Resurrection of a radio dream
Stephen Cenatiempo won the ACRA for Best Newcomer – Country in 2011. The career he had dreamed of for more than two decades was off to a flying start … then the doubt set in.
Today, Steve looks candidly at his experience, one that’s shared by many who enter the industry with stars in their eyes but can wind up bitterly disappointed if they lose focus on why they went into broadcasting in the first place.
He takes us on a journey from radio dream, to disenchantment, and then getting it all together again after a chance encounter with a stranger, an elderly woman, in a country café.
LOSING MY RELIGION
For me, radio is religion. It’s the good word and I’m a believer. But like any religion, sometimes even the most devout followers can experience a crisis of faith. Mine came towards the end of last year when I seriously considered leaving the industry. Ex-communicating myself, if you will. Regional radio dogma was getting me down. The holy grail of capital city radio felt forever out of reach. I was in limbo. But somehow, I found my faith again.
I remember my first paid radio shift like it was yesterday: the clunky and unfamiliar panel; the strange play-out system; the sounds of the Pacific Highway rumbling through what was supposed to be my sound-proof studio. I’d scored a job at a local radio station in a pretty coastal town after leaving my high flying, high paying job as an auctioneer. This was it. No turning back. I was packing it.
What if my AFTRS training wasn’t all it was cracked up to be? What if I’m not cut out for this? Can I do this? I had so many questions but I had to keep the faith. I slid the fader up and started talking. I was converted. Hallejuah! From that moment, I have savoured every second of my time on air. My big life gamble paid off. The old saying that if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life was true. In fact, I hadn’t hit the snooze button since I began working in radio – that is until a few months ago.
The genesis of my crisis of faith is a little cloudy but probably began when I made the move to a new station. My career started at 2HC Coffs Harbour, a Super Radio Network Station. I was the new afternoon announcer and management wasn’t expecting miracles. I was sharing the airwaves with my long time idol, John Laws! I put my head down and worked hard. Someone upstairs must have been listening. Within a few months I’d won the Best Newcomer On-Air ACRA. Metro stations started to take notice. Suddenly, I felt like I was walking on water. I set myself a goal of landing a Sydney gig within five years all the while accepting that if it took longer than that it wouldn’t be a problem because I loved what I was doing.
That’s when things started to unravel. I’d committed the same sin as my contemporaries and started to lose the joy in what I was doing. I was looking too far ahead and began to let things over which I had no control – those things that happen outside the sanctuary of the studio – bother me. I stopped focusing on making great radio where I was and rather lamented that others weren’t making great radio elsewhere. The realisation came one Friday when I had a particularly bad shift but wasn’t angry with myself for doing it. We all have less than stellar days, but what has always driven me is how bad I feel when I don’t get it right. Up until that point I had always woken up with the intention of creating the best radio show I possibly could and went to bed with the intention of doing it better the next day.
Luckily, I’ve got a great support network. I have a mentor who has guided the careers of some of the greats and some friends in the industry who were thankfully prepared to “slap me out of it” as it were. But the real awakening came thanks to the job itself and the people we all depend on in this crazy business – the listeners. There were instances even in the darkest times, those that potentially could’ve resulted in permanent dead-air, that began to reignite my passion. I have had the opportunity to do some amazing things since I began working on the wireless. I’ve met incredible people, both celebrities and some not so well-known. I’ve had the chance to broadcast from some places that were a lot of fun – celebrity golf days, music festivals, agricultural shows and even the main streets of small country towns with more characters than an old fashioned radio serial.
But the big wake-up call came when I was sitting in a café one day minding my own business over a cup of coffee when an elderly lady, who had no idea who I was, spontaneously struck up a conversation with me. She proceeded to tell me what she’d learned that day. She told me that a new mine was being considered by Muswellbrook City Council, she told me that The Sunny Cowgirls were coming to town and she told me how wonderful this year’s country music awards were – all things I had shared with her on radio a few hours earlier. It was at that point that I realised I had made a difference. I was doing something important. I was a source of information, and a friend to people I had never met.
I’ve found my passion again and I’m enjoying my time on-air and equally enjoying the time it takes to prepare for my on-air work. It took going back to basics. Rediscovering that success is all about doing something well, regardless of where you’re doing it. Refocusing on the things I’d always told myself – be good at what you’re doing, not what you think you want to do, always strive to improve and above all else, recognise that I have a responsibility to that person who lets me share a small part of their life each day, the person who invites me into their home, car or workplace for a few hours every morning. The listener, who despite living in a regional town, deserves great radio just like his or her cousin in the city does.
Remembering the reasons why I wanted to be a radio announcer in the first place, the desire to tell stories, inform and entertain is what helped me regain my faith. It gave me back my religion. I feel blessed.
Stephen Cenatiempo is host of Hunter Valley Today, weekdays 10am-1pm on 2NM in The Hunter Valley.
Our thanks to Stephen and Mark Collier at AFTRS for sharing this story with Radio Today.