Born and raised in Virden, Jana Sproule came to Assiniboine Community College to take the then-media production program, specializing in communications. During her time at college, she worked at CKLQ Radio and Star FM as a community cruiser girl, and then in the newsroom as a reporter and news reader. She did her practicum in Cranbrook, B.C., working as an on-air announcer, newscaster, remote host, and writing commercial copy for B-104 and The Drive FM of the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group. Following her practicum and a stint as summer announcer relief, she was hired as a production manager. Two years later, she landed a gig as a junior producer in Calgary for Corus Entertainment stations Q-107, Country 105 and Newstalk 770. But home beckoned, and just weeks ago, Sproule was hired as a radio instructor and as station manager for CJJJ, ACC’s campus/community radio station. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD)
When you were in Cranbrook, what did working as a production manager entail?
I was in charge of creating all the commercials — finding the sound effects, finding the music beds and getting the voice-overs gathered together, as well as imaging the station.
Making all the station IDs that say what station you’re listening to and being creative in that sense. And any features — any sort of long-format programs that we ran, I was in charge of either downloading, or creating or finding, so that’s all the stuff that I handled. I also did on-air for them every weekend and took on a lot of remotes as well.
So how long did you stay there?
I was in Cranbrook for pretty much exactly two years. And it was a really small station but I absolutely loved it there. Everybody knew everybody, and the town was really great as well — we had lots of clients who were really fun people and we always had a blast when they would come in to voice and stuff. I made a lot of really close friends there — some of those people are still my very, very close friends that I talk to on a daily basis. I had a really great time there, but was ready to move on to a much bigger market.
So then Calgary came knocking?
Well, I saw the job posting for a junior producer for Calgary. And I thought that would be a great opportunity to learn more from some seasoned professionals and enter into a much bigger market.
Calgary’s a million-plus people now, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s a big market. And I remember my program director in Cranbrook was such a sweet gentleman and wanted to keep me there forever but knew he wouldn’t be able to, so he actually emailed the creative director in Calgary, saying ‘she’s a good hire and you should consider her.’ And I think that was one of the things that really sort of brought me to her attention.
I did a phone interview, which I thought went horribly, but then I got a call a week later saying they wanted to meet me, so they flew me out, and then that day, I was offered the job. And my job was mostly handling all of our national dubs — all the commercials that come from agencies and the majority of features for our talk station — and then taking on a portion of our commercial clients as well. There were two other producers, and I learned a lot from those guys. And they’re also a really fun bunch of people — we could joke around and have a good time as well. I really enjoyed Calgary as well.
Did you do some on-air announcing at all when you were there?
I wasn’t an on-air announcer, but one of our program directors took a real liking to my voice, and he decided that I would do secondary imaging for their station — all their tags and those kinds of things. So I was very heavily on that station — almost every other commercial had my voice in it. And I really, really enjoyed doing that. It was a lot of fun, and I got to work with some producers out of Vancouver and different places for imaging — that was fun.
So two years in Calgary? Most people in the business have the goal of making major market, and you achieved that. Why did you leave?
I really quite enjoyed Calgary. And making major market was something I wanted to do, and I did it. It just got to the point where the city didn’t hold that much for me anymore — my family is in Manitoba, so that’s sort of where I wanted to be. Which, if you had asked me two years previously, was NOT the case at all. But it’s funny how you change as you grow just a little bit older. The city was big and there were lots of things to do, but I was finding it wasn’t all that fun without the people I wanted to do those things with. So I ended up really, really wanting to move back to Manitoba, and then the ACC job opened up, which was sort of the fix to everything I was unhappy with at the time.
Now you’re 24 years old. And we’ve had instructors who were younger. But was it at all intimidating to come back? Is it weird to be teaching people who, in some cases, are considerably older than you are?
