You don't have to hit me over the head with a hammer before I get the message.
Or do you?
I just got back from a quick trip to Pittsburgh for the Thrival festival. This is a celebration of innovation and music for six days. I went for one day. Mont Handley, the director of the Purdue Northwest Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center, and I are trying to figure out if we want to hold a similar event in the Center on Indianapolis Blvd. Lotta work. Lotta work. But in the end it could attract attention for the center and eventually we could turn Gary, Hammond, East Chicago from a steel town into a venture capital town.
So I went on a scouting trip to Pittsburgh... and was entirely impressed. Talked with Bobby Zappala, CEO of The Thrill Mill, which runs the festival, and heard some amazing panel discussions like that of the guy who developed this mass music app called CEEMI. Try it.
I was on the fence about going to Pittsburgh for the festival... until I saw that on Tuesday there was panel discussion called "Radio Resurgence: The rapid rise of podcast communities." Glad I went.
The panel was hosted by Knowledge Hudson, Marta Mazzoni and Aaron Watson. They're all Pittsburgh people and they all have their independent podcast. Here's a few things I learned:
1. the average age of a podcast listener is 30. It's 45 for AM/FM radio. And 57 for broadcast TV news.
2. there's a company called Libsyn that is easy to use and with good customer service will guide you through the whole podcasting process.
3. that iTunes accounts for more than 90% of podcast listening.
4. that you have to host your podcast somewhere else - like at Libsyn, podbean, soundcloud, etc. - and that iTunes just lists your episode and acts as a clearinghouse. iTunes connects people to your podcast but it doesn't host it.
5. for iTunes to find your podcast, you have to give it an RSS feed.
6. it's best to do a podcast regularly, even use scheduled posts to do it.
There's a lot more in here, but in the end I got some of the answers that I needed. Let's review where I'm at right now with all of the shit I produce.
1. I do a morning show on AM 1230 WJOB in Hammond, Indiana, which you can hear from Valparaiso to Chicago.
2. My morning show, as of June, is also on 104.7 FM, which has a smaller yet higher fidelity of a footprint.
3. Replays of my morning show play in the evening and weekends. We call them "Region Flashbacks."
4. From the last conference that I went to - Streaming Media East in New York City - I found out that Facebook was coming out with this new feature called "Facebook Live." I started doing it in June and since then we have hundreds of thousands of views of our Live videos.... maybe even a million soon. That's a lot of views. Part of the reason for so many views, I think, is that if you're decent at live radio, there's a good chance you'll be decent at Facebook Live video. It's one of those things that you can try to explain or you can just deal with the reality.... like with migraines.
5. With Facebook Live, sometimes we stream portions of the mornings show... and sometimes I just go out into the community and do somewhat serious interviews or just screw around. On Saturday I did a Facebook Live video with my nephew Jack at Target when he tries to tell me how not to smell by using and Axe three step process. That kind of stuff.
5. I write this blog that only the three or four of you read.
6. I keep a Twitter page that I read all the time but rarely post to... Sometimes the producers in the morning post to it, but I don't.
7. Producer Ryan edits my show into ten minute or so segments and plays them as Region Flashbacks on AM and FM, as mentioned, and also posts those cuts on podbean previously and now Soundcloud.
8. In the past, I did a ton of youtube videos that are still up there but doing nothing.
9. In the past, I took pictures every day in the WJOB studio and posted those photos to smug mug. No one looks at them.
10. I announce football and basketball games on AM and now FM.
If you think about it, I do a lot of stuff... but the most success we've had is with
So where from here? I get the feeling that I'm missing something. That's why I keep going to these conferences to figure something out.. only I don't know what the problem that I'm supposed to solve is. I ride my bike to the radio station that my wife and I own to do a radio show that blasts to much of the Chicago area. I am a minor local celebrity and we make just enough money to somehow keep doing traditional radio and, I hope, helping our community on both sides of the state line.
But where from here? I would have never thought it possible, but after getting that tip at the Streaming Media Conference in the Spring, I have taken to Facebook Live. I like doing the videos. I like screwing around in front of the camera, and I like telling the story of what it's like to live local radio.
And in June also, through the revitalization plan, we obtained a second radio station. And in November, 2015, we opened brand new studios on the campus of the Purdue Commercialization Center (hence the scouting trip to Pittsburgh). It's a lot happening. Good, solid growth. But I still feel like I'm missing something. No shit.
What is it? A few months ago, the CEO of Strack & Van Til grocery stores came to me and wanted to do something big... meaning he wanted to spend some significant resources to advertise with WJOB... with an emphasis on my morning show. For several months, I didn't even get back to him with a proposal in that I don't really have the confidence that we as the little radio station(s) that could even have something really that big to offer a regional grocery chain. Strack's has like 38 stores in Indiana and Illinois.
I know. It's ridiculous that I wouldn't come up with a plan to accommodate Jeff Strack and his grocery stores... and I wouldn't let station manager Debbie Wargo do it either. I just wasn't sure.
Ultimately, we sold them studio naming rights. They're the Strack & Van Til studios. You can see their sign behind the people I interview on Facebook Live.... and you really can't go more than 20 minutes listening to WJOB AM or 104.7 FM without hearing about how great Strack & Van Til is.
It's a good fit. And it's something that Jeff Strack, and his marketing guy Rich Taylor, advocated for... and I'm only a little embarrassed that it took me six months to get back to them with a solid proposal.
