Career Capsule: My first job in radio was doing mornings at WCFB in Tupelo, Mississippi. I was there for five wonderful years and learned so much. We had three different GMs in five years, so it seemed like much more than working at one station.
In 1991, I started at WAFR in Tupelo as the morning personality. A bit of trivia: Mine was the first voice heard on the very first day after they flipped the switch and went on the air. (And I’m still here doing mornings, hoping to be the Dick Clark of Christian radio!) All of my extremely talented co-hosts have leap-frogged over me and gone on to be PDs and managers, but I remain in the same chair.
JJ, tell us what’s new at American Family Radio… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
American Family Radio network has grown from one station in 1991 to nearly 200 stations in 36 states. It’s been exciting to be a part of the growth and have a front row seat to witness God’s faithfulness. Over the years, we’ve experienced many changes, and we continue to trust the Lord’s leadership.
Personally, my co-host of five years, Ron Shank, took a job in Tennessee to teach broadcasting and manage a high school radio station. We haven’t replaced him yet, but this past summer I enjoyed having my 21-year-old daughter Lauren join me as a summer intern co-host before her senior year of college. Lauren is bright, extremely funny, quick witted, and she has grown up around radio. One of our promos said, “JJ knows Fresca and 8-track players; Lauren knows Instagram, emojis, and Snapchat. They’re worlds apart, but together for the summer!” I related to baby boomers and Lauren connected with youth and millennials. We had a blast and our listeners really responded.
Another personal highlight was when my wife Melanie and I were guests of Dr. James Dobson on Family Talk in early 2017. The two-day interview aired again among Family Talk’s “Best of 2017” features in December. We were humbled and honored to be with Dr. Dobson to share the story of the death of our 5-year-old son Cooper and talk about our book, Losing Cooper: Finding Hope to Grieve Well. Despite our tragedy, many rewarding things have happened in our life, and like the mercies of the Lord, we experience new, fresh things daily.
Morning Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?
This may sound corny, but I really do love our listeners, and I don’t think you can fake that. When you try to daily encourage and inspire someone, they appreciate it. I’m a natural story teller and talk with many word pictures, and industry professionals say that helps. We try to connect by covering current events, lifestyle stuff, and lots of humor. So a recipe for standing out from the crowd? Have fun, be authentic and transparent, love the listener, and lift up the Lord. He will honor that. (Matthew 6:33, Proverbs 3:5-6).
What is the best morning show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Brooks, one of my first co-workers, said, “Always smile when you open the mic.” People can tell, and it really makes a difference. Other great advice over the years has been, “Take the first exit!” Also, when I’ve had co-hosts, we would discuss how we were going to get into a break and what’s the out? If you have the beginning and the end determined ahead of time, the middle of the break will take care of itself and allow you some freedom to be creative and extemporaneous. Another thing: if a zinger or great one-liner comes to you near the end — something that’s better than the out you had planned — pull the trigger, then take the first exit!
When we would be doing breaks from morning headlines, my co-host Ron would almost always say, “Where’s the hope?” He insisted we get that point nailed down so we would have a target to aim for. If you don’t offer hope, your break may just sound like a rant and not offer the listener any value.
And last, some of the best advice I’ve received is “Have fun!”
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
My head says fewer stations, but my heart says more. It’s not easy to admit, but competition of any kind in any arena pushes us toward excellence. Capitalism and the free market work, and everybody wins.
What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your show?
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
My wife and I have seven children. (With five daughters, I only wish there was more drama at our house!) Obviously, when our children’s friends come over, there are lots of youth in our home. We also volunteer as youth leaders at our church. Watching these brilliant, creative, young people interact and use social media gives me confidence that the new wave of future talent for Christian radio is right behind us— and it’s a tsunami!
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
Mediocrity. As a private pilot, I sometimes put the airplane on auto pilot. While this is helpful in aviation, it’s not good when we get lazy and place our life, our walk with the Lord, or our incredible radio opportunities on auto pilot.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Dr. James Dobson, Chuck Swindoll, and Dr. David Jeremiah have influenced me with their teaching , and they have helped me grow spiritually.
Buster Wilson has been my GM twice. He has forgotten more about radio than I’ll ever know. He’s been a great mentor.
John Riley was our AFR program director for many years. John has been an excellent mentor and is truly a servant leader. He is well respected in the Christian radio community, and his integrity and love for Jesus are second to none.
Ron Shank is my former co-host and one of my best friends. I had the most fun of my entire radio career teamed up with Ron. We had incredible contests, phoners, and promotions. We had the biggest response ever from our listeners. I should’ve received a Ph.D. for all I learned from such a hilarious radio genius!
Thank you for allowing me to be interviewed on HisAir. This is an honor. In closing, may I say what a privilege it’s been to be a cheerleader for Jesus on Christian radio for all these years. Hopefully, we’ve made a difference. When I think about getting paid for doing what I love so much, I kind of feel like a boy Cinderella and want to pinch myself to see if it’s really happening!