Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

John Tesh: King of All Media. Forget about Howard Stern. John Tesh is the real deal when it comes to multimedia success. The former local reporter first found national fame as the long-time co-host of Entertainment Tonight,  a post the composer/musician left to focus on a blossoming performance career that is still going strong even as he hosts a popular syndicated radio show and launches a new web-based internet channel called (appropriately enough) KTESH.  Somehow, he recently found time to talk with me. Here are some highlights of our conversation:

JWK: I remember you from your early days reporting local news at WCBS-TV in New York City.

JOHN TESH: Then you’re an older guy.

JWK: This is true. Let’s talk about your new internet radio project KTESH. How did it come to be?

JT:  We do a show called Intelligence for Your Life which is basically just curated material from all over the world – (information like) Five Ways to be a Better Parent, Three Ways to Be To Trim Your Waistline.

JWK: They play all the time at the local pizzeria where I go.

JT:  Oh, is that right. That’s good news…(Anyway) we lost our station in Los Angeles. They decided to replace us with something else. So I thought, “Why don’t we do a little experiment and why don’t we create our own radio station?” One of my guys at the office said “Let’s call it KTESH!”…(Then) we thought  “You know what? Instead of advertising why  don’t we see if we can serve churches and we can have a partnership where we would have a Church Finder…and promote pastors’ messages and maybe special events they’re having on the weekend  and then they would send out to their parishioners a promotion about what we’re doing on the radio.

What happens with terrestrial Christian radio is that it’s just loaded  with commercials and a lot of it is just sort of time and temperature. So, we thought  why don’t we take what we know how to do best  and curate this information — It’s not “Christian” information but it’s curated by a Christian guy so there’s nothing in there that not going to help you to move forward in your life and (help) you to have purpose — and then we’ll surround it with contemporary Christian music and see what happens. And what started happening was that there are so many people who are listening at work now because they could just pop it onto their computer or onto their smartphone.

JWK: Is it a 24-hour-a-day linear channel?

JT:  It is.  We have about six hours of new content  every day, including music and Intelligence for  Your Life.  There’s a radio term TSL which is “Time Spent Listening.”  We found that most people’s “time spent listening” is about an hour and 20 minutes.  So, it’s almost like 1010 WINS in New York (which says) “You give us 20 Minutes and we’ll give you the world.”  You give us an hour 20 and we’ll change your life.  And so we just repeat it. We do give local Los Angeles news and weather and things like that.

JWK: So this is available to the people of Southern California but you can really get it anywhere.

JT:  Well, you can get it anywhere, yeah, but what we’re trying to do is provide it as a place for folks in this area.

JWK: How can people access KTESH?

JT:  It’s just

JWK: When did you launch?

JT:  About  two months ago.

JWK: How’s it going so far?

JT:  It’s going great!…We have somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 hours of listening a week  which is a lot, especially online. We’re finding a lot of people are coming in from their smartphones. We’re also getting a lot of people in…foreign countries listening. There are quite a few people listening in China. When I say quite a few people (I mean) it’s  like a couple hundred.  And then Uzbekistan and Cayman Islands and places like that. It’s funny. We don’t really have to do any advertising. It’s like people will go on their Facebook page and say “Hey, listen to KTESH) and then we’ll also promote it on our Twitter feed.

JWK: You also broadcast Intelligence For Your Health hosted by your wife Connie Sellecca (of Greatest American Hero fame).

JT:  Yeah, we take some of her health show and we put it one there as well.

JWK: Is her show syndicated terrestrially as yours is?

JT:  It is.  She’s on about 60 stations.

JWK: So KTESH basically is comprised of your show, her how and the music.

JT:  Yes.

JWK: Are you going to add additional programming?

JT:  We might get a money expert involved as well.

JWK: You’ve had a very eclectic career.  As I said, when I was younger  I remember seeing you as a local reporter on WCBS-TV in New York City. From there you went on to co-anchor Entertainment Tonight  for several years.  That was a very successful – and, for show business, stable – gig.  How come you left?

JT:  It was a very successful and stable job with no future in it. I loved the people that I worked with but I took that job because they offered me an opportunity to also work on my music at the same time…I look at it this way. God put in my path this amazing music career right about the time I had been on Entertainment Tonight eight or nine years. I could have kept the ET job. I could have continued to tour 50 shows or 60 shows a year but I would show up at church and the folks at church would go “Wow, you’re on that show where you chase around celebrities and put everybody on in their underwear.” And my daughter was like three years old at the time and she couldn’t watch the show. So, I’m thinking “You know, it wasn’t always that way. Things have really changed.”

