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John Martin Is Young And Putting In The Work

“I talk to a lot of people in this industry that say you almost have to leave for your perception to change. That’s not what I want and that’s not what’s going to happen”

Tyler McComas

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R-E-L-A-X. That’s what Aaron Rodgers told Packers fans back in 2014 during a weekly radio interview on ESPN Milwaukee after his team started the season with a 1-2 record. It was solid advice, seeing as Green Bay won its next four games before finishing the season at 12-4 and coming inches away from a trip to the Super Bowl. Though it’s simple advice, being told to R-E-L-A-X can sometimes be the best thing a person can hear. 

If John Martin of ESPN 92.9 in Memphis could go back in time, he would give his 26-year-old self that same advice. Though his time travel wouldn’t even take him back a full two years, being a young show host has thrown things his way he’s had to overcome and endure. Learning to relax and trust his talent may have been the best thing someone could have told him.

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Truth be told, it’s not easy being a young show host, Yes, you feel ahead of the curve in your career with having an early arrival in the host seat, which shouldn’t be undersold, but with that comes a whole lot of work for a much lower price than the other hosts at the station. You may work harder, heck, you may even think you’re the best in the building, but don’t expect that paycheck to add any zero’s at the end of it.

Being young in this business can mean being both stressed and frustrated at times, but ultimately, it’s your attitude that will dictate how well you handle those situations. Remember, what may seem as challenging and overwhelming today will only help in the long-term of your career. 

Martin’s beginning in sports radio wasn’t unlike many others that attempted to make the climb at a young age. For over three years at ESPN 92.9 he was the station’s utility man, serving as a producer, fill-in host and anything else that was needed around the building. 

“I wasn’t getting paid to fill-in,” said Martin. “It was just like, hey, Gary Parrish is going to be out these days and you’re filling in. There were days where I would host three shows. It was so stressful. But in a way I realized doing it made me indispensable. I came to the realization that this was the way I position myself for the next host opening.”

It turns out that Martin was right. The lifelong Memphian showed he was both talented and dependable behind the mic, with a real authenticity on the air that the locals demand. But at that point, he still wasn’t a show host. Though it can be hard for a young broadcaster to realize not everything comes at once, Martin was still left wondering if fill-in work was all his career was ever going to amount to. 

“A lot of times when you’re young in this business, you start out as something other than what you want to be,” Martin said. “I was a producer and didn’t want to be a board operator. I wasn’t just that, but that’s what my role was. I did a show on Saturday mornings with chiropractors, which was a paid show called ‘Back Talk’. It was only an hour but it felt like it lasted an eternity. I wasn’t as professional as I probably should have been about it, I was 22 or 23 thinking, man, is this really what my career is?”

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Okay, nobody aspires to be on the air with a chiropractor talking about back pain. But if it’s your only opportunity behind the mic, you better make sure it’s the best radio show that talks about backs in the entire country. Think about it, if you can somehow make a show like that sound entertaining, a GM or a PD is going to want to find out really quick what else you can do behind the mic. The point, is that you have to take the non-glamorous jobs and treat them like they’re the biggest thing on the station. 

Hard work and perseverance eventually paid off for Martin. At 26 years old, he was thrust into the role of full-time host. Though that’s a dream scenario for anyone that young in the business, the new gig came with excitement, but also some immediate challenges, due to who he was replacing. 

“There was a popular guy that was leaving the station at that time slot,” said Martin. You know how it goes, everybody becomes 10 times more popular when they leave. No matter what the numbers say or the ratings say, people just hate change. I was watching it all unfold on Twitter, all the backlash from that departure. Even though my goal was to be a show host, I didn’t want to touch it. It was toxic.

“You never want to be the guy that follows the guy. Initially, I didn’t want the gig. But I talked to a friend who said ‘you don’t know how often these opportunities come around’. I had a conversation with my program director and said ‘hey man I want to throw my name in the hat. He looked at me and said ‘I don’t think your dreams are going to come true’. He told me that in a very polite way, but I left that meeting thinking it just wasn’t my time.”

Two weeks later, Martin was walking into the studio for the first time as a show host. Call it fate or destiny, but the job he was told he didn’t have a great chance at was now his. Martin’s job title was now different, but his age wasn’t. He was still 26. 

Most young hosts in this position will believe they’re immediately thought of in a different way with management inside the station, just because they’ve been elevated. That’s not always the case. In fact, be prepared to continue to fight the battle of being looked at as your former self that was the young producer or even the unpaid intern.

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“When you start out as something other than what you really want to be in the same company I do think it can be difficult for your managers and your higher-ups to start viewing you any differently,” said Martin. “Even when you get elevated to being a show host, it’s hard for them to not look at you as the kid who’s just a producer and hosting Saturday morning shows.

“Unfortunately that’s a challenge and I think everyone in our situation has to deal with. I talk to a lot of people in this industry that say you almost have to leave for your perception to change. That’s not what I want and that’s not what’s going to happen, but I do think that that’s a challenge that young people face.”

I’m not telling you this realization can’t be frustrating, especially when all you want is to be viewed the same way as the other show hosts in the building. But it’s the nature of the business for young people in the business to pay their dues. Besides, that something that’s hard to control. What you can control is the work you put in to make sure you earn credibility from the listener. 

“My main objective was to establish credibility,” said Martin. “A lot of that is through my reporting and I think I’ve proven that specifically with University of Memphis basketball. I really think that’s the only way you can combat it. I think it can be tougher for a young person if they’re just a talking head. I think establishing credibility is so important.”

This isn’t made to be a doom and gloom piece, its intent is to shed light on some of the challenges the young broadcaster will encounter. You should celebrate the fact you’re young and have a show. That’s awesome. Sure, at times it’s tough, but nothing that’s worthwhile is easy. Buckle your chin strap, keep at it and be the hardest worker in the building. Sweat equity is how you change your perception. 

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“For me it was about proving my managers were right for giving me the job,” said Martin. “It was about proving that life can go on after a popular show leaves. When your name is on the show it’s your livelihood. I view it as every day I’m fighting for my livelihood. That’s a mentality that I apply, especially booking guests. I’m not a producer but I work like one. I came from that so I know what a producer’s job is. So yeah I definitely have a chip on my shoulder and I still have one to this day. I think the minute you stop approaching your job that way is the minute you’ll start to fail. It’s a daily grind and you don’t last in this business by being complacent.”

To the young show host out there that’s trying to make their mark in the industry, just trust yourself. There’s a reason you were hired to the position you’re in. Though you may be presented with frustrating circumstances, NEVER let them affect your relationships with your co-workers, PD, sales staff or owners of the station. Trust yourself, your abilities and your show prep. If you can accomplish those three things, you’ll eventually find both success and respect. And remember…

R-E-L-A-X.

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“You can’t make it all happen in one week,” said Martin. “I put an unbelievable amount of pressure on myself. I would go back and say, look, man, work hard, be yourself, and do what you do. It’s all going to be just fine. Luckily that’s exactly what happened.”

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