"In case I sleep in, wake me before nine to watch Chuck."
It's this ritual we have - whether our daughters are in town or not - and that it is to watch "Meet the Press" with Chuck Todd. And then at 10am we switch over to George Stephanopolus on ABC. We establish the rhythm for our week by starting with Chuck at nine, George at ten.
These early morning hours alone give me time to think, and the three or four of you who read this blog know exactly where my thoughts drift - to radio. I try to be open and candid in this blog about how I think about and what I've done in radio. I hope the three or four of you feel that way. In the blog entry below, I outline my dilemma in trying to determine how to brand the new WJOB, with all of the Facebook Live and podcasting that we're doing, without losing the base of the old WJOB.
In the end, I reason, it's all radio. But is it?
I romanticize radio. The three or four of you know that. I visited WJOB as a Webelo and looked through the window at the man talking into the microphone. And then, because my dad knew someone at the station, a producer called my name and brought me into the studio to talk into a microphone. I froze, for sure, but the moment had a profound effect on me. I just couldn't get over that it was that man in the white shirt and a clip-on tie who talked with headphones on... I couldn't comprehend that he spoke and my mom and dad and I and my brothers and sisters listened to him in the morning when we were getting ready for school.
And then I picked up a job right after Berkeley working as the Business-Labor Editor at WJOB, and also a sports announcer. I would have kept doing it indefinitely if it wasn't for the action of the city calling me... and a gal that I was dating who needed finer things than a minimum wage newsroom job could deliver.
I forgot my destiny for a good 20 years. I worked at a public relations firm downtown and then one day on lunch, I walked into the visitors gallery at the Chicago Board of Trade. I further forgot my destiny as I traded bonds and notes for the next 18 years.
For the last 13 years, my wife Alexis and I have owned WJOB. I've reached my destiny - at least part of it. I do the morning show every morning now for 10 years. We broadcast high school and local college games and a bunch of other local people come on the air too. It's a true community of people on the air in their cars who come together to carry along something that really is beautiful. Local radio.
But to be further candid, I sense that there is another part to this destiny. Let's be straight about my experience at the Chicago Board of Trade. Believe me, I liked making the money. I loved the action, the yelling and screaming. Heck, I even liked, in a warped way, losing all of my money twice... just so I could shoulder my way back into the game and do it again. It wasn't necessarily fun. For the three or four of you I'll call it "all absorbing." I felt that I had a purpose. And that was making money and living on the edge.
At some point, however, it hit me that I didn't like what I had become. I went from a Berkeley hippie type to a cut-throat trader in the span of a few years. And I stayed as that trader long after I started to notice that I didn't like what I had become - a money-grubbing asshole.
So when I came to radio, I vowed to leave that money-grubbing asshole part of me behind. It didn't take long to realize that in radio you can really do some good in your community - as long as you didn't do it as a money-grubbing asshole. The two don't go together.
Money-grubbing asshole = Radio do-gooder. Not.
In the back of my mind - and this is gonna sound stupid unless you take it in the context of money-grubbing asshole - it's as if I didn't want to make the struggle for legal tender to be the primary thing in doing radio. I wanted something more. What that was, or is, is a bit nebulous. But what it isn't is clear to me. Radio is not a path to riches. At least not directly.
Now let's pause, the three or four of you - and me, and let's reflect what happens sometimes when I write in this blog. It's not solely to record what it's like to be a radio guy so that future studiers of media can have a historical document to refer to. It's not solely so that the three or four can have something to look forward to every few days. There's something else that happens as I type and type and type... after a while things start to become clear to me. I figure stuff out just by writing it to the three or four of you. I hope that's okay.
And partly by writing it out, I'm starting to figure out a couple of things.
- 1. After 13 years of recovering from trading, I'm finally ready to make making money one of the top three priorities of doing radio.
- 2. I'm not sure that what I'm doing anymore is radio at all.
Let's take the first - time to make some money. For 13 years, every dollar we have made I reinvested into WJOB. The three or four of you really don't want to know about all of the dark, dead end alleys I have taken these radio stations and these radio people down... only to find out that we were in a dark, dead end alley. This is hard to admit, but a part of me has still been trading. Picture it this way - every time we make a little money, I put it on the line for the next... bet. Yes. That's what it's like. I'm sitting at the black jack table and every time I win a big hand, I bet all of the winnings on the next hand. Until eventually I lose. I still have money in my wallet and can pay for a cab back to the hotel. But I also had a chance to take some money off of the table.
I realize that making money hasn't really been the overriding goal at all. Making something beautiful is. Something that is good for the Calumet Region and is beautiful. And in a warped sense, if I were to make a bunch of money at doing radio, I would be turning into my old self, the money-grubbing asshole. Remember him?
There is a realization point going on, though. I realize that to create some truly innovative products that could change the nature of radio - and even local media - around here, I have to gather up some chips on the table and take them off. There's no other way around it. That's a roundabout way of saying that after 13 years of doing radio, I wanna make some money. Just hope that doesn't turn the now me into the old me.
2. The more I lay on the couch thinking about it.. and the more I write it out to the three or four of you... I start to suspect that what we're doing with all of this Facebook Live and podcasting and any other experimenting that we might do isn't radio at all. It's something else. Maybe it's this concept of a "JEDcast," or maybe it's just the natural evolution away from radio.
Most nights, I listen to old Jean Shepherd shows on WOR from the 1960s. That was Jean Shepherd from Hammond talking about traditions and places from a Hammond of a bygone era, but it was still Hammond and I know that Hammond. And it was radio. And Jean was one of the first to understand the power of just talking on the radio, of transferring what was in your head to airwaves that could stimulate the mechanisms in the human ear and that the whole cycle was beautiful....
And not to be messed with. There's a part of me that wants to back off from Facebook Live videos and podcasting because I would be messing with the fundamentals of radio. I would be getting away from what makes it beautiful, pure and romantic. That's my hesitation. That's my dilemma. That's my realization - that in my next phase of living My Radio Life, I may be an impostor. I may be forsaking the media that got me to where I am and that is beautiful and pure. I may be a traitor.
That may make sense to the three or four of you. You follow me in part because you love radio. There's no other reason to suffer through my ramblings. But to the casual listener, this may not make sense. The casual listener and casual reader of this blog may say - "Big deal. Life changes. One day it's newspapers, the next it's radio. One day it's radio, the next it's television. One day it's TV, the next it's the internet. Just roll with it, JED. Stop being so delusional about radio."
I get that. But to circle around... I really want to accept - and know that I must to move forward - two things.
1. If I make some money, that doesn't mean that I'm turning into my old asshole self.
2. If I create something that isn't true to the tradition of radio, then I'm not destroying radio and I'm not a traitor.
Thanks for suffering through another therapy session. It's 8:54am. Time to wake Alexis for Chuck and George.