10 Questions with ... Jim Asker
June 9, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I attended college in Upstate NY at SUNY Oswego and after that worked in Syracuse, NY for several years before moving to Richmond, then Virginia Beach and finally Fredericksburg, VA, where I programmed WFLS for 9-years. After WFLS, I moved to Western Massachusetts and programmed a Triple A station, WRNX, which is now owned by Clear Channel. However, when I was there it was locally owned by two great guys, Bruce Stebbins and Tom Davis. It was a lot of fun to play whatever we wanted and to be honest, musically, since I grew up on rock for the most part-WRNX gave me a chance to use that knowledge of music to program. WRNX was a lot different than most Triple A's that I am familiar with. We had no 'attitude' and you didn't need a 'musicology' degree to listen. We'd go from a U2 song into Marvin Gaye-or an REM record into a Beatles song. We played everything from Lyle Lovett to Widespread Panic, to REM and everything in between. We had great jocks and did fun promotions. I don't think any of us realized at the time how special that was, but they are fond memories. The station had great numbers too, which is unusual for that format. After WRNX, I moved to Long Island and worked for Barnstable for 6-years. I think we had five different GM's in 6-years and about 7 GSM's. I survived all of the GM's except the last one, who had disdain for Country music. He did me a favor, because after they flipped that station to one of the bazillion AC/Rock hybrid 'flavor of the week' formats, I left and Joel Denver found me somehow. He had heard I was a writer, as well as a radio guy, and he was looking to start a Nashville office for ALL ACCESS. It was perfect timing. I got into radio because of the 'one to one,' romance of the unique communication radio offered. Once the Telecom Act was signed by Bill Clinton, radio changed. I'm not going to say anything negative, only that it wasn't for me. I began my chapter at ALL ACCESS in February, 2001.
1) Congratulations on what must have been a difficult decision to seek a new opportunity. Take us through that process.
I believe life is a series of chapters and people need to keep evolving-at least that's my take on it. I started in radio, like a lot of us, when I was really young. But I didn't get into radio to be a computer whiz, research guru, or voice-tracking master. I love 'live and local' radio. I have a lot of respect for the people that changed with it and thrived-Tim Roberts and John Paul come to mind. When I started at ALL ACCESS it was perfect timing for me, because I had a love for writing and free-lanced as a parallel career just about the entire time that I was in radio. I am hoping to keep writing in some form as I move forward. I believe that when you hit a certain point, you might want to move aside and let someone more passionate come in and take the baton from you. I think basically that's why I decided to make this change. I'm really proud of a lot of the things we accomplished at ALL ACCESS.
2) What did you find to be the most rewarding takeaway from your 11 years with All Access?
Well there's a lot. For one, when I got here, ALL ACCESS wasn't exactly on the 'radar' for most people in Nashville. Joel hired me. Then we hired Matt Hargis and Kelly Daniel, and we started the process of building a product that was viable to our format. I think we did a good job of building the brand here. The other thing that I take away that's so important in anything you do in life-is the ALL ACCESS communication style that Joel instills in people. You not only answer every email, phone call, text, IM-but you do it quickly-and have a degree of urgency to everything that you do. The people that do best in any industry are great communicators. Unfortunately, it seems like younger generations don't have that same consideration-it takes 5 seconds to reply to someone-so when someone says that, "Oh yeah I got that message but I was really busy," I just find it kind of sad. You're basically saying that this person isn't important enough to warrant a reply. That's what I love about ALL ACCESS. We treat everyone the same-if you're in radio, well a night jock in a small market is just as important as anyone else and we show them that respect.
3) OK, now the flipside: What was the most frustrating and/or challenging?
This is easy-as good as we did in Nashville, there are some people in the business, who are in that 'bubble.' They don't see beyond Nashville, so you'd have to try and educate them to the volume of how large All Access is in the world. I just think that if you're at a label and you're dealing with radio, part of your job needs to be that you know where your clients go to read about the industry. If you're a publicist and you don't know about All Access, then you're not doing so great of a job for your clients. It's that simple.
4) During your 11 years with All Access, you saw a lot of evolution in not only this format but the entire industry. Which ones stand out to you?
Wow. From 2001 until today we have had so much change that I don't know where to begin. For one, there has been the "American Idol" effect on music. We got to a point where it seemed like anyone being signed came from 'Idol,' or another similar show. Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and several others are tremendous artists, so it's definitely an outlet. Has it been great for music overall? I'm not so sure that it has. Consider that The Beatles played 4-sets every night in cramped and sweaty clubs before they were ever signed. But once again- some great people have come from this system. I had the pleasure of meeting Cassadee Pope recently and was really impressed with her songwriting and artistry. She's awesome-so a lot of great can come from those shows too.
I have to mention one other change that I don't think is so good. I believe that the music and broadcast industries will basically mirror the state of our country. In the past dozen years or so, we have seen a steady decline in the value of the average employee. So what you have are a few people at the top of any industry getting rich, flying around in private planes. Their salaries are sort of obscene. Meanwhile, the rest of the population claws away for survival, and the reward is keeping your job, sometimes doing the work of a half dozen workers, but hardly ever getting rewarded financially. I read a recent report that the bottom 93% of our population has seen their wages drop during this supposed healing of our economy, while the top 7% is up about 23%. I believe that it's basically our fault. Until the population gets involved it's going to keep getting worse. And since most people are walking around with iPods and phones sticking out of their ears, or photographing last night's dinner for Facebook or Twitter-I don't see much hope for a change.
