Desk Jobs Never Have, Never Will Suit Irwin

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 118 views 

Jennifer Irwin has been seen, heard or read in Northwest Arkansas for almost two decades.

“I feel like I’ve gotten good use out of my degree,” she recently concluded.

Irwin, a Dallas native, earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas in 1994.

She got her foot in the door in the local media industry almost immediately, and has since made a name for herself.

And whether it’s been her work in television, radio or magazines, or by emceeing any number of community events, she became one of the area’s mini-celebrities.

She said during a recent interview being out and about in the community is something that’s always come naturally.

“I don’t think I could ever have a desk job,” she said. “I’ve been so fortunate to always have a job that’s sort of out and about with other people in the community. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

Irwin has been director of leadership and external communications for the last four years at the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, one of the state’s largest chamber organizations with nearly 1,200 members.

She was 30 when she was included in the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s 2001 Forty Under 40 class, an up-and-comer as promotions manager at local NBC television affiliate Arkansas’ NBC 24/51.

She accepted an entry-level job at the station just two days after graduating from the UA, and remained there until summer 2003, eventually adding spokesperson and reporter to her list of duties.

Feeling as if she may have topped out there, Irwin left to take a job managing the corporate fundraising efforts at Walton Arts Center.

The move was fortuitous as far as Irwin is concerned. Three weeks after taking the WAC job, Nexstar Broadcasting Inc. bought the television station, setting of a domino effect of personnel moves that may have well sent Irwin on her way.

“I may have been looking for a job anyway,” she recalled. “I was promotions manager, and [Nexstar] eventually replaced all the managers.”

In 2005, Irwin began hosting a morning radio show for KYNF-FM, 94.9, owned by Cumulus Broadcasting Inc.

Combined with her job at WAC — which was becoming more about soliciting sponsorships rather than maintaining them — Irwin was often working 12-hour days.

“That’s a long day,” she said.

A change, she said, was needed. She decided to leave WAC in summer 2007 and focus a bit more on the radio job, which was still part-time.

Later that fall, she added to her plate when she accepted an offer to join the staff of Celebrate Arkansas magazine as social editor.

While developing content for the monthly publication, she continued to work mornings for KYNF.

That changed in February 2008 when Irwin joined the morning talent lineup at competing station KEZA-FM, “Magic” 107.9, owned by San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications.

She eventually left Celebrate Arkansas and was a full-time radio personality, but in summer 2009 she joined the Fayetteville chamber on a part-time basis, working there three afternoons each week.

“I was getting finished at the radio station at 11 or 11:30 every morning, and found myself not being very productive the rest of the day,” she joked. “I’m the type of person who needs something to do. I need structure.”

In November 2011, the chamber offered Irwin a chance to join the organization on a full-time basis.

“After six years of getting up early in the mornings [to do radio] and doing all the remotes and weekend stuff, the timing was right for me to take it,” she said.

Irwin said she is passionate about directing the chamber’s various leadership initiatives. There are programs in place for business leaders at different levels of their careers, as well as for Fayetteville students ranging from kindergarten to high school.

“Those programs are stronger than ever,” she said.

Irwin, a recruitment advisor for Chi Omega at the UA, is a board member for several organizations including Life Styles Inc., Ozark Guidance Center and the Northwest Arkansas Tourism Association.

Irwin said she entertained the thought of moving back to Dallas “a couple of times” but the pull of Northwest Arkansas always won out.

“There’s just no place like Fayetteville,” she said. “This area has given me opportunity after opportunity, and I’ve never had a job I didn’t like.”