Consultant Tips: Fish Out Of Water

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Consultant Tips” series, written by Charese Fruge on January 12, 2021 

“Sometimes you just have to honk your own horn,” was one of the catch phrases Dr. Shirlee (Parton) used on her radio show in the movie. The basic plot line is that Shirlee Kenyon moved from a small country town in Arkansas to Chicago and is hired to answer phones at a radio station. On her first day she is mistaken for an actual Doctor, Shirley Kendall (similar names), and is thrown on the air to handle people’s problems as a trained therapist. When her backwoods, countryfied solutions and advice make her one of the most popular radio hosts in the city, she continues to live the lie and lifestyle, all while award winning journalist Jack Russel (Woods), tricks her into dating him so he can write an article exposing her for who she really is.

Spoiler Alert! Of course, they fall in love, and of course he quits his job before exposing her, only to have her expose herself live on air and walk out on the job right after. As it turns out, the entire city of Chicago (encouraged by her boss on air) “honks their horns” for Shirlee at Midnight to prove to her that they love her no matter what.

It’s always been one of my favorite movies. First, because, well, Dolly…. Also, Dolly wrote a lot of the songs on the soundtrack for the movie and they are all inspirational, even the sad ones. My favorite is “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” which has always been my theme song. I first heard it at a time in my life when I was trying to break away from my small-town roots and make it in the broadcast business. My favorite line is “It’s just a mountain I can move it, and with faith enough there is nothing I can’t do.” I genuinely believed that, and it helped pave the way for an incredible 20 plus years for me in radio. So, the soundtrack (in itself) is worth the movie if you are a Dolly fan and have a belief that anything is possible.

The bigger reason why this has always been one of my favorite movies is because it taught me early on that being myself and not being afraid to express myself is what would open doors for me and separate me from the rest. I was always a bit different too, a “fish out of water.” Having been the 5th of five kids, from a very small town, I didn’t want the same things my classmates and friends wanted. I wanted to live in the big city (wherever that was), and I wanted to be a personality and a music lover. I didn’t necessarily want to get married, have kids and live down the street from mom and dad. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and my southern heritage more than anything. I just didn’t want what everyone around me wanted. Still to this day my high school classmates, even some of my brothers and sisters don’t understand me or my drive to engage audiences, communities and fans.

As it stands today, the industry is already bogged down with thousands of stations that all sound alike, and personalities (no matter how big) who do not move the needle because they no longer have the ability to be themselves. They are broadcasting to or tracking so many stations in so many cities under so many time constraints, there is no longer the opportunity to engage an audience on a relatable level. Too often these days, managers are pulling talent back and using that old line, “better to have to push the talent out of their comfort zone than pull their personality back.” I don’t always agree with that. It depends on the talent. Anyone can have liner jocks, but the only personalities succeeding in the ratings and engagement games are those who are still able to master their unique personality traits and separate themselves from the rest. They are not afraid of being a “fish out of water,” and not afraid of “honking their own horns.” But they are also not afraid of self-editing and solid coaching. We should all strive to be that way.

Every time I start to work with a new station or client, the first question I always ask is, “What is it that separates you from everyone else?” If you can’t answer that question, you need to go back and do some serious soul searching about who or what you are or what you want to be. Go back and ask yourself, “What is it that makes me a fish out of water?” When you figure it out, start “honking your own horn.”