Rebecca Ortiz is a high powered On-Air Radio Personality for WBBM-FM Chicago 96.3FM, also known as B96. For those of you not familiar with B96, they’re the #1 Rhythmic Contemporary Hit Radio station in Chicago that broadcasts to an audience of over one million Chicagoland listeners. You can hear Ms. Ortiz on the weekends, and if you attend any of the countless B96 events throughout the Chicagoland area, you just might get to meet her in person. Ms. Ortiz has been in radio since 2003. In addition to her on-air responsibilities, Ms. Ortiz blogs about music and entertainment on her blog, www.rebeccaortiz.com.
Ms. Ortiz holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago. She initially aspired to become an entertainment writer and pursued her dream of working in television for three years. It wasn’t until a television show that she was working on was cancelled, that she tried her hand in radio. While her stint in radio was only supposed to be temporary, she caught the “radio bug” and never left.
I am thrilled about this feature and confident that you’ll find her career background and professional philosophies both entertaining and insightful!
Q: So, tell me about your current role as Radio Personality for B96? What does a “normal” day look like for you? And, what are you doing when you’re not on the radio?
My show is one of five different live shows on our station. While everyone has their own method to prepare, it’s more than just walking in the door and putting on your headphones. A normal on-air day for me would be getting to the station an hour before my show goes live to prep (find the latest news about the artists we play, general entertainment gossip, and station promotions and events) and blog on the B96 website. I normally finish before the hour is up, but I like to be relaxed and not rushed before I go on because it’s me solo for the next 4-5 hours. I run the board, do all the production, answer the calls and text with the listeners. There are days when I don’t do anything that I’ve planned, but I like to be prepared so that it doesn’t distract me from keeping us afloat technically.
Typically, on the weekends, we broadcast live somewhere. So, it’s the same routine, just in our mobile studios. Usually, around the holidays, and in the summer, we’re all busier. The station is very involved with what’s going on in the city and suburbs. So, there could be days when I do an on-air shift, have an appearance, and then maybe go back on-air. My schedule is different every week, so my life revolves around work at times.
Q: Being a Radio Personality for such a popular station has got to be an awesome experience! What is it like working for a high profile company like B96? Tell me about the perks!
If you grew-up in Chicago, or have ever been to Chicago or the surrounding suburbs, you know who B96 is. When people call-in or see the station out in the streets they get excited. My friends and I grew-up feeling the same way, so to see it from the other end is pretty cool and something that will never get old for me. A great perk is that all of the artists that we play come through the studio when they’re in town and we get to meet them! Even some actors too! We also host 2 big concerts a year – the Jinglebash presented by Sierra Mist Natural on 12/11/10 and Summerbash (June) where our most popular artists perform. This year’s Jinglebash line-up includes Jump Smokers, Far East Movement, Auburn, Mike Posner, Bruno Mars, Nelly, Justin Bieber and Jason Derulo. We get to hang out with our listeners and get free tickets for family and friends.
Some other random things – Lady Gaga came and performed for us and some fans, like 3 feet from my face, just her and a keyboard. Also, Justin Bieber played his guitar and sang for us on the station couch before he blew-up. And, the last time Mariah Carey was in Chicago doing press, she only came to visit our station and Oprah!
Q: There are lots of people who dream of doing the type of work that you do! Tell me how you landed your job!
On a professional level, it was validating to land my position. This was market 3 radio! Chicago is the third largest media market in the United States. The first station that I worked at was in the middle of a field, with cows in the backyard. To me, it was like proving to those who didn’t take me seriously or believe in me, that this wasn’t just something that I was doing to pass the time. This was the real deal!
Prior to radio, I worked in television for a few years, and every show I worked on got canceled. I joked that it was a sign, but I really believed it after my third show, The Jenny Jones Show, got canceled. While looking for a new show, I grew restless and got a job doing promotional work at a local radio station. I was given the chance to do something on-air, and after that, I didn’t want to leave. I was eventually hired as the Promotions Director, and was only there for about 2 months when I started voice-tracking an over-night shift and filling in when people were out. Things moved fast and it came natural to me. I knew that I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
Moving up so quickly in my first job, but not being able to break into the bigger markets, was like hitting a wall. I kept telling myself, “I belong here, and this is what I was meant to do.” I had been sending my demo to Todd Cavanah, the Program Director at B96, who is now my boss, since I first started in radio in 2003. But, it wasn’t until 2008 that he responded. I had worked at four other small market stations before my big break with B96.