JWK:  It was a little incongruous.

JT:  I think that’s a good word. It was a little incongruous with the message I was trying to put out there personally and what was happening.  I don’t want to be self righteous here. I can’t tell you that I wouldn’t still be doing the job if the music career hadn’t really blown up at that point.

JWK:  Was it a little scary to leave a job that seemed so solid?

JT:  It was scary for everybody else. It was a seven-figure job. It was a great job. A lot of people know who I was.  I had all that stuff. But, you know, I did some reading while we were on vacation…and there was a like 50-question test (to determine) if you were in the job for which you were made and I got a zero.

JWK:  Really.

JT:  Yeah.

JWK:  That sounds like an Intelligence for Your Life segment.

JT:  We’ve actually done it many times…So, I started thinking maybe I shouldn’t be doing this full time.  And it was a lot of work — I mean not a lot of work but that plus touring and trying to be a dad.

JWK:  You’ve been so successful in your music career. What led you to take on talking on the radio?

JT:  I was just to be relevant (after) I left Entertainment Tonight and I became a full-time musician. I started in radio and I really missed that.  So, I started doing a weekend show for Westwood One.  It was a sort of countdown show. Then, we thought “Let’s do something with a little more purpose” and we came up with this idea of Intelligence for Your Life.

JWK:  It’s a successful show, obviously, but you kind of go against the grain of what most other successful radio talkers are doing – you know, finding things to argue about.

JT:  Yeah.  You know, I’m one of those guys that reads (books like) Focus by Al Ries, Differentiate or Die (and) The (Laws) of Disruption. (In) everything we’ve done, we’ve tried to be as disruptive as possible  and not do what everybody else is doing. You know, (so-called) “right” thing to do in the radio world is, like you said, to just go on…and just be angry about everything, scream at everybody and take sides.  We thought, “You know what? Nobody is doing the other thing which is no celebrity birthdays, no politics, no meanness, no crying, no whining…We’re gonna will find you a better way to deal with your problems. We’ll find you a better way to find your mission and purpose in life. We call it “Welcome to your new and improved life.”…So, we thought “Let’s differentiate ourselves and do something that’s never been done on a radio before.”  I think Dr. Laura is probably closest – where, you know, she’s an expert, of course, and she listens to people’s problems and tries to find solutions in that area. We attack every category—whether it’s money and finances or health, wellness, fitness or even pets.  We will attack all those categories.

JWK:  You speak of faith a lot. How has that informed your career?

JT:  My faith exists at the hands of my wife Connie…I grew up  (attending) Westbury Methodist Church and was the guy who sort of memorized everything – all the scriptures and all  of that– but never really had a relationship with Christ at all when I came out of college and (went into) news and Entertainment Tonight. Then I met my wife. She’s a born-again Christian. She was the one that really brought me back into Bible study…And then, for about 15 years, I was worship music leader (in our church) and then sort of realized that that was a huge distraction for me. I know it sounds odd but I realized that as I went out on the road and played that kind of music that I  had more of an impact than if I stayed in a tiny town church with 120 people.

JWK:  How long are you married to Connie Sellecca?

JT:  20 years.

JWK:  How did you two meet?

JT:  We met in Palm Springs. I was doing an event for Entertainment Tonight and she was shooting a show .

JWK:  I remember that TV show. It was called P.S. I Luv U.

JT:  Exactly!  Not many people remember that. Yeah, so we met in a gym in a hotel.

JWK:  And you hit it off.

JE:  We did.

JWK:  How many children do you have?

JT: I have stepson who is now 30 and who just made us grandparents. I have a daughter (who’ll soon be) graduating from high school.

JWK: What’s in the future for you?

JT:  I don’t think I need to change anything.  We continue to reach about 14 and a half million people a week on the show and love it.  I love having a conversation with them. And we do about 50 live concerts a year and the rest of the time I’m a grandpa.

JWK: It’s a pretty full life you got going there.

JT:  It is. It’s enough. I feel like “What’s next?” “Nothing!”

JWK: That’s great. It’s nice to talk to a happy guy.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11