RADIO SAVED MY LIFE

It’s National Radio Day — who knew? Well, I’m in the business and I sure didn’t, so it’s likely you didn’t know either! But, since I found out that it is and we’re here… I figured I’d share a little about my career. Because it hasn’t been just a ‘job’… it actually changed my life in more ways than anyone knows.

First, I’d like to say how grateful I am for radio. It gave this once insecure girl confidence, purpose and a way to use my voice and my story. It gave me a ‘home’… a family… a life.

My parents divorced when I was about eight years old. It didn’t end well. I was constantly in the middle of a war I never asked to be a part of. I felt like I had to take sides and my loyalties waivered because no child should ever have to choose one parent over the other. I journaled my troubles away and I found refuge in music.

I loved listening to the radio. Loved the DJ’s. Really loved the American Top 40 Countdown every weekend with Casey Kasem. I wanted to ‘do that’. So, I got this nifty microphone that hooked up to the stereo in my bedroom and when tuned to a particular AM station on the dial, allowed me to HEAR myself talking on the air! I don’t think anyone else could hear it outside of my room (which is probably a good thing), but it was my way to ‘practice’ as I imagined having my own radio show one day.

After graduating high school, I attempted courses at a local community college. I had been accepted to several Universities. But, sadly, due to the years-long hostility between my parents, it came down to ‘who’s gonna pay for this’ and when the argument became too overwhelming, I decided to forego the idea altogether. My heart felt immense sadness that August when I watched all of my friends go off to pursue their education and dreams, leaving me behind.

Not even a year later, I knew I had to get away. I was in an extremely toxic relationship with an up-to-no-good boy who I clung to like my life depended on it because I felt like I didn’t have much else. I had absolutely no stability or sense of belonging or purpose. I called a girlfriend of mine who had just moved back home after completing trade school. I asked if she wanted to move to Florida. She said yes. We packed up our cars and drove toward freedom.

A new environment changes a lot of things… but not everything. My friend and I found a cute apartment, jobs and met a few friends. We enjoyed the nightlife and action that West Palm Beach had to offer! Maybe a little too much. But, my insecurities followed me to the beach and as soon as I broke away from my hometown bad boy, I found myself another one that I would attach myself to as though he provided my air to breathe… for too many years.

As with Toxic #1 (as we’ll call him), Toxic #2 was equally as verbally abusive and eventually became physically abusive as well. I took it all as though I somehow deserved it. I felt like I did. I had never experienced peace, true joy and contentment. Ever. I figured I was destined to suffer. And, sadly, I let myself accept that.

My heart literally aches for younger me. She had no idea. Just no idea.

I never let my secret radio dream leave my mind. I don’t think I shared about it with others. My lack of self-esteem would’ve probably scared me away from trying for fear they’d think I couldn’t possibly do it. But, one day, I decided to go for it.

I heard an ad on my favorite station at the time for a local broadcasting school. Since I had absolutely no idea how to get ‘in’ to the radio world, I figured that would be a good place to start. I stopped by, took a tour, grabbed a folder full of pricing information, went home and spread all of it on the floor of my bedroom. It was expensive, but certainly not as costly as a four-year college education. My heart raced as I nervously called my mom and dad to see if they’d be willing to split the tuition. For the first time in my life, they really didn’t hesitate. They agreed. I started a short time later.

I loved it. I knew I would.

I learned how to run a board, write and read copy. It was a radio and TV course, so I got to practice live shots and anchoring. I was able to secure an internship at my favorite radio station — the very one where I had heard the advertisement for the school! I was able to work alongside my favorite DJ at the time as she did her show. I watched so intently. As I got to interact with the other jocks within the cluster, I found new favorites. I would listen to their shows (unbeknownst to them) and write down word for word their talk breaks. I’d study their inflection and word choices. I asked for their help and took to heart every piece of advice. They ‘airchecked’ my demos. I appreciated their constructive criticism and put their suggestions to work.

I took any and all air-shifts the program director was willing to give me. My first ‘gig’ was 2am - 4am. I literally thought I hit the jackpot. I mean, it was South Florida and as I knew from experience, people partied all night long! So, maybe I had a few listeners. But, one I had for sure was my mother. She was really proud of what I had accomplished up to that point and would not only listen in the middle of the night, but would call in and make song requests so I could practice airing phone calls.

I worked holidays with joy! I remember being dressed and ready for a night out when I got a phone call asking if I could work immediately because one of the DJ’s had called in sick. I waved ‘bye’ to my friends and sped over to the station in my heels. I couldn’t get enough. I loved every minute of being on the air and I took every opportunity to do it.

Eventually, I landed my first full-time radio job. My very own night show on a Hot AC station. The pay wasn’t great, but I didn’t care. I worked a full-time day job at an accounting firm to supplement my income. I worked in the office 8-5 and radio 7-midnight. I worked myself into Anxiety.

I had my first Anxiety attack as I drove to my day job one morning (click here for an entire blog about that). Soon after, I knew I couldn’t keep up that pace. I also knew I couldn’t stay in that abusive relationship anymore. My confidence had grown. I had this job… this career… this ‘thing’ to call my own. For the first time in my life, I realized that I didn’t NEED anyone. I told him it was over and I never looked back.

By the grace of God, I wouldn’t have to keep up the two-full-time-job schedule anymore either. I was offered a spot on our morning show and then when the station flipped formats, I was offered a co-host position on the country station down the hall. And that’s when my life REALLY changed.

I was free from my toxic relationship. I loved what I was doing on the air. I was just enjoying my life… the life I had worked really hard to create for myself. And wouldn’t ya know it? Out of the clear blue sky Matthew fell. He emailed and asked if I was ‘single or attached’. 17 years, a move across the country and two kids later, I guess you could say the rest is history. (Click here for the podcast about how we met!)

So, you see… radio saved my life. Or, maybe you could say it GAVE me a life. I’ve never felt regret for my bad choices or lack of self-esteem… it was all a part of my journey. Each step ultimately led to the person I am today and the life I live. I own all of it and I’m grateful for all of it.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and whisper words of confidence to my younger self. Obviously, that’s impossible. So, I do what I can. I take every opportunity every single day to share those words with my daughter and my son. I want them to know that they are worthy of all good things. We all are.

Jennifer Waldman