10 Questions with ... Barry Armstrong
January 12, 2015
1. Brief history/synopsis
I was born and raised in Midland, Michigan and graduated from a rural high school. (Explains a lot, you might say.)My next oldest brother, Jack, (now deceased) was a HS football hero and married a cheerleader. I was less of an athlete and played in the marching band. My older brother, Dick, is a Viet Nam vet. He joined the Air Force out of High School. My mom, a retired RN, is 89, still swims with friends 3 times a week and will probably spend January and February in Florida, again. My dad passed in 2004 at 80. I was at GMA/NCRA in Nashville when I got the news.
I have been married to the amazing Linda for 41 years. I first met her at a little church in Gananoque, Ontario. She was the organist and I was part of my uncle's traveling musical evangelistic team. We have two grown daughters and two grandsons, 13 months and 5 years old. The oldest, Rebecca, is an amazing full time mom, they live in Florida. Rachel is more of a self-described "gypsy" and does street entertainment, (Mime, stilt-walking, face painting etc.) and is a magicians assistant. She also does wardrobe for TV and films, with several Faith Based films on her resume.
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?
In downtown Midland, MI there was a storefront FM. I was like 14 (?) the first time I pressed my nose to the window. I was instantly fascinated by the rack mounted reel to reels, giant turntables and a dude sitting behind an amazing array of knobs and switches. One Saturday morning, a college age part-timer must have gotten tired of me staring through the window and invited me in to watch. I was hooked. By the way, that station later went dark and a few years later became Family Life Radio's WUGN, a 100,000 watt blow torch that still covers 1/3 of Michigan. Ironically, I was the first 6 to midnight jock there. Dr. Randy Carlson was my boss and Bill Harrier, now at The Joy FM in Florida was a coworker.
3. Give us the overview of WRVL/The Journey. What are it's core values, mission statement....and what is the greatest obstacle?
Wow, to put this in context, I came out of retirement last August and have been back in the saddle for just a few months. I am now GM of the Liberty University's radio group, formerly the Victory Radio Network. Our studios are adjacent to the campus of Liberty University. The flagship, 50,000 watt WRVL has been here for 33 years and has HUGE footprint in central and Southwest Virginia, plus Charlottesville, Richmond and Tidewater and more. We have 6 other full power stations and 20 translators in North Carolina and (mostly) Virginia. I was commissioned to lead the process of rebranding and reimaging this heritage teaching and talk station.
Values and mission? Of course we will reflect the well-established values of Liberty University. The new mission statement is... "We will use available technology and creativity to communicate the present and eternal hope of the Gospel." The new brand, revealed the day after Christmas, is, The Journey.
The greatest obstacle? Learning the dynamics of a huge organization where radio is just a small part. I am used to organizations where radio was the primary thrust. Amazing people, professionalism and resources everywhere I turn.
4. With the advent of "instant everything"..... How do you compete with what the potential listener has available to them?
That is the big question now, especially in local radio, isn't it? We see continued growth of national networks. KLOVE and WAY FM are examples of what a passionate vision and a talented team can accomplish on a national scale. Plus of course, there is the exploding array of digital options literally at our fingertips. Our major over the air competition is the top mainstream A/C, Pop and Country stations. Those are what most Christians, and those who do not yet follow Christ, are listening to. The current buzzwords in Christian radio are "compelling content." We have to get the music right, of course, but there are multiple sources of music available even on my smartphone. Content must go beyond the music and well executed service elements. Local radio has to provide something that the listener simply cannot duplicate elsewhere. Local is important, but JUST local is not enough.
5. What would you categorize as your greatest personal challenge in radio?
My biggest personal challenge in radio? Same as my biggest challenge in life. Self-doubt. What am I doing to overcome that? Learning to trust God and others. I have a burning, passionate desire to finish well... whatever it takes and wherever it leads.
6. Who are three people that have served as mentors/leaders to you?
Number 1 is the late Ron Hembree. Until his recent, untimely passing, Ron was president of Cornerstone Television Network in Pittsburgh. He was a pioneer broadcaster, author, and my pastor for a time. His heart broke for broken hearted people and he was certainly one of the wisest men I have ever known. Pastor Ron believed in me way before I believed in myself. He invited me to run a station operated by his church. He said, "I know you haven't done this, but I also know you are a leader and you will learn fast." That was WQFL in Rockford, Il.
