Past Mentor Will Influence New Agency

A Great Teacher Can Speak Through the Years

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As I stepped into the fray as a fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked new small-agency kid two weeks ago, I took some time on my JetBlue flight to New York (no, we weren't delayed) to absorb the fact that I had just left nine years of the relative comfort of the radio station/group world. For some reason, I couldn't stop thinking about Gordie Miller.

Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
One spring day, I walked into his studio at KXL. I had just written a spot for a friend of mine who started (and still runs) a winery tour business and I was going to voice it. Being in my mid 20s in the mid-late 90s in the Pacific Northwest, I had the requisite facial hair and chip on my shoulder. I'm certain there was some flannel involved as well.

There was an immediate connection. We did the recording session, then sat and talked for an hour and a half. Topics ranged from the industry, to his wife, to my girlfriend (now wife), then back to radio, then food, cooking and the good life. Out of nowhere, he said, "Hey, you've got a good voice. Have you ever considered being on the air?" I suppose I had, but when someone who was essentially a legend in the market levied a fairly direct endorsement, I was, for lack of a better term, blown away.

I got on the air. As is well documented, I sucked. At least, I thought I sucked ... and I have the tapes of my first on-air shift to prove it. But Gordie was always there to air-check me (this is when on-air talent and programmers meet to go over their shift and work on things), he was there to teach me the ins and out of production, he was constantly coaching. The first thing he taught me was "always care about what you put on the air." To this day, I hammer that point home to anyone who does anything relating to radio, podcasting, in-store sound design ... anything.

The most rewarding part of it was that it was always a two-way street. I shared the things I was learning in advertising and creativity and he would continue to mold and refine my skills to create the best spots and station imaging I could. He also reminded me daily about the importance of passion in all of it. Gordie was, without question, the best mentor I ever had ... and he and his wife became close friends.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2000, I was sitting in the production studio where we had created our first commercial. Chris Sullivan, a reporter from KXL poked his head in to tell me that Gordie had died. I knew it was coming. He had been battling prostate cancer, and it had just spread too quickly. I was one of the last people to see him alive ... and I was prepared for the devastation. At least I thought I was.

I still get choked up over it. In fact, I have a Hallmark Channel lump in my throat just writing this. But it is a small story that I like to tell. My experience may be a little extreme, but I'm certain most of us have people in our lives (personal or professional) that have had this kind of impact ... and it all starts with the spirit and kindness that mentorship can bring to all of us.

Gordie may be gone, but the impact he had on me will last a lifetime ... and I don't keep his wisdom to myself. I care about what goes on the air ... and a hell of a lot more ... thanks to this remarkable mentor and friend.

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