10 Questions with ... Jay Thomas "Intern John"
February 14, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I started off as a 17-year-old intern for "The Dave Ryan in the Morning Show" on KDWB in Minneapolis, was hired a year later as a cast member/producer, started weekends there about a year later, worked in-building at KDWB for four and a half years, changed my name to "Jay Thomas" and took a promotion to be the Music Director/Imaging Director/night jock at KISS 1075 in Des Moines while still doing weekends at KDWB.
1) How would you describe your first radio gig?
I started off as a 17-year-old intern for "The Dave Ryan in the Morning Show" on KDWB in Minneapolis. My first week there I made my own "Intern John" baseball cards that I started handing out at events, and that's how I got my first shot on-air. I worked on the morning show for four years as a producer/cast member, and I did weekends on KDWB for three years. Fast-forward four years and I'm now working as the MD/Imaging Dir./night guy at KISS 1075 in Des Moines, and I still do weekends and fill-in on overnights for KDWB.
2) What led you to a career in radio?
My dad always announced college hockey games when I was little, and every other period my brother and I would switch off sitting in the announcing booth with him, so I would say that's where I first got the "bug." I think it really took off about four years ago after I started my internship. Big D, the overnight guy at KDWB, was filling in on the night show, I was there just watching. He mentioned how no one was doing the overnights that night, and how I should ask Lucas (KDWB's APD/MD/afternoon jock) if I could do it.
I do have to say that Big D has been a huge part of my career and my "big brother" in the business. Anytime there was ever a shift that he thought I could cover, he'd push for me to be able to do the shift. Long story short, after that night, I started coming in before the morning show everyday to do an hour shift at 3a, then do the morning show, then go to school. After that, Lucas kind of took me under his wing and airchecked me every week for the next four years, which is a big part of why my career has gone as far as it has.
3) Are you wearing more "hats" than you have in the past?
Definitely. Every year I've been in the business I've added another "hat" to the list. I started off as an intern, then worked my way up to jock/producer. Now I'm the MD/Imaging Dir./night guy at KISS 1075 which is a fun challenge, as I have more of an influential role in the radio station. I was lucky enough to work under Rob Morris at KDWB, and now Greg Chance at KISS. They are both great PDs, and I learned/am still learning from them. Aside from my regular duties at KISS, I'm also working on a big project/event for the station, which I can't talk about yet, but it's something that hasn't been done here before, and I really believe in it, and I'm lucky that Chance is letting me work on it. Also I still get to track to KDWB, which is great to still have those connections. Being on two stations is amazing. I think I've sent my aircheck out to maybe 30 stations in the past month looking for voicetrack work. I know money is tight, which is why I told them I'd do it for free just for the experience! So long story short, yes, I'm wearing more hats, but I'd love to add even more!
4) What is your favorite part of the job?
Aside from the obvious Facebook profile pictures with celebs, it has to be interacting with listeners. It's important to not forget that we do it for them. I LOVE doing events, even if they aren't appearances. To me there's no greater reward than when you meet people who say they enjoy listening to you. I've always loved entertaining people, and cheering them up if they've had a bad day, and this allows me to do that. A bonus would be all the great people you meet. Some of my closest friends are from radio; Dave Ryan, Steve LaTart, Crisco, Lena Svenson (my big sis), Big D, Lucas, Wazz, Diego, Barb Hueser, Ricky Roo, and so on.
5) What is the most challenging part of the job?
Breaking into a new market. Granted, KISS 1075 is only the second station I've worked at, but definitely breaking into a new market. It's like being the new kid in school running for student council, except the school has a couple hundred thousand people in it. There's definitely that awkward phase of trying to figure out what works and what doesn't from market to market, but I think having to adapt will only make you better. Right now, my biggest challenge is beating Kane's ratings record for my time slot. I guess he had a 48.8 share when he was on this station. I think I had a 36 in the last book, so I have a ways to go!
6) What's the coolest promotion you've EVER been involved with?
Living in Minnesota my entire life, KDWB is the premiere radio station. Everybody listens to it. Everyone in Minnesota knows that winter belongs to Jingle Ball, KDWB's annual concert. I went to a few of the concerts when I was younger and thought it was the coolest thing ever to actually be able to see the DJs I listened to every day. The first time I was announced onstage as a KDWB jock at Jingle Ball was something I'll never forget. Jingle Ball is an amazing event because it reminds us why we do what we do. Taking pictures with listeners and hearing them say how they love the station is one of the most rewarding experiences ever. I also like the event because it's one of the few times that the entire air staff of the station is in the same place without there being a company-wide conference call. It doesn't hurt that we've had some great lineups, and hat's off to Rob Morris and Lucas for that. The past five years we've had Lady Gaga, Rihanna, T.I., Justin Bieber and more. This last one was really special too, because it was the last Jingle Ball for Rob Morris, and it was an honor to be able to have been a part of that.
