Today, I'm putting on my journalist cap (which I've rarely if ever worn) and interviewing an actual person, and not just an imaginary version of myself. (See here.)
As I've mentioned here previously, one of the many professions I aspired to as a youngster was that of a radio announcer. Thirty-plus years later and it still hasn't happened yet – but I'm no longer even getting my hopes up. And that's perfectly fine, since I think I've found my niche – as a writer (for good or ill).
That being said, I thought it would be fun to chat with someone who's actually living one of my dreams, and doing so in the genre of music that I enjoy listening to the most: Christian music.
Here in Eastern North Carolina, we're blessed to have a great Christian radio station like HIS Radio, which not only pumps a wide variety of wholesome music into our ears on a daily basis, but is also responsible for bringing some great artists and bands to perform (or rather, to minister) in our area.
One of the most recognizable voices at our local HIS Radio affiliate is that of CJ Mason, the Community Outreach Coordinator (and Board Operator, and Announcer). For some reason, CJ – whom I am friends with on Facebook, though we've never met personally – agreed to let me interview her for the blog. My bet is she didn't know what she was getting into. That's okay, 'cuz neither do I.
JH: First of all, CJ, thank you very much for agreeing to let me interview you, even after I told you from the get-go that I don't have a clue what I'm doing.
CJ: That's okay. When I started in radio, I didn't know what I was doing either. I'm happy to be part of the learning process with you!
JH: So, for those of us who don't know – and for those poor unfortunate souls who don't listen to HIS Radio (for shame, for shame!) – what does a Community Outreach Coordinator do? And what are your other responsibilities at the station?
CJ: It's a good thing I have a big head – physically – because I wear a lot of hats. ;) Community Outreach Coordinator means that I have the privilege of handling our outreach events. Some of those include: our regular annual events like Hearts4Kids (collecting homemade Valentine's cards and delivering them to hospitalized children at eight local hospitals on Valentine's Day); Blanket Bundles (collecting canned goods wrapped in new or used blankets for 5 different homeless shelters); and Give Life & Get Ready (a blood drive and disaster awareness event). I also organize our new Teacher of the Month recognition program that we just started this past school year, where we take nominations via our website and then recognize a Christian School teacher in our area once a month. Another thing that falls under that umbrella is getting to coordinate individual, as-needed outreach events – like the Toys4Kids drive we did after the tornadoes that swept through our area a couple years ago. As far as "other" responsibilities, I get to do the local news every weekday morning at 7am and 8am. I also get the opportunity to record and/or produce several of the spots heard on our station for everything from "advertising" spots for our business ministry partners, to spots for upcoming concerts and other events, to spots that promote the events that I get to coordinate as the COC. The "Board Operator" part of my position means that I make sure the Morning Show (which is actually aired via satellite from our sister station in Greenville, South Carolina) stays on the air here. I also make sure the local weather and traffic reports are downloaded, mixed, edited, and put into the playlist so they play here in our local area. Oh, and if you ask the rest of the staff around here, since I'm one of the first in every morning, my most important responsibility is making the first pot of coffee every day.
JH: Wow, that's incredible! Sounds like a lot of work, but I'm sure it's very rewarding. So, how long have you been in radio – specifically, Christian radio?
CJ: I have only ever worked in Christian radio. I grew up in the Toledo, Ohio area, and my dad was very involved with the Southern Gospel station there. So I got to spend a little time around their studios when I was a kid. I wasn't able to do anything on the air then, but the studio sure looked a lot different [then] than 30+ years later when I started volunteering at WCLN in Fayetteville. After volunteering to do voice-overs for them for a few years, they offered me an afternoon DJ position. However, I knew my husband (at that time) was going to be getting out of the Air Force soon, which would require a move. I didn't want to commit to them and then have to quit. Turning down that job was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. So, as soon as we moved to Raleigh I looked up HIS Radio and started volunteering with them. After a few years of that, they asked me to come on staff just to fill in as the Board Operator when one of the full-time staff members was on vacation or out of town. As the station was able to expand its staff, they asked me to come on regular hours as the Board Operator in 2006. Then, in January of 2011, I was hired on full-time and the other job responsibilities were added.
JH: Awesome! So, what would you say is the best part about working in Christian radio?
CJ: Wow! There are a lot of things that could fit this description. It is way cool to get to hang out with some of the top Christian artists from time to time. And I can't tell you the last time I actually had to buy a ticket to a concert. It's also pretty fulfilling to get to award concert tickets and other great prizes to listeners who participate in our contests. However, the best part definitely comes in the fact that, because we are a Christian station, we have the privilege and honor of being able to be part of pointing people to Jesus on a daily basis. We hear quite often from folks thanking us for being such a blessing to them. We get to bring life and hope to the lost, and encouragement to the found. It just doesn't get much better than that.
