The crack of thunder and a quick flash nearby made me jump out of my seat and spill a bit of my coffee. That was a little close for comfort, as I sit here on the porch during a massive thunderstorm. The giant, almost endless rumble of thunder, the flashes of light, the fast-moving clouds of all colors, and the buckets of heavy rain making a fabulous sound as they hit the tin roof — the sidewalks and grass are flooded, but I’m dry and safe here on the porch.
As a child I used to put the garage door up and sit in the garage looking out at thunderstorms. Cracking jokes like “God is bowling” when thunder hit … and as a younger adult, I used to dream about one day having a house with big wide porches and a tin roof so I could sit outside during heavy rains. Today, I’m living the dream. What you think about is often what you get.
Under the Covers
As a kid, I fell in love with listening to radio DJs on my little transistor, with earphones and under the blankets so my parents would not hear me up that late. Later I’d buy K-tel records so I could practice talking over the openings of songs as if I were a DJ. Then, before I knew it, an opportunity was dropped in my lap as a 14-year-old, and I grabbed it. Once I had that job, I dreamed of being a big time radio DJ on the night shift, when all my friends listened.
My Big Break
One day I got a call from a guy named Gary Taylor, who worked at a radio trade magazine. I had sent him my tapes and asked him to recommend me if he heard of anything. “Eric, there is a new radio station going on the air in Miami. Are you interested?” An hour later, that station’s program director, Ronnie Grant, called and hired me. And two days later I was in Miami for the launch of Y100 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, on August 3, 1973. I was surrounded by legends who had been hired for the station.
More Drugs than Walgreens
I was immediately thrown into a world I had never known. For instance, a DJ meeting at the consultant’s exposed me to massive amounts of drugs everywhere. Thankfully, I avoided the peer pressure and did not partake. I was the only one.
The experience was incredible, and though there were a lot of high people around me, these were some of the top radio personalities in America. I was learning so much. I was having so much fun. And I was learning the realities of that business, where one extra rating point could mean millions in income for the station.
Things Start Getting Scary
One night when I was on the air, the power in the building went out and the radio station went off the air in the middle of a ratings week. I did not know what to do, and I couldn’t call anyone because there were no cell phones then and the phones in the station didn’t work without power. Soon the chief engineer, John Bailie, showed up and said, “Go up the back stairwell. I’ll meet you on the roof.” He had rigged a portable generator, pushed to the other end of the roof to avoid noise. Somehow he managed to get enough power for me to play the tunes, speak into my microphone, and send the signal 25 miles to the transmitter.
Breaking and Entering
It turns out that someone had broken into the building and drained the oil out of the transformer, making it explode and killing the power. Because it was a holiday weekend, we were told we could not get a transformer for close to a week. But the station owner, Cecil Heftel, in Hawaii somehow managed to get one flown in by private plane overnight. We were back on the next day.
A Looming Disaster
Two days later when I was on the air, I got a call from a neighbor in the trailer park under our tower. Someone had cut the guy wires to the tower, leaving only one in place. Again, our owner got the best of the best out there to restore the wires (not an easy task) before the massive 1,000-foot tower fell on the homes of hundreds of people living below it.
Offering Guns and Ammo
An emergency meeting was held, and the manager of the station suggested that if anyone wanted to carry a gun to protect themselves, he would provide it.
He pointed out that our competitor was losing in the ratings, and they would do anything to keep us from taking their ratings away. He said we needed to be careful at all times because we could be kidnapped or worse. Armed guards were posted at the transmitter site and at the radio station.
Can You Say Naive?
Here I am, a kid from Indiana, no experience in the world, only 17 years old, and they are talking about things I had only seen in the movies.
It was kinda exciting, but very disturbing.
The good news is that we all lived through it — and the following day our competitor’s studio blew up after a mysterious power surge. They were off the air for a few hours, but ended up having the DJs from their San Diego station calling in and playing songs over the phone. It sounded awful, but it kept them on the air. I’m guessing our manager was a little connected with the wrong people too.
The good news is that we crushed them in the ratings.
Looking back, I was so fortunate to be exposed to all of these things at a young age. I learned what I wanted to do and what I did not want to do. But the greatest lesson of all was to never say die.
Churchill said, “Never, never, ever give up.”
Doing the Impossible
When the transformer blew up and everyone said it was impossible to get one and get back on the air, the owner found a way. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, I’m sure it was expensive, but he did not give up.
