Career Capsule: “I’m the one in the middle” .. Still here after almost 30 years, The JOY FM (WCIE, Tampa / WVFJ, Atlanta) is my home. I started here in 1986, straight out of college (Samford U.), where I volunteered on the campus station playing classical music and jazz. Like many of you, I’ve moved around–overnights, evenings, afternoons, mornings–and held the titles PD, MD (for two weeks), “former” (as in resigned) and “The All New. . .” (as in re-hired and re-launched). The difference is I’ve had all these experiences in one building. When I left in 2000 to finish an M.A., I thought the career change was permanent (insert laugh track here). Back in 2003, I was asked to lead the morning show. In 2005, I re-teamed with my former partner, Dave Cruse, and not long after, we added Carmen Brown to the mix, becoming a three-person morning show, The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill & Carmen. In 2012, we syndicated our show to our Atlanta network station, WVFJ.
1. Bill, tell us what’s new YOU… news, changes, expansion… etc?
What’s new with ME? Trying to support two kids in college, two in private school, and one starving artist in Nashville with two jobs; having a now-working wife (after 20 years at home) and church responsibilities. Yes, my world is busy, and I’m out of the “kids in the back seat of the minivan” stage of parenting. Does that concern me in our format? Yes. Am I alone? No, and I think there is a bright future for some of us aging air personalities.
2. How has your morning show evolved over the years?
Dave, Carmen and I have been together as a team on The JOY FM for nearly 10 years, one third of my career here! The two biggest challenges right now have to do with our sustainability as a team (which isn’t going anywhere but up, despite the challenging logistics) and winning in the ratings in two major markets while delivering a network product. That last comment answers the evolution question: we have transitioned from a Sarasota show to a Tampa/Atlanta show which requires a different mindset for content. Surprisingly, the show serves the target audience in both markets well–at least that’s what the research is showing.
3. What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The best programming advice I’ve ever received has been given by several people over the years–partners, bosses and consultants–to basically be myself on the air, not too scripted or polished. I realize that advice wouldn’t hold true for everyone or for every show. What’s funny is I’m much more comfortable with structure and a script, so embracing “be yourself” with the right balance of real-guy, persona (the fictional character we all create) and program constraints has taken a lifetime to begin to master. Hard to say what the “worst” programming advice ever has been, though it almost ALWAYS involves trying to please everyone–critics, sales (underwriting), promotions, programming, myself–which can’t be done and mostly just exposes wrong motives. Being true to my calling, the mission of The JOY FM and my partners (all with the listener in the center of the target) is about all I can credibly deliver.
4. Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
Competition is a mixed bag. It makes you better. When it’s friendly, it still means you have to share, and we don’t always like sharing. When it’s unfriendly, it tests our hearts, proves our strengths and exploits our weaknesses. Is market competition in our format always done with kingdom-purposes in mind? I doubt it. As we become more successful as a format, we must not prostitute our mission for profit. Let me say it another way: I want to be Top 5 and I want us to continue to be dominant in our market and well-supported. And I want Christian radio nationally to do well as a format up against Country, A/C, etc. And when we start to dominate bigger markets, and the money rolls in, will that change our mission? If it does, are we for real? Those are big questions. Bottom-line: competition is an inevitable result of success. Let’s embrace both competition and success, but not let either of them drive our mission.
5. What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your show?
The one thing I must have every day to do my show is good relationships with my team. Dave, Carmen and I can endure anything. . .even bad coffee. . .for a season. But when one of us is down or if we are at odds with each other (as has happened on rare occasions), the show suffers. Our team has grown to include producers Hitch (TPA), Rob (ATL) and an intern at various times. Every player on that daily delivery team is crucial. When you have a great team, whatever their roles and whatever your show’s configuration, you will succeed. As far as tactical stuff, all I need is a microphone and a great music format to be able to get into the emotional world of a listener and make a personal connection. The rest is all window-dressing.
6. Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
Future Christian radio talent is all around us. We have to have our eyes open. There are more ways to connect now than ever before. The question is, what opportunities are we deliberately creating to bring a talented, motivated person into our station or show circle and “apprenticing” them to see if they can thrive? I do think the days of “Here’s a weekend shift; see what you can do,” are over. Instead, the most successful careers will be made by bringing potential talent / support under our wings and making them part of the team until we and they learn how they fit–gifts, skills, personality–within an organization. I believe the “apprentice” model is a better way these days to recruit and train new talent. Once they are ready, they’ll find their place in your organization or another–with some seasoning of their talent already working for them. Some will replace us. All will know our mission.
7. Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
Our biggest obstacles right now have to do with getting and keeping a listener’s attention in the midst of an ongoing communications revolution and a generational shift. Younger listeners are accessing music in a totally different way than “we” did. Values and patterns are shifting, and we have to, as one sage said back in the ’90s, comparing hockey great Wayne Gretzke to radio, “skate to where the puck is going to be.” We can’t get stuck in our ways, or we’ll be left behind. I have no idea what it will look like, but I still think “broadcasting” will be a viable source of engagement for the next generation. . .IF we pay attention, hold on to what is continuing to work, yet don’t get locked into outmoded ways of doing things.
8. Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Growing up, my radio heroes were the guys in my local markets (Tampa and Sarasota) like Scott Shannon and Mason Dixon, early influences in personality radio shows. Some of the local talk guys here moved the needle, like the late Bob Lassiter–an honest atheist–and even the late, great Paul Harvey. Why? Because they could tell a story and wrap you in their words. And TV guys like Fallon and James Corden have to go on the list of current idols, because they’re killing it in terms of making people laugh and gasp in a fairly family-friendly way. Takes more skill than bottom-feeders like the old shock jocks. Of course, I could mention the list of usual suspects in our format, but you already know their names (including our very own Jayar). Yes, they’re brilliant. Let’s expand the list!