JH: I couldn't agree more. Christian radio is a blessing and an encouragement. It also comes in handy when you feel a sudden bout of road rage coming on. But I'm getting off-topic. Sorry... So, what would you say is the worst part about working in Christian radio? Or, better put, what are the biggest challenges you face in the Christian radio (for lack of a better word) industry?
CJ: Unfortunately, just about every ministry also has to have some business aspects to it. I wish we didn't have to ask our listeners to support us financially. And I wish every concert we hosted could be free. And I wish I could take every phone call that comes in during our contests and give them all a great prize. But the reality is that the artists have to make a living to support their families. And we all have to make a living to support our families. And if folks could see all the equipment needed to send a radio signal out to thousands of people in Eastern North Carolina every minute of every hour of every day... it would probably be clear why we also need to be a business. Of course, ministry is always the primary motivation for everything we do, but the business part is necessary, too!
JH: Oh, absolutely! So, CJ, I see from your bio (on the HIS Radio WRTP website) that you're the mother of three daughters. In your personal experience, do you think that it's easier or harder to reach young people today with good, God-honoring music? There seem to be more and more distractions that fight for their attention these days.
CJ: I can definitely see a difference in this compared to the generation in which I grew up. I think as young people become exposed to Christian music and then grow up and pass that on to their children, it becomes easier to reach young people with good, wholesome music. The problem is that parents are disconnected and assume that the music their kids are listening is the same "not so bad" stuff they listened to in the '70s or '80s. I'm a firm believer in the "garbage in, garbage out" theory! We have to get past the idea that "it's just music." Music is a very powerful medium – especially to those who have musical talents. I remember word-for-word most of the songs I learned in choir in the 5th and 6th grade. And satan knows that! Therefore, I myself have to be very careful what I listen to. I wish we would realize that our kids are no different and go out of our way to make sure they have the Christian alternatives to what the world has to offer. There truly is a good-quality Christian music equivalent to about every genre of secular music out there. And that does make it easier to reach young people, but the parents have to encourage it!
JH: That's so true, and I can attest to that personally. When I was a teenager, I was listening to a lot of stuff I knew that a Christian young person probably shouldn't listen to; but I listened because I liked it. I was big into Alanis Morissette at the time when I heard a few songs by Rebecca St. James (from the GOD CD) which sounded very similar musically but had way better lyrics. It wasn't necessarily the style of music that my parents liked or were used to, but they recognized that the "new" music was better than the "old" I'd been listening to before. I was sold on Christian music then and there – but I'm afraid that not all kids today are that easily convinced. Okay, two more "serious" questions, then this whole thing will devolve into utter silliness – if you're okay with that. First, I know that you get to meet and interact with a lot of Christian artists and bands at the various concerts hosted by HIS Radio. Who is the most memorable artist or band that you've met personally – and why?
CJ: Oh, now you're asking me to pick favorites. To avoid that, I'll choose favorites in a few categories. The humor award would have to go to an artist we don't really play, but I've had the privilege to work with a few times. And that's KJ-52. He's just crazy! The random award would definitely go to Jamie Grace. She's just a cutie – inside and out – and you never know what's going to come out of her mouth! The humble award definitely has to go to tobyMac! I've spent time with him on several occasions and just become more and more impressed with his "down-to-earth" attitude. The ministry-minded award has to go to Casting Crowns, without a doubt! Most folks don't know that they – the band members – [don't] accept a salary for their concerts. They are all full-time pastors and earn their living from that. The proceeds from everything else go to sponsor a number of charities and ministries. They are also one of the few groups I've seen to actually all meet together in the auditorium to have devotions before the show, and then spread out to different areas of the seating and pray over the folks who will be filling them. And when I say they "all" meet, I mean they ALL meet. Merchandising people, managers, band members, sound and lighting crew, family that may happen to be around, even the runners and anyone else who wants to join. Their concerts truly are about ministry above anything else! I could come up with an award for everyone. There truly are only a couple groups/individuals that didn't impress me, and I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt that we all have bad days.
JH: That's fascinating! Most of the groups and artists you mentioned are among my favorites, and it's reassuring to know that they live out their faith – not just "talk the talk" in their music because they think that's what we want to hear. Okay, lastly, if you weren't working in Christian radio, what job would you most like to do?
CJ: Either acting in Christian films or being a missionary in Africa!
JH: Interesting! So, if I ever get around to making my first Christian film, I can give you a call?