Once on the ground, I called someone I knew only by reputation. I think my first words were: "HELP!" (Mentor #2) Jon Hull then invited me spend a few days with him in Lakeland, FL where he was PD for WCIE. He poured much wisdom into me and got me started on the right foundation. Jon remains a close friend and mentor.
At WQFL, I learned about the power of focus and formatting from (Mentor #3) Brad Burkhart. He was my consultant at WQFL and again in the early days of Spirit FM. It took a lot of conversation before that first engagement. I recall before signing the first time, I pointed the pen at Brad and said: "You better be right. We are going to execute; we will do everything you say and if it doesn't work, it's on you." I told my staff at the time, "This may not be the only way, but it is the way we have chosen and we will listen, and execute everything he says." Over the next year we experienced a truly remarkable turn-around in ratings and revenue. Thanks, Brad, wherever you are!
7. What do you believe is the single greatest factor in building audience share/cume?
Getting the music right is hard, but that's the easy part. Author John Acuff says: "Care about what the people you care about care about." Job 1 is to know the listener and what the listener cares about. That means going deep with your relationships in the community and not just for what they can do for you. Make serving a priority. Strategy, research and focus are critical, but relationships trump strategy. Every time. And, you have to win in the hallways before you can win on the airways. (Thank you Johnny Stone)
8. Most successful station promotion ever?
Probably the 3 years we did the VBS Express at Spirit FM. Our team came up with a 5 minute program and went to VBSs all over our market, which was huge. Sometimes we would drive up to 3 hours for a 5 minute presentation. We visited large churches with hundreds of kids, little rural churches with a dozen or less kids and only a couple of workers, and everything in between. We created fun experiences that sometimes involved large scale "slight of hand", or my favorite, a Nascar themed flag presentation: Green, GO ... God invites to run the race; Yellow... Caution, slow down, danger ahead! Black; White, ONE MORE LAP ... almost home, and CHECKERED; You made it to the finish line, and when God drops the checkered flag, EVERYone who crosses wins! Our goal was to visit 100 churches every summer. We left a branded gift bag for every kid that included candy, a branded mini Frisbee and a well written "tract" that recapped the presentation and explained how to accept Christ, and listed the Spirit FM frequencies. Leaders loved it, parents loved it and the kids loved it. It wore us out every summer but I am convinced The VBS Express did more to put that station on the map than any other promotion in our 20 years.
9. What's the last book you read?
I am just now re-reading a book I first read years ago, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.
The book presents twelve Spiritual Disciplines and how they can move us closer to God. The Inward Disciplines are meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. The Outward are simplicity, solitude, submission and service. The Corporate Disciplines are confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. The book sets the bar pretty high, yet the disciplines are specific and practical and they open me up to the profoundly supernatural part of my faith. The disciplines help me overcome some of my greatest life struggles, which included periods of debilitating depression.
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 look and listen through the listener's eyes and ears. Listen (a lot) to stations that are winning. The best make it sound easy, but it's not. Make friends at winning radio stations. (They are the friendliest people I know) Find mentors. A consultant (I am a fan of consultants) can be your mentor but you also want people pouring that are not getting paid to be your friend. Subscribe to radio guru blogs. Join CMB and take advantage of the educational resources they provide. Learn from the past to change the future. Dream big. At the end of the day, are people being drawn closer to Christ?
1. Most embarrassing moment on air?
Early on at Spirit FM my wife and I were doing the morning show (we did it together for 10 years total). We often shared our family stories. One morning Linda was talking about an incident between our youngest and a little neighbor girl. I do not have tape but remember like it was yesterday. Linda: "Our youngest daughter has several friends in the neighborhood and young girls, you know, sometimes have these little t**s..." (the pause of horror)... "I MEAN TIFFS... T-I-F-F-S, TIFFS!!!" I was afraid to answer the phone or open the mic for an hour.
2. If you were King for a day, and could "fix" three things in radio land....what would they be?
- I want a prophet. Someone who sees the future through God's eyes so we would have direction instead of opinions.
- Redefine success and winning. Awards, ratings and revenue are how we measure success. How does God measure success?
- Go back to AM and FM only. (I'm King, right?)
3. You've got one last live break on air....and then the radio will go silent. What would you say?
You mean like it was going to be January 1, 2000? Seriously, that question is esoterically way over my head, (as is the word esoterically) but maybe something like: "Learn what this means: Love God, love people. Thank you and goodnight." (Unless its morning, then I'd say, "...have a great day.")