For some of us, 9/11 doesn't feel that long ago. Anyone who was working in radio 19 years ago can tell you where they were and what they were doing when the news broke about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center. For those of you who were on the air that fateful morning – and in the days and weeks that followed – you have vivid memories of life changing.
Here we are, two decades later, and radio finds itself facing its most existential challenge ever. While much of the focus in the radio trades has been on companies and PDs, JacocBLOG reader Barry Michaels reached out to me this past Monday:
I was thinking coming into the station this morning about a possible blog post for you. How are those broadcasters behind the mike holding up? This virus is going to be long distance race, not a sprint. Are you stressed? Irritable? Worried about finding the right balance between entertainment and the basics? (As I am.) Do you have someone to talk with?
Great suggestion. What insights can we gain from our on-air ambassadors in the middle of an event totally off the charts? And so, we checked in with a potpourri of radio talent (some of whom are PDs) to take their temperature. They represent many different market sizes and situations, including talent from New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle – three “hot spots.” We also have several music format hosts, morning show hosts, as well as representation from public radio, Christian radio, and our friends in Canada.
I hope you'll find the result insightful and inspirational. And I've saved Barry's entry for last. – FJ
With this handy list of blog topic ideas, your radio station's staff will never have writer's block again.
I’m no stranger to “emergency radio.” After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the WRAT audience and staff was tested. During the weeks after Superstorm Sandy, WRAT became a beacon of hope for the entire listening area; eventually winning a “Best News” award from our state’s broadcasting association for what I called our “Community Coverage.” Incredible, really. A rock station getting a “best news” award.
Fast forward to now and my current feeling is what I imagine most of us are feeling: fear, hope, and trust. I trust that I have the experience and knowledge to lead my team of professionals. I trust my teammates to bring their best “A” game to work every day. I hope that our message is taken to heart, because so many things are riding on that including our local and national economies. I fear that we’ll lose some very dear people to us, and that will be hard.
A big personal difference for me this time around is: children. I’m spending hours at work doing my best for my listeners, staff, advertisers and company and then rushing home to relieve my wife – who is still working from home busily herself – in the home schooling and care of our 6 year-old twin boys. One of my favorite parts of my relationship with my wife has been how we work together under pressure… and so far, we’re kicking ass. I’m grateful for her and for our boys’ love and support in this time.
—Carl Craft, mornings/PD WRAT, New Jersey
My primary focus for the foreseeable future is on the health and well-being of my family while also asking what I can do to help my local community. This pandemic has helped put life into perspective for me, as I’m sure it has for others. How do I follow the CDC’s recommendations while also maintaining an enjoyable, yet responsible, quality of life? This is the question I find myself asking daily.
Professionally, I relish this opportunity. I pride myself on being creative. I set aside at least 20 minutes everyday to sit alone in a quiet room and think. You’d be surprised at what can happen if you eliminate your inputs—phone, social media, television, people, etc.—and just let your mind do its thing.
I’m a big believer in trying to unearth opportunity no matter what the situation. This pandemic has wiped all sporting events off the grid, so now I have the chance to see just how entertaining and informative I can be without the assistance of a 49ers Super Bowl run or Golden State Warriors basketball dynasty. The way I see it, if I can make good radio here and now, I’ll be able to do it anywhere.
—Joe Fortenbaugh, mornings, 95.7 The Game, San Francisco
It's times like now that I'm really reminded why I love being on-air. This past week has been crazy, but I've been trying to find ways to keep myself and listeners in good spirits–with feel-good stories, keeping them in the loop with live-stream concerts that they can watch from their couch, a request hour daily, etc. Meanwhile, the air staff and engineers in the building have been taking precautions around the studios to keep ourselves socially distant from one another and wiping down all buttons, knobs, keyboards and door handles with disinfectant wipes.
