Career Capsule: I can’t believe that next year (2019) I will celebrate my 30th year in radio! I started when I was 15 years old in my hometown of Tyler, Texas. I was blessed enough to work in mainstream radio in my hometown for 24 years (20 of those with the same group of stations). During that time I worked in nearly all formats including Country, AC, Hot AC, News/Talk, Classic Rock, Active Rock, Jammin’ Oldies, Classic Hip-Hop, and even Urban AC. I was the Operations Manager in Tyler, so I was directly involved with the programming of all the formats in our 5 station cluster. Outside of Tyler, the only other market I have worked is Dallas in the early 2000’s as a weekend/swing-shift talent at KDMX (Mix 102.9).
In 2013 I got really burned out on corporate radio and almost made a career change. But, I felt God calling me to use my love and talents for this industry to serve Him. So, I began to look at Christian Radio. I had listened to KLOVE and KVNE in Tyler for a couple of years and was really impressed with how the music and content had improved from what I knew growing up as “Christian Radio.” God brought our family to Cincinnati in the summer of 2013 and I couldn’t be happier to be serving as Director of Programming at WAKW (STAR 93.3) for over 5 years now!
Jeff, tell us what’s new at WAKW… news, changes, & new with YOU… etc?
We have seen a lot of growth at STAR over the past 5 years. We are blessed to have record breaking numbers in all departments. I credit our General Manager, Art Garza, and his leadership and vision. He has really put together a great team here in Cincinnati. All the department heads work really well together and that helps things progress and move forward. I love working for an organization where everyone has “buy in” and supports the vision and mission of the organization. Everyone on staff is extremely passionate about reaching people for Jesus.
Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?
We have KLOVE, Air1, and some other local Christian stations in the market. Our playlist is tight and well researched which I believe is the biggest thing. Our on-air line-up is amazing. Brant Hansen, Theresa Ross, Taylor Morgan and Julie Pierce are amazing communicators. Our station is very “real” and free of ‘Christianese” language. Past that, we serve our local community. I’m a big believer in serving the community with more than just the music, so we attend as many community events as we can and we strive to help when there is a need.
What is the best show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
I’ll say that the best thing I’ve learned is what NOT to do. Very early on in my career I learned to not play favorites with the labels.
Playing the hits is often language we just throw around, but It’s truly the most important thing for a radio station to make sure they are doing. I have very strong relationships with many label folks, and many artists, but I never let that get in the way of making a decision on music choices for the station.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
I think competition is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes and forces us to never “phone it in.” I also believe that more exposure to Christian radio only strengthens our communities and ultimately our stations itself.
What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job/show?
I love that we have access to so much information. Mediabase is an important tool for me to use. I look at playlists from a handful of other stations across the country to see what is working for them. If I’m ever on the fence about adding a song and I see that some of the stations I respect are having success with it, that can help weigh in on my decision. I also love the CMB forums. I love that advice can be received from stations all over the country…both small and large markets.
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
It’s easy to say college, but I’m not sure that is as true today as it was in the past. I’m not sure the next generation is as passionate about radio as I was at that age. It’s no surprise due to the fact that most radio has been “watered down” due to corporations needing to satisfy share holders. Luckily, this is mainly in the mainstream formats and not in ours. We need more people like Carlos Montanez who are extremely passionate about being on-air. Carlos did everything he could to hone his craft. He sought out talent coaching, volunteered at stations to learn from the people who worked there, and he networked with people from radio stations all over the country to get his name out there. He literally did whatever he needed to do. We need to find more passionate people like Carlos out there.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
Being real. Finding personalities who can talk about real life struggles…and victories. Unfortunately I feel our format is too vanilla. Many personalities are decent story tellers but don’t go deeper to be vulnerable enough to let the audience know their personal struggles. I feel our format is also afraid to have fun. We’ve got good news to share and it should bring us joy that carries over to our shows, promotions, and even station imaging. I feel that we are so worried about being “safe” that we water everything down to where it’s just vanilla.
My biggest problem with radio as a whole, but especially our format are DJ’s (not personalities) who simply intro and outro songs. We’ve got way too much opportunity to impact someone’s life.If you don’t have anything encouraging or relationship building to say, just let the music play and keep the mic off. It hurts me to hear this on stations across the country…some of them very big stations or even networks.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
My biggest radio influence was Kidd Kraddick. He was on the air in Dallas for almost 30 years and became nationally syndicated before he passed away in 2013. Kidd knew how to make you laugh on one break and cry on the next. He was the ultimate showman, but he was also real…sharing his real life on the air every day. Kidd was the first person to show me the power of radio to move people. He created his own charity called ‘Kidd’s Kids” where he took a Southwest Airlines jet filled with kids with chronic or terminal illnesses and their entire family’s on an all-expense paid trip to Disney World. The listening audience donated to help make this trip possible every year. It was the most compelling radio I have ever heard.