I’ve been reading blogs on the web and on Facebook asking, “What would you say to a person considering radio as a career?”. And, what follows, sadly is post after post after post from people who say, basically, “Don’t even bother trying.”
Now, I don’t agree with every decision that’s been made by the corporate biggies (though some of the changes over the years have had positive outcomes). Nor do I think the FCC has always ruled in the public interest. (I think to some degree, they threw the baby out with the bathwater in the 90’s rewrite of the Telecom Act.)
But, I have to take a stand here. What I’m reading on these blogs makes me feel that a lot of people are just, in effect, stepping on people’s dreams…because theirs didn’t necessarily turn out the way they hoped.
It’s not easy to get into broadcasting these days. Memo to both young…and old: IT NEVER WAS!
It’s not like it was “in the good old days” of slip cueing vinyl, loading carts into machines and 24 hour “live and local”. Agreed. But, some are seeing that, for their station or stations, some of what’s been done in consolidation needs to change. And others will, too…in the right situations.
The thing, I think, that a lot of people forget these days…is that radio, and television, too…was then and is now…still show business. For every person working in a broadcast station these days, there’s a hundred or more who would like those jobs. It’s always been that way. And, I don’t think that’s going to change. Just as for every person working on a network TV series or show, there’s hundreds of dishwashers in New York and L.A. trying to get one of those jobs.
Sadly, this business can be a “boulevard of broken dreams”. Just like show business.
People lament the “frightful insecurity” of this business. But, show me a business…any business…in America these days where job security is guaranteed.
There are ways, though to decrease the chances that the spotlight will fall on you at budget cutting time. If early on in one’s career, you learn everything you can learn about the business… Learn to be an on-air personality, learn to write a good, concise news story and how to properly deliver it. Learn to be a good audio editor, learn to write and produce good commercials. If you can do it all, and do it well, the chance that you will be a “statistic” on the “boulevard of broken dreams” will be minimal.
I’ve been in radio now for 39 years. I’ve only been officially unemployed for 7 days of those 39 years. Yes, that’s unusual. I know that, and I’m grateful for it. I did what I did and learned what I learned because I never took the attitude that I wanted to be just a “disc jockey”. I wanted to be a “broadcaster”.
I started out as a DJ in 1974. A few years later, I transitioned over to journalism as a radio news reporter, anchor and News Director. Did that for about 5 years. Didn’t like the job prospects in radio news after the FCC rule changes that took away the requirement for owners to pledge a percentage of air time for news and public affairs programming. So, I went back to being a jock . Then, I wanted to program stations. Did that twice and was successful as a PD. Got tired of the corporate BS in management and went back to being an “employee”.
Today, I work for Cox - a station group in a top 75 market where I get to use all my skills. I jock on a music station. I do mid-day news on a sister news-talker. I am part of the programming team. I produce spots and promos…and my voice is used as a commercial talent on our sister TV station. And, just to keep my programming “chops” up to speed, I volunteer as a program director for an LP-FM that has grown to about 100 underwriters in a small community nearby. I also teach radio broadcasting as a sideline. And, I even offer my services as a quasi-consultant for small town and small non-commercial stations whenever someone asks my opinion.
What do I tell students who tell me they want to get in the business? I tell them the truth. It’s not easy to get into. You’ll likely start part time. You may have to work two jobs (a full time and a part time one) to get by for a number of years. Or else, you’ll have to get creative and start your own DJ or voiceover business out of your home.
But, I also tell them if they apply themselves to the job, if they learn as a new employee and work hard to hone their skills and be willing to take every opportunity offered them to learn new things…they will eventually find success.
I tell them, though…to expect to be laid off or fired at least once in their lives. Maybe more than once. In this business, that’s not necessarily a sign of personal failure, One thing I’ve learned is that when one door closes, another opens and you have to be ready to walk through it when it does.
I tell them the truth about salaries in radio. Anywhere from about 20-grand on up. Get on a live morning show at a decently rated station in a decently sized market, and you can make from 50 grand on up. Become really big, and the sky’s the limit.
I tell them everyone who has made a career in this business has had their days when dinner was Campbell’s Soup and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. When “dinner out” was McDonalds and steak was out of the question. His politics aside, I tell them in the early 70’s Rush Limbaugh was a $150 a week (or thereabouts) disc jockey who certainly knew what it meant to not have a lot of money. But, he makes 20 million a year now…all because he can attract large numbers of people by talking on the radio. Howard Stern? Same, too.
Long ago when I was just out of high school, I knew a young guy who had followed my lead into the radio station I had helped to build there. Turns out he thought I was a pretty talented guy, followed my career and, years later I learned, really looked up to me. He followed me into the business. Today, he’s the PD of a major station in New York City.
I’m 57 today. And I know that kind of gig will now not likely ever come my way. But, I guarantee you, I go to sleep at night proud of him. And the fact that he scaled the heights of the business and made it to the rarified air of Gotham…and credits me with playing a small part in his success…makes me think that maybe I did accomplish something good in my life.
You see, I am a broadcaster. Not a “DJ”, a “news guy”, a “sales weasel” or a “suit”. I happen to think it’s a pretty noble occupation. I still believe in serving the public interest, convenience and necessity. And if I manage to entertain along the way, so much the better.
And for the next generation coming down the pike, I suggest they follow the wisdom of the late Mercury Astronaut (and astronaut “boss”), Donald K. “Deke” Slayton who once offered this advice to young people, “Decide what it is that you really want to do”, he said. “Then, never give up until you accomplish it.” You see, he had to work 18 years in his gig before he ever got to look at Earth from over 100 miles up.
I would respectfully submit, that a lot of people inside and outside the business would do well to encourage young people to go for the brass rings as far as they can grab them, rather than give advice steeped in the bitterness of “what once was” and “what might have been”. Success is not always a 7 or 8 figure bank account, a mansion or an expensive car. Sometimes, it’s just taking pride in what you do every day. And persistently knocking down the barriers that get in the way. I'm still the 13 year old radio geek you met way back when. I always dreamed of having a radio station in my bedroom to play with. I've kinda accomplished that. I'm programming an LP-FM and I program it from my office PC at home, and update it on the fly from a notebook computer I carry with me. I'm going to be helping a small, 550 watt non-comm class A FM soon. So I guess that makes me kind of a consultant....
A personal PS: Kevin is now looking at hitting his 40th year in radio next year, still loving this business, getting out of bed at 2:30 am for WHIO's morning show, teaching broadcasting several times a week). He says: "Maybe I have gotten to the point where I've made a difference. Hope so, anyway."