10 Questions with ... John Hudson Messerall
March 22, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
If there were ever a candidate you could file under broadcast media “jack of all trades” I would certainly qualify. Started in college radio in the Midwest both on air and in station management, eventually moving south after being accepted into the “video journalist” program at CNN, while earning the heady sum of about $16,000 a year.
Over time, I have sharpened both my broadcasting and strategic media skills tremendously, while adding an MBA in Marketing Leadership and learning if you want to continue working in the media, you may need a viable means of supplemental income. I turned to strategic media consulting and writing as a way to not only build, develop and help support my career, but the “True North Story” podcast series was born out of this same journey, as well as our media and messaging consultancy, Callisto Media Consulting.
1. What does "True North Story" mean to you? What's True North?
True North is a direct reference to the “North Star.” Many people do not realize that Ursa Major, “the Big Dipper,” points directly to Polaris, the North Star. The North Star became the primary navigational guide for early sailors, because it never disappeared below the horizon line and was always visible high in the night sky, regardless of season or time of year. I like to think of “True North Story” and our “True North” in much the same way, it is the influencing “anchor” for your life, a constant theme that guides and directs, while providing both stability and an inner spiritual reference point for your journey through life.
2. You're a management and marketing guy as well as a radio guy and host; what role do you see podcasts playing in marketing? Do you see podcasting having a future as a way to spread marketing messages as well as being entertainment or information?
My “True North Story” co-host Tama Fulton and I have discussed this subject many times and we both feel that engagement and interactivity are the key drivers to future media growth. Does podcasting, or as we like to call it, “Audio Storytelling” have a critical role to play in this futuristic media landscape? Absolutely. But I also like to caution, just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will necessarily come either. Marketing has been saying for years, “content is king,” but creating content just to create content and fill space -- whether it be for radio, at the theatre, on the internet, or for broadcast TV and various media platforms -- is at best dysfunctional and at worst a complete waste of time. So the idea of “story” has replaced the mindless creation of content, which is progress, since it moves us closer to creating a better, more targeted experience for consumers that will hopefully elicit a response and level of engagement and interaction never seen before, and we certainly believe podcasts have a role to play in that storytelling opportunity.
3. I asked Tama this, and I'll ask you, too: what have you learned so far about making podcasts? What has the response been, and what, if any, surprises have you encountered?
Oh, believe me, we are still learning! Life is really all about learning. I find myself saying, the older I get, the more I realize, how much I don’t know. Humility is the ability to see that lack of knowledge not as a weakness, but quite the contrary – as a strength. One of my favorite Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry lines is from the film “Magnum Force” when he quips, “A man’s got to know his limitations!” Amen. Understanding your limitations, helps open you up to collaborating with others in a way that is far more rewarding than anything you may be able to accomplish by yourself.
So, I would say Tama and I have learned to reach out to others and to not be afraid to ask for help. People are usually super gracious and super helpful. Take advantage of this willingness in others, as a way to learn what you don’t already know and to make whatever you are doing the absolute best it can be. The response to our “True North Story” podcast has been overwhelming, so many great people offering encouragement, help and tons of support, not to mention clearly articulating their love for our positive messaging and story contained within each podcast episode.
We have learned one more important lesson, too! Well, two, actually. First, get an awesome audio editor and secondly, don’t break your podcasts into two parts regardless of their length.
4. How do you see Tama's and your roles on the show? Is there a division of duties or do you share them equally?
Tama and I have been childhood friends going way back to our early days growing up together in Chicago. When I say early, I mean, like, when I was 3 years old and she was 5! So, yeah, that’s pretty early…like, Big Wheel days early! Reconnecting all these years later has become an amazing True North Story in and of itself, and I do believe one of the primary reasons we work so well together is because we share a positive energy, love, and an extreme passion for what we are doing. I recently bought Tama a t-shirt with a saying, “Turn Up The Love,” with a pair of headphones nestled snugly on a giant heart! That about sums up our working relationship together. This kind of broadcast chemistry cannot be manufactured, and unfortunately you either have it or you don’t.
5. You have an eclectic background that covers entertainment and business. When you started, what did you think your career was going to be, and has it turned out the way you expected?
The word eclectic used to describe my background may indeed be the understatement of the year. So, in an effort at full disclosure, let’s also throw esoteric in there as well, just to be safe!
