10 Questions with ... Josh Brandon
August 14, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I began my career performing as a stand-up comic, then in television news. I found my way to radio and worked my way up to mornings/PD at my hometown radio station. One day the legendary Les Acree calls me up and asks me to join the staff at WIVK/Knoxville. I did weekends and fill-in there off and on while I was in college. I also worked at WNFZ, WOKI and a few other stops around Knoxville. When I went to East Tennessee State in 1997, I helped revamp their campus radio station and reignite the radio division in the department. That station still exists today with the name, moniker and format we gave it and is probably my proudest achievement. I got out of school and landed a morning gig in Knoxville, then went back to WIVK for about a year. From there, I was offered the chance to do radio in the town I grew up in, Crossville, TN. I rose from Production Dir. to PD very quickly and became PD of WOWF and then programmed its sister station in McMinnville (WOWC) simultaneously, once we'd acquired that. In April of 2009, I was offered the PD/mornings slot at Qantum's WYNR in Brunswick, GA ... a station and place I still hold very dear. After a divorce and my children moving back to Knoxville, I felt I needed to get closer to them, so I left the sandy beaches of coastal Georgia and was brought on board a small locally owned company to try and revamp their fledgling stations outside of Charlotte. I left there in February 2012, and came back to Tennessee.
1) What do you do to maintain a positive mental attitude and stay motivated?
Knowing there is no option than to remain positive. Listen ... I made the decision to come home ... not to get out of radio. Getting out of radio was simply a consequence of my decision. I fought hard to stay in, and had interest, but in the end WHAT I did became less important than WHERE I did it. I have a strong faith in God and that He is leading me on a path of enlightenment and enrichment. If radio is to be a part of that, I'm open to it. I have a tremendous network of friends, family and supporters. The true blessing out of my career is that listeners from nearly ever stop along the way have bonded with me, kept up with each other on Facebook and we've become a part of each other's lives. Radio is about connecting with people, and I feel I've made some real friends out of it. And truth be told ... I see evidence that what I've participated in has changed people's lives. There is no greater blessing ... there is no more positive feeling. If it's over? It was one helluva run ... and I say that with a smile.
2) Some people get discouraged or enlightened with the business when they actually step out of it for awhile. Tell us your observations from the outside.
It's amazing what translates from one field to another. I decided spending my Saturdays at car lots for years doing remotes, I could tough it out as a car salesman. I wrote a blog about the observation that radio really doesn't service their guests the way a car dealership does. Often times, our listeners are seen as an annoyance, rather than the commodity that they are. We tend to do radio more for the corporate office or the GM than the listener. Scott Huskey hammered into my head the concept of "Listener Focus" when doing radio. I've taken that with me through every aspect of life. When I sell cars now, it's not about me or the dealership or even the car. It's about the buyer. I've learned a great deal by stepping away, even just for a few months. This perspective has been invaluable.
3) Do you plan on sticking with radio?
It's funny. I was resolved in my decision to step away. I felt at the time I would never voice another commercial or do radio at all and was okay with that ... three months ago. For me, I left a great situation where I was very happy for a very disheartening one. After that, the natural decision was to come back home and regroup. I wanted to try and find something close, but then after the Country Radio Seminar and talking with some friends, and a long talk with Rusty Walker, who we all just lost recently ... I felt like I needed a breather ... perspective. Look ... I'm flamboyant and a little off-center. You kind of have to be to do this. But I've been reflecting a lot on my career in radio and what it meant. Rusty was a mentor and a friend. He had some advice I've been thinking a lot about. So ... my answer is ... I hope one day I cycle back around into it wiser and smarter. Still, out of the blue, I'll get a phone call or e-mail about a gig ... and I think it's flattering, but I'm taking the Garth Brooks approach to my career. When my youngest graduates from high school (2023), I'll reconsider. Until then, the Cookeville/Knoxville area is my home. That's where I stay. Maybe Nashville or Johnson City ... but I just don't picture myself going too far from my kids in the near future. If I can't be at their house by 6p to pick them up, I'm too far away.
4) Is there anything specific that you regret doing while you were still working?
Taking the subtle hints friends along the way threw at me ... like "Hey Josh ... shut up," or "Josh ... stay off social media" or "Hey Josh ... just because you have a warped sense of humor doesn't mean everyone else will appreciate it." Mostly just the "shut up" part. In all seriousness, I've had a great run. I wish now I'd have taken the job Rusty tried to get me to interview for a while back, if not just for the chance to work directly with him. There are some opportunities I passed on along the way because I either was happy where I was or didn't feel right about it. I try not to have regrets. They are pointless. Until we have a flux capacitor, 1.21 gigawatts and a clocktower, there's no sense in dwelling on what's already happened.
5) What is the next job you'd like to obtain?
I'm a versatile and flexible talent. There's nothing in the industry I can't do to some degree. I love programming. I love being on the air. Honestly, if I were to get back in the business, I would just really like to find a job where I was able to use all of my talents and skill set to help a radio station succeed, no matter the role.
