Tuesday, January 31, 2023

February 2013 – A Really, Really Busy Month

For several months prior to February 2013, I was on a mission: I was going to start an internet radio station.

I had been a radio DJ for my college radio station until my graduation in May 2011. With my career trajectory at the time, I knew there was no way that I would ever be taken seriously or hired as an actual radio DJ. But after experiencing it in college, I knew I had to do it again. This strong aspiration, coupled with an indifference towards my day-job at the time, led to this decision. That was the catalyst. I was going to create an internet radio station and hire myself. Simple. What could go wrong? Little did I know, this would culminate in February 2013. Exactly 10 years ago today.

Me, DJing at my college radio station in Sept 2010 (Credit Wennz Lauren)
Me, DJing at my college radio station in Sept 2010 (Credit Wennz Lauren)

October 2012-December 2012 – There were a few things changing in my work life prior to February 2013. I was working as a long-term intern for my day-job at Siemens. Although my internship was enjoyable and paid well enough, my manager often struggled to justify my relevancy in the company, despite my strong capabilities and highly driven attitude. In October 2012, my manager told me that he could only guarantee my job for the next 12 months. This led me to apply for a part-time job, just in case! I had my job interview at Starbucks on Monday, December 31, 2012 and I was hired shortly after that.

Immediately after my interview at Starbucks, I went to a heavy metal New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia. During this party, I discussed the details of creating an internet radio station with my close friend and soon-to-be close radio station colleague, Joe. He shared the same passion for the topic and I was very happy to have someone to help me with various tasks. This also gave me the idea: I should have all my friends be DJs! They are all literally walking heavy metal encyclopedias and they love to share their music with others! Additionally, they would be able to broadcast from home. What could possibly go wrong?

Joe and I, NYE 2012 (Credit Andrew Jantas)
Joe and I, NYE 2012 (Credit Andrew Jantas)

January 2013 – For a couple months prior to January 2013, I was supporting my colleague who was on maternity leave at my day-job. During January 2013, she announced that she would not be returning to her position and leaving the company permanently. Although I was sad to see a colleague leave our team, this was a great opportunity for me as I would be the top candidate for the job! However, to secure this permanent job, I just needed to work as hard as possible at the exact same time that I was creating an internet radio station and also at the exact same time that I started a part-time job at Starbucks. “I can do all of this simultaneously,” my 25-year-old self thought.

Me, Feb 1, 2013 (Credit Joe Cp)
Me, Feb 1, 2013 (Credit Joe Cp)
Joe, Feb 1, 2013 (Credit Joe Cp)
Joe, Feb 1, 2013 (Credit Joe Cp)

Friday, February 1, 2013 – There was a lot of work and preparation leading up to this day. Website creation. Company registration. Registering for a music streaming provider. Arranging the appropriate licenses. Company logo creation. All of it was building up to this day. We were finally ready for the “soft launch,” of the internet radio station. It was now called Riffline Radio. Joe was hosting a party at his apartment in South Philly that evening, and many friends were invited. Coincidentally, the morning of the party, I had another appointment in Philadelphia: jury duty. This was not typical, local courthouse jury duty. I was summoned to participate on a federal jury.

When I arrived at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia that morning, the large court room was full with over 100 people, all in the same situation as me. Out of over 100 people, they randomly selected just 16 people. These 16 people would join a Federal Grand Jury, which would convene in downtown Philadelphia every Thursday starting Thursday, February 7, 2013 until August 2014. That’s right. Every. Thursday. For 18 months. Lucky me, I was among the chosen 16.

This was the crescendo of everything leading up to that month. Let’s summarize:
  1. For months, I had been planning to launch the internet radio station in February 2013.
  2. Because I thought that I was going to lose my permanent job, I started a part-time job at Starbucks in January 2013.
  3. Right after I started my part-time job, I found out that the colleague that I was backing up would be leaving the company and I will need to work more hours during my day-job.
  4. I was summoned for a Federal Grand Jury and obligated to go to Philadelphia every Thursday for the next 18 months.
So, what happened after that?

Federal Grand Jury – I went to jury duty again in Philadelphia on Thursday, February 7, 2013. When I was selected the week prior, I tried to explain to the court clerk that this appointment would put an undue burden on me, but they disagreed after hearing my explanation. Therefore, the only opportunity to be dismissed would be to write a letter directly to the federal judge, requesting for a dismissal.

In my letter, I gave 2 reasons explaining why this appointment placed an undue burden on me:
  1. My finances. I was living alone at the time and paying all the bills on my own. I was able to afford everything, but money was tight. I was also being paid hourly, and the court only paid me $50 per day. In short, I would have received a 20% reduction in my work salary. I provided a copy of all my bills as proof.
  2. I was working to get a permanent job with my employer. Although my employer was not allowed to discriminate against me due to jury duty, they would likely find another reason to accept another applicant who is available 100% of the time, rather than me, who was only 80% available.
This was what I told the judge. I knew that if this did not work, my last resort would be to move to Delaware. Yes, seriously. I was seriously considering moving to Delaware. If I moved outside the court’s district, I would automatically be dismissed. Luckily, a few days later, I received a phone call from the court. The judge agreed that this placed an undue burden on me. Just like that, I was dismissed.

Intern to Full-time employee – Between February 2013 and April 2013, I did everything I could to convince the management that I was right for the job. I was on top of all my work. I worked as many hours as possible. I followed up with everything that I could. This eventually paid off and I was offered a full-time job and I signed the employment contract on Saturday, April 13, 2013. With a permanent job secured, my job at Starbucks was not as important.

Starbucks – I look back at my time working at Starbucks very fondly. Yes, it was a food service job. Yes, it did not pay very well. And yes, it was just another stressor in my life at the time. Despite those disadvantages, the employees, the clientele, and even my manager were all great to work with. As far as food service jobs go, I could not have had a better experience. However, after securing my permanent, full-time job, it was difficult to justify staying and I decided to leave Starbucks in June 2013.

My home "studio", Mar 9, 2013 (Credit Chris McClure)
My home "studio", Mar 9, 2013 (Credit Chris McClure)

Riffline Radio – I don’t even know where to begin. There is so much to say. Overall, this was a lot of fun, but I also learned a lot of lessons that I still practice today.

The best aspects of the radio station included (but were not limited to):
  1. Working with my friends. Up to that point, I had been friends with a lot of the DJs but I was not close with them. Joe. Nikki. Matt. Jamal. There are too many people to mention everyone, but I loved that I had the perfect excuse to talk and hang out with all of them. Up to that point, I would just see them at concerts or at a bar. After we started the radio station, I was talking with each of them almost daily!
  2. Our live events. We would set up our equipment at a party or a local show and broadcast on location. These live events were some of our most popular broadcasts and they were especially fun for those who could attend in person.
  3. Curating a vast array of music. Our focus was mainly on heavy metal, and our Metal Monday line-up was particularly well represented! To balance it out, I hosted multiple pop music shows during weekday mornings (via playlist automation), as well as a K-Pop/J-Rock show.
Program Grid from June 2013 (Credit Riffline Radio)
Program Grid from June 2013 (Credit Riffline Radio)

Despite the pros, there were 4 things that did not work well:
  1. Strategy. My strategy was to start the radio station without commercials or advertisements. After we established an audience, I could use this to persuade potential advertisers to work with us. This worked in theory, but we never established an audience that was big enough to grab the attention of advertisers. This was due to lack of promotion.
  2. Marketing and promotion. When I started, marketing and promotion were the topics that I knew the least about. I made the incorrect assumption that people would inherently gravitate towards quality products or services. I believed in the radio station, and I thought others would too. This concept might be true on a small scale, but more promotion was necessary to build a larger audience.
  3. Identity. I didn’t have a vision of who we were or who we should be advertising to. I thought to myself, “we are broadcasting globally, so we should promote globally.” This was na├»ve and we should have narrowed our identity and our scope.
  4. Turning friends into colleagues. The 3 reasons listed above are all connected, but this one is different. I could handle making mistakes that just related to business decisions, but this mistake was much more personal to me. I’ll explain why.
In August 2013, we had a DJ meeting at Joe’s house. We covered all the typical topics, but there was one topic that came up that was different. One of the DJs had not been available for their shows for the past few weeks. I later found out that they were really stressed, but I didn’t know that at the time. I approached this situation as I thought a manager would, and I asked him if it made sense for him to continue being a DJ. I didn’t say, “you’re fired,” but I alluded to it and he agreed to resign. It was stupid. This reaction implied that the radio station was more important than him. That stoicism was preferred over compassion. That business was more important than friendship. This was just wrong. I should have said, “I hear you. I’m here to help you. I got your back.” But I didn’t, and I regret that.

On Tuesday, August 27, 2013, Joe decided to resign. He was really stressed from his own job, as well as what was happening at the station. I don’t blame him, I would have done the same thing. I definitely didn't have the perfect strategy or effective promotion, but on top of that, I just wasn't being a good friend. I don’t regret the business decisions that I made, but I do regret that I didn’t help a friend who needed my support. I have since apologized to him, but I’ll take the opportunity to do it again. I’m really sorry Matt. You deserved better.

September 2013-April 2014 – After this happened, the radio station was basically on auto-pilot. I recall driving home from work one day in September 2013 and wanting to listen to music on Spotify, rather than listen to my own radio station. At that moment, I knew it was over. Our annual contract concluded on Friday, January 31, 2014 and I chose not to renew it. We had one last big broadcast party at my apartment before the station was finally shut down.

After this, I attempted to pivot to a podcast and event streaming format, but this only lasted for a couple months. We recorded and released just 1 podcast and our last live event was on Thursday, April 3, 2014 in Dunellen, New Jersey.

Me, Apr 3, 2014 (Credit Jill Hughes Kirtland)
Me, Apr 3, 2014 (Credit Jill Hughes)

Me and Jill, Apr 3, 2014 (Credit Chris McClure)
Me and Jill, Apr 3, 2014 (Credit Chris McClure)

After that, I just stopped working on it. No official anouncement, I just stopped doing it. To be honest, I wasn’t passionate about doing it anymore. I was still friends with everyone, even Joe and Matt, but it was a bit different after all that.

I know that I did the best that I could at the time, but I was just an ambitious 25 year old trying to do what I loved doing: listening to music and sharing it with my friends. And that was the lesson I learned. Cherish your friendships. Your work colleagues too! The people in your life are far more important than the events that might seem important today. Radio stations may come and go, but friendships can last a lifetime.

Riffline Radio logo (Credit Geoff Lichy)
Riffline Radio logo (Credit Geoff Lichy)

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Past 13 Months of My Life

A question I am often asked by friends that I haven't seen in a while is: What have you been up to lately? People ask each other this question all the time, and the response is usually equally rudimentary. However, when I am asked this question, I never know what to say. My life has changed so dramatically in the last 13 months, it is impossible to abbreviate.

I lost my previous job exactly 13 months ago (September 5, 2014). I primarily accepted that position due to circumstance rather than personal justification. I enjoyed certain aspects of it, but I didn't like others. I always asked myself where I wanted to go with my career and I knew the job I had wasn't it, but I wasn't courageous enough to leave due to my income. Losing my job forced me into the direction I truly wanted to go.

With my apartment lease ending shortly after losing my job, I chose to move in with my then girlfriend (now ex girlfriend) near Hershey, PA. We both knew it was too soon for us to be cohabitating, but I didn't have many options. After moving in, I felt stuck. All of the sudden, I was completely unfamiliar with my new surroundings and I didn't have any friends nearby. Despite us getting along very well, my ex and I decided to break up in late February, and I chose to move out by the end of March.

While I was in Hershey for five months, I had several interviews (including second and third interviews), but none translated into a job. When the end of March came, I still had no job, I had no place to live, and my unemployment compensation ended. That was when I called my old manager at Starbucks and asked him for a job.

I never felt more sad and ashamed in my life. Previously, I had a nice job, a nice place to live, and I was in a fulfilling relationship. Within the span of a few months, I was homeless, working minimum wage, and still unable to pay all my bills, despite working full-time.

Fortunately, I had a couple friends who let me stay with them for various periods of time, but it was still extremely depressing not being able to provide for myself. After a couple months, my father provided me with the financial assistance needed to rent a room starting in June.

Things began to turn around due to 4 reasons:

1) I finally had a place to live. Couch surfing took its toll for many reasons, but I finally had my own bed and my own bedroom.
2) My relationships with my coworkers began to mature and I became very close with all of them. Now, I couldn't imagine my life without them and they provided me the social support I needed.
3) I reached a level of mastery at Starbucks that I hadn't felt at my last job, or any job before. A barista isn't a glamorous or high paying job, but being able to do something very well gave my confidence a boost.
4) Around this time, I was also meeting with my career coach, Pierre Luc Beaudry. He was extremely helpful when I was feeling too down to continue my job search. He also helped me realize that I am my happiest when I am working a job that gives me the opportunity to make others happy.

Starting in August, I moved into an apartment with one of my coworkers. It finally gave me my own place, and not just a rented room. I also had an interview as an Insurance Agent for a major insurance company. In the interview, I was asked to give an example of how I adapted to change. It was by far the easiest interview question I ever answered. I explained to them everything I had been through in the last year. They offered me the job that evening.

I thought that was going to be the end of the story, but a few weeks ago, I received a call back from my previous employer, Siemens, for a position I interviewed for a few months ago. I accepted and started working for Siemens again today, October 5, 2015. Exactly 13 months after I was let go.

So, if you ask me today, "What have you been up to lately," I will probably just smile, and reflect on everything that has happened. I still don't know what to say, but whatever happened, I'm glad it did.