Career Capsule: I went to broadcasting school as a young guy. I knew early on this was the business for me. I fell in love with broadcasting as a teenager. My first board op and on-air gig was back in Denver, Colorado (hometown) on a mainstream AC. From there I dabbled in sales (and was terrible at it! I think I actually resigned completely broke!) I came back to on-air on the CCM side in a few markets. Eventually, I took time away, got married, had children until opportunity to do a live morning show in Tri-Cities, Washington came up (KXOJ’s sister station). Less than a year in, Bob Thornton told me the company was growing and he invited me to relocate to Tulsa and join the KXOJ staff as APD. I’ve just started my 4th year at Stephens Media Group and my family and I LOVE Tulsa life.
Jeremiah, tell us what’s new at KXOJ … news, changes, & what’s new with YOU… etc?
KXOJ & Stephens Media Group in Tulsa have seen a LOT of changes in the last year or so. Growing both as a station and a company. Recently, I was promoted to CCM Brand Manager. We’ve recently acquired and/or flipped more stations to CCM, which required the support of KXOJ’s almost 40 years’ experience in the format. That being the case, Bob Thornton (SVP of Programming) asked me to expand my touch within the company and help support all our CCM stations with the same type of assets and creativity I am already producing for KXOJ and KXOJ2 (CHR). Being the broadcasting and creative nerd that I am, I gladly accepted the exciting opportunity and began creating station logos, branding, social graphics, as well as all the on-air imaging and production for each market. Because Stephens Media Group believes in LOCAL radio, we set up local teams for success in their respective markets, and I continue to assist them with background creative support from my team as needed.
Although I still maintain APD duties for KXOJ and KXOJ2 here in Tulsa, I’m having an absolute blast sharing our resources, skills and expertise with our new sister CCM stations around the country and watching those local teams establish themselves as essential parts of their local communities.
At KXOJ specifically, we completely remodeled the entire studio floor in our Tulsa studios. I can’t tell you how thankful we all are to walk into a state-of-the-art facility every day. We’re blessed to have an executive team that believes in providing the best possible resources to produce great radio, connect with our community, and win the day – every day.
On the music and programming front, we, as with all CCM’s across the country, have had the amazing issue of having far too much music to choose from as of late. The challenge of seemingly double the songs to sample indicates to me that just maybe we’re in another CCM growth spurt, and I’m so here for it! I remember the old joke from back in the day when it was said CCM was 20 years behind mainstream sound. Yeah… I’m proud to say, not anymore! I look forward to my calls with label reps every week and their MPE singles like a kid in a candy store.
How have you been affected by the pandemic, on and off the air?
Not long ago, I had a 2-week struggle with Covid that almost took me to the hospital. Thankfully I was able to recover at home and get back to the studio without medical intervention. I give thanks to God for His hand on our family even in the tough times. Even though we go through things, I remind my family that I can’t imagine what life would be like without Heaven working on our behalf. Thankfully, the leadership and airstaff team at KXOJ were amazingly supportive of my time away to heal. Airstaff shuffled things around, programming duties were covered, and the team rallied to cover without a single complaint. And Bob Thornton got back on the air daily to cover me throughout. I always wonder if radio executives like him ever miss the days of doing live shows. I can’t imagine a day where I’m not on the air in some fashion. It’s where my heart is, spending time with Tulsa and in some way bringing encouragement, hope and laughter to their day.
What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The funniest when I was 20 years old and just getting started: “Your name is really boring. I mean, it has no pizazz. We need to fix that like NOW…” (Rebecca St. James was playing on the car radio and my PD at the time said,) “St. James, yeah… that sounds cool. You should go with Jeremiah St. James.” And almost 20 years later, you could say it stuck. Some day I’ll share that story with Rebecca!
The best advice: Think of all your favorite radio personalities that you look up to and admire. Now tell yourself: You will never be them. You can only be you. And in being YOU, is the only path to success. Be you and our audience will find a genuine friend on the radio.
Also, Bob Thornton has given me so many great nuggets over the years, but the first one I remember is that he told me on my first day at KXOJ, relax, take a deep breath, and remember, you’re sitting here right now. You got the job. Now go be a friend to Tulsa.
The Worst: “A bad break will destroy your show.” (Talk about pressure!)
Although every break matters and we should always open the mic with something to contribute, one bad or not so well executed break will not, in fact, destroy a show. It won’t even ruin a shift. If you’ve become a friend on the radio, the audience will forgive and forget. As a PD said to me in the past, “We’re not saving lives here. This is radio. If you make a mistake, you learn from it and you press forward.”
Can we expect to see more Stephens Media stations flip to Christian… ?
