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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.

Questions and Answers signpost

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


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.


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.


Past, Present and Future

Recently, I was asked to respond to a list of interview questions from HisAir.net’s Ted Kelly.  His website serves as a “one-stop shop” for all things Christian radio and Christian music industry-related, complete with station links, job postings, show prep and research, among other things.

Future Past & Present signpost in the sky

I decided I’d post my repsponses to his questions here before they’re actually puplished on the HisAir.net website, beginning with a brief career capsule.

Jeff, born and raised in Indianapolis, 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 job with Myrrh Records, helping launch the career of Jaci Velasquez.  After stops at three other labels, Jeff joined 88.7 WAY-FM full-time in 2000.  Since that time, Jeff has served in a variety of rolls including afternoon and then mid-day host, followed by six years as co-host of several incarnations of the CHRSN network morning show (Marcia and Jeff, Jeff and Elisabeth, and Jeff and Stace in the morning).  Jeff was promoted from production director to operations director in January 2005 and is thrilled that he no longer has to wake up at 2:45am.

How has WAY-FM evolved over the years?  I’m not going to talk here about how the company has evolved but instead how the product and content have evolved. There was a time when everything on the air seemed to go through this “let’s clean it up” filter.  I had this fear of offending someone and felt the need to homogenize everything I said and did on the air.  That has definitely changed.  No topic today is off limits.  Granted, we might encourage each other to choose certain words carefully, but Wally is offending people every day.  I love it, actually.  Brant is probably second in line when it comes to who’s offending the most people.  He rocks.  I don’t know if you know this or not but Christians, as a group, are easily offended.

Has WAY-FM made any changes due to the economic situation, or been affected in any way? You’re kidding, right?  Is the Pope Catholic?  Is Brant Hansen a hottie?  Is Wally a woman trapped inside a man’s body?  It’s safe to say we’ve been affected, probably more than most in the WAY-FM family.  Business underwriting is way down, though listener giving is actually ahead of where it was last year.  Radio, as a medium, has to get better at monetizing content.  In the future, that may or may not include “selling spots.”

How is WAY-FM able to connect with listeners on a local level? Several ways actually.  A recent example is the not-so-Good Friday tornadoes that ripped through the nearby community of Murfreesboro.  We asked listeners to donate new and slightly used gift cards to those affected.  This really seemed to connect.  People didn’t have to go out and get something.  They just looked in their purse or wallet and said, “Oh yeah, I do have a gift card I haven’t used yet.”  In one week we collected nearly $3,000 dollars in cards and cash (I’m happy to report that I successfully resisted the urge to sneak a card for myself).  We also use social media extensively (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) for each of the four stations we operate from the Nashville office.  This has aided us tremendously, especially in markets we can’t be in every day or every week.

What criteria do you require for a song to be played on your station? WAY-FM is structured such that music decisions are made at the network level (Network PD, Network Music Director).  I like this because it means I don’t have to make time for people like Brian Thiele, Tara Stepp, Andrea Kleid, James Riley, Kai Elmer, Grant Hubbard, Josh Lauritch, Mark Giles, Brian Dishon, and Chris Hauser…is that everybody?  Sorry if I left you out of my list of people I’d rather ignore.  Most of you are on Twitter as much as I am.  That’s probably enough.

What kind of promotions work best for WAY-FM?  Simple but compelling.  Right now, listeners are calling a number we’ve set up to share how their mother sacrificed for them as a child.  Some of the calls are pretty compelling as you might imagine.  We’re pulling the best of these calls and incorporating them into new promos that prompt more of these types of compelling calls.  Makes for a compelling presentation on the air.  I like using the word “compelling” in case you hadn’t noticed.  The non-compelling calls we just pretty much laugh at and make fun of.

How do you think Christian Record labels can better serve Christian radio? While I ignore most of their calls and e-mails regarding local promotions, give-aways, interviews and such, I think that, over all, they’re doing a pretty good job.  Fortunately for me that whole “ignoring” thing just goes the one way.

In your opinion, what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio today? Does anyone really care what Jeff Brown’s opinion is about this?  I highly doubt it.  I suggest, however, that you care about what Mark Ramsey’s opinion is about the obstacles radio faces.  If you read his blog and are familiar with Mark then you already know what I’m driving at.  If you don’t, it’s too late for you so you may as well begin working on your career “Plan B.”

What do you believe is the primary role of the Christian radio air personality? Did I mention “to offend” already?  That one comes pretty easily.  What I really mean is when you’re connecting in a truly honest and transparent way, listeners will naturally be drawn to you.  I’m fortunate to be associated with three of the best in the business in this regard: Brant Hansen, Donna Cruz and Wally.  I’d add Dean O’Neal, Scott Smith and Lisa Williams to that group.

What (if any) Christian radio stations do you consider as innovators today? Not many actually.  We’re not innovating nearly enough in my opinion.  To me, innovation means remaining relevant.   Z88.3 in Orlando is head-and-shoulders above the rest of us in this area.  Instead of sitting on their hands and saying, “Well, we can’t be THE severe weather station” or whatever because they’re the Christian station, they said “We WILL be that station and we’ll do it better and more consistently that anyone else.”  They made a commitment to it and stuck with it.  You can no longer call them a niche format in Orlando.  They’re as main stream as any other station in their market.  Several hundred radio stations across the country are a few years (maybe months) from becoming obsolete and irrelevant.  They continue to do radio as it’s always been done. If you’re content with disseminating your content via a terrestrial FM signal and complementing it with a website and stream, begin now to think about what you might do if it all went away.  Because it will.

Where do you see Christian radio in 5 years? It’s no different for Christian radio than it is for main stream radio.  Please go to http://hear2.com and familiarize yourself with Mark Ramsey and his way of thinking.  He is radio’s best thought leader today and I believe he is dead-on in virtually every way.  If you’re working on approaching your station’s future as Mark suggests, I think you’ll have a legitimate chance of existing in 5 years.  Otherwise, again, dust off your “Plan B.”