All Access Interview

Recently, I was asked by Jackie Chapman (jchapman[at]allaccess[dot]com), the editor over at allaccess.com, to participate in their “10 Questions with” series.  All Access is a very useful and informative broadcast and music industry, members-only website.

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I thought I’d share my answers here before the interview is published on their site and, in the event you’re not an All Access member, give you the chance to see into my radio philosophies are little more deeply.

In addition to the “10 Questions,” I was given the option of answering 6 bonus questions.  My answers to the first 10 are wordy enough, so if you decide there’s not time to check out the whole interview, I’d skip the bonus questions.

10 Questions – Jeff Brown

NAME:            Jeff Brown (@thejeffbrown on Twitter)

TITLE:             Operations Director

WEBSITE:       wayfm.com

STATION:       88.7 WAY-FM (WAYM).  Also  88.3 WAY-FM (WAYQ) and 88.1 WAY-FM (WAYD)

MARKET:       Nashville (also Clarksville, TN, Bowling Green, KY among others)

COMPANY:   WAY-FM Media Group, Inc.

BORN (WHERE AND/OR WHEN): Indianapolis, IN / January 11, 1966

RAISED:          Indianapolis

BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:

Jeff did stints at several Indiana stations (WERK, WLBC and WXIR) in the 80s and 90s before moving to Nashville in 1996 to accept a radio promotions position with Myrrh Records, helping launch the career of Jaci Velasquez.  After stops at three other labels, Jeff joined WAY-FM full-time in 2000.  Jeff was promoted from production director to program director in January 2005.  After co-hosting several award-winning incarnations of the CHRSN Network morning show, he retired from full-time on-air duties in July 2008.  Now, as operations director, he is heavily involved in the day-to-day community impact of three of WAY-FM’s middle Tennessee stations with duties encompassing the areas of traditional marketing, social media (including his own music, radio and social media-focused blog at thejeffbrown.me), creative writing and community leadership.  He lives in Spring Hill, TN with his wife Annie and their two boys Fritz and Frank (miniature Dachshunds).

1) What was your first job in the industry? Did you have any mentors early on?

My first job was with WLBC in Muncie, IN (Top 40).  I did weekends until I pissed off a bunch of high school basketball sponsors with my on-air comments one night (my music-oriented show followed the sports coverage).  Seems those small markets are all about the sponsors.  Not many mentors back then.  It was sort of an every-man-for-himself environment.  Maybe a mentor or two might’ve helped me keep the job longer; though I can say losing that job directly led to my salvation, so maybe mentors are overrated.

2) What does your routine for morning prep include?

Not unlike most I would assume.  I incorporate a combination of showering, shaving and brushing my teeth along with getting dressed, patting my puppies on the head and kissing my wife as I leave.  Apparently the person writing these questions doesn’t realize I haven’t done mornings for a year.

3) What has been your favorite feature/spoof/promotion in the past year at your station?

It would have to be one of the most simple.  In March, a neighborhood in the nearby community of Murfreesboro was seriously impacted by a tornado.  We teamed with a Murfreesboro church to collect new and partially used gift cards for victims.  The response was very encouraging.  Because of the time of year this happened, the gift card idea (as opposed to cash) seemed to resonate.  Many who had yet to use all or part of gift cards received at Christmastime forfeited them for the benefit of others.  Local businesses (which we didn’t anticipate) even got in on the act.

4) Who is your favorite on-air personality NOT at your station?

Since you weren’t specific, I’ll say Brant Hansen.  He’s ON my station but not technically AT my station (I like taking advantage of loopholes).  Don’t try to hire him away from WAY-FM.  If I find out, I will kill you (watch out AIR1).  Second would be Scott Smith (apparently, Z88 is a kill-free zone).

5) What does Christian radio need to do to break through to a mass audience on a more consistent basis?

To be brave enough to hire personalities who know how to communicate like real, transparent, fallible, imperfect human beings (a la the aforementioned Brant and Scott, along with Donna Cruz and Wally from Total Axxess), and be prepared to back them up when all the crusaders start coming out of the woodwork who didn’t give a crap about your station when you played it safe.  As long as stations are content with “good enough,” “great” will always be just out of reach.  Sure, with the top talent, you have to deal with the occasional ego, but I think it’s worth it in the long run.  Having said that, I wouldn’t want to be Wally’s supervisor.

6) What are the greatest challenges in your position/job?

Same as everyone else: finding the time to do all the things I want to do.  Social media participation, for example, can sometimes be a time suck when you add it all up, but ignoring it or making it one of my ‘back burner’ items is not an option.

7) And what are the greatest rewards in your position/job?

Working for the same company for 10 years, a new personal record, times five.  I am blessed to be surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the business (Matt Austin chief among them), as well as up-and-coming talents like Katie Sivyer.

8) If you could have any other job outside radio, what would it be?

I think I’d enjoy consulting other stations/companies on the effective use of the social media tools available to them. At one point in my life I thought I’d be performing in front of arena-sized crowds singing and writing songs that make the whole world sing (or acting, writing screenplays or any other number of creative outlets).  Fortunately, radio provides many similar outlets.

9) Any favorite or funny artist run-ins? Highlights from a promotion or interview?

