Left to my own devices, I’ll eventually pull the laptop out from under the bed and start writing. That’s what’s happening right now. It’s a Friday morning at 7:04am. I should be doing my radio show.
Instead, I’m sitting on the bed just thinking about things. Some of it’s not pretty. Some of it is. But in the end, I don’t want to face all of the things that I have to do today to “catch up.” Life sucks and then you die and in between there’s tons of radio.
Radio, actually, is filled with plenty of busywork. I have never fully come to peace with this part of the job. I want to create radio in terms of my own stuff that goes on the air. And certainly I have accepted the general nature of rebuilding a local icon.
But the paperwork? The proposals? Purchasing equipment? Hiring repair personnel and then supervising them? Filling out forms? Selling? Editing audio? In the end, I am trapped in the Now. And when you view the world from a single moment tagged together with another single moment, it’s hard to get motivated to develop a website or build a budget or fill out an application to enter a competition.
That’s where I’m at on a Friday morning in late September. It is setting up to be perhaps the hottest September 22nd on record, with temperatures in the mid 90s. My daughter’s home, and I should probably suggest to her that we blow everything off and go to the beach.
But she has a quiz on Tuesday and has a boyfriend who’s around a lot, so I’d give it a one in 20 chance that she’d be able to join me. I’d be laying on the beach by myself with a hairy back, and how creepy is that.
Radio is my own right now. I mean this in the sense that neither of my daughters nor my stepson have exhibited any desire to go into radio. And my wife, she’s a lawyer who is set to soon become a referee, which is another term for baby judge. There was a time when we were all immersed into the station. The girls mopped the floors. Alexis actually ran the radio for three years. For the past few years, in terms of family, it’s been mostly me being involved in radio.
And, now that I don’t do my show on Friday mornings, I get a little time to put it all in perspective. We have owned WJOB AM for more than 13 years. We also have an FM now that we just recently acquired. I wonder where to take it from here. That’s part of the reason that I don’t do the morning show on Fridays anymore. I just want to figure out a few things.
Like if I should be running the radio stations at all. That’s a valid question. When I really think about it – like right now sitting on the bed watching the sun throw a yellow background onto the shades – I come to a haunting conclusion that all that I really want to do in radio is do radio. Same thing with video. I just want to do them. I don’t necessarily want to manage.
Does that make any sense?
I’ll give you the three or four of you who read my blog an example from a parallel universe. I once was a trader. You know that. I traded in and around the pits of the Chicago Board of Trade for 18 years. It was my identity to lose all of my money every few years and to wear an oversized trading jacket stuffed with trading cards and candy wrappers. I loved to yell for money… for a while. Then I would come up with this great idea that I should start my own trading group.
That meant that I would hire men and women to trade on my own account. Sometimes it would be guys overnight, and sometimes it would be traders after the close of the floor trading. And sometimes it would be during the trading day. After I left the floor, I also took a job running a trading room for Kottke and Associates.
There are two worlds here. In one world, I would take the South Shore train to the city, walk down Van Buren Street in the bitter cold or sweltering heat, depending on the season, and I’d walk into the Board of Trade Building. I would stand at the big counter to snag my trading jacket, and then I would take the escalator up to the trading floor where there were already thousands of people waiting for the opening bell to ring.
That bell would ring and I would trade for about seven hours. Sometimes in the middle of the day I would go get a massage or go eat a big, greasy breakfast. Sometimes I would even go have a couple of beers at lunch and come back and trade. At 2pm, the first of several trading bells would ring to mark the close of the regular trading day. Sometimes I would continue trading on the computer. Sometimes I would even extend it to the night trading session and wind up taking the 9pm train back to the Region.
Either way, no matter what my departure time, I would be on my own. I would make my own decisions about what contracts to buy or sell, where to eat lunch, how many beers to drink, and whether or not to leave my positions on overnight or close them out before I headed to the train.
It was a pretty good life, except for the two times I had to take the train home and tell Alexis that we had lost all of our money. That wasn’t much fun. Although, in a weird way, it felt real and sublime. It was as if by losing all of our money I could see the true nature of things. It wasn’t such an experience of creativity when Alexis would ask for money to go buy the baby’s formula… and I wouldn’t have any in my pocket. But you learn to deal with things like these. You go back to work rebuilding. That’s just how it goes.
Through all of this version of My Trading Life, it was mostly just me. I had a clerk or two to process my trading cards and to calculate my position. But that was about it. They made a salary, but mostly I just handed them a wad of cash at the end of the week. It was a pretty simple, almost agrarian, existence.
Then there was the other side that I mention above. That’s when I would hire traders to watch my positions and to initiate their own positions. More than once and less than five times, I built my trading operation up to half a dozen or more traders and some support personnel.