Well, wouldn’t inquiring minds like to know! LOL
Without breaking protocol, I can tell you that I don’t see SMG slowing down any time soon. From the prospective of someone not on the executive team, I feel like this company is just getting started! Could more of that growth include more CCM stations? Absolutely possible, and I’d welcome those new teams with open arms and do my part to support them. What I love about being part of the CCM team at Stephens Media is that our goal is not to just duplicate KXOJ, but to help those individual stations, brands and teams come into their own and become integral part of their communities. These are local stations with local employees, studios, business and church relationships, etc. They are contributing to and impacting the local economy, so we’re not just pushing KXOJ in into those markets, but rather using our resources and experience to give them a leg up. I love being part of helping local Christian radio thrive!
What’s your feeling on podcasts, should air personalities have one?
Ooooh, podcasts. *Long sigh* The quick answer is this… in all of radio, both mainstream and CCM, I believe we’ve spent so many years as an industry consolidating and networking everything – formulas for vanilla talent shows and cut/paste music logs across the country, that we’ve not only cannibalized our own industry, but we’ve also chased off incredible talent as a result. Podcasting is, to me, that talent finding a new platform to thrive. And I don’t blame them.
So, yeah, I have mixed feelings on podcasting.
First, I hear a lot of great talent on podcasts who are poorly produced. Amazing talent, poor production. Even as awesome as the personalities are, I can’t help but cringe a little and I often find myself saying “Man, if only a radio programmer could get a hold of that show and tighten it up, they’d be stars!”
Second, when I hear radio people doing podcasts, again both in mainstream and CCM, it’s just aircheck skims of their live shows, and it’s not even the benefit of scoped airchecks. Sometimes, when I sample radio podcasts for the first time, I find I must sit through commercials and outdated Wx forecasts and all. It’s just lazy.
I tell airstaff when podcasting comes up, if you’re going to do a podcast, great, do it. But fill it with fresh content that can be consumed easily and quickly.
Most of radio currently treats podcasts like a checkbox to mark off every day so we can go home. While the rest of the podsphere is creating unique content that captivates and brings fans.
The EXICITNG part is this… If anyone on the planet should be exemplary in podcast production, creativity and originality, its RADIO PEOPLE! We have the skills, the training, the microphones, the producers, the industry connections the everything! It does drive me crazy that radio often has the worst podcasts in the business, while simultaneously producing the best on-air shows in the business. How is that possible?
Should On-Air personalities have a podcast? Sure. Absolutely. We should have the BEST podcasts out there. If we’re committed to doing it well and utilizing everything at our disposal, we will.
Where will new up and coming air talent for Christian Radio come from?
Easy. They won’t come from radio at all. The best personalities I’ve found in recent years are simply outgoing, joy-filled, Jesus-loving people who have a natural zest for life. The last two ladies I’ve worked with were from my own church or extended friend circles. Both moms with busy schedules, but I saw a jubilance about them that I knew would relate. I can teach anyone to push buttons, but I can’t teach them to be full of life. I look for people in everyday situations that stand out as someone that naturally attracts others, makes others smile and has a way with words and stories that makes you want to listen to them. If I feel like I want to be your best friend after talking to you, I can use that. I can work with that! Because they brought that passion for life to the studio, training them to do a show was the easy part!
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian air talent?
Time. We’re all stretched thin every day. Its rare these days to find a professional on-air staffer who is just that – producing one show a day. Often, we’re airstaff, production directors, sales, marketing, graphic design, you name it. Most talent today wear multiple hats and I applaud them for keeping it all in the air every day. I’m Brand Manager for all our CCM stations, producing on-air imaging, graphics, socials, etc. AND doing a morning show and evening show every single day. And I know I’m not alone in that struggle to balance it all.
Also, Prep. The obvious temptation to utilize and rely on prep services, whether mainstream barter services, or Christian outlets, is painful. Its painful as a programmer who knows our airstaff has so much more to say from their own life experiences. And its painful for the listener who can turn on the dial and listen to 3 different CCM stations and hear them ALL talking about the exact same prep copy. Mainstream radio has the same problem. Its certainly not unique to CCM, but absolutely has infected CCM programing.
One thing I train into new people is to prepare content for your show from the inside, out. LIFE > COMMUNITY > CULTURE. Start with your own life stories, funnies, frustrations, and experiences; then move on to your local community; and finally touch on overall culture around us. And if you’ve exhausted all those highways, then and only then can you tell me on-air that it’s national avocado day. (But still don’t do that, because 7 other shows told me that this morning).
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
I’ve learned to be compassionate from my pastors. I’ve learned to be concise, well-spoken, timely and relevant from my PD’s. And I’ve learned to be relatable, casual, and friendly on the air from others who have found success in radio. To name one hero or even a couple would be a disservice to all aspects of my circles who have influenced the person I’ve become. I’ve also gotten to the point in my career where some of my heroes in the business of radio and Christian music are now my colleagues and peers. That is an amazing place to be.