With few exceptions, I’m underwhelmed by most artists.  Many are horrible at the interview process (as are most radio people, unfortunately).  Even if they’re not horrible, often they so hate doing yet another interview with yet another unprepared, wasting-my-time radio jock that they can’t help but let their boredom and disdain show through.  It’s sort of the chicken and egg question though.  I’m not sure which came first, the lazy jock or the bored artist.

I’ve already mentioned the on-air talent I admire.  On the artist side, I think the true pros are people like Matthew West.  If every artist were of his caliber insofar as their ability to communicate minus the instrument, we’d have some pretty fascinating interviews taking place.

10) You’re an active Twitter user. Why? What is your reason?

Anyone who believes Twitter is for idiots (or “stupid crap” to quote David Letterman) has obviously never taken the time to investigate what can happen when you tap into its potential.  I often hear the phrase “too much time on your hands” from people critical of those of us who tweet.  I don’t know about you, but it takes me about 30 seconds to type 140 characters.  I repeat that process anywhere from 5 to 15 times a day for a total investment of about 3 to 10 minutes daily.  And, yes, I’ll occasionally dip my toe into the Twitter stream to see what’s happening.  But, if you’re convinced that tweeting alone requires much more time than that, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you didn’t graduate from a respectable college.

In regard to our station’s use of the platform, we have one account dedicated to traffic and weather updates, having recently separated those updates from our main account.  Anyone following @WAYtoWorkUpdate on Twitter (or any other account for that matter), can elect to have our “update” tweets sent straight to their mobile device.  When you consider cell/smart phones are probably our single biggest competitor for in-car listening, I think getting your listener’s attention (with their permission) on that very device and reminding them of who you are (while providing a valuable service) is a pretty good use of the technology.

Our main account (@wayfm_nashville) is branded with a human face.  This face (Katie) happens to handle the local elements for 88.7 WAY-FM during Mornings with Brant (the network morning show) so listeners know who she is.  She’s young, hip and right in the demo.  She tweets from a personal perspective as well as occasionally about things happening on the air right now or at the radio station in general.  Probably most importantly, she’s engaging our listeners in this space on a daily basis and developing relationships, giving listeners yet another “touch point” with the station.

Additionally, I’m contemplating a Casting Crowns ticket give away via this Twitter account.  Followers would be instructed to simply write a tweet that includes the hashtag #castingcrowns (or some other specific tag we choose) in order to be entered.  These are instantly searchable.  I can use a third-party service too if need be to select a random winner.  The cool part is it has the potential to be seen by everyone who follows each person who does this.  Currently we have 1,800 followers to our @wayfm_nashville Twitter account.

There are pros and cons.  If you allow each participant to tweet the tag multiple times (much more “viral” potential and better for us) you may risk ticking off the Twittersphere because you risk filling Twitter timelines with what might be viewed by some as spam if it gets out of hand.  Our plan to combat that is to suggest one “entry” per person.  It’s not quite as viral, but it’s much closer to a win-win for all involved than is the other scenario.

I’m also monitoring our company’s brand mentions on Twitter (along with blogs and the web in general).  Sure, I could monitor our brand on Twitter without an account, but maintaining one allows me the opportunity to engage those who do mention us?

Finally, if you don’t want to invest into it then don’t (time is the only investment, as it’s free).  That’s your call.  But please don’t criticize those who do.  I’m serious when I say that simply “following” key people on Twitter and just “listening,” even without any real engagement on your part, can be a near college education all by itself.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

1)      Do you read everything or nothing? Do you have any favorite magazines, books, newspapers?

I read Fast Company & Wired religiously.  I try to get my head out of the broadcast-only pubs mindset (are there any left?) and force myself to think about my station existing beyond the terrestrial signal and more as a media company.  I think we should be formulating plans for other ways for listeners to consume our content and consistently creating new and compelling content in a variety of spaces and formats (including online consumable, bite-sized audio and video, blogs, social media, etc.).  But while you’re at it, make sure you approach everything from a WIIFM camera angle.

I’d also recommend the following books (not a complete list): Tribes, Pyromarketing, Faith-Based Marketing, Good to Great, Made to Stick, A New Brand World and Tribal Knowledge.  You might also want to read the blogs of Chris Brogan, Seth Godin and John Haydon to name a few.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say Friendfeed, Seesmic, TweetDeck or Google Wave, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

2)      What music is in your CD player/on your iPod right now?

Not much. I’m a podcast guy.  Most 21st century music has sucked thus far (save for Brandon Heath, Mat Kearney, Fireflight, Downhere and a few others).  I have hundreds of songs on my iPod but I rarely listen to them.

3)      Cat or dog person?

Cats are of the devil.

4)      Describe your favorite meal.

It would involve the killing of some animal and then eating said animal, just the way God intended.

5)      What is your favorite quote?

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”  Refer back to answer 4 in the original 10 questions.

6)      If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want to have with you and why?

I really don’t know.  Stranded in an airport is a better scenario.  Strand me on an island and all I’ll be able to think about is how to get off it.  Strand me in an airport and give me my laptop or smart phone, my iPod, etc.  In other words: any electronic device that can allow me to continue to be productive OR completely waste away the hours.  My choice.  Islands don’t have electricity.  You may as well feed me to the sharks.

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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.

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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