Special to South Florida Times
After almost 40 years as a radio personality and executive, Jerry Rushin is retiring. “It’s time to de-stress,’’ said Rushin, the general manager and vice president for Cox Media Group Miami. “I have done so much, and yet I have done so little,’’ he said. “I will work. But I am going to work when I want to and do what I want to. Mostly, I am going to relax.’’
Work will come secondary to a lot of leisure activities, he said. Already, the broadcasting executive is planning on traveling and has scheduled time at a dude ranch in Florida. “I am a cowboy at heart,’’ he said in an interview. He admits to a fascination with horses and the Wild West. His office is decorated with a few equine statues and he said he has a collection at home that also includes saddles.
“I also hope to take a few train trips,’’ he said. “I’ve always liked trains. The sound of the clacking actually lulls me. …Growing up we took a lot of trains to go places, between Georgia and Florida, especially.’’
Although born in Georgia, Rushin was raised in South Florida, where his family moved when he was a toddler. His father supported his wife and six children working as a truck driver. His mother worked part-time as a housekeeper. Rushin went to Dillard High School and enlisted in the U.S. Army right after graduating. He served for three years, including a two-year tour in Vietnam. He came back home to a job in a furniture store whose owners he knew because his mother had done some housekeeping for them. While he did well at the store and was promoted to store manager, he did not get the job he sought as general manager.
“I used that as an excuse to leave,’’ Rushin said. “I really wanted to do something else and, when they didn’t give me the very top job, I left.’’ He enrolled in Lindsey Hopkins Technical Educational Center in Miami and took a six-month course in radio broadcasting. It was there that he met the man who would become a strong influence and the person who gave him the confidence to go into radio.
“I remember hearing myself on tape one day and thinking I sounded terrible,’’ he recalled. “So I walked out of class and said I was quitting.’’ Robert Gaynor, his teacher, followed him to the parking lot and asked him why he was giving up. When Rushin explained, Gaynor pointed out that the reason he was in school was to learn. “I saw his passion and the fact that he believed in me,” Rushin said, “so I had to stick it out.”
While still going to classes, he got a part-time job at WEDR-FM as a board engineer. “I worked every Sunday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. pushing buttons. Nobody wanted that job,’’ he said. Then, he became a part-time DJ on weekends and, a short time later, he was made a full-time DJ.
After two years, Rushin was named program director for WEDR. In 1980, he became the general manager of the radio station, then known as 99 Jamz, the first African American in South Florida to operate a radio station. He took WEDR from 16,000 watts in the 1970s to its current 100,000 watts.
When Cox Media bought WEDR in 2000, the corporation also owned HOT 105-WHQT, Easy 93.1-WFEZ, and 97.3 the Coast-WFLC. Rushin was asked to oversee the South Florida group.
“He is, by far, the most successful student that I taught,’’ said Gaynor. “He was very disciplined, very strong and I had the pleasure of watching him grow in his career.’’
“I didn’t go to college,’’ Rushin explained, “but I never stopped learning and teaching myself. I like to read a lot and I even once read the dictionary and an entire set of the encyclopedia.”
While most radio personalities often leave for bigger markets, Rushin spent his entire career in South Florida. “It was a calculated risk,’’ he said. “I had a couple of offers back then but I had a vision of growing a small station and growing along with it. One thing led to another and that gamble paid off well.’’
He also loves the area. “South Florida has a lot to offer,” he said. “It is a fascinating area with a cultural mix. We have urban areas and smaller towns. We have the ocean. We have yards with horses and chickens and squirrels.’’
While his job doesn’t require him to get behind the microphone anymore, Rushin said he sometimes takes some phone calls or talks politics. “I have graduated to being an elder statesman and people want to know what I think,’’ he said. “This business has been great to me. It has kept me young. I have, obviously, worked with great people. I also have met some great people. …Politicians like [retired Congresswoman] Carrie Meek, [former U.S. Sen.] Bob Graham and [former Gov.] Jeb Bush. Also some wonderful celebrities, like [the late Soul superstar] James Brown. And I have met a lot of smart, everyday folks from the community. If you talk to enough smart people something is going to rub off and a lot has rubbed off on me.’’
Rushin has also had a big influence on others. A father of three girls, his eldest daughter Shelby also is a radio broadcaster and is the midday DJ for 99Jamz. “I’ve always looked at my parents as role models. It just seemed that my father’s work was so much cooler than my mom’s (who is a retired nurse),” Shelby said. “He had such an influence on the community during his time on air and still does. I thought that was just awesome and it left a great impression on me.”
Angela Perry, Rushin’s assistant who has been at WEDR for 25 years, described her boss as warm, friendly, easy-going and yet very serious at the same time. She credits a positive work environment at the radio station to his work style.
“His leadership creates a cohesive, fun environment to work in,” Perry said. “Mr. Rushin’s axiom in the office is ‘just do your job, if you do your job everything else will fall into place.’ ’’ Rushin’s open-door policy allowed him to get to know each of his employees and allowed them to get to know him, she said.
Rushin has always given back. And, along the way, he accumulated many accolades for his work in the community. Among them: He was the National Black Programmers Coalition 1995 General Manager of the Year and he received the Living Legend Award from Black Radio Exclusive. He also received the Excalibur Award from the Family Christian Association of America.
Rushin said he will stay at Cox long enough, perhaps a few more weeks, to train his replacement, who officially has not been named yet. Then, he’s heading to the dude ranch for some R&R.