You gotta wonder where radio is really headed.
The whole purpose of this blog is to chronicle its death, which, if the three or four of you ever stop to think about it, is kind of morbid. Have you ever read a story or watched a movie in which the narrator has as a stated purpose to chronicle his or her own death?
Typically, when you’re dying, there’s a lot of pain. And since you are heading into the unknown, you want some privacy. You might even be a little embarrassed.
But why? Is it really death that you’re doing… or are you just transitioning to another phase?
That's more accurate. I’m not only writing this for the three or four of you to chronicle the death of radio – I’m writing it to capture my own personal metamorphosis into a new phase.
But what will that phase look like?
I struggle with this. To me, whatever I turn myself into has to be a balance. It has to be part whatever the market wants me to be, and part what I’m passionate about. That’s been the tradeoff my whole professional life. I somehow hearken back to the ideas of the 60s, perpetuated by a stay in Berkeley. It is the idea hat you should not only strive to support yourself and your family, but you should do so with a purpose that is part helping others and part personal fulfillment.
That’s a lot for one career to satisfy. So as I look forward to what radio should become for me, my mission is not as clear to me as I would hope it to be. I am truly headed into the unknown.
There’s radio of course. I own AM 1230 WJOB in Hammond, Indiana, and I can tell you this – when I write that down on the computer for the three or four of you, I am proud of this. I feel as if I am the steward of a radio spirit that has been a guide for generations for this gritty people spawned from steel mills and refineries. In a world of twisting eddies of fate, I have become the gatekeeper of the WJOB spirit.
It’s a huge responsibility. There are people who listen to me in the morning and who listen to the other shows throughout the day who have been doing so for generations. Their parents listened, and so did their parents, and so on. When something bad or big happens in the Region, they instinctively tune into 1230 AM. When they’re driving around on a Friday night in the Fall, they know that they can tune into AM 1230 to listen to a local high school football game.
Local Region Rats also expect that I, or whoever is talking in the morning or afternoon, will accept the Region as they accept it. We have our faults. We are a corrupt people. Rather, we accept corruption in our government. It’s a way of life since Dillinger walked around East Chicago openly while being in the rest of the country.
And we don’t accept change well. Part of that has to do with our economy, soon after the turn of the century – the other turn of the century, the one that started the 1900s – was built on steel mills and oil refineries…
And has stayed that way ever since. Just as there are people driving around every morning or sitting in their kitchens who have listened to WJOB for generations, there are people whose dad worked in the mill… and his dad… and maybe even his dad.
That’s what the WJOB spirit represents. It’s more than just a heritage radio station that started in 1923 or 1924 (we can’t determine which, and does it really matter?) WJOB is a spirit that has been here for generations. A spirit of gutsy talk about local matters, coverage of catastrophes – the Standard Oil explosion of 1956, the flood of 2008 – and high school sports, parades, festivals, indictments, groundbreakings, traffic.
So, in our transition to the unknown (it’s not just me making the journey. The three or four of you are right there with me), we must remember that it is part of our mission to safeguard the WJOB spirit that is pure and beautiful. That’s really how I feel. It’s not a wisecrack about WJOB. I am sincere in saying that the WJOB spirit is pure and beautiful.
But where from here?
As many of you know, we have burst onto the scene of Facebook Live video and that it has changed everything. We’ve have over two million Facebook Live views since we started doing it a little over a year ago. That’s a lot of people consuming our content on the internet.
It’s also been a lot of investment to present the video in a reasonably professional way. We Facebook Live (and Twitter video live now also) my show every morning. We Facebook Live the many shows that are part of the Community Programming Initiative. These are the shows that come after me starting around 8am. People in the community pay to be on for these. There’s about 27 groups that do this.
