Mourning a Radio Station, My Secret Identity & My Husband's Mistress

 
The only constant in life is change.  It's simplistic to think that the only options are to embrace change enthusiastically, lament it, or fight it.  Just as change is a process, dealing with it is a process. It's ok to mourn it for awhile - be nostalgic for what was, feel sad for what could have been - and then turn towards the future with fresh resolve.  In fact, without a little mourning, bitterness sets in and taints both the past and the ability to move through changes.  This is a story about change - a very long story about a journey of dreaming and creativity - and a step in our process of mourning so we can move forward. It's mostly my husband's story, but as we are inextricably tied, it's my story too.


 Though I've always blogged under my real name, I also have a radio name - Buffy - given to me by my husband, Tysen, a local radio programmer & personality.  Just under three years after Buffy came into existence, however, the station Buffy was created for went off the air - flipped to a classic rock format. That day I lost my favorite station, I lost my secret identity, and Tysen lost a whole lot more.

Tysen has worked in radio since he was 15 - about a year after we met and became instant best friends. He has been on the air at pop stations (Q99, 94.9ZHT), a country station (KBULL 93), Radio Disney when it was local, and even a disco station (FEVER...you should hear his Donna Summers impersonation!), but most importantly 101.9 The End - an alternative rock...check that, THE alternative rock station as far as our lives are concerned. This is the station I listened to when we were younger and Tysen was still all about EMF & Bobby Brown.

The station has been through some incarnations (started as KJQ, by and large became X96 in 1992, then in 1996 several of that staff migrated over to start 107.5 The End - which later moved to 101.9 which was a stronger signal), but in some form or another, I've followed the music and personalities through many years. And when I introduced him to it, Tysen took to Alternative Music like he was born to it. We were both fans - and since he was in the industry, it became his mission in life to work for The End. Anyone who knows Tysen knows that when he makes something his mission, it HAPPENS. End of story. Just consider it already done.

Tysen had just returned from his LDS mission when The End came into being, and having worked for Q99, a pop station, it was more likely he find a job in the same genre.  By the time we got married, two years later, Tysen was at 94.9 ZHT, 7-midnight.  It was a fun shift for him, high energy, young audience - but not great for newlyweds, as I was finishing grad school and working all day and he worked all night.  He kept delivering his air-check tape in creative ways to The End studios, and eventually got hired on by Citadel Broadcasting (which owned The End) in the production department and to fill in on weekend shifts as needed.

Tysen ended up doing regular weekend shifts on-air, but his real pride and joy was producing for the station. For non-radioites, production is making commercials and other digital sound products, but it's also putting together the sound of the station between the music - in tech terms: sweepers, imaging, promos, that kind of stuff.  It's digital, creative, and technical work that requires a great ear, tons of patience and a certain amount of OCD perfectionist tendencies.  Working directly with the manager of the station (the title here is Program Director, and fans would know him as Biff Raff, the first and longest tenured and most successful of several End PDs), Tysen created the personality of the station through the station's most successful years.   He was "just a kid," and very behind the scenes, but at a reunion dinner in the spring of  2010, when I thanked him for including us when we weren't really the main members of the station, Biff Raff told me that he considered Tysen instrumental in how the station sounded during those 7 years.  Tysen grew up on The End.

Tysen worked on award-winning production for all of the stations in the radio group (he has trophies!), but his main focus was The End.  And he loved working there. His coworkers then are still dear
friends. However, our family was growing and we needed more security financially. As I encountered health problems and had to cut back on my work hours,  Tysen went back to school to finish his Marketing Degree, and he made the huge jump from programming (all the stuff around what goes on the air) to sales (selling air-time for commercials to companies - and crafting their ad campaigns or promotions with the station). For this career move, he left The End behind :(  (He worked in Sales for Bonneville
Communications - specifically The Arrow - where he was very successful.)

Three years later, he moved to selling Radio Disney. About the same time, The End went off the air, flipped to an urban hip-hop format.
Fans were outraged! Voicing their angst to the company (still Citadel Broadcasting, at that time), they demanded their station back. It took a few months and the hiring of a new General Manager over the Citadel stations in S.L. before The End was brought back in December 21, 2010.  Tysen went to lunch one day, early that December, and came home and told me that he'd quit Disney because The End was coming back and he had been hired as the Program Director and afternoon drive 3-7 PM jock. He was over the moon! All his hard work had paid off and he was finally perfectly qualified for the job he'd wanted his whole career; having worked in every department from production to on-air to sales, he thoroughly understood every aspect of how everything needed to work together in a way few others do.  Add to that his newly finished Marketing Degree filling him with ideas to take the station to new levels, and he was ready to KILL IT!  There was only one snag: he had to keep it a secret that he was Program Director for three months, he was told. No one could know that he was programming the station, which was very strange. And his pay was frighteningly small, but it would increase to his regular salary once he was officially announced.  In the meantime, officially, he'd have his afternoon shift and he'd be Marketing Director.