6) Are you finding salaries/benefits lower than you ever thought, about the same, or have you seen some pleasant surprises?
Why do you think I decided to get out? No... I was actually told at one previous employer that my department was an "expense line item." That's not the first time that sentiment was expressed to me in this industry ... and not just by employers. It seems the importance on what programming brings to the table keeps getting diminished. I guess that's why so many great radio people get out and find other careers. I never wanted to be one of those guys, but it's hard to keep justifying the sacrifices when you see an ad posted by a GM boasting 'GREAT PAY' and you go through the interview process to get offered 25k. I guess this sounds bitter, but maybe it needs to. If you don't value your talent, your talent will find value elsewhere. And value goes beyond a paycheck. Just treating people with the basic common decency, respect and genuine appreciation for what they bring to the table.
7) With consolidation there are definitely fewer jobs. How do you separate yourself from the pack?
Here's the thing ... since I moved back to Tennessee, I have applied for one radio job. I'm not sure how to differentiate myself from the pack in the civilian world, much less radio. That's something I've been working on since coming home. How do I stand out for ANY job? I'm talking to people in all sorts of different fields and positions and reflecting on my own management experiences when I would hire staff. Finding the right job at this point, whether it's radio or not, has been the hardest thing I've done professionally.
8) Are you spending as much time listening to radio as you used to?
No. I'm not. Here's the thing ... the radio stations I WANT to listen to aren't in my market and I don't really have time to stream or even listen to the radio. I have a 30-minute work commute now working in a market where I used to program the market-leading Country station. I generally use that time thinking or psyching myself up for my workday or winding down from it. I don't really listen to radio as much simply because I listen with a critical ear. Think of it like a breakup. You and your partner split and then you're still hanging out with them all the time? Eventually you just want them back. I tune in a little here and there, but what I am listening to, I'm not really liking. That's not to be critical of anyone's performance so much as it is the basic problems radio has faced. I LOVE radio ... and I can't sit through a quarter-hour on a given station for various reasons. Let me tell you ... sometimes we are TOO CLOSE to the problem to see the problem. This has been an eye opening ... or ear opening, as it were ... experience. All that PPM data I've been seeing the last few years ... I'm living it now as a listener.
9) Having been through all you have dealt with in this biz, what advice would you give people trying to break in?
My best friend in college and partner with whom I built the college radio station is now a professor at our alma mater. She's asked me several times over the last few years to come speak to the students. I have declined that request to this point because I don't know what to say. What do I have to offer these bright, young shining stars? It's not a bitter or disgruntled statement. It's a factual, realistic statement. The business is really not what it was when I first started in the mid-'90s. I can't promise these kids they'll even have a job. So what do I say to kids today? There are fewer jobs and the pay isn't great. The perks and benefits are dwindling at most places. I feel like if I go talk to those students ... and I'm honest with them ... I'm afraid it will be more discouraging than encouraging. My advice would be to get a degree in something useful OUT of the industry. That doesn't really make for a motivational college recruitment statement. So, I'll say this ... I remember as a student leader at ETSU we had a student-staff meeting with everyone on the radio station. One kid then told me he didn't need to learn how to cut a commercial because he was a jock. My advice then is exactly how I've crafted my own career. If all you want to be is a one-dimensional talent, then get out. I have no use for you. I want versatility on my team because versatile talent can carry each other. If you're one-note, we're all going to be carrying you. Learn how to do everything. Soak it all in. You can learn SOMETHING from EVERYONE. And minor in business or accounting.
10) How will this experience change you when you get back to work?
I think if I get the chance to reexamine my radio career, I'll probably talk a lot less and listen a lot more. I've been accused of being a bit of a "loose cannon" for one reason or another. Rusty even told me that. His humbling advice is probably what I'll take with me no matter if it's radio or not. "Whether you're right or not ... you don't always HAVE TO BE right." Thanks Rusty. Noted. Twice.
Uh oh ... now you're on your own for getting new music. If applicable, name your three most recent purchases since leaving the biz.
As I said before, I'm using this hiatus from the airwaves to experience what our listeners are experiencing. I am surfing Pandora, iHeartRadio, and CDs. I've been on an angry '90s Rock kick for awhile. But I did go out and get Lee Brice's "Hard 2 Love." Simply amazing. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan. Just go to my Facebook and you'll see my "Adventures With Lee Brice" photo album. The man sings from his soul and his songwriting and use of imagery are incomparable. From "More Than A Memory" to "Happy Endings" the guy sings heartbreak like nobody with MAYBE the exception of Keith Urban or Rob Thomas. What a great album. It makes me miss being in radio more. I'm also gonna buy Colt Ford's new album when it hits. I love that guy. One of the nicest guys and most genuine artists we have. Does buying Colt's "Goodtime Vodka" count?