I had a little mishap while working out a couple months ago in Florida. And it required the dreaded emergency room visit. The X-rays were negative, and while I was waiting to be processed out, an administrator armed with a clipboard sat across from me to fill out the necessary insurance forms.
He asked the usual questions – address, marital status, cell phone number, and of course, date of birth. And when I gave him that last byte of information, he says these words to me:
“Oh, so you’re retired.”
Not a question, but a statement. And not what you want to hear. But before I ripped his face off, I smiled because I love what I’m doing and bounce out of bed at the pre-crack of dawn every morning.
My brother, Paul, and I are very different people, despite sharing the same parents. I’m programming, he’s sales. But as we’ve gotten older (and actually started to resemble one another), we have a lot of these conversations about careers, the industry, and why we do what we do.
In this guest post, Paul answers the question for him (and truth be told, for me, too). And it begs the question:
“Why are YOU still doing this?” – FJ
As we get ready to embark on our annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the NAB Show, it seems like we’re being asked the same question more often these days. It’s an insightful question – one that addresses personal career goals as well as the bigger query about the state of the radio business. And it’s one that everyone in the business should ponder:
Why do you keep doing this?
At first, we thought we were being asked this because Jacobs Media’s been around so long – 36 years. And we hope it’s not a not-so-subtle suggestion we should start thinking about hanging it up. But it has caused me to stop for a moment and ask myself why we keep getting up at 5am to write this blog, trek through too many airports to mention, and continue to try to push the boundaries of our business so it can evolve, improve, adapt, and prosper.
So, as we prepare to head to Las Vegas, here are my answers to that question in 9 parts:
1.The People. In what other business can you find a collection of on-air personalities ranging from Jacky Bam-Bam to Bob Stroud, all trying to do the accomplish the same thing in delightfully different ways, while achieving success? Radio is filled with an amazing array of talent, digital leaders trying to figure out the future, and yes, corporate execs who truly are focused on building strong companies around their people who constantly challenge us about how to figure out how to do things better. You won’t find a diverse menagerie like this working for an insurance company or a dental practice.
2. Lifelong Friendships. If you’re new to the business, you might not have experienced this yet, but it is amazing to me how many people I started my career with remain my friends decades later. The gang I sold with at WRIF (Biv, Robbie, Root Boy), the KZEW crew who are so tight they recently held a reunion, and yes, even a couple of media buyers who tested me to my core along the way. And both Fred and I continue to run into people who took his Radio 201 class at Michigan State, and have gone on to great careers, or the thousands of people we’ve met in the course of traipsing through radio stations. It’s a shared experience that’s hard to describe if you haven’t participated in it.
3. The Recognition. No, I’m not talking about awards, promotions or going backstage. I’m talking about the feeling you get when you’re at a restaurant, a party, or a business function and someone asks you what you do for a living. And you answer with your call letters. In just about every case, people light up, they want to talk about the morning show, the outrageous promotion you did 20 years ago, or bitch about the music. In what other line of work (except for perhaps sports) does that happen? At one point in our careers, when we got on a plane, we had to stop telling people we worked for WRIF because they’d want to talk for the entire flight. Instead, we told them we sold insurance or used cars. That shut them up quickly.
4. The Travel. Fred’s a 3 million miler on Delta. I’m at 1.6 million and climbing. We are away from our families many weeks a year, and yes, we have missed out on a few milestones. And there’s nothing like a day trip from Detroit to New York to remind you to work out more often. But if you gave us truth serum, we’d admit to you that, in fact, traveling to visit radio stations and the companies that own them is one of the best parts of what we do. In a time where we can listen to a station online and monitor their music through Mediabase, there simply is no substitute for being inside a radio station, saying hello to the midday jock, working a sales meeting, or moderating Listener Advisory Board groups and eating pizza at night.
I like to tell people I can “smell” whether a station is a winner or not in the first 15 minutes. Winning radio stations have a vibe, a bounce, a pulse. They’re noisy – people aren’t just sitting in cubicles mindlessly going through repetitive motion. I love walking into station restrooms where the music is blaring, and you can select your favorite station in the cluster. In great radio buildings, there are new things happening constantly, and no two days are the same. You can’t get that from a monitor or a stream, sitting in your office.
5. It’s Showbiz. OK, that might be a bit of hyperbole, but in fact, how many businesses have musical artists, newsmakers, or sport celebrities dropping in for a visit? How many jobs provide the chance to go backstage at a concert, sit in a suite at the local arena, or interact with the movers and shakers in your town? Where else can you create huge promotions or concerts, or create community forums? C’mon, you might not be working in Hollywood, but this isn’t too shabby.
6. Giving Back. Working in radio affords the opportunity to make a difference in your community. Blood drives, radiothons, or even a morning show helping raise funds for a child who needs a medical procedure, great local radio stations make their communities better. And those are the big ways. When there’s a tragedy in your market, become the conduit to help people get through it emotionally and financially. And during the good times – like a sport championship – radio gives voice to the community so everyone can come together and enjoy.
7. Christian and Public Radio. We started our careers in Rock radio, and thought rarely or not at all about Public or Christian radio. It seemed like they simply occupied a place on the dial nobody else wanted to be in. But over time, we came to truly appreciate the work being done in what feels like a “parallel universe” to radio. Yes, they are in the radio business, but everything is opposite – they are not-for-profit, mission focused entities.
Their employees sometimes work for lower pay but are enriched by the work they do. And they each make a huge difference in their own way. Is anyone providing the depth of local, national, or international news like Public Radio? And as we’ve learned from our Christian radio clients, their connection with their flock, and their impact on their audience would make everyone in commercial radio jealous. And no commercial stations can match their Public or Christian radio siblings when it comes to word of mouth and loyalty. Imagine a Rock, AC, or Sports Radio station passing the hat in order to financially survive.
8. We Love the Fight. MTV, online streaming, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify, iPods – they were all going to kill broadcast radio. Yet through it all, no “traditional” medium has survived as well as radio. And our competitors would kill to have radio’s reach, its tradition, its simplicity, and its habit-forming qualities.
We have something they want. Sure the radio industry has its challenges, and in some cases, has moved too slowly to respond to changing times, but here we are, it’s 2019, and we’re still entertaining and informing 100+ million people every day, and it’s not going to end soon. So, we’re ready for the next concept, platform, or gadget that’s going to kill radio. Bring it on.
9. We Don’t Want To Miss The Future. Readers of this blog know this quote is from Jerry Lee, sharing why he never misses a Consumer Electronics Show. We feel the same way about radio. When I got my first job as an account exec, it was a one-dimensional business – we broadcast audio, we sold commercials. That was about it. Look at what has happened, especially in the past two decades – audio streaming, social media, the connected car, podcasts, video, Alexa, mobile apps, and more have all changed our business and created significant new connection and marketing opportunities. And there’s no signs of this rapid change slowing down. Why would we want to miss this?
Fred often accuses me of being a “glass half-full” person (hey, I’m in sales) and he’s probably right. But despite the bankruptcies, layoffs, economic downturns, and other hurdles we face every day, radio is a story of recovery and reinvention, of friendships, and talented people, coming together to have fun and to make a difference.
So, why did we choose this field, and why are we still doing this?
I can’t think of a better way to make a living, and to achieve personal and professional fulfillment.
So that’s my answer to those that wonder why I still do this.
So, what’s YOUR excuse?
P.S. A sad shout-out to our friend, Bruce Reese. He was a great broadcaster and truly a great guy. We will miss him.