R.A.P. Interview: Stewart Byars

JV: What’s a typical day like for you?
Stewart: Well, from 5:00 to 9:00 I’m on the air, and then at 9:00 I get off the air and come into the production room and work from about 9:00 to 2:00 doing production. It’s pretty busy, but thank goodness for the digital technology; editing is so much faster nowadays. Otherwise, I simply wouldn’t be able to get a lot this stuff done. Digital editors can do a hundred edits in the time it would have taken you to do two in the old days. And of course, being small market, you have to do so much other stuff. We’ve got little two and three-minute programs that run, and we have to put those in the system. We have to do liners for the other stations. I do a live show, but I also have pre-recorded show on WCMT-FM, so I’m voice-tracking that. I have to do that when I get in here, and of course whatever commercials have to be done. We have to do promos for the Atlanta Braves and Tennessee Titans and all that stuff, too. It’s a busy job back here, a lot busier than it was when I first got this job.

JV: What’s the typical routine with a client that you’re going to produce a spot for? Does the salesperson write the copy?
Stewart: For the most part, the salespeople write their own copy here. If they wanted something on the more creative side, it used to be they would sit down and talk to me and say, “Stew, we want you to try to come up with something funny,” or “Blast them out of the windows,” like with a truck pull ad or whatever. Nowadays, after doing this as long as I have, they just write, “Stew, do your thing/comedy.” Or, “Stew, do your thing; really sell it hard” or something like that. Plus there’s the direction I get for the copy that the ad people do. Luckily they all trust me here, so it’s been a good relationship that I’ve had with them.

JV: Are there a lot of last-minute orders coming through, or do get a little time to turn around the amount of work you’re doing?
Stewart: Probably the average turnaround I get is about two days. I don’t know how that compares with everybody else, but you get a certain amount that have to start that afternoon, and you get a certain amount that may not start for a week. So I’d say it averages out to about a two-day turnaround.

JV: Well, you sound reasonably calm for a Production Director in a small market handling three stations. I’m guessing it’s not too stressful for you.
Stewart: No. The best part is, I like it. I mean, how many people get to wake up every day and do the job that they dreamed they were going to do when they were four years old? Not too many people. When they’re little kids, they all say they want to be firemen and cowboys. I was saying I wanted to be a disc jockey and be on the radio. That’s exactly what I’m doing, and I truly love my job.

JV: Many people strive to leave small markets to move to the larger ones. What’s kept you in the small markets for so long?
Stewart: Well, to tell the truth, the main reason I stayed in small market is because I was raised around here, and I liked the area. It’s a relaxed atmosphere. I like the people here in the mid-south. And when we adopted a couple of kids years back, we wanted to raise them in the same situation. Now my son Mike is in the Air Force, and my daughter is married, living in Kentucky. So I really don’t have as much holding me here except for the fact that I just kind of like where I am. They give me the freedom to do my job, and I still have some fun with it. I mean, if something ever came up in a bigger market, I would definitely consider it, but it’s not like I’ve been really actively looking for anything.

Like I said, I’ve been here for eleven years, and I think we all dream of working in some big monster station, but to tell the truth, I wouldn’t even know how to go about doing my job if I was working at some big organization and I only had one thing to concentrate on — it’d be interesting to think, okay, I’m the guy in charge of just promos. Everybody here in this radio station does a lot of things. I mentioned Misty earlier. She does traffic part of the day. She’s News Director part of the day. She does production back here part of the day. And our morning man over on WCMT-FM is Chris Brinkley. He does the morning show on one station. He does sports. He’s the voice of the local college football team here. We all just kind of do a little bit of everything when you’re in small market.

JV: Have other staff members been there for a significant amount of time such as you, or is the station a revolving door like many small market stations?
Stewart: For the most part it’s been pretty steady here. We have certain positions that seem to revolve a little faster than others. It’s hard to keep a Program Director, and it’s hard to keep a newsperson here. I’ve been here eleven years. Chris Brinkley, the other morning man, has been here for fifteen years, I believe. Misty Menees has been here for about ten or eleven years. And our office manager, Cindy, has been here for over twenty-five years. It’s a relatively small staff. Our part-timers are usually college kids or high school kids, and they tend to come and go as they grow up and move on to other things. But the main core staff here has been pretty steady over the years, very little turnover.

JV: One perception of small market radio is that it’s a training ground, but it sounds like you’ve got a core of some professionals that have stayed in the small market rather than trying to move on.
Stewart: You can call small market a training ground, but I think that depends on what you’re wanting. For some people, small market is a destination. I mean, I’d be thrilled if Tampa, Florida, or Chicago, or New York, or wherever called me, but I’ve never really considered this as a training area. I’ve lived in the area and wanted to be on the radio, and this was home. So it wasn’t like I got into this business or came over to this station just so I could go somewhere else later on. I actually came over here so I could have fun doing radio.

I remember listening and loving radio my whole life. Unlike most people that listen to just the music, I remember loving the really funny commercials when I was a kid as well. There were old K-Mart commercials, and a couple of years ago, commercials for Boston Market. The people that came up with those commercials are so amazing to me. Today, it’s a company called the Radio Ranch that really impresses me. We are still running some “Radio Advertising Project” PSA’s from there that are my favorites. Working to make people laugh would be a dream come true.

JV: A lot of our readers have been in medium and large market radio for years, decades, and haven’t breathed any fresh air in a long time. Tell us a couple of things about living and working in a small town.
Stewart: Well, like we mentioned earlier, there’s no big ratings race in small market. In really small market radio — especially now with XM, Sirius, and the Internet -- you have to decide what your station’s going to be, and this station has always been real service-oriented. So it’s not so much about a ratings battle and who can be the most outrageous. It’s about letting people know if there’s going to be school today, if there’s going to be a thunderstorm coming through the area, who won the local football game, the local baseball game.

You get to go out and actually meet people. It’s not a rat race. Competing radio stations? They’re buddies that you’ve worked with. If people do move around here, a lot of times in small market they may move from one town to the other. That’s maybe ten miles apart. But everybody still knows each other. There may be some friendly competition, but for the most part, it’s just a real relaxed atmosphere. You come in and it’s family. It’s especially a family atmosphere here. You know people’s kids. You become a fixture in a community, and there are a whole lot of people that know what my wife’s nickname is. Sometimes they give me a free Coke if I go into a restaurant. We tell people what’s going on when storms are coming in, and the firemen fight their fires. It’s just all a part of one community.

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