Jason Cornell: Up to Eleven
BY Jelli ON July 9, 2015 IN Up to Eleven
Today, we’re shining a spotlight on Digity Media’s Chief Operator and On-Air Personality Jason Cornell in our monthly feature “Up to Eleven.”
Jason has been working in the radio industry for 27 years. Currently, he is an on-air personality at 102.3 WXLC in Waukegan, Illinois and a chief operator maintaining four Digity radio stations 102.3 WXLC, WKRS-AM; 95.1 WIIL and1050 WLIP split between Waukegan, IL and Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Enjoy our July edition of “Up to Eleven!”
The Jelli Team
Jelli: What led you to a career in radio?
Cornell: It’s an interesting story… but before I talk about what led me to my career in radio I read the Up to Eleven post featuring Michael Stockwell and completely agree with his comment that “radio gets into you, you don’t into radio.”
Throughout my childhood I wanted to be an allergist. I had asthma so I wanted to become an allergy doctor and help other people.
Growing up in Waukegan, Illinois, I was a fan of the radio station WXLC’s and on-air personality Rich Padgen. I also went to a lot of remotes and probably annoyed Rich with all of the questions I would ask during the live events. I was around so much that Rich decided to put me to work and offered me an internship at the radio station. During my internship, the team at WXLC gave me an affectionate nick name and called me “Jason Cornell-the Intern from Hell.” I fell in love with radio and nine months later they hired me part time to be on-air. I had just turned 19 years old. And, at that point, I gave up my dream of becoming an allergy doctor and replaced it with radio.
Jelli: How would you describe the radio landscape in your market?
Cornell: Very, very dry. In the entire Chicago/Milwaukee radio corridor the industry has completely lost its personal touch with listeners. The big corporate entities have forgotten that radio is supposed to entertain and inform its listeners. If you don’t do that it’s really hard to develop loyalty with your audience.
The big markets have stopped programming for its listeners and become cookie cutter radio. It’s all about money. When you program in a big radio style you lose that fringe audience and the loyal people that help keep a station going.
Jelli: Are you wearing more “hats” than you have in the past?
Cornell: There’s no such thing as wearing one hat anymore. I’m the chief engineer and IT guy at four radio stations and the 7pm-midnight jock at WXLC. Fortunately, the automation system allows me to lay down my jock tracks during the day for my evening shift so it sounds like I’m live—I can usually record a five hour shift in about an hour and a half.
Jelli: What is your favorite part of the job?
Cornell: My favorite part of the job is showing up. I wake up every day and love going to work. Everybody I work with is great and we all have the same passion for the business. It reminds me of a scene from the movie National Treasure—Nicolas Cage said, “What’s one step before crazy? Passionate!”
Radio is my first true love and my wife of 16 ½ years will be the first to confirm.
Jelli: What is the most challenging part of the job?
Cornell: The whole daily plan… I spend time the night before coming up with a plan for the following day and within the first 30 minutes of being in the building the plan gets thrown into the trash. You’re always on constant alert and putting out fires on a daily basis. It’s hard to be proactive when much of my job is reactive.
Jelli: What are you doing social media-wise?
Cornell: The stations in Waukegan use Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram. In the city of Kenosha, we have additionally set up a live stream at WIIL that includes audio and video and we shoot live bands for our listeners in what we call “Studio East.”
All of our stations just rolled out new mobile apps. Listeners are now able to enter contests, check out promos, buy/download music on the app, and interact with disc jockeys. It’s become much more interactive.
Jelli: What makes your station “unique?”
Cornell: The four stations that I handle sit smack dab in the middle of Chicago and Milwaukee – that’s what makes us unique. We’re smaller market stations forced to get off the porch and play with the big dogs.
We can provide that personal, relevant connection that sometimes gets lost in the big markets. We become tangible and real for people.
Jelli: Why do you think terrestrial radio stations should invest in technology… like programmatic?
Cornell: Technology in many cases assists in streamlining our systems with solid efficiency and often times with immediate or long-term recognition of revenue or savings. It makes our jobs and lives easier, so why not? We do not wish to be viewed as the dinosaur. Listeners can tune in to our stations via apps on their smartphones. Technology will continue to evolve and it’s imperative that we stay on top of it.
Jelli: What advice would you give to people new to the business?
Cornell: I’m like the Simon Cowell for radio… I’m going to tear you apart. I’m coming at you. You need to have a thick skin in this business. You need to be able to work with people that you don’t like. Stay true to you and don’t compromise yourself. And, whatever you do don’t get into this business for the money!
Most importantly, keep an open mind because after 27 years I’m still learning. I have two philosophies by which I work in this radio biz: #1-Anything that makes sense doesn’t happen. #2-There are ways around almost everything. When #2 doesn’t work… see #1.
Jelli: What was your favorite radio station to listen to when you were a kid?
Cornell: My favorite radio station I would listen it is the one I’m on! 102.3 WXLC.
Jelli: Bonus question (#11): For someone vacationing in your market, what one thing would you say they “must see?”
Cornell: There’s a lot to do and see in Chicago and Milwaukee but if you’re traveling between those two cities you have to make a stop in Kenosha and check out the Mars Cheese Castle. It’s one of the most unique tourist attractions along Interstate 94 and has been called a “landmark” in Wisconsin. The Mars Cheese Castle opened in 1947 and was recently rebuilt. Mars not only sells cheese but also souvenirs like the coveted cheesehead hats. The Castle also has a deli, bakery and sit down bar with different cheese and food samples set up throughout the store! Be hungry when you get there!!