Does anyone’s life really go as planned? I think I am reasonably safe in assuming it does not, and mine has been no different. The term misfit is bandied about a lot lately to describe anyone not fitting into one particular box society has designated for us, which I think is a good thing. I like to think of myself as a misfit with talent. Whether others recognize your talent and choose to reward it cannot be the sole reason why it exists. It has to be so much deeper than that. I know this much: As a creative from a really young age, I always wanted to tell stories, but how that would eventually manifest itself was not quite so clear. What I learned is that life cannot be controlled or harnessed. You can strive to accomplish certain goals, but you cannot will or force anything to happen that is not meant to be. I learned this valuable lesson while trying to develop an original TV series, based on a pilot teleplay I had recently written with a major L.A.-based film studio. No matter how close you may be, or how badly you want it, sometimes you have to learn to just “let go.” You can’t force it, even if you can taste it! So life becomes more about existing in the moment and contributing what you can to the overall collective, while allowing your positive energy and belief in yourself to guide your journey.
6. Who in your career have been your inspirations, mentors, and/or influences?
As I mentioned earlier, growing up in Chicago, we had access to some pretty amazing and extremely talented radio talent all across the dial. As a teenager, one DJ in particular stood out to me, and that was Jonathon Brandmeier on the Loop, WLUP, 97.9 FM. A lot of what I learned listening to him still influences my broadcasting style and approach to this day. Another amazingly talented broadcaster and mentor is on the television side of the house, and his name is Robert Osborne at Turner Classic Movies. What an incredibly talented and articulate broadcast presence; Not only does he exude a warm, affable charisma that is genuine and authentic, but he is extremely knowledgeable and his interviewing skills are unparalleled by most in the modern media today… and he is in his 80’s! Not to mention he hails from Colfax, Washington! Enough said, right? Mr. Osborne, if you’re reading this, please contact “True North Story”; We would be honored and extremely blessed to have you as a podcast guest!
7. Of what are you most proud?
I alluded to penning a pilot screenplay for an original TV series I created in an earlier question. I feel most proud of this accomplishment, not because of the writing itself or the reception and potential development interest it received from a major Hollywood studio, but more because of the lesson I learned and eventually taught myself as a byproduct of the process. When you create anything, written or otherwise, you are putting a piece of yourself out into the universe. It represents a part of your life story, your journey, and in many ways it punctuates and marks who you are as a person. As you begin embracing this understanding, it changes your approach to that which you create, by changing the person creating it, making it less about you and more about the collective, while revealing a deeper truth and authenticity in your creative process, helping align your True North Story with your inner creativity.
8. Same question I asked Tama: If you could interview anyone -- living or dead -- about their "True North" story, who would it be and what would you want to ask him or her?
I would love to spend some time with Johnny Cash, the “Man in Black,” discussing his True North Story. He was such an incredible musical storyteller and lived a life that carried such weight, depth and intention. I would want to ask him, what was the single greatest influence in the shaping of his life journey, why was it so significant to him and how did it manifest itself in the narrative of the larger Johnny Cash story?
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _______________.
10. What's the best advice you ever got? The worst?
Let’s start with the worst advice first so we can get it out of the way quickly and then move on to the positive. Many in the media are increasingly embracing a popular mantra, “You have to fake it, until you make it”; However, I couldn’t disagree more vehemently with this approach. I even heard people in my early days at CNN telling others to “do anything, to lie, to play games and to just give them what they want.” I clearly believe faking anything or simply giving others what they want regardless of the larger narrative leads to a level of disingenuousness and inauthenticity that actually works against you, potentially stifling your career and any interest others may have in you. Always be yourself, but more importantly – know why you are who you are.
On the positive side, my father told me many, many things over our lives together, but several stand out. First, “it’s not how high you jump or how loud you shout, it’s how straight you walk when your feet hit the ground.” That has always stuck with me, especially in today’s media world, driven more by the jumping and the shouting and less by walking in a straight line. I also have an incredible actor friend, who was blessed enough to study under the critically acclaimed Uta Hagen in New York City, and when we worked together on stage, he always used to tell me, “Don’t tell lies, Johnny! The audience will always find you out.” I think this is true on so many levels in life as well. Whether you are in the studio, on-air, the stage, in front of a camera, in a boardroom or sitting at your family’s kitchen table, the audience is always watching. And now we have come full circle with the worst advice I ever received.
You can’t fake living a True North Story.