Inspiring Passion


This week’s interview is with Jeff Smulyan, Emmis Broadcasting Chairman of the Board.  Make sure you check it out.  Jeff is one of the most successful broadcasters in our business.  He’s also intelligent and articulate.  Spend time with Jeff Smulyan and your topics of conversation will cross a broad spectrum.  If you’re lucky, he might even talk about radio.  In a world of corporate suits, he is a passionate person.

How about you?  What makes you tick?

The business of radio sometimes serves as a fog to dampen the passion we all possessed when we first started.  Remember the feeling?  Whether you were hitting a “post” on the weekend shift, answering request lines, doing research or driving the van, nothing excited you like radio.

But, if you’re not careful, success can poison your passion. The more successful you become, the more you move up the corporate ladder. You become involved in meetings, overall planning sessions, research and problem-solving…all important aspects of your job, but light-years away from what first got you interested in the business.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  If you are as great as you believe you are, find a way to create new and different ways to stoke the flame that was once the roaring fire of your passion.  Some are simple…others more complex.  But you can find a way.

First, you must schedule time for those things that really get you off.  Define the aspects of your job that really make you the happiest and most creative.  Make time for those things, no matter what they are.

Was it being on the air?  When is the last time you pulled a shift?  Do one…no matter how bad you are.  Put yourself on the all-night show one time.  Not only will it stoke your passion, but it’s a great way to find out if all your genius formatic rules actually work.  If you’re really brave, have the jocks listen and hot-line you if you screw up.

When is the last time you were behind the wheel of the station van?  Go out and drive it.  The direct interplay you get from listeners will bring a new feeling to your job…plus, you might learn something from this interaction to make your station sound better.

You should schedule a dinner with your air staff at least once each month.  Get them… and you…out of the station where the atmosphere is more causal.  You’ll be able to find out things about them that can help you in your job…and vice versa.  It’s important that those who ultimately control your destiny see you as someone other than the person who sits behind a desk and doles out criticism.

Creating a truly unique promotion is one of the most exciting aspects of programming.  There’s  nothing like coming up with an idea, putting it together and watching it work to perfection.  Those ideas are hard to come by in sales meetings.  Schedule time each week for brainstorming sessions.  Topics shouldn’t be specific, but general in scope.  If you stumble upon a great idea, then get specific on the details.

One of the greatest opportunities afforded a programmer is the chance to make a difference.  You have, at your disposal, a medium that can reach masses, influence perceptions and change minds.  One of the most rewarding experiences you can imagine is to put together a program on your station that has never been done before…one that will make a real difference in the lives of your listeners.

If you’re content to pay lip service to this concept by joining ongoing activities like Rock The Vote or the March of Dimes Walkathon (both worthy events), so be it.  But you’ll never know the feeling from watching your own conception become a reality.

In my career, I was lucky enough to program many successful major-market stations.  During those tenures, we invented and produced some of the most exciting promotions in history.

But the most rewarding experience I achieved in radio was a promotion that made a difference.  At KFRC San Francisco, we staged the first concert to benefit the veterans of the Vietnam War.  Long before rallies become en vogue, we did ours.  It was longer, more time consuming and more exhausting than any event I’ve ever been associated with.  It taxed the limits of everyone’s patience.

But in the end, it was worth it.  The money we raised was substantial…yet paled by later endeavors. The publicity for the cause we stimulated was welcomed…though a mere drop in the bucket of what came later.

The handshakes, hugs and pride in the faces of those we touched has stayed with me to this day.

Emmis has done the same thing with the “One Nation” concept on Hot 97 New York and Power 106 Los Angeles. Here is a promotion that was conceived not to make money…not to increase the audience…but to make a difference.  I had a conversation with Emmis-N.Y. Director of Programming Steve Smith, the night after the first broadcast.  I don’t think he had been asleep.  He showed me the chill bumps on his arms when he shared the vision.  I got the same feeling just from listening.

“Last night, I think we really made a difference,” Steve said.

His passion was evident.

You have the same opportunity to make a difference…if not in the lives of your audience, at least in your life…and the lives of those working with you.  But you must be bold.

PDs are accused of having inflated egos.  As a group, we are a strange bunch, prone to pontificate on just how cool we are.  Besides, it’s easy to believe the bullshit when a record promoter keeps telling us how great we are.  Those of you programming can take the opportunity to make a difference, or you can go to another sales meeting.  Your choice.

Come on, show us something.

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