CJ: Absolutely! If Christian film had been what it is now when I was young, I definitely would have pursued it. I've been acting since I was a child. I did have the opportunity to tour with a professional Christian drama ministry when I was a young adult, but now I have kids of my own to take care of. I do still act/write/direct at my church, and have been encouraged to sign with a local agency, but it would have to be something very local for me to be able to do it. Unless, of course, the pay is good – LOL!
JH: Wow! That's something that we actually have in common then. I've been acting in and directing dramas at my church for the last dozen or so years now. How cool is that? Okay, now that we've covered all the "serious" questions, the real madness can begin! First off, what is the funniest or most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you on the air?
CJ: I'm not actually on the air live very much, but I did get into a spell one day where "dot com" just would not come out of my mouth. For some reason, I kept saying "dot clom." No clue where that "l" came from in there, but the harder I would think about it before it came out, the more I would mess it up.
JH: Yeah, that happens to me all the time. Which is probably a good reason for me not to ever work in radio. Okay, you mentioned earlier that you're originally from the Toledo area – which according to Google Maps (and not my innate knowledge of Ohio geography), isn't all that far from Cleveland. So I have to ask – LeBron James: love him, hate him, or couldn't care less?
CJ: LeBron who???
JH: That definitely answers my question... Okay, so being on the air primarily in the mornings, I'm guessing you probably get a really early start to your day. What's your favorite "wake-me-up" beverage? Coffee, an energy drink, or something else entirely?
CJ: Definitely coffee. However, it's not the caffeine, because I actually avoid the addiction by using half-caff. But it's the smell and the thought of having a hot beverage in the mornings that wakes me up.
JH: Wish I could say the same – for me, it's the caffeine. And I'm probably addicted. Okay, next question... Describe yourself in three words, all of which end in the letter "S."
CJ: His, humorous (or so I've been told), and ageless.
JH: Great answers! And I read your Facebook posts – "humorous" is definitely accurate. Next up... If you could be a superhero (keeping in mind that it hasn't been proven that you're not one already), what would you want your superpowers to be?
CJ: Well, Jaime Sommers was my hero as a kid. I had the doll, her blow-up home/power center, and all the tubes that plugged into her. So any powers that come with that totally cool sound effect are good with me!
JH: In all honesty, I had to Google "Jaime Sommers" just then. But then I saw that she was The Bionic Woman, and I was totally with you. It is an awesome sound effect! Okay, so are you a "cat person," a "dog person," a "parakeet person," or none of the above?
CJ: I have a cat and a dog, but the dog and I both believe the cat is nothing more than a furniture ornament.
JH: Having three "furniture ornaments" at home, I would agree that they do tend to serve that purpose and not much else. Next question... What is the plural of hyena? Besides the name of this blog, that is.
CJ: Oh, OH! I'm a homeschool mom! I know this one! Dogs! Just kidding! And yes, I know hyena are not even part of the dog family. Did that answer your question?
JH: Mostly, yes. Okay, now what are four things you would never leave home without, in alphabetical order?
CJ: Cell phone, earrings, a purpose, and spiritual armor!
JH: Excellent! What is your favorite flavor of ice cream, and where do you go to get it?
CJ: Elvis from Lumpy's Ice Cream in Wake Forest!
JH: I'm not sure I want to know what "Elvis" tastes like, but fair enough. Okay, that about wraps it up. Do you have any questions for me?
CJ: What do you do when you're not writing blogs?
JH: I write about clothes mostly, oddly enough. I'm a copywriter for Gander Mountain, a national sporting goods company. I write the apparel product descriptions – primarily for their website, but also for their catalogs. When I'm not doing that, I'm probably at home with my wife, or at church preparing for, practicing, or performing in one of the dramas.
CJ: That's cool! I'll bet you're really good with adjectives then, huh?
JH: Yeah, and I have to get really creative with them sometimes. I mean, seriously, how many different words can be used to describe a pair of pants – they're rugged, comfortable, they stretch, resist abrasions, and etc. – it makes you see your clothes in a completely different way. Okay, last question. For those of us out there who haven't been paying good enough attention, where and when can we listen to you on HIS Radio?
CJ: I'm on for local news in the mornings at 7am and 8am, but the spots I record can be heard throughout the day (very little radio is actually live anymore). As far as where to hear, that depends on where you live. We have several frequencies throughout the Triangle and Eastern NC. We're also in the process of boosting some of our lower wattage signals. You can always listen online and/or find the frequencies closest to you at our webpage: www.hisradiowrtp.com.
JH: Sounds great! Any final thoughts or comments you'd like to add?
CJ: This was fun! Thanks for the opportunity to share a little about myself!
JH: You're welcome! And thanks again, CJ, for agreeing to do this interview. You're a really good sport!