Building your radio career, from baby steps to quantum leaps, first and foremost requires a strong sense of self, we learned at the NAB Radio 2016.
Following the first half of the excellent s’mores & storytelling session on the pool deck of Nashville’s Omni Hotel, its second part featured young & upcoming personalities, who were demonstrating that you need more than mere talent. You also need much tenacity. My number 1 takeaway from this evening was that successful people think, speak and act in a certain way. Besides doing what you love, you want to practice four magic words (*).
“If you have an idea, go for it!”
Create your own platform
Zach Sang (1993), host of Cumulus Media’s nationally syndicated Zach Sang and the Gang, started as a party DJ and hosted a show from his “bedroom”. A digital native, he decided to go straight to emerging distribution forms on the Internet. “Nobody was streaming radio at the time; nobody was doing YouTube. I created my own opportunity.” Only after it was growing, he took the show from digital to FM. “That was really pretty much the scariest transition of my life. We grew a digital radio show from like zero to 2.3 million listeners, in a year. We approached FM with the same exact mindset: the listener first.” During that time, he also went into television, hosting shows for Nickelodeon, thus reaching his young audience through one more medium.
Realise your own vision
Taking his radio show from online to terrestrial made him realise that he needed to add something to the classic medium. Already talking on a loud volume with great emphasis, he now shifts into an even higher gear, giving us all a wake-up call by almost shouting: “When you think about how twenty-somethings are consuming anything today, it’s not just on one platform, ever!! Chances are it’s on like three to five, depending on who you are, and what your favourite apps are! When we approached FM radio, we saw it not as a dying industry by any means, but as an older industry. So, every day when we do our show, we tear it apart. We say: how do we take this great content for FM, and let it live on YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, etcetera?”
Activate your blissful inspiration
Sang’s encouragement for upcoming talent is to “build your own opportunity, and don’t be afraid of taking risks. If I wasn’t working in a grocery store, got bored with that, and said: ‘You know what would be fun? I’m gonna’ start a radio show’, my life would be completely different now. If you have an idea, go for it! Take advantage of it. Seize the moment. Because you’ll never know where that will lead you to. You don’t! I had no idea, nine years ago, that I would be here right now, doing a radio show on almost 70 stations across the country. It was an idea that I focused on, and kept moving with. Never doubt yourself. Believe in yourself. You’ve got to trust your vision. If you don’t trust your vision, you have no chance in succeeding ever. You’ve got to trust yourself first.”
“If ‘no’ is the answer, it’s only for now”
Turn your setbacks around
Mike Ipong, host of The WiLD Wake Up on Cumulus’ Top 40 WiLD 104.9 FM in Oklahoma City, came forward to share his remarkable story. “I was an alcoholic when I was 22 years old, and I was driving. I won’t say whether or not I was under the influence of alcohol, but I was listening to Dawson McAllister [see part 1] who was talking to an alcoholic person on the air. He said to him: I believe you can come out of this, because no matter who believes in you — right now, I believe in you. You can make the change. At that moment, I knew: I can make the change, too, and I stopped drinking for a while. I’m drinking tonight, but I can do it comfortably now. I went to school to pursue radio. Last year, when I was a student scholar, I was a producer for a morning show that was around for twenty years. I now have my own morning show.”
Break your comfortable boundaries
He gives a shoutout to Zach Sang, for raising the bar for him, and for pointing out that you have to take a chance to get somewhere. “I was definitely afraid of speaking in front of crowds, before I started any of this. That was my biggest fear, and now I’m standing in front of all of you, while this is what scares me the most — intimate moments. One person told me: if you’re always comfortable, you will never improve. You need to try new things. Grow uncomfortably. If ‘no’ is the answer, it’s only for now. Because I was told by my kindergarten teacher that I would not be a radio deejay. I host a morning show.”
Live your fullest life
Talent coach Steve Reynolds, who talked about growing outside your comfort zone before, adds the point of growing within your personal life. “You’ll have to give up your quest for perfection. Talents who do nothing but wanting to be perfect will never, ever, ever get there. Live life! Talents that I love best, are the ones who go out and explore. They’re not so frightened that they never leave their apartment or home. They walk out into the world, and say: here I am! I have no expectation for anything; much less for perfection. Come at me. If you can tell me a story of growth in your life at any age — age is nothing more than a measure of experiences — you can be a talent on the level of a Sean Parr or a Zach Sang. It is limitless how great you can be, if you only live life.”
“There is nothing like connecting with people”
Maintain your positive attitude
“My story is one of being open-minded and following where opportunities take you; not just where your plan takes you”, says Elaina Doré Smith (1989), co-host of the nationally syndicated NASH Nights Live Country music show with Sean Parr on Cumulus’ Nash FM brand. She initially thought of a television career. “I wanted to be a producer for a daily show. The only way I knew how to do it then, in my mind, was through TV. I worked forever to get these internships at Entertainment Tonight and The Insider.” She decided to combine them with her study at San Diego State University. To earn some money, she applied for a radio job that was being advertised at school. 100.7 KFM-BFM (back then 100.7 Jack FM) was looking for a promotions assistant. “I was like: ok, I can do that. Hours are flexible. I can do The Insider, I can do Entertainment Tonight, and I can do school. I can do this; I can drive to LA from San Diego. You do what you’ve got to do to make it happen.” But soon after she began her internships in Hollywood, something changed.