Intimidating isn’t the word I would use. Terrifying is! But I always operate under the idea that if I’m not doing something that scares me, then I’m not doing something worthwhile. I try to challenge myself, apparently every couple of years, with something new. But so far, I’ve been welcomed warmly and nobody has given me a look that suggests I shouldn’t be here or that I’m not capable. And I don’t think I’m going to get that from students either — I think they know I’m here for a reason because I’ve been where they want to be and I’ve done what they want to do, and I have the experience to show them how they can best accomplish that as well.
How was it to come back and be a colleague with those of us who were your instructors? I mean, we’re a pretty tight group who do a lot of work in small groups or one-on-one, so you know us really well, but to come back in a different capacity, was it daunting, or was it just comfortable?
It really wasn’t daunting at all — it WAS very comfortable. I think part of the process of transitioning into this job that made it so easy was the fact that I knew the location, I knew where I’d be working, and even if I didn’t necessarily remember all the people at the college, I remembered a lot of faces and was reacquainted with them. And my colleagues now, who were my teachers, nothing’s changed — they’re the same people they were then and are now and welcomed me very, very warmly, which helped boost my self-confidence, and I know if THEY think I can do it, well then I KNOW I can do it.
Why the move to teaching? You taught dance before in Virden, right?
Yes — I taught a hip-hop class for Prairie West Recreation, and I had a lot of fun with that. And it was odd — when I was growing up and in high school and even junior high, people always kind of thought or assumed I would end up being a teacher. I don’t know why — I never told them I wanted to be one.
DID you always want to be a teacher?
It wasn’t necessarily a goal of mine — I wanted to get into media in some way — I knew that — and fell into it pretty easily and it happened to be something I was really good at. And teaching sort of seemed like the next transition for me — it was a new challenge — I won’t lie — it IS a challenge — but I’m very excited about it and I’m feeling good about it so far. But I’ve always enjoyed sharing what I know with other people and helping others grasp a concept — I think it’s something that my personality is suited to.
That’s kind of what you did in your time as a producer, too, right?
Yeah — as a producer, you’re sort of encouraging, especially your voice-over talent, how they can better perform or how they can, more specifically, grasp a concept of a particular script. So you’re coaching in that sense. And I always really enjoyed that part of it, too.
And now you’re back in Brandon and closer to family in Virden.
Yeah — I’m really happy to be home — I’m happy to be back in the area. A lot’s changed, a lot’s still the same.
Just various buildings and different businesses and stuff like that. And the bridge is FINALLY done! Which is great. And I’m quite enjoying knowing how to get from one end of the city to the other without having to use a GPS or any other sort of assistance like I had to in Calgary.
And I’m excited to be back at ACC. I’m excited to share my experiences with people who I can relate to, because it really wasn’t that long ago that I was in their shoes, and not even in just a teaching sense — just where they are in their lives. I understand that and I hopefully will be able to connect on that level as well.
Do you have a particular philosophy when it comes to radio or production? What are your guiding principles or things you believe in passionately about the craft?
My general philosophy when it comes to radio would be to learn the rules, play by the rules, so you can break the rules. In my opinion there are a few hard, fast rules of radio that will stand the test of time and be applicable to every radio station in every market everywhere. Other than those, and I should emphasize, with the permission of your boss — go ahead and try stuff. Get creative. Radio is fun. It's SUPPOSED to be fun. Have fun with it. Every market is different and every program director is different — so you have to be flexible and adaptable. A shtick is only a shtick for so long.
And what will you try to communicate to your students? What are the big lessons you want them to learn?
Besides giving my students the knowledge to work in industry, I hope to be able to give them a real-life sense of what working in radio really entails. ACC gives us the tools to be able to do pretty much anything and everything that would come up in the actual industry. I'm looking forward to being able to do more with the station and get the students involved, so they can not only complete the course work set out for them, but cultivate their own ideas and make those ideas actually happen.
The biggest lessons I hope my students would learn, in regards to the radio industry and just life in general, is accountability and self-confidence. You may not always feel confident you are capable of accomplishing a task, but you should always feel confident you are capable of TRYING. That's half the battle, anyway, right?
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 14, 2013