7) What's one thing that would surprise many people to learn about you?
I guess it'd be my age, I'll be 22 1/2 on February 6th (not that I'm counting or anything). I think of my age as a benefit, though; for one thing I'll be in the demographic for a while. I also look at it as a benefit because I think it will help me be more well-rounded; a year from now I want to say that I'm 23 years old with five years of morning show experience, four years of jock experience, a year of programming experience, and my degree in marketing.
8) Could you give us a little insight into your on-air staff?
At KISS 1075, we have Greg Chance. Chance reminds me a lot of Rob Morris. He's very passionate about the channel and will fight to keep the integrity of the channel. Chance is my PD as well as our afternoon guy, and he's also the OM of the cluster. He's a great guy to work for and he somehow managed to teach me Selector in less than a week. One of the most important things I like about Chance is his ability to develop talent; the three guys to hold my position before me have gone on to bigger markets, Wazz is at KDWB in Minneapolis, Sean Cage is at WNCI, and Dustin Kross is at Radio Now 97.9 in Jacksonville.
Like many stations, everyone here has more than just one set job. CJ is our local producer for Elvis Duran, and he also assists in our promotions and internship program. He's very much the seasoned vet whose ability to help in any situation is a great asset to our team.
Jason is a college kid who I'm making my own pet project. He reminds me a lot of me when I first started in the business. One of the most important lessons I've taught him is to always wear your radio headphones into a club because it makes it easier to pick up girls (at it's worked for him!). I've also made Jason the stunt guy of my show. He's brought my dog to a tattoo parlor to try to get him tattooed, tried on underwear at Victoria Secret, and so on.
Amber and Karsten round out the rest of our air staff. Both are very valuable to the brand as they can both do nearly every task at the station, from board-opping, to on-air work, to filling out promotions letters.
At KDWB, of course we have the morning show. Outside of that, Lucas is our MD and afternoon jock. Like I said, I owe him a lot for giving me a shot and spending countless hours listening to my airchecks.
Wazz is our promotions assistant and night jock. When I fist started, Wazz would let me shadow him at remotes. I learned a lot about setting up for a broadcast, as well as doing a remote.
Big D is our late-night guy and handles weekend duties. I like to think of D as the unsung hero of the station. He's always on the air at least six days a week.
Last but not least is Barb, our promotions director. Barb does an amazing job of making the station look good at events, and hopefully me mentioning her in here will get me front row Taylor Swift tickets : ).
9) What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
I am very grateful to a lot of people for helping me get to where I am, and no one more than Dave Ryan at KDWB. Dave's morning show is an iconic show in the Twin Cities, and should really be syndicated for how good it is. Everyone in the Twin Cities knows Dave, and it was a true honor to have been a part of his show as long as I was. I consider Dave a mentor of mine, and I learned a lot from him. I think one of the most important things I learned was from watching his work ethic. It'd be easy to just sit back and relax, but Dave is ALWAYS working on new material for the show, and that's why the show is always fresh. So I think one of the most important things I've learned from Dave is to always keep working, because it will pay off. He also taught me to never trust a girl when she says she's on the pill, which is another truth I now live by.
10) What advice you would give people new to the business?
During one of my many aircheck sessions with Lucas at KDWB, he finally said to me, "Dude, relax, we aren't doing brain surgery, no one's going to die if you make a mistake, just have fun." I always tell the newbies that what we do is fun ... I mean really, we get paid to talk about music. There's a difference between a job and a passion, and radio should be a passion, not a job; a job is something you hate doing everyday, a passion is something you wish you could do every second of every day.
Name the artist/act (living or dead) you'd love to meet and why.
Eminem, easily. I've been a fan ever since I bought "The Eminem Show" in 8th grade. In an industry where the norm seems to be release an album every year, tour all the time, and do a lot of talk shows, Eminem does none of that and is still the top-selling artist of the past 10 years. I think he maybe did two radio interviews outside of his own radio station the past two years, and one of those was with JJ on Z100, and for that I'm jealous. I think if there is one artist that really changed the industry in my generation, it would be him ... and I would probably pee my pants.