Career Capsule: I’ve been in broadcasting since I was 14 years old. I was a radio geek. Actually, my father worked at the local ABC television affiliate, WRAL, in Raleigh North Carolina. So, my love of everything technical and media oriented started at a very young age. So, when I was 14, I found out about some engineering students at North Carolina State University that were trying to put a radio station on the air. I volunteered with them, cleaning circuit boards and doing anything I could to hang out with them. Today, that station is a 100,000 watt, non-NPR classical station.
My first paying job, when I was 17, was at WDNC-AM/G-105 FM where I was a news reporter/anchor for the AM and a talent on the FM. After that, I bounced around several radio stations, including WPJL Radio, a Christian station in Raleigh. At the urging of my parents, I finished college and graduate school, with degrees in business in 1987 and wound up working for a unit of CNN in a finance capacity. But, the creative world was calling, so I worked by way into producing. I was laid off in 1998 when Time Warner merged (took over) Turner Broadcasting. I came crawling back to radio, first as a part time news reporter and then a full time news reporter/anchor at WSB in Atlanta. I was laid off from that position in 2008 and became News Director for WUGA-TV and Radio, owned by the University of Georgia in Athens. The University ended up selling the TV station in 2014. I had been in discussions with the GM of WMSL (The Reach) and began working part-time at the station. At the time, I felt God calling me to use my talents and gifts for His purpose. It was NOT to necessarily become the future GM, but just to be there because he wanted me there. The dreaded obedience thing.
So, I stayed, at 53 years old, working two part-time jobs, with two school age boys, wife, house, etc. Eventually, the GM retired and the board of directors gave me a chance to manage the ministry and eventually made me a permanent addition.
Here’s the way I see it. Radio has always been like a hobby to me. I’d do it for free, if I was independently wealthy. It’s fun, exciting, and never seemed like a career to me, even though it was my career. Combine that with serving the Lord— that’s heaven on earth.
- Jeff, Tell us what’s new at WMSL, news, changes, expansion, with you… etc?
We’ve had some big changes recently. But first, a brief history. WMSL signed on the in 1987 as a ministry of Prince Avenue Baptist Church. From that time until January 5, 2014, WMSL, then known as “The Great 88”, broadcast a mix of religious programs and traditional Christian music. On January 5, 2014, WMSL began broadcasting contemporary Christian music through an affiliation with Christian FM.
I came on board July 1, 2015 with rebranding as one of the first tasks my board of directors wanted me to accomplish.
On January 1st, 2016, “The Great 88” was rebranded as “88-9 The Reach”. The new branding is designed to reflect our true mission as a ministry, that is, reaching up – toward God in praise and worship, and reaching out – representing God in our community through service and ministry. Our station focus is to realize Matthew 28:18-19. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The station developed a new logo and other branding material and new imaging was created by Dave Marino out of Atlanta. We also rebranded our annual fundraising golf tournament to “The Reach Open” charity golf tournament. Past golf tournaments only raised money for the station. This year, we’re raising money for the station and three other non-profits.
We’ve remodeled our offices.
In the area of staffing, we’ve created two additional full-time positions, a director of operations and a director of marketing and communications. That brings our total full-time staff to a grand total of three! We also have two underwriting representatives, a part-time production person and a utility man that produces our high school football broadcasts, handles IT and anything else we need to throw his way.
2. What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
I don’t really have an answer for this one.
3. What are some of the biggest challenges running a CCM in a smaller market?
Athens, Ga., is in a unique position. We are on the fringe of a major market (Atlanta), with most major market radio stations reaching well into the Athens area but only two counties in our service area are in the Atlanta radio DMA. So, one of the biggest challenges is a lack of ratings and competing with Atlanta market stations that have big dollars for talent and promotion. But we try to view competition from the standpoint of any ministry. We’re all (hopefully) trying to achieve the same thing- leading people to Christ. So, who leads them in that direction, who God uses along someone’s path, is not in our control. We just try to do the best with the resources and talent that God has given each of us…and let him take care of the rest.
4. What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job?
A humble and willing heart to follow God wherever he leads me.
5. Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
As it’s always been in radio, you never know where talent will come from. That said, I’ve been incredibly impressed with some youth pastors and how they communicate with teenagers. The challenge with youth pastors is two fold: Do they feel the call from God to take their ministry in that direction AND can they make the transition from communicating to an audience that provides immediate feedback to one that is generally not responsive. And that can be tough.
6. Do you feel syndication is good or bad for Christian radio?
It’s a mixed bag. But for a station in a small market, especially one that is on the fringe of a major market, syndication gives you a chance to compete talent wise.
7. Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
Staying relevant, something that all ministries face. And to stay relevant, you must be local. Being local is the only thing differentiating you from Pandora or Spotify. So, for a station like ours that uses syndicated talent, how do you stay local? The talent on Christian FM does a great job of localizing content. We are increasing our outreach in the community, which was never a strongpoint of the station. And we plan to add local talent to at least one day-part in the coming year.
In the area of music, we’ve got to keep it interesting. The old programming formulas have their place, but you’ve got to be willing to introduce new music and new artists along the way. So we’re injecting local and indy artists in the mix. There is so much musical talent out there today…in both religious and secular radio.
9. Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
I grew up in the 60s and 70s, so, radio was always mysterious to me. Clear channel stations (back when that meant 50k on clear frequencies) fascinated me. To listen to WABC, KDKA, KYW, WSM was thrilling to a young guy. They sounded so big.
Along the way, my heroes were the guys that took time with me. Early in life it was a news director by the name of Tom Britt at WDNC/G-105 in Raleigh-Durham. Later in life it was Jimmy Sanders, who was a television executive who taught me that you can manage people in a respectful manner and still accomplish your goals.