I love being behind the microphone. In 2003, I hosted a radio program in Cincinnati. From the first broadcast, it felt like home. I eventually walked away from this program, when I couldn’t produce it the way that I felt would be the best program we could create.
I moved from Cincinnati to the Chicago suburbs, and knew at the right time I’d be back on the radio. I loved listening to This American Life. I felt their storytelling was the best on radio. As I listened to an episode, a vision of how I would come back to radio emerged. I knew that the most powerful force on the planet wasn’t government or religion, it was business. Businesses were setting the agenda for our communities, countries, in fact, the planet. This agenda was often narrowly focused on maximizing profit at any cost. This cost was producing significant challenges that weren’t always obvious. Traditional media, including public radio, was ignoring the real behind the scenes stories of the good, bad and ugly of business. I knew it was important to get these stories out.
As this idea percolated, I could feel the qualities of the new program. I wanted each episode to be a masterpiece. Everything about it enhanced the story telling, and this attention to quality would enable it to be a widely listened to program. For me to stay focused on this dream required deadlines, which in the radio business meant having a regular time and date for the program to be broadcast.
I started looking for a radio station to be our home. I discovered a local AM radio station that offered about half its air time to paid programming. I contacted the station and we quickly struck a deal. OK, now I have a start time, but how am I going to find a team to produce this program so it matches the dream I’m have.
My previous experience was with live radio. I felt that this format wouldn’t support the quality I wanted. I also didn’t know anything about the production stuff. I advertised on Craig’s list, and after several false starts found someone who could produce the programming I was envisioning.
We were off to the races, and Business Matters was birthed. Our first program was not half bad and it gave us a good reference point to improve from. I was having a great time and the quality improved from week to week. We added a producer, who helped with finding guests and promoting the program. The only problem was that no one was listening. At least, that’s what I thought.
How could I find out if my hunch was right? I decided to run a promotion on the program. The first ten people who called our toll-free number, would receive $50. That’s right, free money. We received NO CALLS. What could I do? Our producer heard that there was a potential change in the programming lineup at WLUW, the station owned by Loyola University in Chicago. We met with the station manager and boom, we were on the air in Chicago within four weeks.
The program team changed over time. For the first year and a half,we consistently produced programs that were good. Then I took my eye off the ball. From time to time, we would create programs that rocked, but we also broadcast mediocre programming. I had a great rationalizing story, “the program may not be great, but it’s good enough.”
When I see this sentiment, I cringe. How have I let this happen? I lost touch with the dream. I’ve allowed perceived limitations to justify inferior content. I’m not saying this from the perspective of comparing our program to something else. I’m saying this because the program doesn’t feel like the dream.
I would like to say that I realized this from some moment of personal insight. That’s not the case. I was recently inspired to find collaborators for the program, who feel the dream, and can help bring that dream to the radio. One of these people wrote me a note yesterday about a recent program. He was blunt, which I’m very grateful for. He said the program was disappointing compared to some of our earlier work. I knew in an instant he was right. I also knew I needed to either renew my commitment to the dream or stop production.
I recognized all the times in my life where I have drifted away from the dreams I have been inspired by. Each time, the underlying dynamics were the same. I compromised. I allowed myself to believe in some perceived limitation rather than remembering that if the dream is right I will be able to find everything needed for its continued creation.
Today, I am both energized and humbled. I’m looking through my life to see where I may be compromising, and if I am stopping.
How about you? What are your dreams? Do you follow them or allow yourself be distracted? There’s no day like today to come alive again.