When the wires to the tower were cut in the middle of the night, we got lucky that we heard about it from a neighbor, but this is something that can take weeks to repair under normal circumstances. I’m guessing the owners were told it could not be done quickly, but they managed to get it done.
When we were living in San Francisco, an explosion took out a major bridge, and it was going to mess up traffic for months. Estimates of a year to fix the problem were all over the media. Yet whoever was running things at the time came up with some creative ideas, and the bridge was operational in less than 10 days.
Doing the Impossible
In the recent Florida hurricane, the main bridge to Sanibel Island was destroyed and estimates of 2-plus years were thrown out. Yet somehow a never-say-die attitude, a creative solution, and the road was open in just a few days.
Driven to Prove It Can Be Done
When people tell me something is impossible, I’m driven to prove that it’s not impossible.
Rarely is it about money. Almost always, it’s about creative solutions people had not considered.
Are there things in your life you think are possible that people say are impossible?
Are people telling you things that you’ll never be able to do?
Do you have a dream that just seems too big?
Are Experts Right?
Our natural reaction is to contact experts for advice, and they often say there is no solution, or no fast solution. Yet if you concentrate on problems, think deeply about them, try to come up with dozens of possible solutions, you can often come up with stupid ideas that might just work.
I’ve made my living on stupid ideas everyone said would fail.
I’m the kind of guy who tends to trust and believe almost everyone. Yet I’m also the guy that is always asking if there is another way.
Believe in Yourself
The key to getting impossible things done is relentless belief that your idea will work, and willingness to ignore everyone who says it can’t. You need to listen to those people to a point, because they have good feedback. But you don’t have to buy in to their belief that their way is the best way.
I can list dozens of times I’ve pursued something against the judgment of others, and they were right, and I failed. But each time, I learned something valuable. And often, failure gives me a new idea to try. Failure always offers lessons.
Mocked and Laughed At
But I can also list dozens of times when I felt alone, felt mocked or stupid, because everyone around me was telling me my idea was wrong. Yet in many cases, those ideas succeeded. And some of the biggest, most successful things I’ve done in my career were things everyone said would never work, things they said people would not support and would not buy. Even research might say it’s a stupid idea. But in one case, I ignored research, went for it anyway, and it worked.
It takes tremendous courage to tell people you will find another way. It takes courage to ignore their advice. And often you are putting your reputation or your future on the line.
I was blessed to get these lessons at a young age from these radio wars and from my own parents.
Most people default to the negative, the worst case. I do that too sometimes, but mostly so I can try to anticipate what the worst thing to happen might be, and be ready for it.
What would happen if you flipped a switch in your head that simply said “Never give up”?
PS: Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. During the pandemic, to survive, we launched some online conferences. When I called around for some opinions, every single person I talked to told me it was a bad idea and that people would not go. And for a moment, I started to give up, but I was so desperate to keep my business alive, I did it against the advice of everyone.
Not only did we have four successful online art training events with thousands of people in attendance, we discovered that people want them even after Covid. And though some can’t come because they are back at work, others can be there who could never travel to attend our in-person events.
This week, on Wednesday, we are hosting our third Realism Live online conference. And, what is amazing to me is that everyone told me the event would not work after Covid was over. Yet our number of attendees this year exceeds the number we had last year, during Covid times.
There is value in listening, but then following the gut feelings you have and the voices in your head.
For many, the voices in their head are negative: “I could never learn to paint or draw. I don’t have the talent. I can’t even draw a stick figure.” Yet you can overcome those voices and replace them with, “I’ll never know till I try,” and, “My odds of success are higher if I have the world’s best artists teaching me.”
If that’s you, give it a shot. Join us this week. And watch replays if you can’t be there live. We have people from dozens of countries attending, and some of the very best artists on earth. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn from this faculty, who will never be together again like this.
Remember, you are what you think. Join us at Realism Live … just visit RealismLive.com.
PPS: On Tuesday, assuming things go according to plan, you and I will have a chance to vote for the people we believe will do the best job in their roles.
If you don’t vote — maybe because you are listening to polls and you think your candidate doesn’t have a chance, or because it’s just too inconvenient, or you don’t believe your vote will matter — do it anyway.
History says there are people who did not vote in some countries, and their right to vote eventually disappeared. Apathy is not acceptable.
I encourage you to vote, no matter how much difficulty or resistance there could be.
How you vote is not my business. I respect your choice. But if you don’t vote, you don’t get the right to complain.