Articles Comments

52 Godly Men : Men of Today Teaching the Men of Tomorrow » My Journey » Week 33: Shining The Light

Week 33: Shining The Light

How many of you readers out there have ever listened to a song played on the radio? Probably every single one of you have. In fact, statistics show that the average teen listens to five hours of music each day, and a big part of that is from the radio. That’s how groups like tobyMac, Third Day, Switchfoot, Hawk Nelson, and a million other groups get popular. However, did you ever wonder how radio stations decide which songs to play, which CD’s to give away, and which bands to promote? That was just one of the bajillion (yes, I know it isn’t a word, but still…) things that I observed and learned throughout the duration of my day with Bob Lubell, president of J103, and a few other people as well.

Ted GockeThis article is about my day at J103, so I won’t bother giving you any background on Bob. If you want his life story, buy Finding God’s Frequency by Bob Lubell, his book, at Amazon or somewhere. Just don’t expect me to tell all about his early days of life. Now that we have that covered, let the story begin. I woke up at a quarter til seven this morning, and we arrived at the station a little before eight, so I could hang out with Ted Gocke on the morning show for an hour. After identifying ourselves to the secretary, dad left me to my own devices, and I walked on back to the studio. Sure enough, there was Ted — at least Ted’s voice. It was weird finally putting a face with a voice that I’d heard for several years, but I soon got used to it. If you don’t personally know him, Ted used to be a body-builder, but then he switched to radio. You can still see the traces of his former years, though, in his chest and arms. He was a really nice guy, and in between live sections, he showed me around the room. The switchboard in front of him controls everything he does. If he wants to talk live, he’ll push a button. If he wants to play something recorded, he’ll push another button. If he thinks the music is too loud, he merely slides a lever and the volume is reduced. The computer that you see is his information center. Occasionally, he searches Yahoo™ on it for some news worthy of being mentioned, like the fact that at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama, there’s a 45.8 carat emerald for fifteen thousand dollars, or that the Ohio mascot tackled the Ohio State mascot, and lost his job. He uses stuff like that which will relate to his audience. Watch Ted live here.

(One thing to keep in consideration when you’re looking for relevant news to announce: statistics show that about 40% of J103 listeners are 25-44 year old women. So if you can find news like the fact that a 35-year-old woman is on Dancing With the Stars, then you know that at least half of your listeners are interested. Just something to bear in mind in this kind of work.)

The last ComputerThe third and last computer is what controls anything which is played on the air. One of the things it governs is the songs that play on the air, which is on the right side of the screen. He can stop a song in the middle, or switch to another one right away with a couple pushes of a button (not that he does, but he can). Another thing that it’s good for– if Ted is a bit behind in his schedule, then he just deletes one of the songs from the list of the songs that’ll be played and he’s right back on time. In case you were wondering, all of those multi-colored squares at the left of the screen are a million random sound effects. Bells, buzzers, miscellaneous clips, slow music, anything that might ever possibly be used by Ted and every single sound effect that you hear while listening to J103 is controlled on that panel.

justin WadeI ended my time with Ted at about 9:15, because his last hour (9:00-9:59) is recorded, so he isn’t doing anything. So instead of just sitting around, I spent some time with a guy named Justin Wade. I don’t know what his official title is, but Justin basically controls everything that gets played on J103. He’s the guy that decides what music to play and what music to drop, which CDs to play and which ones to ditch. But it isn’t easy. Because J103 has a lot of competition, and since they’re competing for your attention, Justin can’t afford to play mediocre music. If a song is “just good,” then it doesn’t make it; he only plays great songs. This makes it hard if he’s trying to decide whether or not to fit a new song into the J103 rotation, because if you put a song in, you have to pull a song out. So to replace one of the “great” songs already playing, he needs a really great song, and those don’t exactly grow on trees.

But whenever he decides that a few songs deserve consideration, Justin listens to the four or five songs a few times, and then makes his verdict. He says that the average person needs to hear a song at least three times to base an opinion on it, so he hears them at least that many, if not more. A few other things that he has to bring into the picture before making a choice is who is singing the song and what’s it like. For instance, while I was there, Justin played a new Matthew West song that just came out. I happened to comment that “the song was typical Matthew West”. However, the public really likes the “typical Matthew West” sound, so Justin know that he’s pretty safe in playing the song and having people like it.  But if a song is by a group that just started, even though it’s very good, it’s a bit riskier getting it into the regular J103 scheme of things.

Mr. MusicAll these things Justin has to take into consideration when picking songs, but there’s something else that he does that is almost as important; deciding what Ted, Brett, Mike and anyone else say on the air. Not that they ever say anything bad or inappropriate, but some things just don’t need to be said over the radio. Like if Ted starts talking about the best ways to build muscle, after he’s done, Justin night come in and inform him that he might not want to talk about that again. Not that it’s bad, but because 40% of their listeners are middle-aged women, very few listeners will relate to body-building. It all comes down to a simple principle: if J103 is talking about one thing, then they aren’t talking about something else, so they have to use their time wisely.

Brett at his ComputerMy time with Justin Wade had run out, so I moved on to my next mentor, who just happened to be Brett Ritchey, the midday host for J103. I didn’t listen to him talk on the radio, though, because he pre-records all of his “live” bits. During all of that blank time when he’s supposedly talking on the radio, he puts together all of the commercials for J103. Anything advertising, promoting, or endorsing played on air is created in his studio. What happened when I was there was a person had come in with a script for whatever they were selling. They wanted Brett to add the music, sound effects, and whatever else they told him to add. So I got to see what it looks like for someone to actually create a radio commercial. Brett said that he has one main place that he goes to whenever he needs any sounds;, an online sound effects storehouse. J103 has subscribed to them, so Brett can get anything he wants “free”. Almost anything you want is on their website. I say “anything” because they didn’t have a clip of a Nazgul screaming, from Lord of the Rings (I just wanted to see if they did), but Brett said that when he comes upon a situation like that, he just records the sound from the biggest storehouse in the world, YouTube.

Brett RitcheyThe commercial submitted to him was supposed to take place in late fall, and the man who submitted it also wanted music, a fire, and the sound of children playing. When he had described to me what was going on, the first thing Brett did was to go and try to find a down-to earth acoustic song, like something you would expect to hear while watching Brett Favre pose for Wrangler. After he had found a song to his liking, he next looked for a nice crackling and popping fire to put in the background. There were a ton of fiery sound effects on the website, but it took a long time for him to find the right one. he finally did though, and he downloaded it right away. When it was downloaded, he took it and put it in the little commercial that he was making. However, we weren’t finished yet; there was still one thing missing. The man had also requested children playing in the background. That was even harder to choose. Every single one we listened to just wasn’t the one we were looking for. But after long last, we stumbled upon one that would work. Download, save, insert, done. We had the nice soft music, with the nice man telling us all about mattresses (or whatever it was), a fire cheerily snapping, crackling and popping, and the children have good fun in the snow. Warning: do not try this at home. If you don’t get the right sound (which is easy to do), you can end up with Stryper playing in the background to the sound of a California forest fire and angry kids screaming at each other. That won’t get you many job opportunities, at least in Southeast Tennessee.

Once the commercial project was out of the way, Brett showed me an advertisement that he made for JFest 2010. It was waaaaaaaaay more complicated than the one I had watched him make. In case you didn’t hear it any, it was basically an announcer telling you about the different groups that would be playing at JFest. While he was talking about each group, one of their songs was playing in the background. There were over a dozen bands, and Brett had to make each one’s music fade in and out perfectly, matching with the guy who was talking. It was all very complicated, but Brett put it together wonderfully, and hundreds of people came to JFest because of it.

I had a bit more time with Brett before moving on to my next “station”, so we goofed around on his computer some. He played a few of the songs from his Saturday night playlist (when he plays more of the rock bands like Switchfoot or Superchick), and we juked along with those for a few minutes. Right before we finished up, I told him that I would definitely be listening to J103 on Saturday nights. He laughed, and we parted ways.

The next person I spent time with was Steve Green, the station manager of J103. He has been working as the manager of some kind of radio station for twenty-five years (since 1984), and he absolutely loves it. He said that he has loved music ever since he was a little kid, even though back then, there wasn’t such a thing as contemporary Christian music (gasp, gasp). Although Steve still loved radio, his parents wanted him to study accounting in high school, which was a “nice, safe job”. So he majored in accounting and minored in broadcasting, just like they wanted him to. But somehow, Steve was able to convince his parents to let him go into the radio world, and the next year, he switched his major and minor. When he got out of school, he became an intern at a local radio station, so he could sort of learn the ropes. Originally, he wanted to be a guy like Ted or Brett, a person that plays the songs and talks on the air. But one day, while he was interning, he looked one way down the hall he was in, and saw the radio jocks walking around in ripped jeans and driving old, junky cars. Then he looked down the other way, and he saw the CEO’s and the managers wearing suits and driving BMW’s. It was then that he decided to pursue a managerial career.

