Good Times, Bad Times
March 30, 2012
Last Tuesday, I spent the afternoon in a room full of media people who were bullish on their future. On Thursday, we had to report on a wave of layoffs. Guess which medium was which?
Trick question. Same thing. (Unless you don't think of streaming audio or podcasts as the same thing as radio, but that's a matter of monikers; as several panelists said on Tuesday, radio, and streaming, and anything else audio are morphing into a new buzzword, "trans-media." It's why some companies are dropping "radio" from their names. Certainly, the distinction is lost on the general public, which just listens to what they like and doesn't worry about names)
We're at a strange moment in radio's history, and the dichotomy between the positive vibes of a seminar on the future of online audio and the heads rolling at stations across the nation is striking. Stranger still, some of the same companies involved in the former are involved in the latter, too. The messages are mixed. The future's so bright, but the present isn't.
And both are true to some degree. Listening to online stuff is up, and it's safe to assume that within a reasonably short time, online listening will represent a significant percentage of overall audio entertainment consumption. (Ask Pandora and they'll say it's already there) But the revenues, while rising, can't yet support the kind of staffing you'd have with a traditional station. Meanwhile, there are bills to be paid and debt to be serviced and investors to make happy, and if you're spending all that money on operating both terrestrial and digital stations and apps and websites and revenue isn't growing the way Wall Street likes, what do you do? The ax comes out and heads roll. And that's how you get sunny skies on Tuesday and a hurricane on Thursday.
That's also cold comfort -- no comfort -- to the people who got the bad news this week. I'm running out of things to say to the newly unemployed in the business, other than what I always say: Have faith, be persistent, work your networks... and, more importantly than ever, consider Plan B, whatever it is. The future of radio jobs is some combination of online and terrestrial, but the fact is that the future is going to involve even fewer jobs, if we define "jobs" as when someone else hires you to do a specific set of tasks. We can decry the loss of localization all we want, and the cuts in news departments and traffic and local personalities, and we'd be right, but none of that is likely to come back to traditional radio in any big way. On the other hand, the digital world is awesome for allowing creative people to be creative and for offering a blank slate for enterpreneurs to develop their own things. Can you do that? Are your talents suited for, say, starting your own website or podcast or offering freelance reporting or voicetracking services? What, in short, are your unique qualities that you can use to independently make things happen for you? That doesn't mean you can't and shouldn't look for another job, but if you can make your own way, the opportunities are more numerous. Just don't expect the bucks to roll in all that quickly, not yet. And if that means you need a "day job," too, well, you do what you need to do to pay the rent and put food on the table.
The saddest part of this for me, though, is that I know that I can take much of this column, file it away, and pull it back out in the not-too-distant future for another wave of firings. All I can say to those who escaped this round is that it's not a bad idea to start preparing now for that eventuality. Even if you don't need it, you can't go wrong by having another career path -- call it an escape route if you must -- planned out, just in case the Promised Land of Online Riches is further away than you'd hope.
Meanwhile, many -- most -- of you still have a show to do. And to helo you do it, there's Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, has hundreds of topic ideas and news stories and kicker items available for free by clicking here; all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. This week, we have a candid and customarily witty "10 Questions With..." Dennis Miller, who's celebrating five years as a syndicated talk host (now with Dial Global) this week, and you'll also find the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook with my personal accounts at @pmsimon and www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and read the pop culture stuff I write and edit over at Nerdist.com. Here comes another PLUG ALERT!: The Nerdist Channel is officially launching programming on Monday (4/2), with a lineup of shows with folks like Neil Patrick Harris and Weird Al Yankovic and many more; Read about the lineup here and subscribe to the channel to get immediate updates on new shows as they post. Exciting!
Once again, I'm grateful to those of you who have donated to my annual walk to raise money for the fight against women's cancer at the Revlon Run/Ralk for Women here in L.A. on May 12th (thank you notes still coming; it's been one of those weeks). Wait, you haven't donated? Do it! Go to do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2012 and give what you can. It will be appreciated and will go to a great cause. Thank you!