Typical teenagers don’t get to interview hundreds of celebrities like Katie Couric, Shaquille O’Neal, Ed Sheeran, Steven Tyler, Ben Carson, Helen Mirren, and Gloria Steinem. But Pavlina Osta is not your typical teenager. Pavlina has been hosting her own radio talk show since she was 11. Now 18, her show is syndicated to 17 radio stations around the U.S., including on I-Heart Radio and the Genesis Communications Network. On November 22 and 23, she broke the Guinness World Record, holding the most interviews – 347 – in a 24-hour period.
We turned the tables on Pavlina, asking her to answer our My Career Choice questions.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I was a street performer when I was first exposed to radio. I would play my steel drums on the beach, on the street, in front of a Starbucks, at farmers markets – everywhere in Daytona Beach. I was 10 years old at the time and radio stations saw me and interviewed me, sometimes on location and sometimes at the radio stations. They were nice in a mouth-y sort of way…I would say two words and they’d say fifty in two seconds! You don’t talk much while playing steel drums, plus, I spent about 20 hours a week at my ballet which is not a talkative place. So, the radio people sort of fascinated me, and talking in front of the mic–well, that was fun!
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
After being interviewed for a dozen or so radio interviews, a manager at one of the stations thought I should have my own show. I started my show, but I still didn’t think I’d ever slow down on my dancing. I wanted to be a dancer on Broadway; that was my big dream. The appealing thing about radio was how fast paced it was. There was so much going on in a small area. I liked it and wanted to keep doing my show and to get better at doing it. I liked talking to people and the mic was great. I loved talking on the radio. It was magic!
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I didn’t have any training. I just learned by making mistakes and learning from them.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
My parents were encouraging but they never got involved. Everyone else from school to people I knew, I can’t say there was a lot of encouragement. After interviewing singer/songwriter Jack Johnson at the Amway Center in Orlando he gave me tickets to his show. I said I couldn’t because I had ballet practice. After the interview, I quickly changed in the car into my ballet clothes and ran to dance class. The ballet teacher was mad that I was late. I told her that I had been interviewing Jack Johnson. She made a face, saying she had never heard of him and warned me not to be late again. The same thing happened when I interviewed Neil Sedaka. To this day, I can hear the teacher sneering at me and the kids laughing in the background. I learned to separate my radio world from school and dance. A few years later, I was so excited I forgot to do that. I had just interviewed Gloria Steinem and was bursting to tell my history teacher. I mean, I remember Gloria is in the history books. Once again, it was a mistake to mention my interview to the teacher. So it took a while before anyone could convince me that I could combine school and career.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
I didn’t doubt my decision, I just always wished I had some help along the way. Like I said, my parents were never actively involved. No one ever went backstage with me, not my parents or a videographer so I had to ask the band members how to adjust my camera or the best ways for light because I found out that there’s always a camera geek in the band. Filming was interesting because I didn’t have a tripod so I had to grab a tour manager, or publicist, or someone working at the venue to film. This turned out ok but sometimes they didn’t know how to operate the camera. So I never doubted my decision about staying in radio. I just wanted someone I could talk to who could help me do things better.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
My schedule was really tough – I was in fifth grade, and balancing a lot of extracurricular activities. I spent about 20 hours a week in dance, two nights a week in gymnastics and two to three times a week with karate getting ready to start my second degree black belt. But, it got worse the following year because the ballet teacher was just short of violent if I missed the Saturday class. (My radio show was live and on Saturday.) This was the first time I had to choose and I chose what I loved more than anything – dance! But, I was sort of stubborn and didn’t want to give up radio. So I figured that maybe I could do interviews on location like the radio people who interviewed me. I didn’t ask anyone how to do this though. Which is a big mistake – always ask for help if you don’t know how to do something.
A music festival came to town and a lot of girls skipped school to see Kevin Jonas. By the time I arrived, there was a huge group of screaming girls and a lot of confusion. I jumped into this area of girls and was led back to the meet and greet area. I didn’t want to meet Kevin Jonas – I wanted to interview him. All I could think was how to keep my radio show going and this might be the only way. It worked and I learned a really big lesson that day – how to make things happen no matter what. While everyone else was caught up in the moment, I learned what I wanted from the event – the interview – and separated myself mentally from everyone else my age. That would save me so many times when I stood in front of the Secret Service to interview presidential candidates or backstage waiting to interview a musician while there was a drug binge going on or having casino employees walk me back for an interview where it was totally illegal to have me there. I never abused the situation, but I was determined to interview whomever I was there to see. Maybe people understood that I wasn’t going to be bullied. The important thing was I did what I came there to do.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I remember I was told by my producer at the time not to interview NASCAR Jeff Gordon or Singer Chris Daughtry even though I had scheduled interviews. She said to cancel them because neither of these celebrities were in my “radio audience.” I didn’t listen and did the interviews anyway. So I listen but I don’t always follow the advice given to me. That was a pretty big challenge because I put my trust in a professional and to go against that at my age was a little daunting.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
I’d have to say listening – ha ha. Really, though I listen to those around me and listen to those I’m interviewing so it can be a good interview. But when you listen to advice around you, you need to still be able to have yourself in the equation. The skill to have is owning what you do – make it yours. This skill I took from years of dance. You can watch and do choreography for months and if you don’t make the dance your own then you’re just part of the crowd. So the best skill than I have or anyone should have for that matter, is “owning” your own look and presentation and that requires listening to others but to your own self too.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m probably most proud of my Guinness World Record. Not just because it was difficult but also because most people didn’t think I could do it. I remember the videographer preparing me a statement speech if I didn’t succeed. Trust me, that did not help my mojo that day, but in a way it made me more determined so maybe he did me a favor.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
I think teens should know that the only person who will get you a job is you. You can’t just sit there and wait for your application to be looked at or for someone to notice you. You have to actively go out and find the people you want to work for. Are they going to refuse you? Probably, but don’t take it personally. Keep at it and if they don’t see your potential then look for someone who does. You need to make the job yourself, create YOU, create your product and market YOU. You are the entity unto yourself. I get really mad when people say they put applications in for a job, and they did all the standard ways of applying. No one wants standard. Steve Forbes told me when I was 14 years old to be a risk taker. I never forgot that.
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