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Mentoring Talent

Mentoring Talent

What Radio Needs

Last week, I shared a short video of author, J.K. Rowling’s Commencement address to graduates of Harvard. If you missed it, you can see it HERE.

As is often the case, I got many comments and reactions privately, via email, rather than publicly. I understand why this happens. Ours is a small business, and shrinking, and fear creates anxiety about being in the spotlight, especially my spotlight. That, however, was not the case with what you’re about to read.

One of the responses was too good not to share, and I think each one of you who reads this today will have your own examples to share. Even if you don’t do it publicly, I’d love to see them.

Meet Bill Conway, former PD of one of the world’s great Soft AC stations, KOIT in San Francisco. I’ve known Bill for years and when I asked if I could share his email with you, he didn’t hesitate…

I was enjoying the Challenge story when you used J K Rowling as an example for talent. It reminded me that almost all of us have stories of All-Night Talent that we loved, (many of whom) motivated us to become DJs. As a PD, I remember that the overnight slot was one place we used to let someone go farther, because there was negligible threat of causing damage if someone went too far.

You really could take someone with potential (and give them the freedom) to grow as a broadcaster. Now, there were some who abused the chance, but I have memories of many who were at my stations over my 40-year career and I want to mention three who really used (that) opportunity, along with their talent, to become successful.

I did not make them successful. They did it on their own as they moved on from being Overnight Personalities for this lucky PD:

When I became PD at WTMJ, Wex had been an intern, (then) picking up part-time fill in work on weekend overnights. He was always hanging around offering to do anything we needed, and he was dependable. I had a problem with the Overnighter’s reliability then and Steve would show up at a moment’s notice, and I could hear the raw talent. When the slot opened, I gave it to Steve, who ran with it. It’s been fun watching him achieve success as an air talent, PD, and GM, VP of Radio for Journal Broadcasting, and now Executive Vice President of the Journal Broadcast Group. He’s a great person too!

When I was programming EZ104 in Charlotte, I heard this part-timer — John Hill — on our competitor station. I made a note that if I had an opening, he would be a good candidate. I can’t say what I heard, but I felt he had something special, which I can’t define but which many of us can hear. When our All-Night shift opened, he was an easy choice. He began staying after his shift to help AM Driver, Chuck Boozer, who took advantage of John’s quick wit and mutliple voices. He added great things to the morning show and never complained, even when the STL tower fell on his car in a storm.

I loved working with this guy! I have to tell you, I choked up when he sent me an email while I was at KOIT showing several years of #1-ratings in multiple demos as the solo host of the Morning Show on WXXL. John reminded me that I had told him way back when that he ‘was so talented that some day I would be bragging that I knew him when.’ I replied that I remembered that and that I had already done so. And, I guess I am again right now.

In San Diego, when I was OM for SFX stations, KYXY and The Planet, I hired Dawne as part of the first staff for The Planet. She started as a part-timer, and then became our Overnight talent. I liked to use Overnight talent in daytime weekend slots, partly to give them a chance to be heard by a bigger audience and partly so I could hear them in real time and not just via airchecks. Dawne was a single mom with two teenagers, an RN who decided she wanted to be an Air Persoality. She risked everything in her life and made huge sacrifices to reach that goal.

One Saturday, about 11am, I got a phone call from her saying she had just been in a head-on collision and would be late for her air shift, starting at noon. I asked if she was alright and what the police said. “I don’t know,” she replied, “because they aren’t here yet. I called you first because I wanted to cover the shift until I can get to the station.” I told her not to worry, to take care of herself and the situation. I then went in to do the shift myself, despite the fact that I hadn’t done many shows after years as an off-air PD.

About 2 hours in, Dawne buzzed me on the Hot Line saying she had been checked at the ER and was getting a ride to get her in so she could finish her shift. I was really struck by her dedication and work ethic, although, in retrospect, she may have been listening and wanted to prevent me from further embarrassing myself.

I took the job in San Francisco and would hear from Dawne as she worked her way up through smaller markets, where she would also be PD or Promotions Director, or any job that needed to be done — in addition to her air shift.

Now, she is back in San Diego, doing middays on KIFM, where last month she was #1 overall at San Diego’s #1-rated station. She’s just a tremendous success story.

It’s a shame that automation has eliminated opportunities for talented, dedicated, hard-working, quality people like Wex, Johnny and Dawne.

Starting out in overnights gave lots of us a career, and it’s probably something former PDs, like Bob Pittman and Dan Mason, have in their own past. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for this industry if they would revive the live All Night shows?

So, share your stories, either here or in private emails to me. And if you are in a position to advocate for a return of live jocks on overnights, to forward this to Bob or Dan, please do so. Bill is right. We stand to gain a lot more than the shifts will cost.