Station Favorites Talk About The Future

By Chris Watson

They are vocal companions, chatting at us through speakers from gigantic PA systems to tiny headphones. They help us know what is happening in our world, what intersection to avoid, whether school is delayed or, heaven forbid, canceled, and the local church festivals this weekend. They keep us company at work and at home, while waiting for an office appointment or when we are driving. We know who they are and identify their voices, however, many of us could not pick their faces out of a line up.

Despite leaps in technology, they still talk to us and are arguably, more important than ever. “There always seems to be someone,” says Lyn Casye O’Shea of 93.5 WRQN, “who is writing radio’s epitaph. There are constant stories about our imminent demise. Yet we are still here and thankfully people still listen.”

Harvey Steele of K100 agrees. “People have adopted us. Surveys tell us that music is way down the list of the reasons that people listen. Our listeners don’t refer to us as just a radio company.  They take ownership and call us ‘my station.’”


All You Need is Love

Many local radio personality’s careers began because there was something they truly loved about radio. “Friends of mine told me I was funny and I should get into radio,” says Fred Lefebvre of 1370 WSPD. “I was pretty comfortable in the grocery business and had every intention of staying. I decided to take a 32-week class from the Specs Howard School of Broadcasting. They helped find me a job in Celina, Ohio where I worked the night shift, took out the trash, shut down the transmitter and did outside sales. I took a 50 percent pay cut that first year, but I never went back.”

Timm Morrison of 93.5 WRQN got interested in a radio career  at a high school career day.  “It turned out that we visited a radio station on career day.  Add to that visit the fact that my hero was J.P.  McCarthy of WJR.  I was able to tour that station and actually speak with him.  I was hooked.  I tried to get hired at 92.5 and eventually pitched the idea that they could hire me for 6 months to do the night show for free.  If I hadn’t improved their market share after that I would walk.  They started paying me after the first two months.”

Amy Davis of K100 laughs when she thinks about her first radio job. “Well, it wasn’t ‘On Air’,”  she says lightly. “I was in college in Chicago and got hired by a station at minimum wage to do market research and to conduct phone surveys. It was a start.”

Lyn Casye’s story is similar. “I actually never had designs on being on the air. I was a piano major at BGSU. I took a communication class and decided to put my two loves together — music and communications. My first job in radio was at Reams Broadcasting. I started out as a receptionist.”

Harvey Steele’s love affair with the medium started much earlier. “I had a make believe radio station in my bedroom. I grew up in the shadow of CKLW in Detroit. I wanted to be like Larry Lujack, a great DJ from WLS in Chicago.” He continues, “I had a speech impediment growing up. My father was a chemistry professor at a college with a campus station. I was told if I worked hard with my speech coach then the station would let me read the news on air. I read the news for two years.”


Staying Alive

The romance with radio has been a compelling career motivator for these radio voices who started broadcasting with youthful enthusiasm and have stayed in the spirit with mature passion. “For whatever reason” says Lefebvre, “we all fell in love with it.  Every one of us who broadcasts. “Besides,” he says with a voice somewhere between joking and deadly serious, “What else would I do?”

Steele’s reason for staying on the radio is definitely playful. “Well, I stay because I have no other usable skills.” He continues, “I also love what I do. Some people have jobs they trudge to. I love every single day going to my job.”

Morrison’s reasons for staying are simple. “I have never gotten tired of what I do.  Many people eventually just run out of steam. I have never felt that way.  Recently I was on a 10 day vacation with my daughter and having a wonderful time. After the first three days I realized that I was missing being on the air. When you feel like that there is no compelling reason to leave.”

Davis agrees. “Yikes! I have no idea what else to do or how I would even do something else.  I have been able to make a career out of broadcasting for 25 years by being a team player for the stations I have worked for. That has kept me happily employed for a long time.”

Casye explains the passion for her job a bit deeper. “It gets in your blood. There is something special about being part of the the fabric of people’s lives. There is a connectedness to your listeners that is truly wonderful.”


Video Didn’t Kill the Radio Star

Satellite, syndication, web and pod casting, and of course corporate consolidation, have made drastic and impactful changes to the radio landscape. “The technological advancements in the industry have been extraordinary,” says Casye. “Social media alone has changed what we do as a broadcaster. An artist’s sole conduit to listeners used to be radio. It was their vehicle to talk to their fans. Now they have so many ways to directly speak to a listener.”

“For me,” says Davis, “the single biggest change has been on the business end. Sure, technology changes and we have to keep up with it. Unlike when I started, radio has become big business. Fewer owners owning more stations. Things are more homogenized.”

Lefebvre reflects Davis’ narrative. “Consolidation is the biggest difference in my career. When I started almost all stations were owned by single individuals or small companies. My first station here in Toledo was owned by a guy who bought it during WW II. When he sold it after years of ownership, the next guy only owed the station for a couple of years. Then the consolidation began.”

“The consolidation is certainly a factor,” agrees Morrison. “Besides locally my show is syndicated to smaller market stations across the country. Those stations use to have an on air broadcaster.  Now they have me via syndication. This isn’t because there is a lack of talent. It is because stations owned by big conglomerates, publicly traded, and therefore profit and dividend driven.”

Steele’s take is different. “It is behind-the-scenes that has changed the most for us. Our on-air time has been fairly constant. However, with so many stations being owned and managed under a single flag, I see changes to how stations are run and operated. Even our playlists now have corporate input — something we didn’t use to contend with.”


The Future Holds …

For all the changes and challenges, these radio veterans seem positive and upbeat about their craft and the industry. “Social media is the brightest part of our future,” says Lefebvre. “Sure, it is more work. It puts us in front of our listeners in ways that we could never do just with broadcasting. We have a way, particularly when it comes to charity, to put the word out to our listeners about great events that they love and want to support.”

Steele sees the same local focus. “Everyone thought that satellite radio would be the end of the local station. Instead, the need for local, well-connected stations became even greater.  People might think it is hokey but we do a ‘lost pet report’. Add to that local weather, traffic, charity benefit information and news, and we compete with generic, across-the-board programing. That makes us relevant, pertinent, and above all, better.”

For Davis it is the technology that excites her. “We can stream our station all over the world. No matter where I travel, I can tune in to a little bit of home. Add to that social media and radio now has a huge platform to get its music, message, and advertising distributed.”

For Morrison it is the bridge between past and future that excites him.  “Radio has retained, despite its deep changes, remarkable talent and experience. I work so many skilled radio veterans like Mark Elliot (at WRQN) and Mike McVay (at Cumulus) who constantly share their time and expertise with people. Radio continues to have a unique blend of experience, innovative platforms, new artists, and changing technology. That mix is exciting.”

Casye sees an ever-increasing emphasis on local interest. “Even with Pandora, iTunes, and Sirius, people still come back to local radio. They want and actively seek out a connection to their own community.” She pauses — a perfect broadcaster moment — for emphasis. “The people who own radio are beginning to see the power of being locally focused. It is our job to nurture and engender that feeling.”


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