What young radio makers can learn from Don Gonyea's early years

I had the pleasure of meeting Don Gonyea last spring.

He was in the Quad Cities for a fundraiser for the NPR member station there, and—out of the kindness of his heart—invited journalism students at Augustana College to talk shop and pick his brain over lunch.

I asked about his backstory.

After graduating from college with his degree in advertising, Gonyea moved back home in Michigan. "Your parents' couch can be a pretty dark place," he said, referring to the doldrums of unemployment.

It took him a few months to find a job, but eventually Gonyea got one, as a sales rep for a country music radio station in Michigan, selling airtime to local advertisers. It wasn't exactly his cup of tea, but it kept him off his parents' couch.

He noticed at the station that the news reporter there always seemed to have more fun than he did—getting out of the studio, talking with strangers, attending important community meetings, editing tape.

As luck would have it, the reporter soon quit his job. Gonyea applied for the open spot, and got it.

Once in this position, he went the extra mile. Rather than give a smattering of superficial 15-second news briefs, Gonyea used his newscast to focus on one issue in particular.

If the issue was a city council ordinance, then he'd take listeners inside city hall—reconstructing the scene of the meeting with actualities and nat sound.

Rather than give listeners something they could easily get through the newspaper the next morning (i.e., the headlines), he gave them color. He gave them detail. He gave them voice. Things you weren't likely to find in any article or TV news report.

Young radio and audio makers can look up to the example set by Gonyea: deliver value through your work. That is, give your audience something they can't find anywhere else. Even if it's just something small. Even if you're working at a small station with a small following. Small is good.

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