10 Questions with ... Christopher Gabriel
April 19, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
After a long career on the professional stage, I jumped into Talk radio as a call screener at 100.3 KTLK (now NewsTalk 1130) in Minneapolis. Just over three years later, I landed my first daily program on 970 WDAY in Fargo, ND. I've been blessed to work with, and be pushed along by, some remarkable people. Folks like Mitch Albom, WCCO-TV's Pat Kessler, KQAL's Doug Westerman, KCBS' Marty Lenz and Ben Ziegler. What I find most interesting is years later, the lessons learned from them about what you do off air, but in conjunction with your station, is just as valuable as what you do on the air.
1) What do you do to maintain a positive mental attitude and stay motivated?
Watching March Madness, it's always cool to see, say, a 14 or 15-seed give a powerhouse team all they can handle... and often beat them. It's a reminder that those guys, they're playing to win, too. So much of it goes beyond the skills; it's the mindset. There's the team that hopes to win, and there's the team that expects to win. It's no different seeking the next radio home. Expect to be hired. I do. If I didn't, I'm in the wrong line of work. But I never lose sight of the fact that the person, or people, hiring may have a vastly different idea of the perfect fit for that station. So not getting called in for an interview - hey, congratulations to the person who got it, that one wasn't right for me... something better-suited is around the corner.
2) How are you occupying your time, besides looking for a job?
Besides being invited to guest-host at several different stations in California, this "break in the action" has afforded me the opportunity to see many more school activities my two daughters are involved with at their school. I've also volunteered at their school... still waiting for feedback if the school thought this was a positive!
3) Some people get discouraged or enlightened with the business when they actually step out of it for a while. Tell us your observations from the outside.
One of the great benefits of standing outside the studio window, as it were, for a bit is to watch, listen and learn from others. There are some remarkable talents in our business. Having a more "flexible" schedule right now has allowed me to tune into many people I've admired from a distance. Testing and measuring one's self is invaluable. When I've spoken to broadcast students in college, I always remind them to be open. Know there are people who come at the work differently... and certainly there will be those who are better than you. But it's easy to sit back and say, "Oh I can do that better than him." The more productive and healthier route is to say, "I love what he did with that topic" and figure out how then to make myself better.
4) What's the best way to get your foot in the door?
I grew up in a restaurant family so I learned at a very young age if you want to do something badly enough, you put yourself in that environment as fast as you can and you don't quibble about the job, or "jobs," you're given to do. You do - EVERYTHING! You are never above any job. Learn it all, because not only will that broaden your base of skills, but you'll also learn to be appreciative of what every other person does in that restaurant... or radio station.
5) What is the next job you'd like to obtain?
I began in market #16, went to #201, then #67... I'd really welcome the opportunity to work in a Top 20 market. As a professional, you always want to challenge yourself against the best and in the largest possible setting. That said, sometimes the "perfect" situation is one you never imagined. When I went to Fargo, all I knew about the city was the movie. I was thrilled for the opportunity but didn't think I'd be there long. Six years later Fargo -- and the great friends I made there -- holds a spot in my heart unlike anywhere I've ever lived. So maybe the better answer is wanting the next job to be the station and city that I can best serve with my personality and skills ... a place that I can really immerse myself in.
6) How are you finding the "courtesy level" at places you've applied? (Callbacks, e-mails, rejection letters, etc.)
This is a tough one because the sheer volume of emails, mp3's, cover letters, you name it, that job seekers send practically negates a station's ability to respond to everyone. I certainly wish I heard back from everyone, be it good, bad or indifferent feedback. But that said, when I've gotten a response, it's been incredibly cordial every time. And that always speaks volumes about the person and the station. There tends to be a through-line of attitude that begins at the top, almost to a fault.
7) What's the most unbelievable on air bit you were allowed to do?
This fell into the category of just doing something and asking forgiveness later. When I was in Fargo, and during one of the years North Dakota State was on its way to Frisco, Texas to play for the national championship in football, our company already had a ton of people going down to cover it. While I went down the next two years, I wasn't one of them this particular year. So my producer and I decided to make it seem to the entire region that we actually did go to Texas and were there live doing interviews with NDSU personnel, networking with NCAA folks and so on. I had a cousin who lived there check me in on Facebook, people who were down there were posting saying they had just seen me at a restaurant, a bar, the stadium press box ... the receptionist at WDAY was also in on it saying to people "I'm sorry, Christopher is in Texas for the next three days." The VP of the station was on vacation in Florida at the time of my broadcasts but was listening online while sitting on the beach at his hotel. He called into the station praising the GM for getting me there ... and yeah, the GM was in on it as well. I had to be hidden for four days to make sure we pulled it off. We finally let folks in on it the following week.
8) With consolidation there are definitely fewer jobs. How do you separate yourself from the pack?
My program isn't reinventing the wheel, but at the same time, it absolutely isn't cookie-cutter. I'm a firm believer in variety. Why not have an interview with, say, Peter Baker, Chief White House correspondent for the New York Times, then a segment centered on a nightmarish (but funny) experience in the produce section of a grocery store the night before, and then interview a Grammy-winning artist in studio along with live, unplugged music from him/her. I know what the "rules" are but why can't we entertain and inform instead of getting everyone into an anger-fest? Why can't we have a broader program instead of essentially going narrow and playing to the smallest box? When I turn on talk radio, I'm not interested in being yelled at, I'm not interested in being told why what I believe is wrong or that I'm stupid. I think people want to be treated with respect, I think people enjoy a good laugh, or maybe a few of them, and ... I want folks to know that when we're rolling out a topic or issue, we can completely disagree and that's ok! I like to think of what I do as a bunch of us hanging out in a diner over coffee. We talk, we agree, we disagree, we laugh, maybe we even cry ... but we come back tomorrow, all of us, and start all over again.
9) Are you spending as much time listening to radio as you used to?
Absolutely! No one likes to be on the beach but for all the times I couldn't listen to someone in Boston or Chicago or Seattle, now I can. Being able to just sit back, listen and enjoy the talents of others - issues they are breaking down that are indigenous to their area, hearing their interviews of athletes, coaches, politicians, entertainers - is nothing but a positive.
10) What has been your biggest career accomplishment?
Without question it's having the opportunity to make a tangible difference in the communities I've been involved with. What we do for a living is a privilege and an enormous responsibility. Working with organizations like Ronald McDonald House Charities, Make-A-Wish, rape and abuse crisis centers or speaking at high schools and colleges - being able to have a direct and positive impact both on and off the air... there's nothing better.
Seen any great movies?
The best movie I've seen in a long, long time was "Inside Out." Funny, compelling, heartwarming, thought-provoking ... It's ostensibly a movie for kids, but clearly, this hits home for adults as well. The entire premise is brilliant. And it's a great reminder that the things we find painful in life, be it personal or professional hurdles or issues - we need to experience them at every emotional level so that we can be the most fully-realized person in everyday life.