 At first listeners were reluctant to trust the newly resurrected station. Corporate gives, corporate can take away. But then they started coming back.  At this point only one of the station personalities who had been around before and saw the station through the urban hip-hop debacle was still around - Cort. Between Cort & Tysen, working tirelessly to win back the hearts of listeners, despite not having an advertising budget or staff, The End started to bloom. The three months came and went with no announcement of Tysen's position programming the station. Four months. Five.  Tysen went to work every day, handled all the promotions and worked with Cort - who was similarly driven and tirelessly hard working - then did his air shift - then came home and spent hours working on the music. One day there was a general staff meeting, and it was announced that The End had a new Program Director...Mike Summers. It was like a knife in the back. Come to find out, it was to Cort as well. Both of them had been promised the same "secret" position in order to get them to work so hard while management looked for someone else and then announced it to both of them in an open meeting with the whole building present. Shortly thereafter, Cort quit & moved on to better things. Tysen stayed.

I was bitter, but he, being the amazing person he is, found justification, reconciled himself to the new situation - including the fact that he'd quit a lucrative sales position with Radio Disney and was now stuck with a measly salary that was only supposed to be temporary. Mike Summers is a legend in the alternative music world, having been one of the original personalities and programmers. Tysen loved working with him and was excited about what he could learn from him. He was unsure about the direction Mike took the station in - more of a retro-alternative focusing on the '80s and shunning new music - but he still was happy to be part of The End. Tysen had the station's highest ratings during his afternoon show with his infectious enthusiasm.  He was still Marketing Director, pulling off crazy promotions and building The End's social media presence to the highest of all the stations in the building with the integral help of wonder-tech Zack Shutt.
With no budget for a station vehicle or wrap, Tysen took a large banner and tied it to a Uhaul so the station would have some presence at concerts.  He called it the white trash station vehicle.  I call it brilliant.

Knowing Tysen's popularity, Mike decided to move him to mornings with the newly re-hired Chunga to make the morning show a ratings juggernaut. Tysen is NOT a morning person! Going to work at 4 AM was one of the hardest things he's ever done. He survived it by drinking Mt. Dew non-stop through the prep & the show, and gained 30lbs during the year he was on mornings. It was not good for him.

During this time, Citadel Broadcasting was bought out by an up-and-coming company called Cumulus Media. Interestingly, I happen to be an avid Bloomberg Business Week reader, and found out about Cumulus' ideology in an article written about the take-over at the same time that the Salt Lake Radio group was experiencing its effects.  Cumulus is a very hands-on corporation.  All over the country, they apply a scientific approach and have created formula radio. According to Bloomberg's article, "You can blame Dickey (Cumulus CEO) for the rigid stratification of formats that took hold in the late 1980s, forcing listeners into classic rock or urban contemporary ghettos where the playlists don’t vary—and where you will never hear a song that hasn’t been tested by hours of research. “More of what you want, more often, and less of what you don’t want” is how Dickey describes his broadcast model."
Each station's Program Director is supervised weekly by a corporate representative and every decision has to be approved. Every. Tiny. Decision.  Inside word on the street tells of one of the top Rock stations in L.A., a heritage station with #1 ratings for many years, which had a Program Director who balked at the micro-management.  With the justification of adoring fans and years of success behind him, he claimed to know what he was doing.  He was promptly, uhm, urged to find another employer.  Cumulus doesn't appreciate anyone who doesn't appreciate their clinical, top-down approach.  All over the country, ideology outweighs ratings - because they truly believe that their science will eventually equal a national ratings domination.  In some ways, it's quite noble to be that dedicated to an ideal...unless you're a listener on the other end of the experiment, or an employee with actual talent to contribute.

