Kent Sterling – Happy Self-employed Free Agent

by Kent Sterling

Life is good.  It took some time to get here, but the view from the other side of having your professional identity defined by those you don’t really know is really good.  There is a confidence that can only exist when you get to steer the ship for yourself.

Being able to define success for myself has been very liberating.  I generally hate a term like “liberating” because its use allows the inference that power had been ceded to others, but in this case, that’s exactly what happened.  I liked looking at the money I was making and the houses that my wife and I might buy.  Looking back, I was a moron.  Buying a great house will be a very pleasant experience, but my philosophy in doing it was driven by a lack of control at work.

There is endless fun to be had out here in the wilderness and quiet.  The best part is the occasional quiet that never existed in radio.  The next thing was always right there – in fact, the next dozen were right there.  I tried to work a to-do list at various points during my time with Emmis, and when I did, writing the list was an almost never-ending challenge.  There were so many things to do that the maintenance of the list wound up being an omnipresent item on the list.

The freedom to be creative and welcome new ideas for how I might be able to do something interesting, profitable, and/or helpful gives me hope that my life will be about more than keeping the needle bouncing with only one source of audio in the dark studio of a nearly empty building.  Don’t get me wrong, I love radio.  It is the medium that I think might be best-positioned to survive the turmoil surrounding media.

Radio is capable of great agility.  TV is not, and newspaper is decrepit.  I still buy a paper, but I’m the youngest person I know who does.  Local TV is local TV.  It’s not capable of adapting.  It is what it is.  They continue to do idiotic things like breaking into programming to spend five minutes showing the rotation inside a storm.  I’m trying to watch “Hell’s Kitchen”, and while I like Brian Wilkes, I’m in no mood for him to interrupt chef Gordon Ramsey with trivialities about rain in Mornoe County.  I’m in Fishers, and not to be an isolationist, but there are much more efficient ways for people in Monroe County to get information about a storm than by watching Brian point at a green screen.  For one, radio is better at making severe weather entertaining.

My dreams about work have all but stopped, which is a good thing because they are rarely happy.  Generally, I’m stuck in meetings much as was the case in real life.  Only when I spend a lot of time with someone from work do the dreams return.  The night after Dave Wilson and I spoke for an hour, I dreamed of work.  I’m glad every time it happens because it means I’m still working through some separation issues.  Work at a place for 17 years and run past and through hundreds of co-workers, being told to pack a box and get out stirs some emotions.

Julie and I are having a party Saturday night, and we’ve invited any and all the current and former Emmis folks we could easily get ahold of.  That means all who are on Facebook.  The party will be a celebration of friendship.  One thing I figured out through all this nuttiness is that friendship is important, not just a professional convenience.  So we’ll have this party, and welcome anyone who will have us as friends without the professional courtesies.  If you Emmis/Today’s Dentistry folks or anyone else would like to stop by and enjoy a beverage or two and some laughs Saturday email me at, and I’ll send you the directions.

Business is good.  This website is a load of fun to contribute to and maintain.  We’ll keep growing and evolving.  The site will become more college sports oriented in the fall, and there will be some audio interviews and use of video that will make it more vibrant.  As it is, we are growing each month by 5,000 to 10,000 page views.  Some days are great.  Some aren’t.  No matter the traffic, we keep writing.  The news cycle can be good or they can be bad.  We keep looking for fun and truth in sports.

There are eight or nine other things I am doing, and all have their challenges.  I’m writing a book about fatherhood, and the tough part is remembering what the hell I’ve already written.  Wouldn’t it be a bitch if I wrote a 300 page book that was 15 different versions of the first 20 pages?  I’m a little more organized than that.  Using an outline helps, but still I feel this strange sense that I’ve written a lot of it before.  The first draft should be done in two months, and then move on to organizing and pruning.  Writing all the memories of my dad and raising my son is oddly emotional and exhausting.

I keep writing some radio tips of the week, which never fail to make me laugh.  It’s not that what is written is funny.  It’s just so pretentious to opine about the state of radio like I know more than anyone else.  Being inside radio, it’s hard to think about the state of the business or see the direction it needs to take.  The more distance between me and working in radio, the easier it is.  Radio will need to be agile and nimble to survive, and management will need to stop trying to hang on to the listeners it has, and start concentrating on producing unique programming across all platforms that will engage.  Not repelling was enough 10 years ago.  That’s no longer true.

The dominant delivery system for media – all media – will be the web.  Without the scarcity of AM/FM/VHF/UHF frequencies and Cable and Satellite bandwidths to limit competition, the quality of the product will drive popularity, ad rates, and ensure success.  The bold and unique will be rewarded and the redundant will go out of business.  Maybe I do know more about radio than a lot of people.

Anyway, I’m happy.  My Wife is happy.  My Son is happy.  My Mom is happy.  And I’m improving as a friend.  Whoever thought listening would wind up being something I enjoy?  That’s all the success I need.

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