This is not the case for everyone, but many radio folks try to move up the ladder with a top 5 market as a goal. I programmed and did air work in both LA and NYC and loved it.
I worked in NYC for Storer and later for Norm Pattiz and in LA for RKO, Metromedia and Mount Wilson. I can vouch that market size does not guarantee professionalism or knowledge of the business and it is not the path to riches. Though it still remains a goal for many in this business.
While New York and Los Angeles are fun places to live because there are tons of things to do and your opportunities are unlimited they are the not the best places to live. The weather is spectacular in LA but the state is broke and taxes are ridiculous. New York has everything you could possibly want but you need to make a billion dollars to live like a millionaire.
Radio is radio. In the early 90s I programmed in New York at the same time that I consulted stations, in much smaller markets, and would often run across more passion from the smaller market radio folks than the New York personalities. Maybe it was the drive to move up in market size but 20 years later those passionate personalities are still in their markets and pleased to be there.
So over the weekend I was on Southwest Airlines, flying across the country, reading a recent Money magazine. The cover story was about the best places to live in America. The number one market on this list is Marion, IN. I wanted to find out what living and working in the best city is really like.
I was lucky to find Vanessa Miller, the Operations Manager for the four station cluster in Marion, IN owned by Hoosier AM/FM LLC. Until I spoke to Vanessa earlier this week I did not know her. Until this past weekend I had not given much thought to Marion, IN. Today I think Marion would be a great place to live and I know Vanessa would be a great friend.
Vanessa grew up in Wabash County, just miles from the radio station where she now works. She went to college at Manchester College (now University) as a Psychology major with a Communications minor and went to work at the WBKE, the college radio station, on a dare.
Vanessa says that radio was not in her future plans but like many of us, discovered that the business is made up of great people. After making friends, she stayed at the station for the entire four year college career.
One of the motivating moments was when she answered the request line and a male caller told her that, “Women shouldn’t be on the radio.” That just about sealed her future, as Vanessa is not the kind to shy away from a challenge.
Strangely enough, she once considered herself a shy kid but joined the speech club in order to conquer that trait. It worked to the benefit of the radio audience in Marion, and it is that audience that has driven Vanessa for years now. She credits the “generous, kind and friendly people” of Marion as the reason she loves her job so much. She worked part time in the “big city” of Fort Wayne but the community didn’t “strike the same chord” as the folks back home.
Vanessa visits with those folks at remotes, festivals and fairs and just daily lunches. Because Vanessa is a real star personality in town, she is recognizable to many and this is another major draw to her staying in Marion. In fact, Vanessa grew up, went to college and works at WXXC all within 30 miles of where she was born.
She loves her job and stresses that this is small market radio where no one checks the clock. If she needs to be in early and stay late to do her job she understands that serving the community is the real reason for being there at 106.9 FM.
What I love about Vanessa is her approach to life. She is the mother of two, a 15 year old and a 5 year old and she and her husband understand that her family is part of this radio community that makes being a mom and a market personality all that much more integrated.
She told me that her office and her kitchen are covered in color-coded calendars that help her stay “hyper-organized,” and that she has a staff meeting with her family every week. I wondered how this works with a full radio day, because these are not your normal 9-5 days. Her 15-year-old had marching band practice Tuesday morning at 6:45 and I talked to Vanessa at the station at 8 AM. So there you go.
I thought that I might have to write more about Marion but I’ll leave that to Money magazine. What I like about Marion is a person like Vanessa who loves her family, her listeners, her job and her city.
Finally, we connected on a really important level. It turns out that Vanessa and I are both big Detroit Red Wings fans. Her father-in-law grew up in Detroit and introduced his son to Red Wing hockey who then got Vanessa involved. She clothes her five-year-old in the Winged Wheel jersey.
That Red Wing connection is enough for me to become a fan. Thank you, Vanessa, for making radio your life and for making my day by taking my call this week. Oh, by the way, she sounds great on the air, middays on 106.9 Double XC.
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About the AuthorCook is currently on the board of both the ACM and the CMA and serves as Director of Programming and Brand Management for West Virginia Radio Corp, based in Morgantown, WV. He is also President of McVay/Cook and Associates, a Cleveland-based media consulting company. He has served on the CRB Board for over 20 years.
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