And we’re starting to Facebook Live a bunch of sports. This week, WJOB sports department guys Ryan Walsh and Sam Michel announced, of all things, a soccer match on Facebook Live. It was of the Purdue Northwest women’s soccer program. Tonight, we’ll do a dual broadcast in which we Facebook Live Munster at Highland in high school football. And we’ll play the audio of that video on AM 1230 and 104.7 FM.
Facebook Live and what it does for radio is certainly part of the journey into the unknown. The three or four of you and the entire world understand that Facebook Live has changed everything, for better or worse. We’re making as many and as strong of connections right now as we have in the 13 years that we have owned the spirit known as WJOB. We make the connections on AM, on the new FM station, on Facebook, on Twitter, on the stream of WJOB on the TuneIn app.
The challenge is, though, that the revenue to support these new forays into the unknown doesn’t catch up to how much it costs to develop the new media. At least not yet. That’s a challenge that everyone who works in the media faces.
You invest in new media because that’s where people are going… but the revenue doesn’t come right away. You gotta wait it out, and you’re not even sure that it’s gonna come at all.
That’s where I’m at with new media. We have invested heavily in robotic cameras, complex video switchers, long distance cameras, wireless lights, podcast subscriptions, website development, and so on. The investment has helped us make more connections with local people, but the revenue doesn’t keep pace with what I spend on it.
It’s not a huge gap, especially of late. I’ve come up with this way of saying on the air and to potential sponsors – hey, we want to buy this new system. You’re part of the Region community, why don’t you buy it for us?
That has worked well over the summer since I started doing it. And we’ve spent a lot of money over the summer to upgrade our digital equipment. We are ready and prepared if and when the onslaught of revenue from digital broadcasting arrives. And it will.
Part of it right now is that I have to get out and tell our story. I can’t ask potential check-writers to read this blog along with the three or four of you to get an idea of how they can reach a ton of people using us.
No. I have to get out on the street and knock on doors and tell our story to people who make the decisions on how to spend their advertising dollars. It’s something that I have not done yet. We really do have PMS – the Passive Marketing System. We simply deliver the best content that we can on a number of different platforms and then wait for people to support it. It’s a ludicrous business model and one that I’m proud of. It means that our shit is so good that people come to us to pay for it.
So let’s look, the five of us, back to what I said a thousand words ago – that I’m old school Berkeley and that I look to be two things:
But what is it that I want?
That’s gotta be part of the discussion for the three or four of you. It’s what this blog is partly about. You invest some of your time to read about my travels through the world of local media. I try to be as open as possible about the journey.
And in the spirit of showing you my back hairs, I’m struggling these days with where I should personally head. It’s partly why, at 4:33 am I’m not preparing to do a radio show. I’m taking off a Friday here and there so I can work on one thing – direction.
It’s important, once in a while, to set aside some time to plot the course. A ship’s captain should do this. So should a CEO and a single mom. If you don’t have at least some semblance of a plan, then you are lost at sea… which I have been many times and, to be frank, kind of like.
But I am the steward of the WJOB spirit. I can’t let it drift at sea.
I’ve always been pretty good at writing out my possibilities. After tens of thousands of words, maybe more, what path I should take somehow becomes a little clearer to me. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m journaling it out so that I can figure out where I should be head. And the three or four of you are coming along for the ride. I gotta figure out:
Let’s take the latter. What do I want?
I love doing the radio show in the morning. It is, in the vernacular of motivational speakers, my “legend.” When I come around the corner on my bike at 5:15 in the morning to the lights of the Borman and, in the summer, the beginning of a sunrise, I know that I am where I am supposed to be – on my way to talk on WJOB.
And the three or four of you know that I love the shift into new technologies. If you follow this blog long enough, you’ll know that I have once in my life been pushed out of an industry partly because I didn’t accept new technologies. That won’t happen again. I embrace fully the shift from traditional radio to Facebook Live and other platforms for distribution. Besides, I like gadgets.
I accept what the market wants me to be (or at least how I perceive what it wants) and that is to
But what do I want? What’s the second part? What’s the balance?
