Career Capsule: David got his feet wet as the Station Manager/On Air at WENC – the carrier current voice of Eastern Nazarene College – which basically meant we played music for people trying to study in the student center. He graduated in 2001 and was hired by his parents’ favorite radio station: WAWZ. It was the one they listened to because “it had Dr James Dobson on it and they played Larnelle Harris and Sandi Patty a lot.” WAWZ flipped branding to Star 99.1 in 2001, and he had just about every position one could think of there: Morning Show Producer, Production Director, Imaging, Friend on the Road, Morning Show Co-Host, MD, APD, Overnights, Evenings, and Overnight again. He spent over 19 years there until Covid, his wife, and the nice people from Northwestern Media invited him to join Life 101.9 in Waterloo, IA.
David, tell us what’s new at Life 101.9 … any news, changes etc… and what’s new with you?
On my first day at Life 101.9, there were five people working there. The GM had been promoted to PD at KTIS. The guy I was replacing was promoted to Life 107.1 in Des Moines. The office manager was about to retire. The Morning Show co-host had just come on full-time a month before me, and then we tragically lost our Underwriting Director. It was a lot for a small team… and then I walked in the door.
It took the grace of God, the wonderful audience of Life 101.9 and some quick thinking, but our small team never skipped a beat. In my first few months we’ve done a complete image rebrand with the amazing Joe Szymanski and Caryn Cruise providing their talent. We hosted t-shirt stops, raised 2,500 hot wheels cars to bless children in Honduras, hosted 5 huge concerts, and have a ton more of amazing things coming up soon.
You recently relocated to the Midwest after a long time in NYC … how would you describe the transition, personally and professionally?
I’ve lived my entire life (minus a few years for college) in New Jersey. I am a Jersey guy through and through. WAWZ was the radio station I grew up listening to. I was the last original member of the on-air team that helped put Star 99.1 on the air. I was so close to Star 99.1 that the thought of leaving was difficult. As a family, we felt we needed a change and that meant leaving New Jersey. I got a chance to see the amazing things that Life 101.9 was doing. God moved every obstacle out of our path to make this move. There was no way we could say no to His will.
Being part of Northwestern Media has been a revelation. Imagine being an email away from the smartest radio people in the world. Northwestern Media offers that and so much more. I have grown in the last nine months, learning from the best and becoming a better storyteller, better production director, and a better person in general.
Want to see the future of Christian Radio? It’s happening now in the Midwest at some of the best programmed radio stations in the country and I’m glad I’m a small part of it.
Overall, what is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The best programming advice I ever received was from Johnny Stone who always said “Know the rules so well that you break them.” Radio is an art form. There are rules and best practices that you really need to understand. It requires skill, focus, and clear guidelines to do it well. When you master that, you’ll soon discover that if you break the rules at the right moments and maybe miss “the first exit,” or have a story that is compelling enough to exceed that 90 second time limit your break should be, your audience will have a moment of transcendence. I love that.
Also, manage from the bottom up, not the top down. You are only as good as your lowliest employee. If you’re spending time feeding into your managers and keeping your door locked to your employees and their concerns, you’re building small groups not teams. If you’ve never met the cleaning people, or air checked your overnight guy, try it. They’ve probably been longing for it.
The worst advice? If the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill taught us anything, it’s to avoid bus metaphors. There’s no such thing as the right seat on the bus (except maybe the one by the bathroom). If your team isn’t working perhaps look at the driver. Plus, if you’re not training people on the bus to be replacement drivers and mechanics then that bus is going to break down.
What’s something you’ve learned due to the pandemic, about Christian Radio, that you didn’t know before?
That Local is vital for our future. In a world where “content is king” I‘ll argue all day that content is pasta, bland and benign, until you add the personality spaghetti sauce on top.
COVID proved that we are all vulnerable, we are all scared, and that we all just want hope. When you are part of the community you’re talking to, when you lift them up, make them laugh, make them cry, when you allow them to share their stories, it carries way more weight than any piece of content or inspirational YouTube video you can come up with. Imagine creating a moment where those people whom you bless every day can meet you, hug you, and tell you how you make a difference in their lives.
