Tales Of A Downsized Radio Personality
March 3, 2015
One of my favorite movies is "The Company Men" featuring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson. The story focuses on a group of executives at a shipping company in Massachusetts, and how the recession of the last decade not only hurt the company, but also resulted in the downsizing of many of their careers and lifestyles. Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a typical hot-sho, know-it-all Sales Manager who laughs at his own jokes and walks around bragging about his golf scores and personal status.
One morning, Walker is called into a meeting with HR and informed that he has been downsized. Bobby cuts off the legal team's explanation of his severance package and ends up cursing out everybody in the room. A few days later, his former manager sets up a lunch meeting to offer his assistance. Walker ends up insulting the man and threatens to steal all his accounts. He devotes a good amount of his personal time leaving nasty and obscene messages to the HR department that downsized him. Bobby Walker could not believe this was happening to him.
I had a Bobby Walker moment right before Christmas in 2012. I was almost on autopilot as I was working from my home office on a Friday, and waiting for the clock to hit 4p. For five years, I had been on a pretty set schedule. During the weekday, I would work whatever "real" job I had -- usually as a headhunter and recruiter -- until I opened my own home-based company in 2011. But every Friday for five years, I would leave my office at 4p exactly, and drive to the cluster of stations I worked at. At 5p, I was the studio producer for a live broadcast with a local or national act for our Alternative station. I also voicetracked Sunday nights and fill-in shifts at the station, so, I usually followed the session with a weekly aircheck session with my PD or APD.
After the air check, I had hours of production to do for the Alternative and Hot AC stations. From 6 until 8p, I would edit out-of-market voicetracks that came in for both stations, making sure not only that the elements matched up, but that there were no obvious mistakes (saying the wrong call letters was a common error). From 8p until midnight, I ran the board for a live club broadcast on the Hot AC station, while continuing to edit the voicetracks that were arriving, and monitoring all of the various stations in the building. And if it was available, and if time remained, I would then record my pre-recorded Sunday night broadcast. If the tracks were not accessible, I would drive back on Sunday afternoon to finish the task, and would monitor the radio stations in the building until midnight. I was a big part of voicetracked radio in the new dawn!
However, one particular Friday would not be typical. I received a phone call from my OM, informing me that my name was placed on a list of former employees. After asking several times, I was told multiple times that the decision was strictly based on a nationwide company downsizing, and not my work. After a conference call with Human Resources, I was given information on a severance package and was told I had the opportunity to be rehired in the future. I was shell-shocked after five years of loyal service to the company.
When I hung up the phone that morning, I was facing a Bobby Walker dilemma. No longer bound by the protocol and corporate handcuffs the station's owners had placed on me, I had several avenues to choose from. I could easily go on one of the many social websites started by other bitter former employees and join in the bashing. I could send a mass e-mail to all my listeners and friends and organize a boycott of the radio station. Maybe I could send an e-mail to all of my former bosses and let them know how wrong the decision was, and I could add on a list of complaints without worrying about any corporate repercussion. So many choices ... but the first action that I took wasn't even on this radar. The first thing I did once the call ended was to take a deep breath.
Bobby Walker would have called me a complete sellout, but my first plan of action was to reach out to all of my recent managers, including the OM, who was given the unfortunate task of breaking the bad news to me. I sent a series of e-mails thanking them for all that they had done to further my career, mentioned what an honor I felt it was working with them, and asked if they would assist me in finding a new position. I received a series of positive and touching e-mails in return, all thanking me for all I'd done and offering their assistance in any way possible. I've since maintained professional and personal relationships with all of them.
My second step was to reach out to every person in the radio industry I had met, worked with, befriended or networked with since I began my media journey 20 years earlier. I wanted them to know that I was looking for a new position and to keep their eyes open for me.
Then came the very interesting procedure of looking for my next gig. I started a spreadsheet (which I still use today) of radio stations in a designated geographical area that I wanted to work for. I used my free time to research PDs, contact e-mails and phone numbers. I sent out very brief introductions about myself, my history and why I wanted to work for their station. I included a recent air check and resume in my e-mail.
As responses came back, I included the notes in my spreadsheet. I even created a categorized color code indicating stations that only voicetrack, stations that have no current openings, and PDs that want me to reach out to them soon. I sent many follow-up e-mails and built many new relationships in this small world we call radio. The shock suddenly became excitement and liberation!
My story has various happy endings, as I returned to the airwaves at a new radio station just eight days after leaving my former company. The person who contacted me was somebody I had worked with 15 years prior. A month later, and following an All Access "On The Beach" interview, I was hired off-air by a former station... a competitor of the station that downsized me. Just a month later, I interviewed for the weekly on-air gig I have had since!
And, without spoiling too much of the movie I talked about, Bobby Walker loses his Porsche, house and most of his dignity in the middle of the movie! Search hard, but search smartly!