10 Questions with ... Sterling Tarrant
June 2, 2014
1. Brief History / Synopsis
It was a happy childhood spent under a cloud of soybean processing, in the soy capital of the world, Decatur, Illinois. I drummed and studied at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana (B.A. Mass Comm - class of 85). My time there was influenced by some Contemporary Christian Music forefathers, like Bill and Gloria Gaither, Sandy Patty, and Steven Curtis Chapman who all walked the halls of the Gaither Music Building.
I've been happily married over 26 years to my love, Christina, and we have two teenagers - Sullivan, 17, and Catherine, 14.
2. What was it that made you "catch the bug" for radio? When did you realize that it was what you wanted to do for a living?
It was a radio station tour in grade school. I loved how the DJ had all these buttons and knobs to play with. He could push a button and a reel-to reel deck would start spinning across the room. I loved the idea of being in control like that!
This was at WSOY in Decatur Illinois - as I said, the SOY capital. I was fortunate to actually be live on the air in high school. I was part of a Junior Achievement radio company. We sold airtime, produced a show, and hosted it live for a half hour every Wednesday night.
3. What's the most successful on-air bit/break you've ever been part of?
It's hard to pick one. At KSBJ we get to do so many meaningful things, and I get to produce spots that prompt our listeners to serve. Everything from rebuilding Galveston after Hurricane Ike, to collecting gift cards for communities in need. I only do fill-in shifts nowadays, but I write material that gives our DJ's ideas of ways to tie real life into songs, and when I hear those breaks I smile.
However, one of my most favorite breaks at KSBJ was when I coordinated the live on-air proposal of our afternoon drive host. You can find the video of it here:
4. With the advent of "instant everything".....what do you do to show prep? How do you prepare?
I teach a Bible study at church, and it forces you to look for illustrations and applications in real life. As those thoughts cross my path I write them down in my online to-do list at toodledo.com. However, most of those thoughts (and a good part of my own life experiences) end up in my own show prep site: www.takingitdeeper.com
5. Tell us about "Taking it Deeper". How can folks check it out?
It's a show prep service that gives jocks ideas on how to naturally share their faith and tie it into a song. I was once a producer on a show that was a Delilah knock-off, and I always admired the way Delilah followed up a call with just the right song. It's a great one-two punch.
Most show prep services give you a lot of fun, lifestyle type stuff, and I wanted to give Christian communicators another arrow in their quiver. I wanted to give them bullet points, and intros, along with scripture and personal application questions that help them think of ways to tie real life experiences into spiritual concepts. It's creative ways for jocks to open up their lives and show they understand the struggles we all go through. Thus the listeners relate to them even stronger.
The trick is to keep it short and compelling. Being a copywriting/production specialist, I know how to bring a story in 90 or 180 words. The bits I write are that length (usually shorter) and can be used as is. However, I find that the Jocks who have used it over these past three years have learned to let these bits trigger their own ideas and memories.
It's not just for on air either. I'm getting ready to use Taking It Deeper Bits to reinforce the message of our songs in some of our fundraising materials.
You're connecting and delighting your listeners, and re-enforcing it all with your songs. It helps your listeners sink the positive messages of the songs in their minds too. It's the "3rd Gravitating Body" kind of stuff that Roy Williams teaches. He explains it better than I can at http://www.mondaymorningmemo.com/newsletters/read/1390
To check it out just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll set up a free trial for anyone. I also send out e-mails of new content each week and I can let you check it out that way, too.
6. What would you categorize as your greatest personal challenge in radio? What are you doing to overcome that?
As a copywriter/production guy it's always a challenge to your pride when you produce what you think is a good idea, but have others raise their eyebrows at it in a "what were you thinking" way. It still stings a little even after 30 plus years of doing it.
However, pride is a constant companion that I have to combat, - pride and control. To do so I have three reminders that pop up daily in my to-do list. One says "what new tricks are you learning, old dog," the second says "are you repenting of your comparison issues," and the third says "everything a story."
These three items remind me that I don't have all the answers, that I need to be content with who I am and what I do, and I need to focus only on the control and abilities that God has given me - mainly to produce other's stories and help them have success.
7. Who are 3 people that you look to as mentors/leaders? What is it about them that grabs & keeps your attention?
I don't think I can keep it to just three people, but I can keep it to three categories. I will mention one person above it all though. That would be the PD who keeps hiring me: Jon Hull. I got into Christian radio in Orlando back in the late 80's and it was because of listening to Jon and his crew on WCIE in Lakeland. At that time I thought it wasn't just the greatest Christian station, but the greatest station, period. I so wanted to work there. I finally got the chance to work with him at KBIQ and The Word In Music Satellite Network in the early 90's, and then once again at KSBJ now.
I've had some great GM's too. Mark Pluimer at KSLT always inspired me with his vision. Linda Tiernan at KBIQ with her combination of toughness and care, and my current GM, Tim McDermott who has all of those things and more, with a great deal of fun thrown in.
Finally, the consultants: The numerous years studying the principles of Dan O' Day at Creative Summits and articles. Getting to take part in Roy William's Wizard of Ads Magical Worlds and hearing someone codify in my mind that which I knew but couldn't explain. Lately, Chuck Finney has been a great mentor and encourager, and I'm getting to work with John Frost for the second time now, and he so feeds my innovative streak.
8. What do you believe is the single greatest factor in building audience share/cume? Why do you believe it's that important?
Above all, delight your listener. Make them feel something, or discover something unexpected. For the most part delight will be that positive feeling associated with the word, but even a heart-tugged tear jerking story can make them delight in the emotion they get from your station.
The more you delight them, the more time they'll want to spend with you.
9. What's the last book you read?
The last book was "Ukelele for Dummies." I bought a ukelele for my birthday in January with the intent to learn three chords and sing "You Are My Sunshine" to my wife on Valentines Day. That did happen, and it was very impactful. We couldn't stop giggling.
10. Radio 101....in 101 words or less, how would you guide/instruct/advise a radio programmer/air talent who wants to get better at their craft?
Learn to talk less, but mean more. That's what I would say to any air talent, and it's what I have to drill into any production intern that comes through. The second main lesson that I remind clients about all the time is this: It's not about you, it's not about your event, and it's not about our radio station. It's all about the listener. That's a lesson that I constantly have to teach myself too. My current PD, Ty McFarland, is helping me take that to higher levels.
1. Most embarrassing moment on air?
I was doing mornings once when a bat flew in the studio while the mic was live. After the initial shock, I pulled out the Batman theme and the rest of the morning was "Bat Patrol Morning." I fed all the studios into the control room, and got live sound from staffers as we did what we could to catch the bat.
I also recall more than a few times that I've forgotten to push record.
2. Favorite cereal, favorite cartoon character and favorite fast food choice?
Cereal would be Life+Granola+Soy Milk. (Thank you, Decatur) Cartoon? Well, I worked at Disney for three years and actually got to wear the Goofy costume once. I have a hand drawn Goofy framed on my studio wall with the words "Always Remember to Stay Goofy, Sterling." It reminds me that this is radio, and we tend to get too serious behind the scenes sometimes. And I'm still looking for a good fast Fish Taco place.
3. You've got one last live break on air....and then the radio will go silent. What do you say, and why?
"Don't worry. God is in Control." It's my constant life lesson. I had to go in to give some blood last week and it just happened to be at a place where chemotherapy patients were getting their treatments. It made me thankful that the only thing I had to worry about that day was that a client didn't like a spot. God is in Control. I'm also a big fan of the "Keep Calm and Carry On" motto.