Because I'm trying to figure something out. And I think it's something that Jeff and the three big unions that support me - the Ironworkers, the Laborers and the Electricians - and that many other sponsors may have figured out -
That we make a local connection with local people that you can't get anywhere else. I know that doesn't sound like groundbreaking discovery to the three or four of you... but to me it is. WJOB, the 93-year-old AM station, and now the brand new FM station, we talk about local stuff all day. We're kinda quirky and not always the most professional station around, but we mirror our local steel-based economy and our local gritty people. Local radio makes a connection with local people.
But why the success with the Facebook Live video? Every week or so we do a video that hits four or five thousand views, with the rest each gaining several hundred. Why? Are we that talented?
No. I'm starting to understand that this area of Illinois and Indiana, between Chicago and our downstate powers, is starved for local video. We don't have a local commercial TV station. We're adrift. Chicago could give two shits about us unless there's a news story. Indianapolis could give two shits about us period.
So to the three or four of you... I thank you for allowing me to write this shit out into a blog. My planning sessions have for 37 years been this: I write and write until I figure something out. It's a therapy of sorts, and a planning session, and a purging, and a quest. Sometimes if I write long enough and hard enough into a journal or on a napkin or into one of these blogs... my way starts to appear. I envy you if you're one of those people who can make a list in the morning or at the beginning of the year and then just complete the list. Me... not only do I not have a list, I don't even have a pencil. I wait. And if The Way reveals itself, then so be it. If not, I'll drift... for a long time.
I wait for the little birdie to tap me on the shoulder and say - "here, this way." I don't know when the little birdie's gonna appear, but in a weird way I can sense sometimes that it's out there and may appear soon. That's where I'm at right now.
I do live radio shows. I announce games. I do live Facebook Live videos. And I just got back from a conference where I learned enough to get me started doing podcasts direct to the internet. What does all of this lead up to?
A lotta stuff created. Just like this blog right here, right now. Just like all the photos I take and post. Just like the new show "Dead Air" that Lane Paradis and I are doing about the Grateful Dead. I create and I create and I create. But where is it leading?
Let's ask the question more precisely - how can you sell this disparate band of creativity? Who will buy it?
Think back to Jeff Strack and Rich Taylor. They basically had to convince me that there is something greater than the sum of the parts that is happening. We - Harlow, Rick, Panek, Ryan, Verlie, Alexis, Geno, Debbie, etc. - we are making a connection with local people that is real and is, dare we say it, authentic.
We are authentic. We live local lives and talk local stuff. So where from here? More specifically, where do I go from here?
Something sticks out in my head from the panel yesterday in Pittsburgh. Marta Mazzoni told the story that she went to a shoe supplier called Xero Shoes and asked if she could be their "brand spokesperson" on her podcasts. The story goes that Marta googled "minimalistic shoes" and Xero Shoes popped up and she bought a pair and that began the relationship.
It's not the story that sticks out, however. It's the term. "Brand spokesperson." Marta convinced Xero Shoes to let them be one of their "brand spokespersons."
Light bulb. That's what I am and some of the others at WJOB are for Strack & Van Til. We are "brand spokespersons." And this gives me hope that there's an idea out there moving forward.
Basically, I just create shit that I want to create. It's a method I've used since I started writing these journals when I was 17 ( don't worry, 99% are lost) and it's a method I used when I made and lost and made and lost a shit ton of money trading in the pits of the Chicago Board of Trade. Whereas some traders had a plan for the day, I had an anti-plan for the day. I wasn't going to put trades on unless the little birdie tapped me on the shoulder and said I should. Sometimes the birdie was wrong and twice we lost all of our money. Thank god for hail storms.
Anyways, I create stuff I want to create. And it's all over the map... but maybe there's something in this haphazard array of writings, radio, photos, video, websites, Facebook, twitter, podcasts, flashbacks, sports announcing, etc. Maybe there's a - dare I say it - a "brand."
Me as a brand? How freaking arrogant and self-centered is that? I live in the Midwest. If you live in California or New York, then you're
A. not reading this blog with the three or four others
B. are asking "what's the big deal? You're a brand, JED."
But remember. I grew up - along with Jeff Strack and Harlow and Debbie and Geno and Rick and Alexis and Kat and the rest of our ragtag group - in the Midwest. One of the things you're not supposed to do, besides pick your nose at a stoplight, is to bring attention to yourself. Put it this way: one look at Donald Trump and you know he did not grow up in the Midwest. We could never have produced a self-promoter like that. Never.
Anyways... what if I am a brand? What if I am already a brand spokesperson for Strack's, the laborers, for Arcelor Mittal which finally signed up the other day. My longtime confidante Dave Kusiak came in the studio the other day and said.
"Do you remember all those long days, long years, of trying to make it? Do you?"
"Where are you going with this?"
"Well, you finally made it."
"Why do say that?"
"Because when Arcelor Mittal comes to you to advertise, you've made it."
I don't think of it that way. I know also what the three or four of you are thinking - "wow, JED, you must be making a shit ton of money right now, with Strack's and Arcelor and BW3 and all that."
Put it this way - in the past year we
1. built brand new studios at Purdue
2.bought another radio station
3. just installed a new roof on our old station
4. wasted a ton of money on all of the gadgets that I buy all the time.
We're starting to dig ourselves out. It's a good feeling, don't get me wrong, but you never dig fast enough and you always feel like you're on the edge of a mountain and one wrong slip and you're a tumbleweed.
This is as far as we go with this rambling blog post... and I'm either closer or farther from the little birdie appearing on my shoulder. Rewind to the beginning of today's psychobabble - "you don't have to hit me over the head with a hammer..."
Or maybe you do. Maybe you do.