10 Questions with ... Darrin Wright
August 12, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started out running board for a paranormal show on KFTK in St. Louis ("ShadoWorlds") in February 2003. In October of the same year I took my first full-time radio job as News Director for WTIM in Taylorville, IL, also performing local foobtall and basketball play-by-play and live local remotes. In August 2007 I joined Dawson McAllister as an Associate Producer, working mainly on Dawson's weeknight program - Dawson McAllister Late Nights - as a content editor, before joining KZRG in April 2011.
1. What got you into radio? Why radio, and when did you decide it was what you wanted to do as a career?
I had always been interested in the jocks, the guys behind the mic, and imagined they must live extraordinary lives, so I enrolled in the Radio Broadcasting program at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, IL. There they have a completely, 100% student-run radio station (WLCA), where students in the program are taught everything, from meter reading and some minor engineering, to on-air, to play-by-play and remotes. I ended up doing a Sunday morning show that, by my request, featured two hours of Christian music per week. I ended up getting calls from listeners I would develop a bond with; that's how I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. The people on the other side of the radio, where I had been.
2. You've worked for companies and clusters with a commitment to local news, something that isn't always the case in radio. As a news director, what do you see as the outlook for local radio news, especially as online sources continue to grow? How will radio news compete, and what do you see it doing to adapt and grow in the new media environment?
I think there will always be a place for local news, though I don't know if the bigger companies in this industry realize it. Especially in Joplin, where we at KZRG proved there's a need... syndicated programming can't provide the same kind of connection to listeners that a real, local operation can. While online sources are prevalent, when your power is out due to a storm, you probably can't get online... or if you can, it's not that expedient. Meanwhile, you can always turn on the radio in your car, or the radio that you plopped some batteries in.
As for adapting, I can easily see more of a movement to the Internet for smaller and more locally-focused companies as the tech continues to evolve and get cheaper. The best way to adapt is to see what works for you, not necessarily for others, but I can absolutely see more of a content push - for example, "check out our website for the rest of the story" after a more condensed story airs in a newscast.
3. You also host a podcast about geek/nerd culture and you've done online stuff involving video games; what appeals to you about doing the podcast, and what's your goal in doing it?
I love video games, comics, you name it! I'm a giant nerd, but it's OK, because nerds are cool now, I hear. I launched the Geek Cave Podcast a couple of years ago with my two best friends in the world (outside of my wife, that is), and the real appeal is simply being able to do something I love with people that I also love. I'd like to think that someday it'll grow big enough to become a household name, and we've seen fits and starts of growth, but right now the audience we have is small enough to interact with on a personal level and big enough to be just a wee bit intimidated by it.
4. Who are your mentors, influences, and heroes?
He's going to hate me saying this, but Kent Harris is one of my biggest mentors. I worked alongside him at Dawson McAllister (another mentor of mine), and he currently works for WPRT... he's one of the nicest men you'll ever meet, and a fiercely loyal friend and employee. He's got a wicked talent for what he does, and brings a lot to the table, whether it's production work or that deep voice of his - he even does the intro to the Geek Cave Podcast, so obviously I'm a fan.
As for influences, I look at people like Larry King, Rush Limbaugh, and even Walter Cronkite. People who command attention every single time their mic is on.
At a risk of sounding cheesy, Jesus is my biggest hero, followed by Dawson McAllister. The man's been doing some incredible stuff with teens and young adults for decades now, and I seriously don't know how he keeps doing it.
5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What's your career goal?
I honestly don't know where I'll be in ten years. I'd like to say still at Zimmer Radio Group, as I typically don't take a job unless I mean to keep it, but radio is a business that's constantly in flux. I'd like to get closer to St. Louis eventually, since that's where family is, but my goal is to just continue to improve as a professional and as a person, and just to be happy, wherever I may be. Location is relative... if you don't like yourself, or the job you're doing, it doesn't matter where you are.
Career-wise, though, hosting my own weekday show would be nice. Even better if it's gaming or tech-related.
6. Do you use social media in conjunction with your work? Twitter? Facebook? Or not? How, if you use them, do they tie into what you do at KZRG?
We use Facebook rather extensively at KZRG... our listeners are really plugged into their community, and so if they see news happening, they pass it along to us, which makes our three-person newsroom a whole lot more capable. We also offer text alerts and email blasts for those who want to get breaking news but can't listen to the on-air feed 24/7. Facebook has also been very helpful for me to get to know the listeners on a personal basis... many of them have also become my personal friends as a result.
7. You were a producer for Dawson McAllister's syndicated show for a few years; what did you learn from the experience? What lessons did you take from the experience?
Working for Dawson was an incredible experience, as they really do, I believe, hire some of the best people in the business. Being in an off-air role was new to me, but fun. Most of my focus was on affiliate relations - we did a lot of documentation for them as the program counted toward their FCC community affairs programming requirements - but when not doing that I was editing calls made in to the show or during off-air hours for broadcast on DM Late Nights. I learned quite a bit about production in the meantime.
8. Of what are you most proud?
I've won a few awards in my career, but nothing makes me prouder than the way KZRG responded to the May 11, 2011 tornado in Joplin. We forsook regular programming - and advertisements - to broadcast live continuous coverage for nine days, only focusing on the story at hand, how people can help, and where volunteers were needed. We reunited families, we helped give out life-saving information, and more than once I was greeted by emergency responders who said they used us as ways to find out where help was needed or where supplies were available. I will always remember the work that each and every person at Zimmer Radio put in, to make sure their community was not only informed, but aware that they were not alone.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______________.
...at least ten minutes with a game controller in my hand. (I'm kidding. Or am I?) Also: Diet Dr. Pepper (or some similar caffeinated beverage that's not named "coffee").
10. What's the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?
I don't think I've ever received bad advice in this business, because even the advice that seems bad is helpful in some way, even if it's just a cautionary tale (as in "don't be like me").
The best advice is the first advice I ever got: Keep It Simple, Stupid. It was the mantra we were taught at WLCA in college: K.I.S.S. Don't make things more complicated than they need to be, whether that's in on-air reporting, or in life in general.
Just keep it simple, stupid.