In October 1983, my parents dropped me off at a class at the community radio station in the town where I was very lucky to grow up, WBFH-FM, for a Saturday morning class called “Be A DJ.” While my friends slept in or watched TV, I got to learn how to cue up a record, put my voice on a “cart,” run an audio board and DJ a radio show. I was 11 years-old.
Because my parents wanted me off the couch and trying something that had interested me, they signed me up for that first class. That led to a regular show called “Middle School Spotlight” (where I’m sure I played Bonnie Tyler) and seven years of DJ shows (see photo from 1988), newscasting, reporting, talk show hosting and sports play-by-play at WBFH where, my senior year, I was Operations Manager. Along the way, I received advice and access from some of Metro Detroit’s top TV and radio broadcasters, who took an interest in what I was doing at WBFH. That collective experience led to Syracuse University, immediate work at WJPZ Radio, followed by a TV internship, a radio job, three TV jobs and the eventual career in PR and strategic communications.
The teacher of that first class was Pete Bowers, who, lucky for today’s aspiring communicators, is still the station manager of WBFH. He’s the one who showed me the most basic fundamentals of this career. Pete, as the first of many who have taught me over 30 years, represents what is so crucial to young people who want to enter and then grow within communications – mentorship is the most important factor to success.
Our business isn’t like many others. There are few barriers to entry. There is no licensing exam. To get started, you just need someone to believe in your skills and your potential, whether you’re in sixth grade or just out of college or somewhere in between. But the key is to be able to learn while doing – ideally from multiple mentors who can help you apply fundamentals to today’s communications challenges.
For those of us fortunate enough to have built a career in the never boring field of communications, we must teach what we know to those who are closer to the beginning of their careers than we are. In your workplace, make time for moments where you can not only lead by example, but make sure you share what you have learned and how it applies today. If possible, with your alma mater, seize opportunities to talk to classes and make yourself available for students who want to dig deeper. Encourage your company to interns and job shadows in your office.
At Tanner Friedman, we have worked to build a culture where we can learn from each other, sharing perspectives whenever possible with each other and our collaborators. We hope that spirit of “Be A DJ” never stops.
We no longer teach aspiring communicators how to cue up records. But, just like 30 years ago, it takes mentors to cue up careers.