I tend to be very logical in these situations, and I know that my friends, co-workers, family and myself are taking all of the necessary steps to try to remain unaffected by the virus. And that at least has kept my mind a little more at ease throughout this strange time. I'm sending everyone good vibes…from at least six feet away! If you need me, I'll be posted up on my couch, watching endless hours of Netflix and hanging out with my cat for the foreseeable future.
—Alyssa Haberman, middays, ALT 949, San Diego
Man, what a time to be alive. With the mood and state of mind the world is currently in, I feel it’s more important now than ever to encourage optimism and positivity and remember to be kind till this passes. We need to take care of ourselves, our families and friends. Until the government tells me otherwise, I plan to continue my passion of informing and entertaining those who trust me, our fans and clients, while taking every precaution possible. I’m also making myself more available via social media to socialize, interact and distract – FB Live, Tik Tok, InstaStory, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, you name it, I’m there! I honestly feel the only way to get through this – is together, and day by day, we will. And until that happens, I’m gonna keep on keeping on. Sending healthy vibes and love your way wherever you may be reading this in the world. Find me @dudeitsICE and don’t forget to keep smiling! Like my mom always says, this too shall pass.
—Amanda ICE Habrowkski, middays, Live 95.5, Portland, OR
I’ll put aside my instinct to give a stereotypical morning guy slide whistle answer and just say: grateful. Grateful that I have a job unaffected by outbreak quarantines (yet). Grateful that I work for a company that has plan in place to broadcast from home should things worsen. Grateful that I get to be a small slice of normalcy for our community during an unprecedented time. Grateful that this business finds you working closely with the faces that will be economically most affected by shut downs heightening my sense of empathy. Grateful for my beer cellar should things worsen *slide whistle. Dang it! I miss Draft Kings.
—Warren Kluck, mornings, The Bear South Bend, IN
I suppose I'm feeling two things, mostly.
- Grateful. I started keeping a gratitude journal a few months ago, at the recommendation of a therapist. That thing's never been a more powerful tool than it is right now. Even in really scary, uncertain times, there's blessings to count. Example: ten years ago? If we'd had a pandemic, you wouldn't have been able to FaceTime family. But in 2020, I got to chat with my nephews, and see the new T-Rex toy they got, in action. That shit's cool.
- Humbled. It's been really neat to be an escape for people who are stressed, scared, lonely, among other things. I grew up rural, and conservative, so we're getting to do what I always loved about radio. Provide companionship and escape. That's really cool, too. And a helluva opportunity.
—JD Lewis, mornings, CJAY, Calgary
This is a very strange time. I feel like I have taken on the role of protector in my family. I am constantly reading and relaying info as it comes in, doing my best to keep my family safe and calm but on the inside I’m a little worried. I’m more worried about people who aren’t taking this seriously than the virus to be honest. But I have set my family up to succeed through this pandemic.
I arm our audience with information and tools to get through this pandemic. I am confident we will come out of this stronger, and with a hell of a lot more toilet paper in our bathrooms.
—Jesse Modz, mornings, CJAY, Calgary
Being on air on a music station today must be much like trying to have sex with a porcupine – uncomfortable and just plain weird.
WSFL is a classic rock station, “comfort food for the ears”; people need that familiarity, and they need info. With so much news available, it’s got to be weighed, then shared in a manner that conveys seriousness, but not panic. It’s a fine line. We bullet point national stories, and focus on local – what’s happening in neighborhoods, how it will impact our daily lives. We’re hitting the positives – people helping neighbors, food available for kids who are out of school – and throw in something to give people a laugh, since we all need one. And I have to do all of that while sounding calm, when inside, uh, not so much.
Coastal NC is still recovering from Hurricane Florence and we’re staring down beach season without tourists….yikes! I’m torn, worrying about the contradiction of telling people to go out and support folks who desperately need it, while also preaching social distancing.
We work from home as much as possible. Studios are small spaces, and if someone gets sick, we aren’t set up to broadcast remotely, so we fanatically clean everything. My mom is in the danger demo, and I worry. Truthfully, it’s exhausting. I go home with the same questions everyone has: Will there be toilet paper at the store? Is the skin going to fall off my fingers from all the washing? Can we reboot 2020?
—Cindy Miller, middays/PD, WSFL (Greenville/New Bern)
We are still working in the building and our studio but that could change at any moment in the event of a lock-down. We have a back-up plan to broadcast from Thrill’s basement the moment we get notice. He seems to think his air-fryer can feed us all.
The show has been giving updates, letting people know what services are open from take-out, to emergency plumbers, and at home medical services. We have a constantly updated list of businesses still open during this time on our website and social. The businesses are struggling.
This is when radio can shine and help our community. We are proud of what we are doing and the power of radio. Our listeners truly care. If we can also make you smile through all of this craziness we have done our job.
A member of the show is also under self-quarantine. Good Times…
—Miles Montgomery, “The Mens Room,” KISW in Seattle
Let’s start out with the fact that I’m a 6’4”, 234-pound man. I still lift weights to this day, although not as much as I used to. I have prided myself on not owning a firearm; I’ve never had a problem with firearms, I just that I was too much of a badass to own one. Two days ago I went and got a shotgun. Sure, it’s more for the wife when I’m gone, but this was a momentous step for me.
I was also the father of a handicapped child. You may notice I said “was.” I know how hard this virus is going to hit the handicapped and the elderly. I’ve seen a kid struggle for breath and it’s not fun, especially when they have no idea what is happening to them.
To be honest, I’m being strong for my family, my community and my listeners but my nerves are a bit frazzled. Our jobs require us to intake as much information as possible on the current crisis so it can be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, I have a wonderful wife who has helped me remain calm. Now, I was never going to freak out, but I tend to take the weight of the world on my shoulders. She reminded me of an old saying, “You cannot calm the storm, but you can be calm until it passes.”
My wife and daughter are asthmatic so that is a bit worrisome, but the main concern is the stupidity of people in large groups (the hoarding is already ridiculous). Adding to the tension of the public’s reaction to this is half want to blame the media while the other half complains there isn’t enough information out there.
So am I afraid? I’m more concerned. If I have a fear, it’s that we won’t learn our lesson this time around and next time will be worse.
—Wes Nessman, mornings KFMX Lubbock
Not since the “Blackout” of 2003 can I remember a stranger time. Every time I clear my throat something in the back of my mind makes me wonder. Stepping up at work to accept this challenge. Every aspect has to be looked at carefully. Keeping positive content to my audience is a must.
Home life is Spring cleaning a little early and all my rescue pets are fine – even the raccoon hiding in my attic. Radio will be that friend again to turn to. I want people to know their best friend is waiting.
—Screamin Scott Randall, nights, WRIF (Detroit)
A crisis is EXACTLY when radio is most needed. It’s not just the info we get out, it’s important we be there for some NORMALCY in our listeners’ lives. It’s comforting for our listeners to hear the same people they’ve been listening to forever, doing what we do every day: entertaining and informing. We are there as a friend & even a family member. Some of our listeners go back 40-plus years with us!! We let them know we’re all going to get through this together, as we did when John Lennon was murdered or in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, when radio was for thousands, their ONLY way to get info.
I have noticed these days, the last thing we say to our friends & colleagues & listeners is “Stay safe.” The very same words we used after 9/11. We get through every crisis being a community.
iHeartRadio has been fantastic to employees in the pandemic, even sending us home with broadcasting kits, offering us the option of working from home. My children on the West coast have a very hard time understanding why I choose to drive 75 miles to broadcast in person with Jim Kerr, in-studio. Sure, we could do the show remotely, 75 miles apart. But we’d miss the brainstorming during music . And we’d miss the socialization. The more we can keep our normalcy, the better we can serve our Q104.3 family.