Q: What would you say are the essential skills that one must have to enter your industry? And, are there are any tips that you can provide for those who are interested in your field?
If you’re serious about getting into radio, you have to get experience. Whether it’s studying radio in college or at a trade school and then interning, or landing a job at a station and working your way up, experience is a must. Everyone has a different story and you have to be prepared to adapt. A foot in the door at a station with cows in the backyard may not be your radio dream, but it’s a start.
Most stations usually have less than ten air-personalities, so it’s really competitive. Just because you go to school for it, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a job in radio. It’s very common to have to move out of state to go where the work is or work in a format you despise just to get the experience and your foot in the door. And, just because there isn’t a job posting, doesn’t mean that they aren’t hiring. So, have initiative and make connections! Making a connection at a station is so valuable – even if it’s just to get feedback on your demo or to keep you in mind when something pops up down the road.
I was aware that radio was and is a male dominated profession. So, I worked really hard to be the opposite of the “typical radio girl” which is just the laugh track to the male counterpart who can’t handle anything on the technical side. I stayed late to learn how to do everything that I could. And, with this field being so competitive, the more you can do, the more potential you offer – whether you’re female or male.
Q: I’m a firm believer that you must have passion for the work that you do. What do you love about being in radio? And, conversely, what are some of the challenges that professionals should consider before deciding to pursue a career in your field?
The best part about my job is that all of the things that are required of me are things that I would never consider work. I love music. Music is my life. I love entertainment and pop culture. When people turn us on, they know that they’ll get to hear music that they love, breaking entertainment news, and what’s going on in our city. I’m paid to be entertaining and talk! I love the idea that whatever’s happening is left at the door when I turn on the microphone. It’s my job to put people in a better mood and have fun. At B96, I’m the demographic and it’s a format I love. So, I’m not trying to be relatable, it’s my life.
Being in radio is like a relationship. You really have to love it and be willing to sacrifice to survive. Plus, if you’re interested in it to get rich, you’re living in a fantasy land! Sure, the bigger the market, the more money you’ll make. But, even before the economic crisis, being a local celebrity by no means meant a big time celebrity paycheck. A lot of talented radio personalities can’t afford to work in the field and support themselves or a family. In smaller markets, you’ll find that a lot of radio personalities work more than one job – radio in the day time, maybe retail at night. So, if you hear someone say, “Love is more important than money,” there’s a good chance that they work in radio!
Plus, something you might not think of – radio is always on. Just because it’s Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook. Someone’s got to be there! Also, if you’re the low guy on the totem pole, be prepared to work all of the holidays. And, saying “no” is not going to score you points. There will always be somebody waiting in the wings that would say “yes” for free! There were times when I missed family birthday parties or had to cut out on the fun with my friends, so that I could work. And yeah, it’s disappointing, but doing what you love is something immeasurable that I wouldn’t trade. I’m fortunate enough to have friends and family who support me, so we compromise.
Q: Staying power is just as important as actually getting the job. So, now that you’ve had the opportunity to get some years of experience under your belt and interface with industry veterans, what would you say are the ingredients for success in your field?
Radio is such a small world. Being difficult to work with will get you a bad reputation. Just remember, you’re replaceable and get over yourself. Always be nice and learn to network. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated and be happy that you have a job in radio. You’ll find opportunities and people who can help you now or down the road, when you least expect it.
People who do the minimum, will get minimum results. Doing just your air-shift is not enough. You have to get out there and make a name for yourself by participating in a variety of things such as charity work and station events. You should also continuously communicate with your superior. Whether it’s a potential idea, or that you’d like to do more or have a different role, communication is critical. The boss won’t know unless you tell them. They need to know so that they can keep you in mind when planning. Just because they don’t tell you that they’re planning, doesn’t mean that they aren’t.
You can do all the right things at the right time and place, but it doesn’t always happen according to your clock. Don’t let impatience ruin or deter you from your dream. You have to keep giving it all you can, all the time, and believe that it will pay off!
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