Boomer Generation PR executive reinvents career as a podcaster, now a book author

Steve Lubetkin,right, and Donna Papacosta, with cover of their new book on podcasting.
Steve Lubetkin,right, and Donna Papacosta, with cover of their new book on podcasting.

Editor’s Note: Steve Lubetkin is the webmaster for JewishSacredAging.com. His first book, The Business of Podcasting: How to Take Your Podcasting Passion from the Personal to the Professional, co-authored with Toronto-based podcasting pioneer Donna Papacosta, is out in paperback and as an e-book on the Amazon Kindle. This essay is adapted from the introduction to the book. (Copyright ©2015 Steven L. Lubetkin and Donna Papacosta. Used by permission.)

As it turns out, I’ve been preparing to be a podcaster since I was a teenager, I just didn’t know it.

I got bit by the radio bug in high school. My dad worked at Fort Monmouth, the military base in central New Jersey where the U.S. Army had its training school for the Signal Corps, the unit that handled the Army’s communications needs. The base taught photography, television and radio skills to military and civilian personnel from the U.S. Armed Forces and from our allies.

When I was about 12 or 13, my dad arranged for me to spend an afternoon at the mock radio studio where they trained Armed Forces Radio Service announcers and disc jockeys. One of the instructors taught me how to work the board, cue up (vinyl) records, and segue between them, interspersing station IDs and promos from tape cartridges.

From that day on, I knew I wanted to be in radio.

Steve at the control board of WRLB-FM, 1978.
Steve at the control board of WRLB-FM, 1978.

At home, I created a studio of sorts in my parents’ basement, recording make-believe radio shows using a reel-to-reel tape deck, a record turntable, and a Shure microphone. I played them back solely for the enjoyment of my best friend and me.

When I got to college, the first place I headed was the campus radio station, which agreed to try me out on the air, with the understanding that I would very quickly study for, and obtain, the FCC’s Third Class Commercial Radiotelephone Operator License with basic broadcast endorsement, which would enable me to legally sign the walk radio station’s transmitter log as the operator on duty.

I did my first full on-air shift at WMCX-FM on September 9, 1974. It was an amazing experience, getting to pick the music, run the board, and talk to that unseen audience (Although when I listen to the aircheck recording of that first, tentative step into radio announcing, it’s painful after all these years!)

The following year, the station’s music director, Lee Mrowicki, a club deejay who had strong connections in the Asbury Park, NJ, music scene from which Bruce Springsteen and other rockers emerged, landed himself a position voicing commercials at WJLK, a major AM/FM station on the Jersey Shore. Lee learned they needed a licensed broadcast engineer to produce public affairs shows on Sunday nights. (Side note: Lee is still doing a kind of radio, hosting “Beyond The Palace,” a music-oriented radio show on “The Penguin,” an Internet-based radio station in central NJ.)

He recommended me for that position, which mainly involved playing taped shows over the air, one after another, from 6 to 9 on Sunday nights. After a while, a weekend newscaster position opened up, and I started working in radio news on Friday and Saturday nights. From there I started doing fill-in shifts in news and production and learned a lot about commercial radio.

I stayed in radio for almost five years, including a memorable assignment in 1977, when another reporter and I became the first journalists to cover a rock concert with a portable computer. It was a Grateful Dead concert in Englishtown, New Jersey, and the Asbury Park Press newspaper sent us with a portable data terminal to file our stories. In addition to writing for the paper, I was also collecting audio interviews and sound from the concert that I fed back to WJLK, the radio station that the Press owned.

After I graduated from college, I needed to make a bit more money than the part-time radio gig was paying. I bounced between a retail sales job and a radio shift at a different station, but finally took a job in print journalism. That job lasted just nine months, until I was recruited into a public relations position with a company that I had covered as a reporter. I stayed in corporate PR for the next 25 years.

Patch cable with alligator clips for transmitting audio over telephone. (Courtesy Larry Litwin)

I tried to apply my broadcasting skills to the PR world, often using a portable cassette recorder to tape company events and trying to feed audio over the phone to the local New Jersey stations. Today, with digital recording, websites and social media, it is so much easier to distribute audio clips like this.

In the 1990s, I was working for a financial services firm, and we launched a telephone conference call series to promote the expertise of our analysts. I took the role as program host, and we formatted it like a radio talk show. The analysts loved it and actually scheduled the calls around my availability so they could use me as the on-air moderator.

My corporate PR career came to an end in 2004, after the commercial bank for which I was doing PR was acquired by another bank, which was then was acquired by a larger one. After I spent a year mostly in limbo, the new owner reorganized, and I ended up on the outside looking in. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me, because that’s the moment I decided to set up my consultancy.

This was in 2004-2005, right around the time podcasting was becoming visible as the newest form of what we then called “new media.” My wife, Judy, heard an early news story about podcasting on National Public Radio and suggested that podcasting might be an opportunity for my skills.

When I listened to podcasts, I was struck by how cool it would be to distribute those “make believe” radio shows I had been doing as a teenager.

I also realized that many of the programs I was hearing were being created by amateurs who didn’t know how to announce, edit or even manage volume levels in a recording. I decided to become proficient at digital recording so I could produce podcasts.

I wasn’t so interested in recording myself talking as I was in selling this service to businesses. I knew that to be convincing to corporations, a podcast had to sound as professional as anything you might hear on National Public Radio or the CBC. That’s when I began acquiring digital recording gear and software and reaching out to prospective clients.

It wasn’t very long before we needed to add video podcasting to the product mix and today we produce a wide range of audio and video content for corporate and organizational clients, including the JewishSacredAging.com website.

In the past 10 years, my podcasting business has come full circle, back to my broadcast news experience. With the rise of online news organizations, the skills I’ve developed in podcasting have come back into play as I create audio (and video) news reports for several online news websites.

The message for Boomers from my experience is to dig deeply into the skillset you have created, and look for the things that excite you and drive your passions. Maybe you even have to go back to your teen years to figure out what that passion is all about.

If it’s a real passion, it could one day serve you as the basis for your own reinvention, and the next chapter in a multi-career lifetime.

 

2 Comments

  1. Steve, loved your personal story! Never know where serendipity is going to take you! My youngest brother has a similar story: high school and college radio, engineering for the Oakland A’s, on to creating Fantasy Play-by-Play in13 major league baseball parks where he videoed and/or recorded fans announcing one inning of a game (Billy Crystal was his favorite!) and now does his own golf podcasts!! Both your stories are filled with excitement for a teenage dream and you are both an inspiration to follow your passion!

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