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Jeff Schmidt

Broadcasters Are Special...


Imagine the look of horror on my mothers face when I proudly proclaimed while attending college that I was not going to be a preacher or a lawyer.

Im going to be a DJ! I announced.

Jeffrey, youre going to do what?? the fiery redhead yelped.

I recently received a Facebook post from my first boss, John Mertz (Johnny Austin). He is celebrating his 36th year in broadcasting, and he tagged me and the original cast and crew from the days at WKRP in Cinn . . . ah wait WITL in Lansing, Michigan. Oh, the stories we relived on his Facebook page. The flood of great memories that came rushing back, with names like Steve Curran, Russ Daniels, Bob Ganzak, Allen Gibbs, and Geary Morrill. It seems no matter where you go in broadcasting, you leave behind a trail of friends and a library of stories that you will be connected with for the rest of your life. 

I dont know how many times Ive uttered the phrase only in radio. So many gut-busting stories to re-live; laughing so hard you cant breathe. I dont mean to be condescending, but I dont think doctors, lawyers, or other professional-types get anywhere close to having this much fun.

I was in Orlando last month for the Radio Show. What a great place to connect with old friends, and to meet new friends and get a renewed sense of passion and enthusiasm for the business. Like any business, there are challenges. But overall, as Radio Ink publisher Eric Rhoads said during his presentation of the Radio Wayne Awards, Radio is okay. Im honored to appear on the same pages as Eric in his publication, so I certainly dont want to sound pejorative, but I need to disagree with him. Radio isnt just okay. Radio is alive and well and thriving. We may not be seeing the high multiples in sales and profits like years ago, but theres a part of radio, like happiness, that money just cant buy.

Has radio changed? Tell me a business that hasnt changed in the last 30 years. Maybe the changes are more painful to some in radio because its such a personal business.  You throw a bunch of comedian wannabes, who love to talk and make people laugh, together with a business office that always tries to keep order in the house, the general manager who wants to disavow any knowledge for fear of incrimination, to the engineer who loves to play jokes on people. Add crazy salespeople and administrative staff and interns, and you have the makings of a movie several, as a matter of fact.

What are the lessons from radio people that radio as a business can use to continue to be alive and well?

1. ITS PERSONAL. Its not just business, its personal. The relationships you build with clients, co-workers, the audience, and the community are truly the gold nuggets of life.

2. ITS CONNECTED. Those relationships flourish because of the connectivity. Radio makes a difference in communities and in the lives of our listeners.

3. ITS LIVE and subject to mistakes and human error, and that just leads to great comedy and Christmas parties with the bloopers tape. Okay, Mp3.

4. FINALLY, ITS PEOPLE. Its people that make broadcasting such an outstanding career. Yes, I know every business has people, but radio people are different. You have to be one to know what that means. Those who are nodding their heads right now.

To hear Jeffrey Warshaw (Connoisseur Media) say, Live and local is the future of radio as long as we dont suck at it. Or Larry Wilson (L & L -- Live and Local) say that, Voice tracking is dead. Its a stupid way to operate a radio station and we need to knock it off  . . . comments like those from prominent leaders in radio keep hope and passion alive. Jeff and Larry clearly understand what makes radio great and are committed to making it happen. That spirit is alive and well in markets large and small, in huge companies and in one-man shops everywhere.

People are resilient. Put broadcasters in a room together and theyll find the fun. Horror stories of the news guy who smelled and lived in his car in the parking lot, or the heart-warming stories of putting a Coats For Kids campaign on in a market and seeing the expression on a mothers face as her kids received coats she couldnt afford.

Whether its the sales manager who lost the jade stone from his ring and announced it on the loudspeaker, or the GM who fell asleep curled up under the piano at a company dinner after one too many Manhattans, or the two guys pounding on the skylights over the pool from the roof, theres always a story to tell when youre in broadcasting.
What I think some of us dont realize today is that we are in the midst of creating stories right now that some will tell 36 years from now.

Thanks, John Mertz, for my first shot in radio, and for the walk down memory lane. Congratulations on your impressive and successful 36-year career in broadcasting so far. Thanks to the friends both far and near who have shared in this wonderful career. I look forward to the friends Ive not yet met. Thanks to the friends who are still creating the stories that will provide the next generation with gut-busting laughter.

The message is clear and loud: Radio is more than okay -- its alive, well, and making a difference.

These days are the days future generations will refer to as the good ole days. Live them, enjoy them, savor the relationships, create and remember the stories.

Lighten up, its not brain surgery, its only radio.

Use the comment section for your favorite radio memory.

Think Big, Make Big Things Happen.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach him at Other ways to connect: