At a very young age I knew I wanted to be a radio DJ. My mother probably thought it was a phase, but I was set on making it happen.
I started working at a skating rink when I was 14, and eventually worked my way up from skate rental to DJ. And I tell ya, going from handing out skates and touching peoples shoes to playing music was a big deal.
Fast forward a few years and I’d managed to start working at a Christian AM station. My shift was Sunday morning from 5 am – noon. I played church sermons via tape… for seven hours. There was nothing else in the world a 17-year old would have wanted to do.
That same year my buddy and I were riding motorcycles through downtown Winston-Salem, NC and we drove by the largest country radio station in the market. We circled back to the station, stopped in front and my friend looked at me and said, “I dare you to go in and fill out an application.” So, I did.
To my absolute surprise, the station called me back two days later. They brought me in for an interview, gave me a couple hours of training and set me up for a couple overnight shifts. I was horrible, but I was on one of the largest country stations in the state.
Fast forward to the grand age of 18. I had sense left the country station because of school, but I had the itch and wanted to be on the air again. Waiting for later in life simply wasn’t an option.
So what did I do? I opened the phone book (yes, a phone book), flipped back to where the radio stations were in the W’s and started calling every station I wanted to work at. One in particular was WHSL – Whistle 100. I called the main line and asked to speak with the Program Director. The receptionist transferred my call and I went straight to voice mail. The message went something like this,
“Chris, my name is Ryan Shell and I’d like to work for you. I’ve worked at WBFJ and WTQR doing board op and on air shifts. I don’t care what you hire me for, but I want to work in radio again. I’ll board op. I’ll be on the air. I’ll even take out the trash if that’s what it takes. Please call me.”
I left my number and hung up.
A day or so later my phone rang. It was Chris Huff. He asked me to come in for a chat and eventually gave me a job. This was Country Station #2.
I worked at WHSL for a bit, but then it was ironically bought out by the parent company of Country Station #1. By around the age of 19 I had moved to Charlotte and was going to UNC Charlotte. It was a larger media market and my only true motivation for going to the school was to work for a larger radio station.
Like before, I fired open the phone book. This time I specifically stuck with country radio stations because I knew I was pigeonholed in the format for a bit because I had not yet learned to fully dampen my southern accent.
The station I eventually became determined to work at was WSOC, the largest country station in North Carolina. Kevin O’Neil was the Program Director and I swear I must have driven him crazy. I called. Called. And called again. My 10th phone call over the course of 2 – 3 weeks went something like this,
“Kevin, this is Ryan Shell again. This is my 10th time calling you without a returned phone call. I really want to work for you and think I have what it takes. Just so you know, this is my last time calling. I hope you’ll take 60 seconds out of your day to at least call me back. Not doing so would be pretty rude. Heck, you could even just call me and say buzz off.”
I left my number like I did so many times before and assumed I’d never hear from him. But to my surprise, he called. That first conversation went a little something like this,
Kevin: “Ryan, you are a stubborn SOB aren’t you?
Me: “Yes, but I really want to work for you.”
Kevin: “I hear ya. I’d like to arrange for you to come to the station so we can talk.”
That conversation eventually landed me a job, a job that I credit for teaching me a ton about the industry. It also helped me segue to my full time gig at aWKZL, a Top 40 station in Greensboro, NC. I was one of the youngest jocks in a top 50 market and hosted the night show for nearly six years. It was an amazing experience and it’s something I’ll never forget.
Had I not been willing to step outside my comfort zone in each of the three instances, I’d never be where I am today. It just wouldn’t have happened. Radio was critical to my creativity, public speaking, marketing and many other things.
Sometimes you have to get uncomfortable and ask for exactly what you want. If you sit around waiting on someone to offer you a plate of awesomeness, you might be waiting for a while. Pick up the ball and run with it.