Wed. Jul 18th, 2018

The Cold Dose of Radio Reality

It’s hard sometimes not to become jaded if you work in the radio business. The more time you spend time in it, the more you discover that it’s not just about watching and talking about sports. The newspapers and industry trades at times paint a gloomy picture of what’s happening, leaving you to wonder about the stability of your career. Then as you improve at your craft and command more respect and warrant higher compensation, you learn why the word ‘business’ is included in your industry’s profile description.

One of the most common mistakes people make in radio is believing that their contributions to a company entitles them to something greater. Managers believe the brands they run are ‘their radio stations’ and the hosts, producers and contributing members all feel their presence and value to a brand is vital and difficult to replace. Their contributions certainly do matter, especially to those they work with, but in the grand scheme of everything, we’re all still replaceable parts. Some may have greater value, but none of us are irreplaceable.

How many times have you heard someone who’s young and on the way up in their career complain about the money, long hours, and lack of attention they receive from their employer? There’s this belief that their hard work should be recognized, radio should reward its people better, and more TLC should be provided by bosses.

It might be a wise thing to do if you want to retain good employees, but does an employer owe you that? They do not. A company’s primary responsibility is to make sure your check clears every two weeks, and provide you with access to the building to showcase your talent either on-air or behind the scenes during the hours you’re assigned to work.

If you’re smart, you’ll appreciate and take advantage of every single rep because experience benefits you no matter where you go in the future. As we all know, the only thing guaranteed in radio is that something will eventually change. Many people desire to work in this industry, so there’s always going to be someone standing behind you wanting what you have and willing to accept the position at a fraction of the cost.

Too often I hear complaints about the way companies operate. A host may not like what they’re being asked to focus on from a content standpoint or they may feel restricted from using specific words or tackling certain stories. Producers bitch about the pay, demands of the job, and hours involved to tackle each task. Programmers become frustrated when companies push self-serving initiatives on them, market managers meddle with their product, and corporate folks limit their ability to hire or retain good people.

In many cases I’ve agreed with their concerns, but whether I think they’re right or not, it’s still about convincing those above you to reevaluate a situation because they ultimately have the final say. There is no Mr. Cumulus, Mr. Entercom or Mr. iHeart standing in your way. There are people tasked with representing each company and looking out for its business interests, even if it means halting your plans and complicating your situation.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with some really great people but I’ve also dealt with some shady characters too. Over the past ten years I’m not sure our industry has improved the way it treats its own people. I see too many instances where people perform higher than expected and still lose their jobs over money.

There have also been instances that I’ve experienced firsthand as an entrepreneur which leave a sour taste in my mouth. I’ve done favors for market managers and executives only to have emails ignored afterwards. I’ve witnessed programmers act in cowardly fashion, threatening employees over contributing a piece of content to the BSM website. I’ve had hosts reveal serious issues, only to ignore the advice, and not address it with their employers, and then complain again months later when the same issue pops up.

What you need to remember if you’re working as a host or behind the scenes employee is that your employer is paying you to harness your talent, connect with an audience, sell their advertiser’s products, and extend your resume. By doing so, they’re giving you the chance to increase the viability of your personal brand, and place yourself in position to benefit from the experience you’ve accrued. Maybe it will be with the same radio company. Maybe it won’t.

For those involved on the managing end, there’s a different message that needs to be understood. The station you manage may be part of your identity, and you may love it dearly, but it is not your property. The company owns the brand, you simply operate it. The day you leave, the show goes on. You may not like the direction of where the ship sails next, but it’s no longer your ship to steer when you take your hands off the wheel.

Executives sometimes get caught up in the moves a station makes after they’ve left, and they forget that the choices they made while in control aren’t guaranteed to remain permanent. I’ve gone thru it myself a few times. You can feel differently about the way an operation is being run, and want to rescue what you perceive as ‘your brand’, but all that matters in the end are the results, and how the people involved respond to the new path forward.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over time it’s that there are many different paths and styles to enjoy success. You may have to change a few parts to fit a new vision, but a good brand with good people serving a good audience will always find a way to remain relevant and successful.

Because so many people involved in the radio business have passion and love for the work they do, they struggle to cut the cord. The station and staff become part of your heart and soul, and although you may care more about what happens to them than a CEO sitting in a boardroom examining the brand’s profitability, it’s not your choice to make. They made the financial investment in the station, you didn’t. That gives them the right to run it however they see fit.

The point behind this column isn’t to cast a black cloud over the industry, it’s to provide you with a cold dose of reality. Radio is a business, but the line of work you do is special. The people around you share a similar enthusiasm for sports, and it’s a common bond which brings us all together to distract us from the pressures we face each day in life. Yes it’s a job, but it’s a rewarding one whether you’re making $8 an hour or seven figures.

We all have opinions about the pros and cons of this business. The industry will never satisfy 100% of us. Some operators will do things to make employees feel essential to their success. Others may not. You can waste a lot of energy worrying about everything under the sun or ask yourself two questions: “Do I feel a connection to the job in my heart, mind and soul?” and “Is it a career worth investing myself in for the long haul?”

If the answer is yes, then that should be plenty enough reason to continue doing it. If you’re still unfulfilled and feel you need more control, then there’s a solution – buy a radio station. Then, and only then, is the station and each decision truly yours.

4 thoughts on “The Cold Dose of Radio Reality

  1. I really appreciate this article as someone who has worked as a Producer, On Air Host, and previously as a Programming Operations Manager, Sales Rep, and Commercial Traffic Manager. One of the most difficult experiences of my professional life was when upper management ordered a programming change that didn’t just undo years of time and work investment in the on air product but kicked to the curb most of the on air hosts. But that extreme change was made for the same reason as other changes happen everywhere: Profit vs Expense. I’ve been involved with programming changes twice in my 12 years in radio and both times I was tasked to help usher in the change because the previous group were unable to maximize the on air product to make the company money. I find numerous on air personalities and programming Managers do not value or place proper emphasis on helping the company meet their financial goals. There’s this selfish, narrow minded perspective of “well I’m putting on a great product, the sales people should be able to sell it!”. There lacks in my stations true communication between programming and sales, they are almost advisories and view each other as “the problem”. I find that the most successful radio properties are the companies where the programming works with the business side so everyone can profit. We did that at my previous radio job and I’m proud that when I left that company after 9 years that it was in a better place than when I started there nor did anyone there bail when things got tough. I wish more organizations would understand and value everyone in the company, not just the “stars” who get all the FaceTime while the real works prop up their place in the company. Teamwork is undervalued in many industries

  2. I took your advice 20 years ago! That’s why I bought my station in Baltimore in 1998. That’s why I’m still crushing it in 2018 😉 Always enjoy your work, Jason.

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