It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and over the years I have had the honor to write positively about many people I’ve crossed paths with over a career spanning, more than 35 years.
In that time, I’ve also written honestly about times that could have been better, and it is my writing style to name names, places and dates, mostly, because my stories have always been about giving hope to others. We’re in a business that is set up to take away the voice of the one who must desperately sign away their right to sound the alarm, just so they can get a month’s severance check to make sure their family and their babies have food to eat.
God wired me differently. I am grateful to God for this. In my 35 years, I received this constructive criticism several times, that I have to learn to be better at managing up. Because I have a long consistent history of getting the troupes fired up, and ultimately winning the ratings battle from town to town, from format to format, one ingredient that I learned never helped me win was trying to win over my managers instead of my team. Ultimately, that’s what the criticism is saying, “Hey, you probably want to please the ones who can keep you employed, rather than the ones you need to motivate to get the best results for the job you are presently doing.”
I liken this to serving two masters. You can’t.
Hollyweird to Music City
When I interviewed with the WAY-FM leadership team via Skype in Summer of 2014, they spoke of a communication style that appealed to me, ‘open to having hard discussions,’ in the spirit of iron sharpening iron. This was the attribute that drew me in the most, and I took the PD job, moving my wife, who was 8 months pregnant at the time from Burbank to Nashville, leaving afternoons at KFSH and beginning something new that God would bless outrageously out of the gate, and the entire time I was there.
That time of hard discussions began within the first 30-days, and the first tough one was a disagreement with Dusty Rhodes about creating a phone zone in Nashville, so that the on-air team could ‘feel’ the momentum of our fundraisers in real time. Dusty made the decision that we didn’t have enough time before the upcoming fundraiser to put the equipment and elements in place to do our best in that process. I disagreed, and fought hard, and in the end, I didn’t get my way.
However, Dusty would make the ‘phone zone’ a reality, not then, but in the next pledge drive, showing it wasn’t the idea he didn’t like, but the timing.
In 2016, Lauren Daigle was one more hit away from becoming the biggest artist at our format, so I worked with Centricity to do a contest where our listeners could have some face to face time with Lauren, a contest we titled, “Eat a Bagel, with Lauren Daigle.”
Legs of Toads with Dusty Rhodes
I had written a fun promo for the giveaway, that ended with a promise that in the future we wouldn’t giveaway a shot at Clam Chowder with Crowder, or eating Chicken Breast with Matthew West, just because it rhymed.
My desk phone rang, and Dusty was laughing. “That is hands down, THE best promo I have ever heard on WAY-FM,” he said.
And another time, it was about a song we had just added from Big Daddy Weave.
“This song, I can’t help but worship when it plays.”
I told him how it literally brought me to my knees. It was Overwhelmed.
I appreciated the good supportive, encouraging words and Dusty was not shy to keep the phone ringing when he heard something pleasing.
Heart for Worship
There was a habit that had formed from the leadership team in Colorado Springs that my staff would constantly complain to me about. It was one where they’d send out emails to the entire team that would begin in the subject, ‘URGENT’ followed by a sometimes-ambiguous subject.
The issue my staff had was that most of them weren’t urgent and some of the ones that were truly urgent, weren’t because of dire straits but because of failed communication or bad planning. Knowing I was working in a place where hard discussions were allowed, I addressed the issue. It wasn’t received well as my direct superior had informed me, but it was Dusty who hit reply all and typed back, “These are good points to consider. Thank you.”
With that acknowledgment of my observation, the entire leadership team slowed down the daily urgent emails that really weren’t. The team of talent that I was hired to fire up, noticed and communicated their gratitude, and from there WAY-FM soared even higher than anyone knew was possible.
When Dusty left WAY-FM, I didn’t see it at first, but the cooperation and dialed-in, cohesive team spirit that we were building, began to collapse, and the collapse hinged on one thing: position. By this time, WAY-FM President Bob Augsburg had changed the organization’s structure of who answers to whom, two times, accommodating the wild success which came out of the Nashville offices, and those new structures both times, elevated my position, first to be equal to those who managed our stations in each individual market, and then next, to where my position was above those local managers.
When God Lifts Us
Bob’s vision was based on how good he noticed Nashville’s WAY-FM sounded versus some of the other markets who were still hesitant to put some of what was working in Nashville into practice. Once we did, WAY-FM flourished market to market, more in short time, than it had at any time in its 30-year history; in audience growth, donor relationships and with industry influence.
When you get fired, something that has happened to me a lot in these three plus decades, you get to know who your friends are pretty quickly, the difference between the ones who like you for the job you had, what you could do for them and the ones who would want to hang with you whether you were running radio stations or running the cash register at Target.
Of all the people I worked with, several did reach out on that dark day, many remain extremely tight friends to this day, but the one who surprised me most, was Dusty Rhodes, yet I shouldn’t have been surprised, as it just is who he is.
He addressed my being let go as “reading a story about you,” and immediately went into checking my well-being. Once assured, he asked me what I was going to do. My consultancy, Straight Path Media, had already been in motion, so while I knew I’d look for ways to grow it more, I wasn’t sure and didn’t have a sound plan.
Clarity in the Dust
Dusty let me know that he would be thinking of ways the two of us could put our strengths together for good, and while we didn’t come up with a perfect plan for that, his follow through at my low point reminded me of his ability to not take things personally when we had hard talks, but mostly how often he was connecting to simply encourage.
Is there someone you haven’t checked in on in a while? Let this story about Dusty Rhodes motivate you to make that call, send that email or text and engage, with sincerity.
Since 1991, Rob Wagman has been known first by his faith, and then by his skills in the secular side of this Industry, and now is known by his versatility, having succeeded in both radio and records in multiple formats from Christian Contemporary, Rock, Alternative, Top 40, Rhythm, Urban and Hot AC, in various roles from On Air to Programming to Marketing and Promotions. Wagman has worked in all of the Top 3 markets, LA, NYC and Chicago, and returned to LA in 2012 as his entry way into CCM, in PM Drive at KFSH, 95.9 The Fish before becoming the Network PD for WAY-FM.
In 2013, Wagman launched Straight Path Media + Entertainment, a consulting firm which hyper focuses on talent and each station’s greatest need for growth, supplying a la cart programming services for branding, from music strategies, promotional and marketing think tank brain storming, promo and imaging creative, talent coaching and airchecking. Wagman presently coaches 27 air talents, consults 13 stations plus 4 clusters. Contact Rob Wagman at StraightPathMandE@gmail.com