There’s this thing that happens once you get your fingers around the microphone. It’s a sickness, an affliction.
You can’t let go. You somehow become attached to the microphone and when you don’t have it in your hand, you ache for it. When someone takes it away, you hate that person. When you go silent, you feel empty inside.
The choice is to have Sam Michel host the Friday morning show today for us, all of us. He’s 24 years old. This is pretty young to be a host on the WJOB morning show. Typically, it’s someone with a lot more life experience to draw on. Typically, when I’m not sitting there, it’s Dave Kusiak or Verlie Suggs or Tom Dabertin or Chuck Pullen or Andy Qunell or a few others. They all have significant life experience to draw on. Sam does not.
But there is some strategy here. Ryan and I found Sam when he came through on a Purdue broadcasting course that I was helping to teach in our WJOB studios. You could tell right off the microphone that he was the best announcer in the class. I pressed him for what he ultimately wanted to do in broadcasting.
“I want to do play-by-play for the St. Louis Cardinals.”
Now I know what the three or four of you are thinking – “how in the hell could you give up the microphone to a St. Louis Cardinals fan, JED?”
I know. I know. I’m asking myself that question right now at 5:20 in the morning. It’s not too late to put on a pair of pants and drive down to the station and stop this atrocity from happening.
But I’m not gonna do that. And part of it is strategy that Ryan keeps reminding of. I pretty much live to host the morning show on WJOB. I’ll give you that. The three or four of you know how much it means to me, how much you mean to me. It’s a special situation – there’s this magical local radio station that occupies a place of warmth and comfort for this steel mill-driven Region, and I get to drive it. It’s an honor, really, besides being a ton of fun.
We have to, though, prepare for the future. We do that every day with our push into technology. No. That’s the wrong way of putting it. We prepare for the future every day by accepting the rush of technology coming our way. You know when you go to the carnival and they have these rubber duckies going around in the water on an oval track.
We’re the rubber duckies. We just get carried along by the current. We accept our fate, which is that media itself is changing rapidly because of technology. We let WJOB change. That’s all we do.
On this note, I ran in yesterday to Mike Clark, the deputy sports editor of the suburban papers for the Chicago Tribune. Mike used to be the sports editor at The Times here in Munster. As the three or four of you may or may not know, I wrote Sports for the Times between 1999 and 2004. Mike taught me a lot about the newspaper business. So much so that I wound up buying the 85,000 circ local weekly and running that for two and a half years. But that’s another blog for Another Thousand Words.
“How’s the radio business?” Clark asked.
“Okay. How about you? What you up to these days?”
Clark told me that he’s in charge of assigning reporters for a string of newspapers in the Tribune chain, among other duties. As he was sitting there in Panera, I believe that he was working on a budget.
“I gotta drive to the city in a little bit for a budget meeting.”
This is something I never understood with Mike Clark. When I was writing for The Times and I’d call Clark on a Friday to discuss where he was sending me that weekend, a lotta times the person answering the phone would say – “he’s in a budget meeting.”
What the hell is that? And why do they have them so often? And why in the hell was Mike Clark working on a budget on his laptop in middle of Panera on a Thursday afternoon that was actually sunny?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions because in the two and a half years that I owned and ran The Calumet Press, I never had a budget meeting. I wouldn’t even know how to conduct one. I guess I’d have to have a budget first. Maybe it’s time to go back to school for that MBA I’ve always wanted. I got a lot of holes in my business knowledge.
“The ad business is tough. And few people have really found a way to make money with it consistently online. It’s just tough,” Clark said.
This is a conversation that Clark and I have had for going on 20 years. We shake our heads at the shift from print to online that’s been going on for 20 years.
“I love my newspaper,” he said, pointing to the rag on the table. “I get it at home. I love print. I grew up with it. But the action is and has been for a long time online. And how do you make money on that?”
I just nodded and listened.
“I see you on Facebook all the time. You seem to have cracked the code with your business plan,” Clark said.
“What business plan?” I interrupted. “The only business plan I have is ‘Low Cost.’”
Now this is true. We have at WJOB, and at the Calumet Press while it lasted, been able to survive and to move into new technologies because we have been able to keep our costs low. The reason for this is many-fold. A lot of people like those mentioned above with a lot of life experience donate their time to WJOB. I don’t pay them. Sports announcers like Minnow, Kusiak, Repay and coach Pigatti do the same. And even those who do work for WJOB understand that you’re not gonna make a ton of money here. Ryan, Debbie, Harlow, Kubic, Geno, Tony Panek, my sister Jen and others - We do it for the “quality of life” rather than the quantity of money.
And then there’s the fact that we’re on a college campus. Purdue and other schools send us a lot of young talent that will work for dirt to get the experience and then go out and get a real job. It’s a symbiotic relationship that works. They not only work for introductory wages but they also expose us to the latest technology. That’s part of our edge in competing in a changing environment.
This brings us full circle to the fact that 14 minutes ago Sam Michel (pronounced “Michael”) just started his first morning show on WJOB at the age of 24. This is weird because, now that I think of it, the first time I hosted the afternoon show on WJOB I was either 24 or 25. I got away from radio for a while, as the three or four of you know, but once I got my fingers around the microphone, my destiny was sealed. There’s a possibility now that I die with a microphone in my hand. I hope it happens.
What is the rationale, then, for Ryan and I to hand the microphone to Sam Michel on a Friday morning when I’m doing nothing but sitting here writing to the three or four of you?
Part of it is that Ryan senses that I’m a little burned out. We’re not only doing the morning show, but I’m also doing these “JED in the Money” segments every afternoon. I interview local business leaders on Facebook Live video. Yesterday, I interviewed Dr. Mohan Kesani, a cardiologist. We talked about coronary disease and about how many doctors are in his practice and how they can charge less than other providers who have more overhead.
And then Dr. Kesani told me something that surprised me. Now as you know, if you really understand radio, there’s not a lot that surprises you after a while in radio. You just accept the next happening as something that is natural and you move on.
But I had to stop when the deadpan Dr. Kesani told me that he sometimes does stand-up comedy. He even told a couple of jokes. He also entertains by doing a traditional dance from his native India. He showed me a video of him doing a dance in native dress, exposing his legs and arms and wearing a bright red and white fabric that’s a cross between shorts and a diaper.
In the video, Dr. Kesani saunters gracefully around the stage twirling a spear, sometimes pointing it like it’s a gun. And he’s really good at it, twirling the spear with the dexterity of a Purdue Golden Girl twirling a baton.
“Do you have to practice to do this?” I asked.
“Heavens no. I’ve been doing it since I was a small boy in India.”
Dr. Kesani surprised me with both his ability to dance and point a spear, but also with his subtle wit. He told me a joke in which he confused “tee time” and what happens in India at 3pm every day – “tea time.” It was funny.
Anyways, getting back to the reality that Sam has been doing the morning show for 32 minutes now. I know this without turning on the radio in that there is no way in hell short of an earthquake or a locusts that Sam Michel would be late for his first morning show on WJOB. My phone hasn’t rung yet. That’s a good thing.
One of these days when we’re plodding through Another 1800 Words together we’ll discuss why it’s so important to once in a while allow the young talent to take over WJOB, which is a special place, if you let it be. We’ll talk about this tomorrow or the next day… when I finally get over the fact that I gave up the WJOB morning chair voluntarily. It didn’t take me dying to unwrap my fingers from around the microphone. Another1800 Words. Bye.