10 Questions with ... Ray Steele
November 20, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I have moved too many times in my life, though I am grateful for each stop along the way. I have done, mostly, news and talk for the better part of the last 16 years, with stops in Gadsden, Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama, Charleston, SC, Memphis, Raleigh, and Savannah. Currently bringing the South to an area that, frankly, is a lot like the South - Indiana.
1. How did you get into radio? Why radio?
I wanted to do television originally. I wanted to be Howard Cosell, Johnny Carson, and Gordon Solie (legendary wrestling announcer). Once I started radio, at what used to be WADX in my hometown - Trenton, GA - I loved it. Plus, the radio people I met were much nicer than most of the television people I met early on. I have met some fine TV people since, but that first impression went a long way.
2. What, if anything, has changed the most in radio news since you started in the business?
I know this - I can cut and splice tape better than anyone in our newsroom, except perhaps for my fellow WIBC anchor Stan Lehr, who remembers when the grease pencil was invented :). And that doesn't mean I am that old, even though I am. I was being taught how to handle tape during the transition to digital recording. While that was a big change, I don't think anything compared to the mega-shift going on right now - how our online presentation and presence is at least as important as what happens on the air.
3. As someone who's worked at several stations with strong news operations and has seen how the business has gone over that time, are you optimistic or pessimistic that radio will continue to hold a strong position as a news source for a public that now has additional Internet options for local news?
Radio that embraces technology and uses it to develop content will remain relevant no matter what. Frankly, there aren't many radio stations or networks doing that. I don't want my wonderful employer to take offense, but I find myself listening to The Nerdist (I promise, not sucking up!), The Art of Wrestling or other podcasts more than I listen to my own station over the air. I listen to whatever online content we produce and am doing my best to produce more myself. I think it is vital to audience building.
4. You're a southerner, born and bred, and you worked at stations across the South. Now, you're up north, in Indianapolis. Do you see regional differences in radio news -- is there a difference between what news is dominant or important in Indy as opposed to, say, Memphis or Savannah? Is there a greater hunger for, say, crime news in one area as opposed to political or pocketbook-issue news?
Honestly, no. What seems to be important depends on the person - the hardcore Rush Limbaugh listener in any region of the country thinks we should be doing political stories all the time. Many others that I run into automatically associate us with politics and are surprised to see us covering other stories - it's nice to say I work for a news department that's big enough to actually cover stories! The other day, I did a half hour podcast on a marching band that was selected for next year's Macy's Parade, and one of the people involved was stunned that we devoted that much time (almost a half-hour podcast) to the topic.
5. How have social media impacted what you do in the newsroom?
Do you pay attention to, say, what's trending on Twitter? Are social media posts used for news gathering, for tips, for color, or for communicating with the public? Or is it just a personal thing?
With apologies to the great wrestler Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. There are times when I have to put the phone down and walk away, but only when I am not working. Online, on-demand content is a must when I am working...and many times when I am not.
6. Of what are you most proud?
That my beautiful wife has, for some reason, stayed with me for more than ten years.
7. Who do you consider your mentors and inspirations in radio and in life?
I don't have any mentors in radio any more, and I mean no disrespect to the people in this business that I love, but they are not mentors. The reason is that they, for the most part, are the folks who are griping about how things aren't as good "as they used to be."
My inspirations in life are legion - my two daughters first and foremost. I also take inspiration from people who were nowhere near as fortunate as I, and yet became massively successful. When you look at the lives of people like Louis Armstrong or CM Punk - what, you have to look him up? The Best In The World? - what is my excuse for not giving my best, for not honing my craft until it is as good as it can be? I spent too much of my life making excuses - no more.
8. At conventions, there's often talk about how radio news reporters need to have the ability to write for the web and shoot video while reporting. How much multimedia stuff have you had to do thus far, and do you see that being a larger part of what you do?
I spend much more of my time doing multimedia work than wasting away at conventions, that's for sure! Seriously, getting laid off, in hindsight, was a godsend, because it showed me that I could do something other than write three-sentence stories and turn on a microphone. I can write long form, for magazines or for my own edification. I can shoot video. I should shoot more video, but at least I have been able to venture into longer-form programming - you don't own the genre my NPR friends! I hope I haven't completely buried the traditional radio news operation - that isn't my intent. It isn't dead, but why wouldn't we want to take advantage of all the opportunities for delivering unique content to the listener or, more importantly, to the person NOT listening to the station?
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______.
...telling my wife and kids that I love them.
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten?
It wasn't given to me personally, and I honestly didn't adhere to it for much of my life. Larry Lujack wrote in "Superjock", and I am paraphrasing, "I'm betting that the guy who makes it is the one who says 'F--- Lujack! I'm going to do it my way, because my way is better."
A tie: 1. "We have market research that says _____________": Dozens and dozens of radio executives. 2. "If you're going to do sports talk, the only way to do it right is to talk about t----es (the female chest region) and beer": Radio executive whom I truly like and whom I will not name.