When they bought Citadel, Cumulus didn't really do alternative music radio stations. In my opinion, that's because Alternative music defies structure and predictability - alternative music fans are quirky and picky and vary from one location to another. A one-size-fits-all just can't work. Most in the industry surmised the immediate demise of The End under Cumulus. Insiders wondered what format it would be flipped to and speculated it would be syndicated sports talk. Tysen didn't wonder - he took action. Jerry MacGuire style, he wrote an 8 page manifesto defending The End's importance to Utah audiences and the need to keep it on the air and sent it to the company's highest levels. It worked. The company's vice president told him him he was impressed with his passion and they'd give the station a chance. A couple of months later, to Tysen's shock, Mike Summers was laid off as part of a round of cost cutting that hit several stations and that left The End with only two full-time staff members, both of whom happened to be on the morning show! It seems to be standard practice that as they take over, Cumulus cleans house.  Again from the Bloomberg article, "As Dickey and his brother bought and consolidated stations, they earned their reputation as efficient cost-cutters. “I don’t relish that reputation,” says John Dickey. “You don’t want to be good at it, but you have to be.” Of his approach to business, Lew Dickey says, “We’re dead-ass focused.”  Personally knowing the casualties of this cost cutting though puts this in a different perspective.  The talent lost when jobs are eliminated, the struggles faced when salaries are cut.  All under the umbrella of "efficiency" - which is pretty true, I guess, since one person does the job of three for less pay than they should be getting for that one job and I suppose that can be called efficient under a technical, yet nasty definition.  But the entire thing takes on a bitter flavor when, after explaining to employees why they need to sacrifice, "Dickey rewarded himself with a huge bump in compensation, taking $20 million in cash and equity in 2011."  
 Tysen was told he was now the Program Director - effective immediately. No discussion, no pay raise, no negotiations, no more staff, no more budget. Company couldn't afford it! Ratings at the time were low and in free fall, staff was tiny - but with his bare hands, dedicated tiny staff and passion, they pulled it off.  He honestly believed that if he could get the ratings into top ten, he could save the station, and that became his 24 hour a day mission.  Moving himself to afternoons to fill that empty time slot, he fought for a pay raise for the morning show's producer, Chad, so he could become Chunga's morning show partner. He also fought for a pay raise for his new mid-day personality, Molly Norman, and ended up being told she was his new Promotions Director in order to justify it.  She had no promotions background, and was overwhelmed at what was dumped on her but did her dedicated best.  Nights were part-time taped, with Zack Shutt, who had been Tysen's assistant for a while and was critical in raising the station's social networking profile as well as a great night jock.
Interviewing AWOL Nation

 But they were left virtually alone to fend for themselves. While other stations got new vehicles, wraps, promotional ads on TV, interns, equipment, The End had to cope with whatever they had on hand. Ever innovative, Tysen worked out trade agreements and beat the pavement promoting the station and gaining client confidence. He impressed record reps by fighting corporate to play new music they hadn't tested yet with their algorithms, and somehow got his way, earning a reputation as one of the only Cumulus PDs in the country who actually knew his music and could make a difference. The station was humming despite being ridiculously out matched by the competition!  At every turn, X96 had the upper hand.  I remember Tysen coming home from one interview with a band just laughing at the comparison.  He got out of his own car, with his backpack containing his own laptop & microphone to interview the band.  X96's PD pulled up with a full staff in two decked out station vehicles, set up a full mini-studio of equipment, and as the interview proceeded, one staff member video taped, another two took pictures, one ran a computer streaming live to the website... you get the picture.  And yet every conference call and meeting Tysen was hounded for not beating X in ratings. Corporate somehow expected him to work miracles.  And oh, how he tried! He broke songs in the market and in the country that ended up being hit after hit.  With a great ear for music and a finger placed accurately on the pulse of Utah's unique lifestyle, ratings were increasing, revenue up, positive client reactions. One year after taking over the station at a low, the steady climb and devotion of fans were all the reward Tysen needed to keep putting in 14 hour days then coming home and working more in his home studio. Listener satisfaction was constantly, constantly on his mind.
Interviewing Paramore

 Maybe he should have been more focused on corporate satisfaction instead, and recognized the writing on the wall, because exactly one year after taking over, Tysen was told that Cumulus was ending The End the next morning. They said they'd done some market research and decided a different format would perform better.  It seems obvious to me, however, that they had it in for the station from the beginning.  Without a budget or advertising or any sort of support whatsoever, they had obviously left the station out to dry - just glad that Tysen's passion was making them money in the meantime while they figured things out on their end.  When the flipped the format, they took his Program Director job, but they still wanted to keep him around because he'd proven such a hard worker. Cutting his pay shockingly, making him move out of his office, demoting him to be only an on-air talent where he used to run the whole shebang, (what a reward for absolute dedication!), they kept asking him how happy he was that they'd "saved" him and if he was pleased. Every day since has been a happiness test. If he doesn't look happy enough, he walks in on managers checking his Facebook and warning him not to be "negative" publicly in any way. As if he would. He's too much of a consummate professional to ever let his feelings overwhelm his ethics. They even checked up on my Facebook page to make sure I wasn't saying anything harmful.  In the end, I was asked to take my Buffy profile down just in case, because I'm a bit unpredictable.  In the interest of Tysen's well-being at work and how he is treated, I complied.  Which is how I come to mourn the death of my secret identity.

