James Yokers headshot

James Yokers path to being part of the team that launched DIRECTV started at Ohio University and WOUB

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Yokers graduated from Ohio University in 1979

ATHENS, OH – When Jim Yokers came to Ohio University in the mid-1970s, the plan was to hone his skills as a disc jockey and make an impact as a larger-than-life voice on the radio. But what ended up happening was that Yokers honed a variety of communication skills in Athens, both in front of the microphone and behind the scenes, and eventually became part of the team that launched DIRECTV, making a significant impact on the future of television.

“My experience at Ohio University working in traffic at ACRN and being around the folks at WOUB certainly gave me the foundation on which I was able to build my career. Also, working in the cafeterias the entire time I was there taught me the value of doing the work that others would rather pass on. I found this to be a ‘secret to my success’ later on,” said Yokers. “I also have to cite Archie Greer (former WOUB director) who was flexible with me and guided me through a course load that included computer sciences, interpersonal communication and technical writing, all of which came in handy as I worked my way through my career.”

Yokers grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and knew he wanted to study communications in college. When he visited Ohio University and got a tour of the Radio and Television Building, he was sold.

“I saw the facilities at WOUB and ACRN.  There were wonderful opportunities for students.”

Yokers majored in electronic mass communications. He spent the first couple of years in Athens volunteering his time at ACRN, hosting music programs on the air and working as the traffic manager. The traffic manager helps to generate a daily log of programming elements such as commercials, features and public service announcements. The log defines when those elements will be aired.

“Managing traffic was great experience for me,” said Yokers. “I spent more of my time over at ACRN in the beginning. But junior year, on the advice of Archie Greer, I got more involved with WOUB in order to expand my experience.”

Yokers worked in the evenings and on the weekends on WOUB AM.

“I did an on-air shift playing music. I also took feeds from NPR,” said Yokers. “I think someone from the radio station in the Middleport/Pomeroy area, WMPO, heard me on the air at WOUB, and I was offered an evening announcer position there. A lot of Ohio University students would start there and move on.”

Yokers hosted the 6 p.m. to midnight shift at WMPO for the rest of his time at Ohio University and even stayed on for a short time after graduating. After leaving WMPO, between 1979 and 1985, Yokers worked as an announcer at radio stations in Columbus and New Lexington, Ohio, a media buyer at an advertising agency in Columbus, a traffic coordinator at WCMH TV in Columbus, and a traffic manager at WTNH TV in New Haven, Connecticut before landing at a company named Jefferson-Pilot Data Services, where he initially worked in systems installation and customer service, then product support, and finally as customer service manager.

“I worked my way into a career where I was the person who was in between the technical programmers and the customer experience. My technical writing and interpersonal communication courses at Ohio University really came into play,” said Yokers.

Clients of Jefferson-Pilot included: MTV Networks, USA Networks, BET, and large television groups such as Pulitzer Broadcasting, Scripps, and Post-Newsweek.

“I started traveling around the country installing computer systems at television and radio stations and left radio announcing behind.”

In 1993, Yokers was offered the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of developing the first high-power direct-broadcast satellite system – DIRECTV.

“I was part of the business launch team,” said Yokers. “Once launched in 1994, I managed all the data and event scheduling required for the ‘customer facing’ experience which included: the program guide, all pay per view movie offerings, all sports offerings, conditional access management which controls channel availability by subscription tier, NFL Sunday Ticket, sports blackouts, and all the cable network ‘pass-through’ such as CNN, ESPN and TNT.”

Yokers ability to talk to and understand the people on all sides of the media business helped bring the creators and the technical engineers together.

“In one room you would have people who were highly technical rocket scientists along with various creative department folks,” said Yokers. “My job was taking what the creative folks were coming up with and figure out how to have their ideas work through the satellite network. The creative folks would change their tactics sometimes. The technology guys don’t. In their minds, you launch a satellite, and it’s done. So, I had to figure out how to make these two different sides communicate and make the goals of the creative folks’ ideas fit the parameters set by the technical folks and vice versa. Then, I worked on setting up the back-office details, which was to figure out a way to maintain the data flow and schedules. The engineers wanted to create great stuff and then move on. Maintaining the day-to-day requirements was a detail to them.  That is where my niche was, and it was a business-critical function.”

During his years at DIRECTV, Yokers was involved in many major milestones for the company. In 1997, Yokers assisted with the Local-into-Local launch whereby DIRECTV would provide local television signals to their respective markets. In 1999 Yokers played a major role helping the launch of the ad sales initiative by supplying systems and manpower to insert ads on 115 channels, eventually generating yearly ad sales revenues of $1B. In 2001, he helped launch ‘infomercial channels’ from under-utilized bandwidth. In 2013, Yokers helped with the launch of ‘targeted advertising’ initiatives where ads would play from the in-home set top box and is a co-author on two patents regarding that project. And in 2015, he helped with the extension of ‘targeted advertising’ to include delivery of advertising via both satellite and cable providers using their set top boxes. Yokers retired from DIRECTV as vice president of traffic/scheduling systems in 2018.

“The groundwork for my career was definitely put in place at WOUB/ACRN. While I was at school, I also found these technical communication classes to be interesting and was lucky enough to be able to parlay that into a career,” said Yokers. “Experiential learning is extremely important. There is only so much theory that you can get while sitting in class and writing notes. But when you get in a real environment, some unique things can come up and hit you. You learn to think on your feet. You’re actually touching equipment on the air, making mistakes and learning from it. You have to figure out how to work in the real-world and then work to improve it.”