That would work for a while, and then one day I would get tired of that and I would fire everyone. I didn’t like the growth nature of what I was building. I could hear the call to trade, but I couldn’t hear anything when it came to building a firm to trade. I just wanted to trade myself and not oversee anyone else doing it.
It took a long time to learn this. My partner off and on for this trading life was a guy named John Hletko. He lives in northern Wisconsin, where he’s from. He’s about 6-foot-five and well over 300 pounds. At least he was then. He didn’t play football, if you can believe that. He played hockey. Doesn’t everyone from Eagle River-Monacqua?
Big John, I called him, would shake his head and lay some reality on me every time that I would pare down my operation down to just me… or me and him and a couple of clerks.
“Face it. You don’t want a bunch of people around you. You just want to trade,” Big John would tell me.
Now, fast forward, and ask the same questions – what is it that I want out of radio?
First and foremost, the three of you recognize that I take it as my personal responsibility to steward the spirit that is WJOB. It is a real spirit. It’s been going on since 1923 or 1924, we don’t know which. It, WJOB, is one true thing for an area that has more industry and corruption per square foot than perhaps any other area in America.
But it is our industry and our corruption. And it our Lakefront and our huge highways and railyards. We get our media and identity from Chicago. We get our government from Indianapolis. We have very little that is our own. WJOB is our own.
I feel that strongly about this. WJOB represents our Calumet Region as well as anything that the three or four of you can think of. And there have been times when Alexis and I have taken this aging icon and carried it on our backs. Don’t mention the recession. Don’t mention the early days of blundering and stumbles. Don’t mention the huge financial losses and the slow, deliberate rebuild to at least a modicum of prosperity.
It’s been a tough road. But here we are. The WJOB spirit lives on. The question from here is – what should my role be in perpetuating it?
And when I sit at home on these Friday mornings, I ponder this question. And since this is a blog for the three or four of you now… and for broadcasting students ten years from now, I gotta share with you that I don’t quite know the answer to this.
And here’s why. I get the sneaking feeling that I’m circling back to the point where I was several times as a trader – I just want to trade. In this case, I just want to do radio.
Where does that leave WJOB?
Don’t take the parallel too far. Back then, I would fire almost all of my traders and support personnel just so I could trade. I am not there. I don’t feel any desire to do a similar purge at the radio station. WJOB must soldier on. And if it takes me carrying it on my back, so be it.
What I do sense is a growing desire not just to save WJOB, but to work on saving radio. I feel a growing desire to create my own stuff… not to supervise others in the creating of their stuff.
Does this make any sense to the three or four of you? In other words, I want to:
There’s 15,330 radio stations in America. They are under-utilized and, I think, undervalued. There are secrets out there that nobody is telling. There are ways to use the towers to bring us closer together. What are those ways?
That’s a pretty big topic. I don’t pretend to have any of these answers for radio in America. What I do feel, though, is that I would like to explore solutions for my two radios stations right here in the Calumet Region of Indiana and Illinois, just to the south of Chicago. We are on a college campus – an engineering school, at that – and I have a lot of resources at my disposal. We have a loyal bunch that will follow me just about anywhere I want to take the stations, and, believe me, I have taken the stations in some bad directions.
Remember “wimmins only” radio. Yikes. And music radio? And sports radio?
For some reason, the Region lets me experiment. So experiment. And for some reason, the Region listens to me in the morning and whenever else I go on the radio or Facebook Live. We have an audience. We have a university. We have all sorts of broadcast equipment, and we have an incredibly creative bunch of people working for or associated with WJOB and a lot of creative listeners, including the three or four of you.
So what am I waiting for?
The conundrum is that to keep the radio station motor humming, I have to work about 50 hours a week. That’s the number. It’s a number that leaves little time for research and development. It’s the number that I want to lower. That’s the solution. I just thought of it. Take the number down to 30 and I would be left with some time to tinker with radio, or media, or social media, or streaming video, or whatever.
Thanks for listening to me babble on this Friday morning. Right now it’s 7:54am. Dave Kusiak has just finished doing my show, with the help of Ryan Walsh and Jimmy Mullaney, and Hammond mayor Tom McDeermott and attorney Kevin Smith have come into the studio. If I reached onto the nightstand and turned on WJOB, I would hear the mayor and Kevin doing their “News you can use” segment. That’s how regular radio is. You know what’s coming.
What happens a lot is that I write and write and write and then at the end I come to some sort of conclusion about what the next step should be. That’s what this is, this writing of 2500 words. It’s a figuring out of things. I want to create my own stuff, my own radio, my own videos, my own blog, my own radio inventions. I am moving away from wanting to supervise the radio stations every day. These are things that I figured out just by writing to the three or four of you for 45 minutes. Thanks for listening.