Fear of Failure
September 3, 2013
Being fired or unemployed in this business is a part of the culture and it is nothing to be ashamed of. The majority of what is happening to air personalities and station staff is purely a business model for overworking the existing and counting on listeners not to notice the watered-down product. None of the pink slips are due to malice by the companies or failure on the part of employees.
It never feels good to be fired; I was once let go three days before Thanksgiving and days before the ratings came back indicating a 13 share for my 6-10p shift. The reason, I naively looked to my PD for advice concerning a job offer and he took it to mean I was looking to leave. I found out later he had wanted to replace me with a friend of his and took our conversation to the GM and convinced him to make a move because I was about to leave. I felt like a failure because it was the first time I had ever been fired; convinced I had done something wrong, it took a couple of veteran air staffers to make me understand it was not a reflection of my work.
It was the first but not the last time I ever lost a job; one time a GM brought me into his office to let me know my contract was not being renewed because I was making too much. This is a recent e-mail from an industry survivor feeling like he failed and trying to take his radio career another direction.
I am in a transition period. I did afternoons for years at a Top 40 station in Baltimore and now I'm in the process of trying to do Talk radio. This is really different for me because it is a small station in a small town and I even have to sell time. I do two hours a day just before Rush Limbaugh. I take calls from listeners and have guests whenever I can book someone. Doing music radio was easy, but this has been hard on me and my family. Making the adjustment to Talk radio has caused me lots of anxiety and I'm scared I will not be able to be good at this. Talking for a few seconds or doing a fiv- minute interview is a lot easier then talking for two hours. Every day before I go on, I freeze up and wonder if I will go blank when I interview a guest. Sometimes I find myself waiting to talk rather than listening to my guest.
The reason I took this job was because I haven't been able to find anything in any music formats and this Talk thing just sort of popped up. I sent in an aircheck of me reading news, talked to the owner/GM, and the next thing I know I got the job. All my buddies have wondered what happened to me. I am a little embarrassed and that's why I will not tell you the city or station I am now at. I want to get better at this. but I am not sure of what I am doing or my next step.
Coach: First of all stop feeling embarrassed, you found a job in radio and are trying something different. Your radio friends would understand and admire the fact you are working again. It sounds like you have a fear of failing and need reminding it's all the same; regardless of the format, all you need is a microphone and listeners. It is a matter of transferring the skills you used in top 40 to Talk radio. And you mentioned something that separates a good Talk show host from a bad one; instead of waiting to talk, you have to listen. An interview is nothing more than a conversation between two people. Learn to ask concise questions; there's nothing worse than an interviewer voicing a long comment and asking the guest to comment on what he or she just said. In everyday life, people who do that sort of thing are considered windbags and no one ever remembers most of what they say. Were you successful in your last job at the Top 40 station?
I did afternoons for more than eight years and my shift was in the top five 18-34 for six of them. I was a victim of cutbacks.
Coach: Well it sounds like you did well and losing the job had to do with economics and not performance. Many studies have shown the most successful employees are those who consistently get ahead, create value for their company, and are well-liked. You know what to do, but have not mentally transferred your skills from the Top 40 job to this one. Do not let this window of opportunity close; this is a chance to get into a profession with more longevity than any music format. You did not fail in your last job; your employer decided to view you as a widget and decided you were no longer necessary for their strategic plan. In our current economy this sort of thing has become too common place for many people.
Part of your problem with your new job is the old job; completely divorce yourself from the experience. Now let's work on applying all the skills you have acquired over the years to become comfortable as a talk show host. I suggest you get a copy of a book, "Heat and Light," written by Mike Wallace and Beth Knobel. Much of it is about journalism, but it covers interviewing techniques. As you search for a comfortable style, study other successful interviewers. By the way, you can Google archived shows of present and past Talk show hosts, including Larry King back in his Mutual of Omaha radio days. You are to be admired for finding a new direction to stay in this business. Just remember, show prep is the same no matter what format and get it through your head two hours of talk is merely an expansion on short-form interviews. I have confidence you will figure things out and have success in Talk radio.