How did I get to be Buffy in the first place?  When Tysen very first came back to The End, there was no female talent on the station. They needed a female voice to fulfill several contracts with clients. He begged me to do it (remember, he thought he was acting PD at the time too). I've known him since he was on the air at 15 years old - never, NEVER had I spoken into one of the microphones. I've sat through hours and hours of his air shifts in studio, and it hadn't crossed my mind! But he needed my help. My first 60 second commercial took me almost an hour to cut!! It was humiliating. I've taught classes to lecture halls full of people, but getting behind that microphone was intimidating.

 I became a sort of presence on the station - even featuring on the morning show a couple of times. And Tysen gave me an alias -- Buffy. In a chivalrous effort to protect my privacy, he christened the radio
personality I voiced. It made me laugh, because any 7 year old could find my real identity with 5 min on the internet, but the gesture was so sweet. Many have asked me "why Buffy?" Well, there are lots of stories behind this that are very amusing, but apparently when I get angry I have a knack for words that can cut right through someone. When I asked Tysen about the name, he said, "because you can slay people with words, and you kick ass!" as a reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And Buffy I've become. I set up a Facebook page to interact with listeners (per the request of a client I represented) and to comment on Tysen's posts without revealing my identity. And it was FUN!! The freedom of an alias is glorious! I could say and post things as Buffy that I'd never post on my personal FB page! Tamara is an upstanding member of a neighborhood, a family, a community -- but Buffy could be as snarky and wickedly observant as I wanted.

The Killers
 Shutting down that page has, surprising to me,  been painful. I didn't post often, but it was such an outlet for my deviant self. Beyond that, I miss being Buffy and going to station events. We may have struggled through hellish finances the past three years, since we never did get that promised salary that justified leaving the previous job, but we've been rich in experience. Meeting bands, going to concerts, movie premiers - all the wonderful Program Director fare that Tysen shared with me.  Just as I adapt the focus of my blog to include this double life - I lose my "in" to all those special events.  Irony, or just annoying?


The pictures throughout this post are the perfect illustration of how crazy/cool life has been.  At first glance, the most important thing is how AWESOME is it and how lucky we were that we're where we are, with whom we are. But a quick second look shows Tysen 90% of the time in the same shirt.  Why? Because it was his good shirt.  His only good shirt.  For 2 years.  With 5 kids, after the mortgage, bills, food, there wasn't anything left and that shirt just kept on being the only one that wasn't a station shirt.  I finally saved a bit and took him shopping on his last birthday where he picked out THREE "good shirts" and I told him to burn this plaid one!  See? Glam & fun, but a little crappy stressful too.

We started listing concerts we've been to over the years, just for fun one day, and I was flabbergasted! And now the list has asterisks next to bands we've also met as well as seen in concert. What an amazing time we've had!!
Neon Trees
Matt & Kim - What a FUN night!
Passion Pit - I just kept thinking they were WAY too young to be singing the heavy lyrics of "Take a Walk"
I've been concerned about juggling this rock-and-roll lifestyle with being Mommy - yet another alias - but feel that I'd just found a perfect balance between Buffy, Tamara, and Mommy when it has all been turned upside down. And so I mourn Buffy and what she  and the lifestyle added to our lives.
Phillip Phillips
Yep, that's Bieber. And Tysen, and our daughter..and two other people - no idea..
Branden from Neon Trees - with my kids, in their jammies, in our house! He asked them to stand by their pictures so he could tell who was who :)

But I also said I mourn my husband's mistress. What? Well, throughout my narrative, maybe you caught a hint of the sacrifice it is to have a husband so very devoted and passionate about his job.  Or maybe you sympathize because your husband is like mine!  The End was the other woman in our marriage on many occasions. I remember asking him at one point if he had to choose between us which one he'd pick... he just raised one eyebrow at me :) I realize it's a radio station - a THING - but it was a thing he loved and spent every waking minute thinking about! How could I not be jealous sometimes? It's exciting and it has fans who express constant adoration and support and how can I compete with THAT?


I knew what I was getting into. Back when we were seniors in High School, our first Valentines Day as a couple, he stood me up for an opportunity to be on the air primetime. No phone call or anything. He forgot I existed when radio came calling. And yet who has met Tysen who wouldn't understand how I couldn't help it - despite knowing he had this other love, I adored him against my will.

