Career Capsule: Carmen began her radio career in Tampa at Q105. She started out as a producer for the Cooper and Ritter Morning Show shortly after graduating from The University of South Alabama. Quickly, she became a third leg of the morning show, and the threesome had a very popular, family friendly morning show in the Tampa market for many years. After a format “tweak” in late 2003, Carmen left Q105 in 2004. A few months later she joined The JOY FM as Promotions Director. While Promotion Director, she joined The Morning Cruise with Dave Cruse and Bill Martin. They are heard in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Along with her morning show responsibilities, Carmen has also been the Program Director for The JOY FM since 2006.
Carmen… Tell us what’s new with THE JOY FM… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
The newest thing with The JOY FM is that we just launched The Morning Cruise at our sister station in Dothan, Alabama, on January 10. We launched The JOY FM in Macon, Georgia last September, and we’re taking The JOY FM to Athens in the next few months. That should make things interesting, being that I’m a huge Alabama fan! But, I’ll make sure I come in low.
This past year, we’ve created some strategic new positions and streamlined some things to coordinate our team and serve our listeners better. I think more than ever before, we’re operating on all cylinders. It feels good.
Morning radio is a very competitive,, what strategies to you use to stand out in the crowd?
I get asked this question often, and I always feel like my answer is kind of lame! After 22 years of doing mornings, I should have this really savvy recipe for the secret sauce of standing out, right? Instead, my strategy is simple and cliché. . .I truly just walk the journey with everyone. We know we’ve hit the mark when we hear things like, “I feel like I’m at the table with you having a cup of coffee!” And we hear that quite a bit. We are (I am!) 100% opposed to formulaic radio. If it ain’t real, it ain’t us.
To unpack this a little wider, The Morning Cruise is about three key relationships:
• Relationship with each other (me, Dave & Bill).
• Relationship with the artists (erasing the distance between the music that is speaking to the deepest parts of someone’s soul and to the real-life people creating it).
• Relationships with the listening family–truly caring about them. Listening. Engaging. That requires work outside the building, planning strategic face-time with them and every day being willing to show your less-than-perfect self in a way that isn’t self-indulgent.
Boiling it down: within each of these relationships, we strive for authenticity, community, passion, entertainment, and FUN! Yes, fun. I truly believe God is ok with us laughing!
My personal theme this year is: Do What Lasts. All of the above flows through this filter.
What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
1. Valerie Geller.
• Lead with your best content.
• Make it matter.
• Never be boring.
• Tell the truth.
2. Shelley Giglio.
• We have the best story in the world to tell, why not tell it with excellence?
• Walk in confidence because God brought you here. Walk in humility because God brought you here.
Worst: I try not to listen to bad advice, but I’ve heard things in our industry like “They don’t care about the artists,” as if there were something unholy about being personal. “It’s all about the song,” doesn’t mean they don’t care about anything else, or that God gets lost in the mix. Another zinger I’ve heard was, “At least it’s on the air” in reference to a really bad promo. Programming by “filling in the gaps” is a horrible practice. If the content is substandard, it has no business being on the air.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
Well, of course no one wants another Christian station to come into their market. And I totally understand that fear. Selfishly, I don’t want that either. It’s especially hard if you feel you’re doing it well and you might have to compete harder for listeners. But on the flip side of that, competition makes everybody better. I started out in country radio, and my whole country career was two major market country radio stations that duked it out, neck and neck in lots of books. This competitive environment doesn’t allow you to “phone it in” or rest on the fact that you’re the only game in town. I know this is a very unpopular viewpoint, but as Christians, we DO HAVE the very best story to tell, and I think we owe our very best efforts to the Lord who ultimately owns it all.
What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job/show?
I actually had a staff member tell me the other day about a conversation they’d had with another team member. She said, “We just have to be careful not to put too many restrictions on Carmen; nothing shuts her down faster.” Perhaps it’s a character flaw, but if things feel forced, restricted, or contrived, I’m out. This, and I get bored really, really fast. “Organic and natural” is my jam. Thankfully I’ve learned enough over the years to make sure I have people around me who fill the “need-for-structure” gaps that I create and absolutely do not possess.
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
The people on the street and in life that grab your attention. The dynamic ones you interact with that you want to keep chatting with, or make you laugh or think. And the ones that might even drive you crazy. You know when someone has the “it” factor, even if it’s not perfected yet.
But let’s be honest. . .raw & real is the new polished.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
I’m sure there are many. But from my seat, I believe its complacency.
I don’t think we need to play the game “not to lose.” Doing the same things you’ve always done because you’ve always done them is not a reason to keep doing them. Are you excited about your programming? Do you love your promotions? Do your listeners still love them? Are you bored? If you are, they most likely are too! Is your imaging stale? Just because all the boxes are checked and the containers are full doesn’t mean it’s the best you can offer. I understand we have small staffs. To that I would say DO LESS better. Or DO LESS in a fresher way. Safe and same ‘ol may get the bills paid, but it won’t win you the championship. And by championship, I mean the heart-pounding, soul-satisfying, life-changing, meaningful, eternal moments. When you have THESE moments with your listeners and are able to capture their stories, the financial support follows.
I tell my staff this all the time (so much I’m sure they get sick of hearing it):
Of all the people God picked to get to do what we do, He picked us. I promise you – you will look back one day and see these days as the “Glory Years.” Treat them as such, and live them this way!
Everything has a season, and seasons don’t last forever. Going through the motions is not an option. Let’s do this thing and recognize it as the GIFT that it is!
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Ken Cooper. I will always credit Ken for bringing me into radio. He hired me as a producer the day I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. I left after my first day of work and went straight to a doctor’s appointment. From day one, my pregnancy was instant fodder for the show. Ken taught me the flow of the clock, how to run a tight board (which I’ve not done in YEARS. Thank you, Dave Cruse!). He taught me how to screen calls, look for content nuggets, and what irritating things I needed to avoid. In short, he taught me radio. He taught me to be myself, even when several in management told me I’d “never make it in morning radio.” That was 22 years ago.
My heroes: Easy.
• My partners, Dave and Bill. I truly could not love them more. They are the most selfless men (especially when it come to big radio personalities!) that I have ever met. They know what it means to have a competitive edge, but with a Kingdom view. It can be done. We’ve been together over 10 years now, and truly are brothers and sister. It’s a partnership unlike any I have ever experienced.
• Jayar. When it comes to creative interviews, he just ticks me off. He is pure genius. There’s not a better interviewer in our industry. And I’m not just talking CCM.
• Daniel Anstandig. I call him my red-headed, genius-boy-wonder. Daniel was the first one to really believe in me and help me believe in myself. I was pretty beat up when I arrived at The JOY FM. Daniel has been with me since day one. His business partner at Futuri, Jon Erdahl, is pretty amazing too. They are my sounding board, cheerleaders, and strategizers. I couldn’t do it without them!
• Jim Campbell. Our owner and president, but also a CCM radio pioneer. Not only does he let us do good, old-fashioned, real, personality radio, he actually encourages it.