Allen Jones Interview
Mornings/Creative Services Director
KFNW Life 97.9
Career Capsule: I currently hold a BFA in Theatre from the University of South Dakota, and since I was in elementary school, acting had always been my dream. However senior year of college, I started to feel God pressing me another direction, I just had no idea what that direction was! So while I was working at a Starbucks, and thinking maybe I could become a professional cartoonist I heard a still small voice ask…what about radio? I landed my first part time job in Sioux Falls SD working for Midwest Communications as a board operator and soon I was the evening newsman and fill in guy for KELO AM and overnight DJ for KELO FM. Thanks to my friend Joe Cheesman, I found out about a job opening at KJLY/Kinship Christian Radio in southern MN and was soon working my first full time Christian radio job as the Afternoon Announcer, and about a year later I was hosting the morning show! I was living the dream! During my time with KJLY I also served as Program Director and Assistant Program Director. Then last summer I was fortunate enough to have a chance to join Northwestern Media and Life 97.9 in Fargo ND as morning show host and creative services director, and honestly it has surpassed even my wildest expectations of how great working with Life 97.9 would be!
Allen, tell us what’s new at KFNW … news, changes, & with new with YOU… etc?
Oh man, this is the perfect time to be asked that question!! Life 97.9 just moved into a brand new studio site about two blocks away from our old studio in southern Fargo. We were approached about a year ago with a very generous offer to buy the land our old studio was sitting on, and that sale allowed us to buy a completely remodeled studio site, no special fundraiser necessary! As for life outside the station, my wife Lara and I have an almost 4 year old boy named Sylvan, and a 1 year old baby girl named Samara so every day is a new adventure in potty training, paw patrol, and teething!
How has your stations operations been affected by the pandemic, are things moving back to normal?
It’s pretty wild, I started the job interview process with Life 97.9 in March of 2020, and eventually made the 5 ½ hour move with my family to Fargo in July, so I’ve never know the station pre pandemic! I think it has been handled very well by station manager Doug Smith. During peak times (like last November) we would work from home or do half days and maintain safety protocols while at the station. It feels now, like things are almost normal again! We have all been back in the studio for some time, as have most schools and businesses in Fargo, and it appears that normal, pre-pandemic listening habits have started to take hold again.
What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
I was once told that I can’t always be “Mr. Nice Guy”. I certainly understand the advice and appreciate the heart that was behind it, as it was meant to help me grow as a leader, but I never really came to terms with that advice, and it has always left me feeling weird, probably because I really hate confrontation. Then one day I heard a quote from one of my favorite characters of all time, The Doctor from Doctor Who “Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind”, and that has really been my motto ever since!
It is REALLY hard to pick the best advice, because I have received so much of it over the years, especially since coming to Life 97.9 (Shout out to Jarrett Stevens and Lisa Williams for the treasure trove of wisdom!) But two equal pieces of good advice come to mind, first my incredible College acting teacher, Priscilla Hagen, once told me “Allen, performing is not as hard as your making it, you don’t have to try so hard!”. She shared this in regards to my overacting and abundance of unbridled stage energy. That advice continues to serve me well on an everyday basis, as my fall back is to always “perform” or “Over-Perform” instead of just being naturally me. Second, my friend Scott Pieri told me on my first day at KJLY “There will be train wrecks, the best thing to do is not get hung up on them when they happen, but learn from them, and move on!” Every time, I make a mistake, Scott’s words always come back to me, helping me not to be too hard on myself, and to learn from the experience.
Some say the more Christian stations in a market the “better”…. What’s your opinion?
I feel like the pandemic and 2020 in general brought my awareness of the importance of Christian Radio to a whole new level. I was aware of the importance of what we do beforehand of course, and how God uses Christian Radio every day, but when you are broadcasting hope and true joy, where basically everywhere else you turn is full of fear and anger, the power of that is truly staggering. What’s great about being an on air host, is I was able to go through all of the emotions with the listeners. I would come to work ragged or worn out from life and what was going on, wondering how on earth am I going to have an uplifting show?! Then I would start really listening to our songs, and before you know it I’m worshiping along with the listener, finding the same rejuvenation in the station that they are.
What is your opinion of podcasts for stations & air talent, are the necessary, must have one, etc?… Please explain…
I think the most important thing for a podcast is that the host and people behind it have to have a real passion for it. I am so blown away by Summer Shepherd’s podcast “No Seriously How Do I Do This?” and Meridith Foster’s and Jason Rackow’s podcast “The Unfolding”. There is SO MUCH PASSION and it’s amazing! I think it’s great if you are able to produce local content, but I don’t think anything should be forced, the love and drive has to be there, or it will quickly become another chore on a long to do list already.
Where will new up and coming air talent for Christian Radio come from?
I think, or hope, more talent will continue to come from the theatre world. Radio is everything that I loved about theatre and more! One of the big aspects of theatre that led me away from pursuing it professionally, was I didn’t want to spend my life pretending to be someone else, and with radio you get to spend every day being you, growing as an individual, and in your relationship with Christ, while sharing about that journey! I know there are more trained performers that have a desire to be themselves in Christ and share about their journey, that I believe would instantly fall in love with working in Christian Radio.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian air talent?
Letting go of hope. With everything last year, I think it could have been so easy to become calloused, angry, bitter, and let that seep into our shows, but I don’t believe that happened, because listener’s flooded to Christian radio and found honesty, real feelings, and hope. Sure, there’s always technical changes and listener habits that will affect us, but I think if we all continue to hold to His hope, people will always come to Christian Radio no matter how they are listening to us.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Oh, this could be a BIG list, the longer I am in radio, the more I continue to find incredible people that are such an inspiration and always jazz me up to be better.
This may be a stretch, but my first radio hero and performing hero was Red Skelton. I was obsessed with Red Skelton as a kid, both his tv shows and his radio theatre shows. He was the reason I wanted to become a performer in the first place, and since he was on radio before he was on television, I hope that counts! Long before I knew I wanted my career to be in radio, I loved Click and Clack, the car show from NPR. I used to listen with my parents on long car trips, they were such a great example of what it means to simply have fun on the radio, and that has always stuck with me.
As far as people who are still doing radio, I am always so inspired by Andy Youso, Carlos Aguiar, my friend in country radio Robby Owens, who may be the most creative person in radio I’ve ever met, and literally everyone who works for Northwestern Media. I’m not just saying that either, I was very close to listing out all of the shows within NW media stations, because the talent within this organization is truly astounding. I am so humbled every time I listen to the incredible Keith Stevens, Lauren Banik, Brad Peterson, Taylor Hohulin, Jen Green, Adam Hannan, Jill Tracey, Jeremy Tracey, Dave Conour, Melony McKaye, TJ Jackson AHHH!! I said I wasn’t going to do a list, and I still start going into a list! EVERYONE at NW Media, thank you for being SO AWESOME!
My good friend and fellow announcer at KJLY Steve Ware, has always inspired me with his kindness, as he’s the most kind person I have ever met, and it often leads me to ask “What would Steve do?”, when facing a tough situation.
Finally, Jarrett Stevens and Lisa Williams for showing me what leadership looks like, and for being the friends and mentors that I had been praying for!