I mentioned before that as newlyweds, he had a night on-air-shift. 7 to midnight. I was finishing Graduate school and teaching, and I would get home to an empty apartment, do some grading, eat alone and go to bed. He'd come home about 1 AM. We'd eat breakfast together, he'd go back to bed, I'd go off to school &; work. Breakfast together. That's what we got. I know a lot of newlyweds - especially students - have the same story, but mine has continued for 15 years ;)  Ever the believer that you have to prove yourself and work through awful hours and terrible pay to finally earn your chance, Tysen devoted himself heart and soul to whatever punishment radio dished out.





 Radio pre-empts birthdays, events, everything except the births of our children! And yet, despite all this, I LOVE seeing him doing what he loves and does well. I LOVE seeing him succeed. I LOVE seeing his satisfaction when he achieves the level of perfection he sets for himself. I love watching him on the air with all of his funny little subconscious habits he's had since he was a teenager. I love seeing him at concerts absorbing the music. I love hearing him talk about how he feels about music and his listeners and how much he wants to please them and give them a place they're happy coming back to on their radio dials. I love hearing his voice over the air, knowing the quality of little elements like running a tight board, and enjoying the beauty of a well-put-together station. And so, despite my jealousy of this mistress radio, I also love it.  And I love the unique opportunities for time we get to spend together that, in it's own way makes up for the time spent apart.
Go-cart racing with Fitz and the Tantrums
Halloween Broadcast in Disneyland - longest time we ever spent away from our kids.  TWO WHOLE NIGHTS! GASP!!



 And I hated, HATED the few weeks after the station blew up; Watching Tysen like a boat with its moorings cut, floating adrift and lost, buoyed up by the overwhelming swell of support from listeners and colleagues.  What a beautiful, beautiful outpouring of affection!  Together we applied for jobs - real jobs that actually pay decent wages - that will help us recover from the toll three years of sacrificing our personal finances and comfort to the cause of The End has taken. But it breaks my heart to see him interview for these jobs. He is brilliant at what he does. He shines at what he does - and it has been acknowledged by everyone in his professional life. But radio is a temperamental mistress, and right now she's turning her back on him. He'll do just as brilliantly in his real-life desk job - he doesn't do anything poorly - but my entire insides ache for talent rejected and unused. I want desperately to hand him a new opportunity he'll be just as excited about. But that's pure fantasy - I can't imagine what would make him as excited as he was programming his favorite station since it first went on the air when we were dating.

There is nothing that will EVER replace The END.

Which is why it is with mixed feelings that we leave the radio lifestyle behind today.  It's true that two weeks after The End was killed, Tysen started on-air at yet another flipped Cumulus radio station, ALT 94.9.  But it isn't The End. And a part-time on-air can't replace running the station - getting deep into the music till it consumed him.   It's time to walk away.  Today is his last day on the air :( This kind of company doesn't have a place for someone as creative, passionate and innovative as Tysen.  Our kids and I will miss hearing him on the radio, but he needs to go where he can make a difference.  We are both excited for new opportunities, but it's a change that will involve a mourning period for an extraordinary, if difficult, ride of a lifetime!
Listening to Daddy's show every day.  "Hey, he's playing my FAVORITE song!" ..every song.
And that's our story.  But it's not only our story - it's an American story right now.  There are many, many equally passionate, hard working, talented people who are frustrated by repressive systems.  So many friends and family talk about downsizing, pay cuts, shrinking the responsibilities of two or more jobs onto the shoulders of one dedicated, overworked person.  And while I acknowledge the "bad economy" and "need for efficiency" line, I also read business magazines - and among the stock analysis and world economy prospects there are articles explaining which $1500 power watch and $800 power tie are the MUST wear for the season. The corporate disconnect between what is affordable, not in terms of purchasing, but in terms of what our country can afford - can we afford to discount and burn out talent using the economy as an excuse much longer?

But beyond it all, I believe more in American ingenuity than I do in the power of the American dollar.  I believe that talent and dreams cannot be suppressed by micro-management.  And if a corporate model fails to support talent, talent will no longer support that
corporate model.  Independent, creativity emerges in such circumstances.  Speaking of which, Tysen will continue to podcast, at theShrinkshow.com.  You'll have to pry a microphone out of that boy's cold, dead hands!


P.S.  My favorite quote from the Cumulus website: "Cumulus Radio strives to create the next generation radio broadcasting enterprise.  By leveraging great people and technological excellence, we provide high quality local programming choices for our listeners; targeted audiences with disposable income for our advertisers; and rewarding career environments for our employees."   Just sayin'
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