—Shelli Sonstein, mornings, Q104.3, New York
I’m stretched wall to wall these days for all the obvious reasons. There’s much to think about and accomplish at work. At home, life is suddenly very hectic with shelter-in-place and a 9 year old who is now out of school, probably for the rest of the school year.
I’m living a movie I would never go to see. Not even if De Niro, Pitt, DiCaprio and Streep we’re starring. I like happy. This is the “Outer Limits“ on steroids. I’m nervous about leaving the house, I’m nervous about being at work. That said, our supervisors and company are doing everything to make conditions as safe and comfortable as possible.
Being on air is another dimension. We’re there to add some much needed distraction to our listener’s lives. I do the best I can while I Clorox the board and every other hard surface in sight. Washing my hands, again, I exit the studio for coffee. Our skeleton crew avoids me like the plague and me them. We hardly know what to say to each other.
At home I feel safe. My wife is my rock. I’m closer to 70 than 60 and the thought of the virus shakes me to my core. Yet, she talks me down off the cliff every time. All of us have a past where we’ve faced the unknown. None of us has faced a future where >everything< is the unknown.
I’m forever grateful for all the healthcare workers out there on the frontlines doing the heavy lifting and helping us to get through the all encompassing unknown. How can we ever repay them?
—Bob Stroud, middays, WDRV, Chicago
How am I feeling?
That’s not an easy question. Frazzled is probably the first word that comes to my mind. There’s so much going on that the station has to handle news-wise. Daily news briefings on the federal, state and local level. Enterprise reporting. Special coverage.
I’m tired. If I had time to think about it, probably more tired emotionally than physically. There’s so much to cover because Detroit has come to a screeching halt. Schools are closed. Bars and restaurants are only offering take out. Even the auto plants are going to close for a while. Any one of those stories is a lot for a small news room to cover. But all of that at the same time. It makes for some long days…
And lots of concern. There’s a lot to think about on a personal level. How is my staff doing? Are they physically well? Are they taking care of themselves emotionally? Then there’s the concern about my friends and family. I’m working from home this week, but I’ll be in the station more next week. Am I doing enough to protect my family? Am I doing enough to keep them safe? It’s a lot to balance right now…and it’s not something I want to get wrong.
And I’m wondering about the future. I have friends who have lost their jobs because their restaurants have closed or their publications have cut back. What’s next for a world that’s in quarantine? I feel confident we’ll come out of this. We’ll have to wait and see how deep and how long the changes we’re going through will last.
—Jerome Vaughn, news director, WDET-FM, Detroit
I'll never be a great writer, but I can be an honest one. Now, be honest with yourself. If you are behind a mike during this crisis, are you feeling a little depressed? Angry? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Are you worried about your family? Concerned about your on air work? Too much info or too little? All these questions are in my mind and more.
I'm older than most of you so I have a memory I can draw on whenever I need it that sustains me during this time. I remember vividly the polio outbreak. My Mom was concerned I'd end up in an ‘iron lung' (look it up), and my Dad (he was at Omaha Beach on D-Day, and I thought he was the bravest guy in the world) was unusually worried as well. Then the clouds broke. We were to assemble at local schools for the vaccine that was to be given to us in sugar cubes. It's been over fifty years, and I can still see the look of relief on my Mom's face. And the tears too.
I've sat behind a microphone now for almost fifty years, and I want to tell you, you are doing a good job. You are my radio brother and my radio sister and I'm pulling for all of us. Is this a pep talk? I guess it is. Find a memory that will help you too. Or words of advice from a mentor if you are feeling a bit ‘lost'. Take this line of advice from my father. No matter the situation, if something were broken and he was trying to fix it, he'd say “This will work son…because it has to.” And it will.
—Barry Michaels, morning, US 102.3 Gainesville/Ocala
Radio's air personalities are on the front lines – the voices that connect audiences to radio. We wish this group – and everyone else on the airwaves during these tough days – good health and encouragement.
If you're on the air, and wish to leave your reflections and feelings, please use the “comment” section below. Good luck to you all. – FJ
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