Listener supported radio needs to do a few things well. It needs to create compelling radio out of the speakers. It needs to share local stories that bring the community together, and you need to shake as many hands and kiss as many babies as humanly possible. That’s how your radio station can thrive through COVID, hurricanes, natural disasters, or whatever life throws at you.
What are your thoughts on podcasting, should all Christian broadcasters have a podcast?
I’m a podcast junkie, I have been since my brother-in-law Steve and I used to sneak into the radio station late at night and record our Lost Podcast (which at one point was the third ranked in the country and averaged 10k listeners).
I was honored in 2018 to produce a podcast for Laura Story with my friend Beth Bacall. I recently helped Adam and Christina Hannan produce their podcast Forefront, and hosted a limited series for Northwestern called Child Sponsorship Matters about a trip we took to Honduras, so I know how to make podcasts.
The nice thing about podcasts is that the entry level is super simple. But it’s also a full time job if you want to do it well. And the market is flooded with them. Production, promotion, marketing, and especially SEO are vital for your podcast to stick out.
You have to have clear goals walking in. What’s your podcast about? How many podcasts on this subject are out there? What will make my take unique? What’s my release schedule? What’s episode 35 going to sound like? Episode 100?
Without clear goals, you’ll make a few episodes and probably give up., But if you’re in it for the long game or you have a compelling limited series that you put marketing money behind then yes, make a podcast.
Although, if your station is looking for ways to increase their brand awareness to supporters, I’d suggest looking into the Patreon model, where you offer exclusive podcast content (i.e. an extra hour of the morning show per week) for a fee. You could create Fan Exclusive podcasts for your supporters that they pay for. It seems like a bigger win than hoping they’ll find another podcast.
Where will new up and coming air talent for Christian Radio come from?
They’re probably in your building already. Your promotions person should be a part of your on-air team, so that when your jocks can’t be at a smaller event your listeners should be excited to see him/her. Your office manager has a take that might be worth using sometimes. Your next morning host may be one of your listeners.
One of the great things about radio is that a little raw talent goes a long way. The future of our format will be live and local and the more you can sound live and local the better.
With budgets tightening it may make sense to try to fill that evening/weekend/overnight void with a syndicated show or a voice tracker, but don’t forget that those hours can be training grounds for future talent to learn their craft.
Generally speaking to the industry, what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian air talent?
Giving up nights and weekends to syndicated hosts. I get it that budgets are tight, but I remember watching Brenda Price, in less than a year, build a night time audience of faithful listeners.
Your audience is out there waiting to tell their stories; you just have to offer them the opportunity. So many jobs have been swallowed up by this idea that local talent is not worth training because local talent doesn’t matter, content does. It’s eating our industry alive and making radio super unappealing to younger generations.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
I owe my career to the men and women who taught me everything know –
Johnny Stone was the first person to believe in me and took my raw talent and turned it into gold. I will forever be grateful for the thousands of hours of radio we made. I got a masterclass in mainstream radio done for a Christian audience from him that keeps me going everyday. He taught me the value of face to face relationships with our listeners and that people want to give; they just need to be asked. He also taught me how to craft a compelling story MacGyver style and how to craft a great phone call.
Beth Bacall – She’s been my biggest cheerleader on my radio journey. She has given me so much confidence, coaching, therapy and friendship over my 20 year career. She’s like my big sister and the smartest person in any room. I wouldn’t have made it this far without her.
Dave Moore is one of the best talents for phoners in Radio. He makes audience interaction look easy. I once downloaded all his phoners onto a CD and listened to how he crafted a call for a whole month. He’s the real deal.
Rick Hall allowed me to be a part of restructuring Star 99.1 so it could compete in a major market against the biggest stations in the country. The best part was that it worked and we were gobsmacked as stations all over the country started to copy us. It was an exciting time to be in radio and I cherished that time so much.
Brenda Price was my partner in crime all during the early days of Covid. Not only is she one of the best air talents in radio, but her innate ability to bring people into the fold is something to behold. I never would have made it through the first year of Covid without her