Talk Time

Dream Job day nets lessons in radio, community and life

PUBLISHER’S NOTE:

Whether you love your job or hate it, there’s a good chance it’s not the job you dreamed about when you were 10. Many of us have a “dream job,” something we always wanted to do, a path not taken, for a myriad of reasons.

Wouldn’t it be a kick, just for a day, to experience that job? The team here at Blount Today thought so. In July of 2006, we shared Marty Millsaps’ dream job as he followed the Tennessee Smokies in his dream of being a professional baseball player. David Dudley shared his dream job with us of being a conductor, and, with the help of Bill Robinson and the Orchestra at Maryville College, we were able to give him a taste of that experience. Chuck Finley shared his dream of being a pilot. With the help of the 134th Air Refueling Wing, it became reality for a day.

Natasha McMurray left behind the classroom at Maryville High School to experience a day as a chef, with the help of the team at Foothills Milling Company. In this installment, Tim Self experiences for one day what it’s like to be a morning radio talk show host.

We look to continue this dream jobs series. So let us know what YOUR dream job is. Is it something that Blount Today can make happen for you, for a day, and then share with our readers? Let us know. e-mail or call Lance Coleman at colemanl@BlountToday.com or 865-981-9106. We will take a look at the responses and see if they are within our capabilities.

To say Tim Self got more than he expected from his Dream Job experience on Sept. 6 is an understatement. The experience reaffirmed a leadership lesson he had already learned - action is more important than good intentions.

Self, 29, is a William Blount High School grad and Blount County native. One of his dream jobs was to be a morning radio talk show host.

When Blount Today started making plans with the kind help of WNOX NewsTalk 100 star Hallerin Hilton Hill, it was expected Self would spend the morning with Hill at the Citadel Studios in Knoxville. Instead, they got together in the garage of a home in Friendsville.

The day of Self’s scheduled Dream Job experience, Hill was doing a remote broadcast from the home of Ross and Amanda Debuty, the Blount County family whose home was destroyed by fire that claimed the lives of four of their five children.

Hill had been instrumental in a community effort that ended with a new home being built for the Debuty family. The day of Self’s dream job experience was the day Hill and the builders, companies and friends handed the keys to the house to the Debuty family.

It was Hill’s actions in response to the fire that got Self’s attention and illustrated the influence an on-air personality has. “Hallerin is not a hammer-slinger or a foundation-pourer, but he called people to action. It goes back to execution. Bob Hirche, my old district chairman of Blount County Boys Scouts of America, taught me there is too much talk and not enough execution.”

Self said working with Hill at the Debuty home was a very humbling experience. “I wasn’t there as a piece of the puzzle but I became a piece of the puzzle. It also played into the emotional reasons I would want to be a radio host,” he said. “People were shaking my hand as if I had done something tremendous to help.”

Self said he saw an opportunity to help while Hill was interviewing others as part of the show. Hill needed someone to video tape the day’s events.

“When I saw the opportunity to contribute, that I could work a camera, that was my contribution. I had Hallerin’s video camera and helped them chronicle the day’s events. I got a picture of the little boy on his swing set and went in the house and videoed their rooms, saw people, interviewed and taped the discussions,” he said.

Self said he was very surprised by what he saw and how busy Hill was.

“My perception was that this would be an easy job. You have to be quick-witted and informed. The reality is, Hal is more like a ringmaster. If that person isn’t keeping up with what’s going on, it shuts down. The master of ceremonies sets the tone and keeps the beat,” Self said.

Self said he was impressed with the amount of time Hill spent preparing for each show. He was surprised Hill had just a few talking points for each show. “I expected he would have stacks of pages of information. What I found was that he enough to facilitate a discussion.”

Self said being able to communicate well as Hill does can make a difference in people’s lives. “I think it gives people hope,” he said. “That sounds cheesy, but I think a great communicator does that.”

Self said he has always had a “sick fascination” with a microphone, whether on a stage during Relay for Life, or in high school as host of the William Blount talent show. “I think I’ve been given the gift of being able to relate to an audience. I’m flexible enough that I can relate to people,” he said.

Hill, 43, also was fascinated with the microphone and had his own “broadcasts” as a young child. “I recall as early as 8 or 9. My parents got me a little red Panasonic recorder. It looked like a lunch box. I would record everyone. I would record fights in the neighborhood. I imitated Walter Cronkite. I would listen to the radio late at night,” he said.

Hill loved to pretend he was broadcasting a show. “I would sit in a room and talk to myself,” he said. Hill joked that he pretty much does the same thing now while in the studio at his current job.

Hill’s father also had a radio show when Hill was 6 or 7 years old and young Hallerin would help his father. “I got my first internship at 16. I’m 43, and I’ve been in it a long time,” he said

After graduating from Georgia Academy, Hill earned a degree in broadcast journalism from Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala. From there he traveled to the Virgin Islands where he became manager of a radio station. When Hurricane Hugo decimated the island, he returned to the United States and settled in the Knoxville area because he had lived here during his teenage years. “I was unemployed, flat broke living in a room in my sister’s house,” he said.