5) What have you learned from Joel Denver, and how will you implement that into your next chapter?
Lots of stuff. Joel's communication style for one, also our sense of urgency will carry on to my next chapter. Joel and his wife Ria treat the staff like we're an extension of family-that's a good thing. I had a lot in common with Joel when I took the job, so my belief now is the same as it was, and that is in the Biblical philosophy towards work- do it honestly and do the absolute best you can always. Just showing up a little early sets your tone for the rest of the day.
6) Your life has changed dramatically from your first day at All Access. - Most notably, you have fought and won the battle against stage 4 cancer. If present day Jim Asker could give any piece of advice to 'first day at All Access Jim Asker,' what would that be?
I had stage-4 non Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I don't mind talking about it at all, although I'm not one of those people who will share news of doctor appointments, scans, tests and so on, on Facebook. I believe in being private about a lot of it. However, I will say that although I would never wish what I had on anyone, I believe that I'm a better person on this side of the journey than I was before-hand. Also, you don't realize the pain that you can cope with and endure until you're there. Fighting cancer is very similar to running a marathon-you keep putting one foot in front of another, no matter how much it hurts. I was not a materialistic person going into it but I'm even less so now. I think an important lesson is that while you work as hard as you can, you should never tie your identity to your position. We all know at least one or two people that changed greatly when they became a VP or President-I find that sad. That's why I have so much respect for my friends who are the same cornballs now as when they were working me to add records years ago. There are too many to mention and I don't want to miss any of them. They know who they are.
7) Right now, Country is probably hotter and more mainstream than ever before. What do you think is driving this mass-appeal?
Well it helps that our artists are fantastic, and they really know how to nurture relationships with both radio and their fans. Also, young people today think Country is cool. I don't think that there's really a stereotype anymore or it's at least diminished a great deal. One thing that I'd love to see change or evolve, is that the music is sounding the same sonically. We can't continue on that path forever. That's why I hope that the format embraces Kacey Musgraves. In my opinion, she's the most gifted writer and artist out there. I heard a feature that NPR did on her that was at least 20-minutes. That audience is going to love her. That's fine too, as long as we don't just hand her over.
8) There has been tremendous growth in Country shares among 18-34 year-old listeners. What must radio and the labels do to sustain this growth?
That's a pretty tough question because historically the younger portion of that demo is pretty fickle and will be listening to something else in a couple of years. I think we'll find out soon enough if the Bobby Bones experiment works and if what Cumulus is planning works as well. With things changing as fast as they are technically I really have no crystal ball but I think the upward trend will last a good amount longer.
9) What do you hope will be the next step for you, career-wise? What are you most passionate about right now?
I'm not ruling anything out. And at least on a free-lance basis, I would love to keep writing in the music industry.
10) You are highly involved in Team In Training. What marathons have you ran and which ones do you hope to complete in the future?
I have had a health glitch recently get in the way of my training. By the time anyone reads this, I'll have finished another half-marathon in San Diego. I'd like to train for a full-marathon after this one. And yes, I am very involved with the Purple People, Team In Training. TNT is the oldest of the charity running programs, and it supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Since its inception, we have raised over $1.3 billion for cancer research. 37 drugs that are vital in the battle against blood cancers have been funded by TNT money. To date, I have personally raised over $100,000 thanks to my generous friends. I am at the point where 100% of the money I raise goes directly to research. If anyone would like to give a few bucks, I'd be so appreciative. Just visit www.runningtocurecancer.org.
1) If you saw Olivia Munn in the hallway, what would you say to her?
I can remember being in school when you'd be walking down the hall, and all of a sudden someone you had a crush on, is walking towards you, and you can't even squeeze a hello out-it would be similar to that. For anyone who doesn't know Olivia, she's on the great HBO series "Newsroom."
2) Why is Bruce Springsteen's music so important to you?
The first time I saw a Springsteen show was when I was in college-that was a long time ago! He actually played our campus in Oswego, NY. I was already into Bruce, but had not witnessed what was already getting a reputation as a 'live' performance like no one had ever seen. He played 3 and 1/2 hours that night and I had never seen anything even close to the work ethic that both he and the now legendary E-Street Band displayed. Anything from that point forward would have to be compared to that-even Bruce! However, even a sub-par Springsteen show is still great. I always thought that he played every show as if it might be his last. He's changed a little through the years-but who hasn't. I have some great memories from those 100 or so Springsteen concerts that I've been to.
3) I'm told you love to throw in bonus questions asking what people's favorite movies are. So, Jim Asker: What are YOUR favorite films?
I guess I have asked you that once or twice RJ!! To be honest I have a hard time coming up with a 'favorite' anything. So I'll tell you of a couple favorites from the last year or so. I loved "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty," and being a sucker for baseball movies, I thought that '42" was very good-but not as good as say, "Bull Durham," or "Eight Men Out," or the 1942 classic "The Pride Of The Yankees," about the late great Lou Gehrig. You didn't ask about TV stuff but I'll tell you anyways. I've become addicted to "Game of Thrones," despite the 12 or so plots going on at once. There was a great FX series starring Keri Russell, that just concluded called "The Americans," that I loved. And although it's coming off the rails this season, I have been addicted to "Madmen," in the past.