I first met Jan in 1985 at a dinner with my husband Brant, who worked for him at WLS-FM. He was the new PD, and he carried the title with dignity and professionalism. He was a Southern gentleman at his finest. Jan understood radio, had a passion for the product, and knew exactly what he wanted from his staff. When he spoke to the on-air talent he was very clear as to what he expected: That the talent stick to relevant content and respect the music. Jan has always been clear in his vision, and the staff wisely learned to follow his direction to achieve greater success. As fate would have it, two decades later Brant again works for Jan at WLS-FM, and in many ways it feels like old times except that Jan is smarter and more passionate than ever.
Here is how Jan Jeffries got into radio.
The question is, did I get into radio or did radio get into me? The radio bug bit me early.
My Dad was in aviation engineering while his brothers and cousins were radio station owners, managers, and national network air talent. I landed the much sought after janitor job at one of the family stations, 840 AM WTUF, at the age of 12 in Mobile. I performed all the special duties of all conscientious janitors including “windex-ing” studio windows, which were my portal to watch, in amazement, the DJ on duty.
A year later, after mastering “janitoring” and control room studio voyeurism, much to my family's chagrin, I resigned and crossed the street to the competition where I began doing weekends on air at a 50,000 watt "daytimer." I must have developed satisfactorily as a baby DJ because the PD soon awarded me the job of working both Saturday and Sunday, sign-on to sign-off, and 12 hours each day. Or possibly, they gave me sign-on to sign-off because they did not want to work weekends; highly possible. During the week, thanks to my Dad (who by the way was the smartest electronics engineer I ever met), I learned to read schematics and read ohm color codes of resistors, electrolytic capacitors, punching and wiring tube sockets that resulted in me building a legal oscillator transmitter. My play-like radio station, (consisting of a homemade audio console, crystal microphone, two RCA 45 RPM record players, and a Sears Silvertone tape recorder) upgraded from running speaker wires through the trees to my neighbors' houses to actually being "on the air" for an entire block in my neighborhood.
Seriously, my family was blessed with highly successful broadcasters with strong work ethics. One of my uncles, Walter Smith, was a long-time, personal friend of Paul Harvey, whom I had the privilege of meeting young at a family Christmas party and maintained an association with through my first tour of duty as PD at WLS when owned by ABC. A cousin, Vernon Starr Smith, gave me direction and inspiration as a young DJ. Starr was an on-air journalist who worked with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. His encouragement came to me while he was anchor on NBC Monitor, coast-to-coast weekends.
A triangle presented itself in the road when I was 21. I was on-air radio week nights at WKRG Radio, live television booth announcing weekend nights at CBS WKRG Channel 5, and flying my Cessna 172 Skyhawk during the day, every day, weather permitting. Radio was the choice which has proven to be the most fun and rewarding route I could have chosen. Mobile, Birmingham, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Baltimore/Washington, Atlanta, San Jose, Dallas and Chicago have made an exciting and rewarding ride. I can honestly say that my love for radio is still growing.
Reach out to Jan Jeffries about his story - Jan.Jeffries@cumulus.com
Lisa Miller is the President of Miller Broadcast Management in Chicago. She's also one of Radio Ink's Most Influential Women in Radio. Miller can be reached at Lisa@millerbroadcast.com or 312-454-1111. So, how did you get into radio? We'd love to hear the story about why you're passionate about radio. Read more war stories about how some of your colleagues got into radio HERE
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