He got the job with NewsTalk and has been there 17 years. James Dick hired Hill to work in the newsroom at WIVK. He worked wherever he was needed at the station and often worked holidays or covered for other people who were on vacation.

Hill still has a great respect for his former employer. “The best thing about Mr. Dick was he said there was no limit to what you can do here. He said, ‘You don’t get respect, you earn it. But once you earn it, it’s yours,’” Hill said. “It was James A. Dick who was my mentor and friend. He’s the one who gave me my shot.”

Hill started off working afternoons and was moved to mid-mornings. About 18 to 24 months after he started with the company, Dick moved Hill’s show to the early morning drive-time slot. “I never pursued any of these slots,” he said. “I guess it was just God’s timing.”

Hill laughed when he remembered the conversation in which Dick “asked” him about moving to the early morning shift.

“Mr. Dick asked what I thought about doing mornings, and I said I liked the 9-to-12 shift. Mr. Dick said it wasn’t a question. He said, ‘You’ve been doing well, if this doesn’t work, your other time slot has already been filled. Make it work,’” Hill remembered.

Hill says his day starts at 3:30 or 4 a.m. at his desk at home and he’s at work by 5:20 a.m. “There’s no stress there,” he said of his home office. “It’s just the place I feel creative.”

Hill said that after his show goes off the air at 10 a.m. he has a production meeting with producer Chris Marion, news director Dave Folk and operations manager Mike Hammond to learn what worked, what didn’t work. This meeting is often where topics are decided for on-air discussion. “We sit there for an hour to an hour and a half. As you bring topics up, I’ve found if you have a passionate, organic reaction to a topic, it’s probably a good topic,” Hill said.

Hill talked about a meeting in which he suggested he ask listeners to talk about their first bicycle. The reaction from others in meeting was underwhelming. “Everyone in the meeting rolled their eyes,” he said.

Listeners had a different reaction. “When it happened, the phones lit up,” he said. “When I choose a topic, it’s not always about current events. Brian Jennings, Citadel vice president for news talk programming, said that a good talk show host is a great observer of life.”

Hill and Marion also get together on Sunday mornings to go over ideas and look at how to make the show better for the coming week. “The first thing we do is thank God. That’s not politically correct. Then we look at what worked, what didn’t work. We look at problems. What are the patterns. We look for where we dropped the ball,” Hill said.

Hill and Marion each have a typed list of 15 to 20 story ideas prepared in advance of each Sunday meeting. “I give him mine, and he gives me his,” Hill said.

Hill praised his producer. “This show is 100 percent better because we’re together,” he said.

Hill said that even in the midst of success he works to keep his priorities in order: God, his wife, Nedra, and their children, Hallerin II and Halle.

“At the end of most days I just feel grateful. Every single day I say thank you.”

Hill said that while he used to want to be a correspondent on “60 Minutes,” now he is living part of his dream job. Other dreams include teaching.

“I would love to teach. I’m astounded at the Proverbs of King Solomon. My dream job would be to create and run a life skills university,” he said. Students would learn about health-related issues, finances and other topics not addressed in conventional schools. “It would be a place you go to between high school and college or college and work or at midlife,” he said.

Hill said he enjoys his job. “I have a lot of fun. Chris Marion and Dave Folk, we laugh 70 percent of the time,” he said. “I work with people I trust implicitly.”

Self said he was impressed with how Hill managed everything at once during the show. “It’s non-stop,” Self said. “You’ve got to be on your toes. He’s managing a whole lot more than I expected.”

Self said it was evident Hill had worked hard to get to where he is in his career. “Anybody who gets there doesn’t just arrive, you have to work hard,” Self said.

Self said that he’s started gathering information from the graduate school of communications at the University of Tennessee. “I plan to audit communications classes in radio broadcasting,” he said. “I also found out there’s a week-long summer camp for adult amateurs wanting to be sports announcers, and I’m going to enroll.”

Since his dream job experience, Self has had another opportunity to be on the radio. Self said he has learned a little about facilitating discussion on the air with his work this year on Blount Today Sports Radio. Every Friday night during high school football season, Blount Today Sports Radio provides coverage of Blount County high school football. Self co-hosts the pre-game and halftime shows and also does on-air reads for the shows underwriters.

“I don’t understand football, formations or blitzes,” he said. “I know punting, passing, touchdowns, and I can read statistics. I don’t think Hallerin talks about stuff he doesn’t know about, he knows enough to facilitate discussion.”

Self said that while he has another dream job of serving as governor of the state of Tennessee, seeing how Hill helped the Debuty family reaffirmed to him that actions are more important than intentions.

“What did I learn? It’s a call to action. Dreams and goals are bull unless you’re willing to execute,” he said. “Hill didn’t have the answers (for the Debuty family), but he executed and called people to action, and they answered the call.”

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