How I Discovered What a Community is and What It Means to Those In It
The part of my job that I love the most is working in & with the communities I serve. I grew up as an Air Force brat and lived all over the world, just never more than three years at a time. The ten-plus years I've lived in Central Texas is by far the longest I've lived in one place. The same goes for my wife. She, too, is an Air Force brat. It's taken us a while to get used to it, but we've actually become part of our community, not just visitors waiting for the next move.
We've lived in the same house, on the same street, in the same neighborhood, in the same city for eight years. As I write that sentence I have to think twice and count the years a 2nd time. I can't wrap my mind around that length of time.
In that time, I've been part of events in towns, cities & villages (Hey there, Salado!) from as far north as West and as far south as north... Georgetown. Whether it's driving in a parade, interviewing event organizers on-air or covering an event in person, I take a personal interest in every nook & cranny of the communities I serve. There's a reason for that.
I'm a supporter of events large and small because it betters the communities holding the event. Whether it's a fundraiser, an emergency supply drive or just a great concert to enjoy, helping to make an event successful locally in some small way makes me feel like I'm part of the community. That's a much bigger deal than I ever thought it would be.
After moving every three years (or less) the first 18 years of my life (and later continuing that trend in the early years of my radio career), I'm happy that my kids have the opportunity to make friends and be part of a community for a longer period of time. I loved having the opportunities being an Air Force brat provided, but there are a lot of drawbacks.
By the time I was in the 7th grade, as my oldest son is now, I'd been in five different schools. He's in his 2nd school, and that's only because of the move to middle school. He's having sleepovers with the same group of kids (more or less) that he did in 1st grade. I can't even keep friends for more than a few years at a time.
I'm not in contact with a single person (non-family, of course) from my life pre-freshman year of high school, and the only contact I have with anyone from any of my schooling years, up to and including college, is either through Facebook or marriage. That changed when I moved to Temple a little over ten years ago. Not that I have friends now, but the opportunity is at least there.
I'd allowed myself to become so focused on the NEXT opportunity during my early years in radio that I never stopped to enjoy where I was until I moved to Temple after a brief stint in Alaska. I had a two-year-old son and a wife that had just followed me to the end of the earth and back, and I thought I owed it to them to slow down and build a life.
It was risky, allowing myself to become more than just a tourist here until the next gig calls. I'd hate to get to love a place and then get blown out the door by layoffs or not getting ratings. My favorite thing about Central Texas used to be the proximity to bigger cities. Over the past ten years I've found that everything (other than concerts) I need is right here.
For the longest time, whenever a program director would tell me he wanted to hear more "local" I'd nod my head and tell him (and myself) I knew exactly what he was talking about. I didn't. I didn't even know how to "be local". Moving every three years had me trained to think like a temp. I needed to know the "who, what, where & when", but I didn't really care to understand the "why".
Whenever we'd return to Oklahoma as kids during summer vacation, I was always amazed walking through Walmart with my mom or dad. Everybody in the store knew them and came up to say hello. I couldn't believe these people, who hadn't seen my parents in years, picked up with them just like no time had passed at all. I'd never had that before now.
When it first began to penetrate my thick skull just how much I'd become part of the community was, oddly enough, the invitation to speak at a lunch meeting for a local organization. It was just a small meeting of older gentlemen, but they all knew me from my football broadcasts for Belton High School. It was the references to "us" and "we" that really stuck with me.
I felt like I was just another face in the crowd, and it felt great. From there, I decided to become a face in every crowd. I love being at the easter egg hunt with my kids. I love watching my kids play little league games against your kids, win or lose. I love being there with you on the overpass as Chris Kyle's funeral procession drives past. I love seeing the response of my community when crisis hits anywhere in the country.
It was during this time that I opened my eyes further and discovered what those program directors had been telling me all those years. It wasn't about "talking" local on the radio. It was about "being" local. It's funny that it took something far away from a radio aircheck session at a meeting with men 40 years my senior to open my eyes to what radio could be about for me.
Community is still a new concept to me, but I went from a guy that spend a good amount of money on postage sending off packages for my shot at the next "gig" to a guy that can actually imagine boy sons graduating in the same school district they started 13 years earlier.
I work hard everyday to make sure I do my job well enough that I get invited back tomorrow. I do that for the obvious reason (my next paycheck), but I also do it because I love where I live. After all these years, I still don't know how to make a friend that will want to hang out with me for more than three years, but I'm taking baby steps. If my kids can do it, I'm sure I'll be able to do it someday.