10 Years Ago Today: My WAY-FM Journey


It was on this date in 1999 when a new season began in my life.  I hadn’t even recognized it as such just yet (that would come just over a year later), but I was about to begin a journey that would lead me away from the Nashville music industry – my reason for coming to Nashville three years earlier (to the day) – and back to my first love.  Radio.

radio-mic3

The WAY-FM Media Group (and I say this in all sincerity) is by far the best company I’ve ever worked for.  Before coming to WAY-FM, the longest I’d spent without interruption at any one company was about two years.  I’ve now done that five times over with my current employer.  No small feat to say the least.

I’m the first to acknowledge how truly blessed and extremely thankful I am for being given the opportunity all those years ago by Matt Austin and Bob Augsburg, WAY-FM’s General Manager and President/Founder respectively.  The staff over the years has gone through a multitude of changes, but one thing has remained constant: I’ve truly enjoyed every single individual I’ve had the chance to work with.

Names like Doug Griffin, Karla Lawson, Ace McKay, Kortland Fuqua, Andy Thompson and Jim Turvaville (aka “Turbo”) immediately come to mind when I think of those early days.  Later, it would be programming pros like Doug Hannah and Dave Senes that would cross my path; two men from whom I’ve learned a great deal.

As much as anyone, it was sometimes the “non” WAY-FM staff – consultants and talent coaches – I often learned the most from.  I will always be indebted to guys like John Frost and Tommy Kramer.  Not to mention the more recent and awesomely talented air staff I’ve had the opportunity to work with.  The names are many and include stars like Marcia Ware, Jayar Reed, Jeff Connell, Donna Cruz, Wally and Brant Hansen among others.

I dreamed of this job as a kid.  I often think back to that Christmas I got that first tape recorder.  I’d listen back to myself saying or doing whatever for hours.  Then there was the record player/AM-FM radio/8-track stereo combo I cut my DJ teeth on.   When I remember those days, it’s difficult for me to believe I’ve been doing this for nearly 22 years.

As I look to the future, I can’t help but wonder how much longer I’ll be allowed to do it.  I wonder that, in fact, for all of us in this “business” of radio.  I believe if we, as an industry, listen and put into practice the ideas and methods of thought leaders like Mark Ramsey, Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Michael Hyatt, Fred Jacobs and Jerry Del Colliano, we may surprise a lot of people and actually survive this uncertain future we face.

Make no mistake.  It is a future that will include, if radio is to truly remain relevant, time shift-able any-time content (making our terrestrial signals irrelevant if not unnecessary), constant video content creation and distribution, and a complete and total willingness to embrace all things social media, not as a promotional platform, but as a community one (hat tip to Mark Ramsey).

What will that look like for companies like WAY-FM?  Will it be driven at the corporate level or will individual stations have the opportunity to build their own communities?  When the terrestrial signals are rendered irrelevant, will corporate view individual stations as no longer necessary, or choose to keep them alive, honoring the company’s original mission to impact the local community?

All I know is, with the slice of the WAY-FM pie in which I’ve been entrusted, I plan to do everything in my power to ensure our survival, not for our sake, but for the sake of the community we strive to impact.  I hope I can continue to be blessed with that chance for many more years to come.

Photo credit, FrogMiller

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5 Responses

  1. Jeff,
    I find this post very interesting. As a former member of the board of directors, I observed the ministry up close and personal for over 15 years. I agree that Matt and Bob are two very fine Christian men.
    I see the current turmoil in the industry as ultimately being a good thing because those with the best ideas and courage to take risks will emerge as industry leaders while the rest will fall by the wayside. I think many inside the industry are realizing that radio was never really about radio in the first place. It was (and still is) about the listener and communicating with them.
    I sense that you might be a little uneasy with those at the corporate level and what decisions they will make about the future direction of the ministry (to feel this way would be understandable). You mention that you are willing to do everything in your power to ensure the survival of your slice of the pie. What if ensuring your survival called for the sacrifice of other pieces of the WAY-FM pie, would that be okay? How does one decide which slice to cut if there’s not enough money to go around?

  2. You are very wise. 🙂

    First, I agree that it’s not about radio, but about the listener. Too many in the industry at large fail to realize that. I think it was a very forward-thinking move years ago when the word “radio” was removed from our mission statement. To me, it was a realization by the executive team that, while radio is the medium we use today to reach youth and young adults, it may not be the primary vehicle used tomorrow. I, personally, am striving to be a forward-thinker within the company so that we as a company – not just WAY-FM Nashville – don’t “fall by the wayside.”

    As to your question, I hadn’t considered that scenario specifically. All I can do as operations director is try to ensure the station I work for is making an impact in the local community. Hopefully, listenership increases as a result of that along with listener donations. And, I hope to be able to do that for as long as they will let me, meaning, I don’t take anything for granted.

    How does one decide which slice to cut? Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but if it does and it were me doing the deciding, it would be difficult to cut long-established stations if for no other reason than the obligations established within their community of listeners over a long period of time. Other stations though are practically brand new and still trying to find an audience.

  3. Getting back to the reference to a ‘slice of pie’, perhaps it’s time to go back into the ministry kitchen and start cooking all over again. Who would be the chefs? I suggest that they should be current senior management, station managers, other key stakeholders (such as thought leaders in the Christian recording industry), current listeners, post-listeners, and most importantly, pre-listeners. Their assignment would be to bake a brand new pie. The available ingredients would include the current assets of the ministry (staff, facilities, technologies, etc.), and a God-breathed understanding of the current culture in which you have been called to reach. So my question to you is quite simple…what do you think the new pie would look like, especially your slice?

  4. […] conversation with Robbie thus far, beginning with his initial response to my post 10 Years Ago Today: My WAY-FM Journey: I find this post very interesting.  As a former member of the board of directors, I observed the […]

  5. Jeff C im so sick by flyleaf

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