Follow your emotional guidance
“I realised, maybe two weeks into it: ‘oh, my gosh, I have been working towards this, and I hate it. This is not me. What shall I do?’ I knew it wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to get stuck in this rut of ‘I hate my job; I do it because I have to’. None of us want to be that person.” Fortunately, she liked her side gig. A lot. “While working at the radio station, I was finding that I loved it.” It was a Jack FM format, which at that time played non-stop music without on-air talents, needing someone to be the ‘face’ of the station, and host events. “That’s where I found: I like this; this is fun! I can actually be real, and have fun with people! Real interaction is how you get through to people. I started realising: radio is freaking amazing.” The station then signed a successful, heritage San Diego morning show; Dave, Shelly and Chainsaw. Shelly was still under contract of another employer, and could not yet come over to 100.7 Jack FM, which was looking for a temporary replacement, auditioning “local news girls and local celebrities.” Then, again, an opportunity presented itself.
Welcome your unexpected challenges
“The PD came to me and said: you’ve been doing all of these events, and we’d be getting such a great response. I would love for you to go in there, just so you can have the experience. I was like: okay! Hahaha. I’d never thought of that before. They sat me down and started talking, and I didn’t know if I was supposed to talk or what. That was when I realised: you go for it, no matter what! They started joking, and I jumped in. We ended up having an hour-and-a-half audition mock show, and I later found out that everybody else had about twenty minutes! I went home, and told my mom: I have found something that I love; it was just great, and I’m just so happy for the opportunity!” Two days later, she got a call from the PD, along with the main host Dave Rickards. “Dave said to me: I didn’t think that I was gonna’ like you, but I kind of fell in love with you, and I would love if you would join the show. That’s when I found my passion.” Her voice is changing from a lively and dynamic to a slower and personal tone when she conveys: “There is nothing like connecting with people.”
“Take those leaps, and take them blindly”
Manifest your higher ambition
She came to the show in 2010, when social media were really starting to meld into radio. “I found a passion with that as well. I love social media, and it ended up loving me back!” When she had her farewell when Shelly Dunn, now free of her contract, returned, the show’s social media followers “rallied” that they wanted to keep hearing Elaina. “I ended up being a part of the show through the rest of the college”. Looking to spread her wings after graduation, her goal was to be on a show that carried her name in the title. “I was like: I’m going to do that.” She went to radio conferences, and met Cumulus SVP/Programming Mike McVay. “You meet people that are big, and you think: ‘oh, they’re never going to remember me’. But they remember you sometimes, hahaha. Introduce yourself to everybody! You know that you can be confident in yourself and in who you are, you know how to sell your brand, and you know what you’re good at. Tell them what you’re good at. Network with everybody that you can, even if it just opens the door for a conversation.”
Build your personal brand
Impressed by hearing her creative radio work, and her musical YouTube appearances, such as this cover of Big Spender, McVay gave her a chance host a morning show alongside veteran radio personality Timmy McVee — Timmy & Elaina in the Morning, on 107-1 WA1A (call letters: WAOA, with the ‘O’ standing for ‘one’). Smith did not hesitate one second to move all the way to Melbourne, Florida for a gig with a junior salary at this CHR facility. “I met some of the most amazing people of my life there. It was an amazing opportunity!” She kept developing herself: “You can get so complacent; so comfortable at what you’re doing that you are like: oh, I’m good! But, no… there’s always room to grow; always room to keep reaching out. So I was trying to make myself known on a national level, through social media, and through whatever I could.” Ten months in, she got another phone call. Guess who was on the other end of the line?
Expand your professional horizon
“I got called in to the general manager, who said: Mike McVay would like to talk to you…? In my mind, I’m running through everything I could’ve possibly done wrong, haha. I’m like: why is this guy calling?? He said: we are talking about the NASH brand, and your name has come up quite a few times. I said: you know I work in Top 40, right? He was like: yes, you work for us; I know where you work, haha.” She came to an important realisation. “It’s very valuable to be not just in one lane. The fact that I had knowledge in Top 40, I think, is a very big reason that NASH brought me in. Two days later, I flew out there and got to meet my co-host Sean Parr, and here I am at a national level!” Looking back, it was a great adventure. “I’ve had to take a risk. It was so scary to move again. I hadn’t even been [in Florida] for a year. But you’ve got to take those leaps, and take them blindly. It’s very much like jumping in that cold pool. Do it, go for it. You won’t regret it, because it feels good.”
(*) The four magic words are: I Can Do This :-)
Header images: Thomas Giger