Thursday, October 13, 2005

With Further Consolidation On The Horizon...

There is a hidden cost to the hyper-change going on in our industry (see Digital "RadioIQ" below) and managing the not-so-subtle personnel, human, effects of merger-mania, consolidation and bringing upwards of 45% to the bottom line with the justification 'that's what we have to do to pay for this of rapid growth' may determine success or failure in tomorrow's radio business. It is a loss of passion among our worker bees.

Small and medium market managers have been complaining for almost a decade about the almost impossible task of finding qualified air talent. The former entry level jobs - small markets and overnights - are increasingly filled by satellite and syndication. As a result, the career path from Youngstown to New York for jocks is less clear-cut.

Imus started in Palmdale. He also got fired in Palmdale. But, today, would there even be a job like the one Imus used to hone his personna?

Major market air personalities come increasingly from show biz, the local club scene, comedy and TV as often as they do from medium markets. Largely, this is due to the fact that today's media-hip media consumer cares more about 'content' than 'professionalism.' Taking five years in small and medium markets to learn to operate a board smoothly and sound like a DJ just isn't required. Being real, compelling, having something to say and a point of view is the prime skillset needed by air people today. That traditional climb up the ladder of market size to the big jobs of the past tended to squelch the abilities we need most right now.

These facts aren't lost on young people who are our interns and broadcast school wannabees. The people who work weekends for our companies, who report the traffic on our radio stations, who toil the nightshift waiting for a fulltime gig to open up are spreading the word -- radio isn't a career path. They tell the kids who hang around the station that the owners are greedy and unappreciative, isolated and uncaring.

So, what else is new? That's exactly what Chuck Crouse told me almost 45 years ago when I was a teenager hanging around WSOM, Salem, Ohio, and he was doing nights there. (Today, he's the owner of WLNE, Kane, PA.)

Low pay and no benefits are not new phenomena in our industry. High risk jobs are the ones with high reward, and that factor is what makes the white water that is the radio business to fun and challenging. Perhaps that is what makes the kind of people who are drawn to our business so unique and special.

However, optimism, hope and passion for the fun of the job -- the incubators of creativity - are being drawn out of many employees today like a heat sink by overwhelming demands and pressures. More responsibility, less control.

This atmosphere is making zombies out of our midday jocks, copywriters, office staff and production directors who tell me as I visit clients that ownership's attitude is often perceived to be: "if you do a great job your reward is that you get to keep your job."

The radio companies who are making the most money in three years will be the ones who know how to keep all three - profits, fun and passion - growing.

Employees who prosper in the next three years will be the ones who inoculate themselves against the "us vs. them" virus. Understand that happiness is in your head and we are all in business for ourselves. The only person who can motivate you is YOU.

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