Network – Meet as many people as you can – in the industry, in your market, in your community. Every business is a people business – especially this one.
- Acknowledge everyone – The higher you get, the more people will want a piece of your time. And the busier you are, the harder it gets. But try. Take the time to respond to requests, a few minutes of your time, and the chance to mentor or counsel, especially a young person who actually wants to do this for a living. Remember, you were on the outside looking in at one time.
- Remember, you're in sales – This one took waaay too long for me to figure out. Hopefully, if you're in programming or content creation, you'll come to this realization…quickly. You're always selling – your strategy, your vision, yourself.
- Show up – It's a Woody Allen quote, and a good one: “80% of success is showing up.” Make an appearance – at the remote, the sales call, your station's big event. You don't have to stay for the whole thing. Learn the art of a timely drive-by. Your presence means you care. People will notice.
- Be famous for something – Whether you're on the air, in a sales cubicle, or even running the company, strive to make a mark. Stake your reputation on your vision, take a stand, believe in something, give it a shot. When people think of you, they'll remember that thing. So, choose wisely.
- It's never too late to learn something – It doesn't matter how long you've been doing this, you can pick up new knowledge that can help your brand, your company, and your career. Read everything you can your hands on. Expose yourself to new things – music, technology, business strategies. Attend a convention that has nothing to do with radio.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable – I don't think this would have applied when Jacobs Media opened its doors all those years ago, but it sure does today. Nobody – not Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or the people running media companies have all the answers. That's not a bad thing. It means maybe anyone can solve a major problem or address an existential challenge – even you.
- Try to see the bigger picture – It's not just your department or even your radio station. You're part of a much bigger ecosystem. Yes, stay in your lane. But look past the day's tasks and your nook in the industry in order the larger ecosystem you're part of. Make sure you understand your organization's goals. If they've never been explained to you (or they don't make sense), respectfully ask questions.
- Be true to yourself – There are easier ways to make a living. You could have taken the safe, easier path. But you didn't. So, don't sell your soul or be part of an enterprise that makes no sense or just doesn't smell right. Never forget why you got into this business in the first place.
- You can switch gears – Whatever you're doing right now doesn't have to define you. You can shift, reinvent, and even reboot your career. Lots of people have done this….successfully. You can go from programming to sales, from hardware to software, or from analog to digital. You just have to want it badly enough.
- Initiate…ship – Those are Seth's Godin's words…and they're good ones. Lots of people walk around with legal pads full of ideas and dreams they never put into action. It's hard to get started, but nothing will change until you give it a spin. That's no guarantee it will work, of course. But if you always plan, but never act, you'll just never know.
Thanks to the hundreds of people in and around the radio and media business who took a chance on me, my company, and my vision. And for the growing numbers of you who read these posts. You can't succeed without a lot of support and more than a little luck.
I promise I'll take a little time over the weekend to absorb it all. But no confetti.
And be right back here Monday with fresh content for this blog. And no shortage of energy as year 36 kicks off.
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.