And it is this that I’m trying to define. I have no idea how the three or four of you make decisions and strategize about your career, but for it’s been like going for a hike in the desert. You walk through the valleys and you kind of know where you’re going, but every once in a while you climb up a hill or a mountain and you get this aha moment – oh, that’s where I’ve been and this is probably the direction I should head next.
Sometimes you just naturally come to a bluff, and sometimes you gotta scale a rock to get up there. But either way, once in a while you gotta take stock of where you’re at so you can know where to go next.
That’s where I am right now. How do I balance what the market wants me to be and what I want to be?
The second part of that question is difficult to answer for the three or four of you. I embrace radio and WJOB and new technology… but something else is calling me. It’s a faint whisper over my shoulder, and I can’t make out what it is saying. There’s a light there, a reason for shifting my gaze and my path, but for the life of me I can’t make it out. It’s a presence that’s not fully formed.
I know from sensing the presence of an alternate purpose in the past that I gotta give some definition to this presence. To use the vernacular of guys who wear Bears jerseys to work – it’s how I roll. I’ll be going along in whatever I’m doing for weeks, months, years, a decade even, and then it’s as if a little birdie taps me on the shoulder –
“Hey, you’re missing something. What you’re looking for is over here.”
But there’s no pointing where “over here” is. There’s not even anything to look at, no sound or smell or something to touch. No clues. Just a sense that there is something that I need to accept and pursue. But what is it?
That’s where I’m at right now. And I apologize to the two of you who are gonna miss me on the morning show in 39 minutes. I won’t be there. I have to figure out what the little birdie is saying.
That’ll be difficult, thougn, in that even though I’m not hosting the morning show, I still have a ton of stuff to do. It really is getting to the breaking point where I almost cannot wake up at 4am every day to do the morning show on WJOB and still run WJOB and the new technology. I’m also going back to school, as you know. And I got a wife and some kids and a lawn that’s gotta be mowed.
Today, I thought that maybe just maybe I would get some time go through accounts payable and receivable and work on a marketing brochure, but here’s my radio day.
8:30am – Go to White Hawk Country Club in Crown Point (40 minutes away) for the Hard Hat Golf Outing. It’s when local construction unions get together with contractors and duff around a golf course. I bought a hole sponsorship and I’ll go out there to slap some backs with union guys. I would love to play in this, mainly because I feel at home among union guys with strong handshakes… but, well, you’ll see.
11:30am – Dynasty Banquet Hall, Hammond, Indiana. It’s a good 45 minutes away from White Hawk. I gotta be there because my wife of 26 years is getting an award from the Southlake Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It’s for executive leadership. US Senator Todd Young is keynote speaker for the luncheon and award presentation. I will, of course, have a couple of beers at the Hard Hat outing… just enough so that when I interview the senator I’ll blow a little beer breath in his face. That always keeps them on their toes, especially if it’s before noon.
2pm – I may get a chance to stop at the WJOB Strack & Van Til studios to check on things, but only for a few minutes. There’s places to go and people to meet.
“I’m late. I’m late. For a very important date.”
3pm – Portage, Indiana. I’m scheduled to attend a meeting of community leaders with Purdue Northwest chancellor Tom Keon. This will be a challenging drive in that the meeting place is the NIRPC building right off of 80-94, which is under construction and has been experiencing up to an hour of delay on Friday afternoons. Back roads.
I don’t know what there is in the evening. I am, after 2673 words, too tired to find my phone and check my calendar. But there is something tonight.
Somewhere in this busy day I would like to work out and study for Monday’s Accounting quiz.
“Most men live lives of quiet desperation, frittered away by detail.”
I still haven’t really opened up to the three or four of you what it is that is bothering me about where I’m at and what it is that I think I should change to more closely align with “what I want to be.” I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
For now, I’m gonna go ride my bike in the dark. See ya.