Conclave 44 is in the books – truly one of the best I've ever attended. Perhaps part of my rationale is that Paul was honored to receive their Rockwell Lifetime Achievement Award, a true recognition of his work in radio over the past decades.
In the event you've somehow missed Conclave over the past 4+ decades, the award is named after Mike Rockwell. The first of these honors was given in 1989, and the tradition has continued these past 30 years. I love this mission statement about the award:
The Rockwell Award recognizes individuals who have contributed to the industry as an inspirational leader, and a person of great accomplishment. The recipient has made lasting and significant contributions within radio, and also to the public radio serves.
The Conclave can remain confident they chose well this year in selecting Paul Jacobs for this honor. Unlike me – a programmer – Paul came out of sales (one of the reasons we complement each other so well). He has held several major market positions in sales and general management before running our companies since the early '90s.
Paul is the force, the fixer, and the fulcrum of both Jacobs Media and jacapps. He does an exceptional job of managing clients, our businesses, and our respective staffs. His contributions in spaces like automotive, public radio, digital sales strategies, and innovation are well-known throughout the industry. Paul has or currently served on boards that include public radio's Greater Public as well as the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Foundation. Paul was also inducted in the MAB Hall of Fame in 2016.
After his acceptance speech, Paul received several requests for a copy of the speech, especially those 6 things he’s learned during his career. So for those of you who weren’t on hand in Minneapolis, there is some really good “evergreen” learning here, whether you're a newbie to radio or like Paul, you're “on the back 9.” – FJ
Here are a half dozen life and career lessons I've learned during my 40+ years in radio.
1. You aren’t as smart as you think you are (or in this case, I’m not as smart as I thought I was). When I was at WRIF, I was the hot sales guy and Fred was the Program Director. The combination of the two led me to believe I had the right to occasionally march into his office and point out how my music taste was superior to his. I didn’t hesitate to tell him he was playing the wrong Bob Seger song, or about a track from Led Zeppelin IV he may have missed.
He took it in stride until one day he got so frustrated with me, he gave me that look and said, “Why don’t you shut up and make goal.” If you know Fred, you know the tone of voice and that look.
Well, he was right, but of course, but I was still young and arrogant and I didn’t totally learn that lesson. When I became a major market General Manager at 29 (which is way too young) I thought since I held that title, I had to have all of the answers. Despite the fact I didn’t know squat about engineering, programming, or frankly, management, I figured that if I was the GM, I most certainly had the necessary skills.
What a dumb ass. I made so many mistakes – too many to count – it’s amazing I kept growing in the industry.
Which leads me to lesson #2:
2. You are only as good as your people. Since it became instantly apparent to me (and probably to everyone who worked for me) that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, I came to realize I had to rely on people who actually knew what they were doing. I had to change my game, and what I learned is that the truly strong managers see themselves not as a rah rah leader or a tough guy, but instead as someone who charts the course, gets out of the way, knows their limitations, and is there to support their team.
What I assumed would be perceived as weakness ultimately became a strength, and I not only became a successful manager, but the people I worked with (not under me) succeeded, too. They learned how to take responsibility, make decisions, fail, and succeed. And frankly, I slept a lot better.
3. You treat people the same, regardless of title and stature, whether they are on the upside or the downside. When you first get into the business, you tend to look up – at the people who are ahead of you that you want to catch up to and people you aspire to be. Too often, in our passion to succeed, we overlook those around us, those who support us, those in a different department, those that aren’t as fortunate as us.
I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone.
And it’s wrong.
I’ve learned that neither your title nor or your paycheck makes you who you are, and while you might have authority, that doesn’t make you any better than the receptionist or a colleague who is out of a job. And I’ve been in the business long enough to understand it’s just a big cycle – some who are down today will be up tomorrow. And vice versa.
4. It’s not where you work. It’s who you work for (and with). When I started in the business, I worked for ABC. It was the greatest company to work for at the time, full of talented, upwardly mobile people. We were incredibly arrogant because we were on the top of the mountain. And it was competitive – everyone aspired to keep moving up in market size, and of course, we all wanted to get to a top 5 market – that was the goal. The scorecard for success? The larger the market, the better you were.
In all deference to those in the room who are working in a top 5 market today, that’s no longer the sole priority. Today, it’s about working for the best broadcaster, doing radio the right way, empowering employees to succeed, trying new approaches, and most important, providing stability for success.
That’s not to say you can’t find that in a huge company or in a big market. But today, the quality of the people you work with, the environment, the ethics, the impact you can have on your local community, and the way you DO radio is far more important than WHERE you do it.
5. This is a great industry to work in IF you don’t treat it like work. A friend of ours recently posted a photo on Facebook of Fred in a Starbucks early on a Saturday morning, working on his computer and on the phone with someone who was out of work. Is this unusual? No way. It’s the only way to succeed.
If you want a 9-to-5 job, don’t work in radio. And that doesn’t mean business hours, it means a 9-to-5 mentality. The most successful people I know in this business – from CEOs to DJs to salespeople – live the industry, they don’t just work in the industry. They are constantly attuned to what’s happening around them – in other media, in advertising, in our culture, in technology. They are always thinking, connecting dots, and can’t turn it off when they go home.
6. And at the end of the day, it’s about family. I would simply not be here today, accomplishing what I have, without the support of my wife of 38 years, Lori, and the inspiration I get from my daughter, Natalie. How else could you work the hours I work and travel the way I do, without unbelievable support and patience back home? It’s because I got lucky.
I was also fortunate to be born into a strong family. My parents, Sidney and Joan Jacobs, were the best. My dad passed away several decades ago but she’s going strong at 90. They provided us with a foundation of education, ethics, and entrepreneurial thinking. What we are accomplishing today and throughout our careers is no accident.
And of course there are my two brothers, Fred and Bill. Bill is a workhorse. He doesn’t seek the spotlight – he comes in every day with a single-minded focus on doing the work and helping his stations succeed. Every successful company has and needs a Bill Jacobs.
And then there’s Fred. You all know him, so I won’t replay his resume for you. He is not only the industry’s North Star, he’s mine also. He has the vision, charts the course, and gets it done (of course, with a little help from me).
I would not be as successful as I am today, nor would I be receiving this award, if it weren’t for Fred. He made me better, set a high bar, and fortunately, I climbed over it. I shut up and made goal.
So that’s my story. I am truly humbled to accept this award.
I didn’t create a format or get huge ratings.
I didn’t run a big radio company.
I wasn’t an iconic air personality.
I just tried to do things the right way. Treat people the right way, and hopefully have some fun along the way. And I appreciate this has been recognized by the Conclave board today.
Congrats, Paul, on a much deserved honor. Kudos to the Conclave's Lori Lewis, Tom Kay, and the entire board. We will be back next year. – FJ
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.
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