Holding Out for a Hero
May 29, 2015
"You're in radio, huh? Yeah, that must be fun. You know, I can talk. You should give ME a show. I'd be great."
I got that a lot when I was a program director. I got that from friends, acquaintances, all of them. I don't miss hearing that, because it always came from the perception that ANYBODY could be a radio star. After all, the only qualification you need, as far as they were concerned, is the ability to talk. There's nothing like having to hear people tell you, in effect, that they, and anyone else, could do your job.
We know that's not the case. Maybe anyone can speak, and I can imagine people thinking that reading a liner card doesn't require a LOT of talent, but doing a GOOD show requires a lot of work and ability. And doing a GREAT show takes a rare talent. And beyond that, the pressures of live entertainment and having to tend to a lot of things at once, especially if you're running your own board, take time and a lot of reps to master. And, finally, and most critically, you have to WANT to be in radio. Anyone thinks they can do it, but actually doing it requires making an effort. It's not something most people just fall into, like going into your dad's business, or settle on, like, oh, I don't know, do little kids want to be actuaries when they grow up?
I'm thinking about this because of the columns I've recently written about attracting new talent and how the fun in the business isn't what it used to be, and from a question I always ask in "10 Questions," namely, how you decided to go into the business. I should rephrase that question, because no matter how you THINK that went, the question really should be this:
Who was it?
Maybe you decided to do radio in college because the station was there and it seemed cool, or that you were in need of a job and there was an internship available, but I'm guessing that a large percentage of you started thinking about radio as a career before that, and because of someone you heard on the radio as a kid. You didn't decide to be a jock or talk host or sportscaster because of the frequency or transmitter location. You did it because you heard Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh or Mike and the Mad Dog or Vin Scully and thought, hey, I want to do that. You heard something between the records on a Top 40 station -- Ingram, Landecker, Morgan -- that you wanted to someday emulate. You heard a unique talent like Jean Shepherd or Phil Hendrie and something clicked in your brain. You heard Ira Glass or Alex Bennett or Neil Rogers or any number of people doing interesting things on the radio and wanted in. Everybody thinks they can do radio, but it's a smaller group that WANTS to do radio, and an even smaller group that wants to do it so badly that they'll do anything to get a foot in the door. Those are the people who wanted to be Howard or Rush or Lujack or Dr. Don. Those were... you. You had your hero-worship moment, and, eventually, you turned it into your career.
That, more than anything else, more than any other method of recruitment, is how radio has drawn talented people into its embrace. And that's now a lot more difficult, because a) there's less of that on the air, b) there's more competition, and c) now, truly, anyone CAN have a show. First, there are some great radio shows still on the air, and those are the ones that will inspire people to crack a mic and emulate them and try to do even better. That's good for the radio industry. But then, there are a zillion podcasts, and the best are inspiring, too. And since we now have the technology by which anyone with a computer -- scratch that, anyone with a smartphone -- can record and upload a podcast or stream a live show and instantly have it in people's ears (or eyes -- welcome, Periscope and Meerkat) worldwide, radio has to compete to attract that talent.
Which it can. How? Money, for one thing. Not everyone is entrepreneurial, and not everyone wants to work without the safety net of formal employment with benefits and a studio and office. And even some people who do their own podcasts would moonlight on terrestrial or satellite for pay, because, you know, digital dimes and all that. The downside is much less freedom on the content side, and that is a BIG concern; you hear the best podcasts unbleeped and unconcerned about having to be cleaner than family-friendly, and you don't want to have to constantly pull punches and watch your language and have one hand hovering over the delay button. On the other hand, money. There's always a trade-off.
And there's the challenge. Radio doesn't need to TEACH people about careers in the industry, it needs to make people want, desperately, to be in radio. The mystique of speaking over the vaunted airwaves to thousands of people pales in the age where teenagers have thousands of podcast listeners and social media followers. But there's still something about doing radio that can sound fun, exciting, interesting, engaging. I don't have all the answers, but if anyone's asking, I'd let more of radio's current talent free to be more creative and show talented young people that a career in this business is a special thing. It can still be exactly that.
There's no elegant segue into the plug for All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, or at least I'm too tired from the week to come up with one, so here it is, Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes, available now by clicking here. And there's the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item.
You can follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and my Instagram account (same handle, @pmsimon) as well? And you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and there's pmsimon.com, back in intermittent action.
And the weekly edition of Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities. I particularly recommend this week's Nerdist Podcast with Stephen Tobolowsky, character actor and one of the great storytellers of this era. (It's here.)
Time is going by very fast, so before I forget, I'll be attending Hivio next Thursday and Friday here in L.A., so if you're going to be there, say hi and... well, I don't know what I'll do. Probably say hi back, then awkwardly stand there. I'm good at that.