When I asked him what his job now mainly consists of, as the second-in-command at the station, he said that he basically makes Bob’s job easier. While Bob is in his office daydreaming about future projects and trying to come up with long-term goals for J103, Steve is doing the “grunt work” around the station, if you will, so Bob doesn’t have to. I also asked him why he switched to J103, instead of sticking with the other secular stations that he used to work at. He said that it was mostly because of the songs they were playing. Even though they were the edited “radio versions”, they were still incredibly dirty. He said that there were some songs that were so edited, you couldn’t even understand what they were about. But here at J103, he doesn’t have to worry about that kind of mess any more.

Mike LeeWell, it was about time for lunch, so I said goodbye to Steve and went out to eat with Bob. Bob took me to a Greek buffet, and the food was really good. They especially had good pizza. When lunchtime was over, and we had arrived back at the building, Bob handed me off to my next charge, Mike Lee, the afternoon host for J103. He’s been around the radio station since 1997, and is a big part of J103. His section of the day is a lot of the same stuff as Ted’s, although he does have a few things changed, such as how many times he offers chances to win a prize, when he does the traffic update, and stuff like that. It’s not very similar to the morning show, but it’s close enough so that I won’t give you the play-by-play analysis, but I will say that Mike is a really nice guy, with a good attitude, and fun to be around.

Bob LubellWhen I was done with Mike, I got to what I had been waiting to do all day, which was to talk to Bob Lubell. I had a ton of questions for him, and I started right in to them as soon as I sat down. My first was what his most stressful situation has ever been. He replied simply; “Running this radio station from day to day.” Because of all the things that goes into J103, the stress level is sometimes very high. My next query was how he knows when God is speaking to him. Bob said that it was a tough question, because there are degrees of knowing. He said that he’s only had three times when he knew that he knew that he knew that God was talking. However, sometimes it’s merely a sense that God is speaking to him, and the more he thinks about it, he realizes that it is indeed God.

Another thing I asked Bob was how he picks the artists for JFest. Bob stated that J103 has a board of people who decide that, but it mostly narrows down to five main things. The first, affordability, just means that if the band is not very well known, but asking a ton of money to play, they’re most likely out. However, if someone else is asking the same price, but they’re way more popular, they’re a better choice. The next factor, popularity, is just how “big” the group/artist is. Bob at his deskAlso, it has to do with how many of their songs are played on the radio, because that way, when the people who go to JFest hear the song, they can go “Oh! They sang this? Cool!” and then sing along. Number three is the reputation of the band. if they are cheap and big, but they’re a pain in the neck to work with, then they probably won’t get invited. The fourth thing that J103 takes into consideration is the availability of the group. Obviously, if they have something that particular weekend, then you can’t have them. And the last factor is the Christian content of the band. If their music is great, but the lyrics are just bland, then they most likely won’t come. But if they have great words, then it’s a good chance that they’re a keeper. Take Chris Tomlin, for instance. He’s a really well known guy. Why? Mainly, because the words of his songs stab people to the heart and make them cry and shout.

FatimaMy last question was what Bob’s best and worst choices of his life have been up to this point. His best were being obedient to God’s call, hiring a manager for J103 (Steve Green) so he could have time to plan for the future, and accepting Christ. The worst choices of his life were waiting 13 years to hire a manager, and (as a teenager) taking drugs and marijuana. We talked a bit more, discussing topic after topic, and then Bob dropped me off to talk with the last person of the day, Fatima Zarrineh. Fatima is the sales and marketing coordinator at J103, and she’s definitely important to the success of the station, because she is the one who ties up all the loose ends. Fatima has only been working at the station for seven months, but she helps pretty much everyone out when they need it. She also writes scripts for Brett so he can put music and sound effects and turn it into a commercial on the air.

I stayed with Fatima for about 30 minutes, and then it was time to go home. Bob drove me to the local Starbucks©, and dad picked me up from there. While in the car, I reflected back on my day. I met a lot of people, and I heard a ton of songs. But right now, the only song I’m listening to is the one in my heart, embedded there forever by the great people at J103.

Written by

Filed under: My Journey · Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply