For the past half-dozen years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with college students looking for a career in radio. It’s made me think about my own radio career and college education. Let me share with you some observations.
Recruit in High School
Most of the people I know who got into radio did what I did, built a radio station in their parent’s home and began broadcasting to their neighborhood. I did that in the 7th grade; junior high school. By the time I was in the 10th grade in high school I had earned my 3rd Class Radiotelephone Operators License, Broadcast Endorsed from the Federal Communications Commission, got my work permit from my state government and was working weekends at one of my local commercial radio stations.
Students today are more advanced than I was when I was their age, yet the broadcasting industry doesn’t start recruiting these days until young people are getting ready to graduate college. Why?
So many radio jobs I post on my “Sales Jobs Board” require a bachelor’s degree. Why?
My entire radio career I had a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and not one broadcasting company I worked for ever asked me about them. It wasn’t until I pursued teaching at my current university that anyone ever asked about my degrees or to provide them with copies of my transcripts showing my GPA – I graduated Magna Cum Laude as an undergrad and was president of my college Honors Society and my GPA in grad school was a 4.0, a perfect score.
Close to 2 million students are today graduating with their bachelor’s degree and sadly are working at Starbucks just like they were before they earned their degree and amassed a ton of student loan debt.
And when I think about it, that’s what I did too. I went from working in radio part-time to pay for college and then upon graduation from graduate school went into radio full-time as a program director/operations manager/air talent. The big exception being I did it with no student loan debt because college was more affordable then than it is today.
I’m not saying a college education isn’t important; it broadens you in ways that don’t pay an immediate return on your investment. In college I really came alive as a student and developed the love of life-long learning. However, nothing I learned in college meant a hill of beans to my career in radio.
I learned programming and operations through regional and national broadcast conferences and by doing the job.
I learned sales, sales management and general management by more regional and national sales conferences plus the radio company I went to work for in sales was a very immersive sales learning environment. We were members of the Radio Advertising Bureau and the International Broadcasters Idea Bank and my owner took his entire sales/management team to learn from every sales trainer that got with a hundred miles of our property.
Just In Time Learning
What I had was basically a form of “just in time learning.” Just as manufacturers learned not to stock parts but to have them arrive at just the moment they were needed in the manufacturing process, is exactly how I learned the radio business, one piece at a time from the ground up.
The way higher education is today is like stocking parts in the days of manufacturing yore. So much knowledge is acquired that may never be used or when it is needed may be sorely out-of-date.
Our 20th Century higher education system simply wasn’t designed to deliver what’s needed in a 21st Century world.
Where to Find Radio Talent
If you want to find radio talent you should be in the high schools, middle schools and elementary schools of your community. I really believe you can’t start too young in cultivating the radio talent you will need in the future. But waiting until our youth graduate college is simply too late.
Economically, this makes sense for both radio operators as well as students. A young person graduates high school with zero student loan debt; unlike a college student that accrues tens of thousands of debt in college.
As your young employee grows, your radio station could then support more formal education with your local community college, university or professional training through broadcasting’s professional organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters or the Radio Advertising Bureau. When the student is ready, the additional education is provided.
Wharton & Wizard Learning
I paid to attend the Wharton School in Philadelphia as part of the RAB’s Sales Management Training; training so good that I used it for the rest of my professional radio management career and at the university in my classrooms.
Roy H. Williams’ Wizard Academy was inspirational, motivational and exceptional in learning more about selling radio and writing persuasively (something not taught in colleges, except in my sales classes).
Degrees, Wisdom or Experience
Colleges and universities have no metric for wisdom or experience when it comes to hiring/retaining professors. They hire/retain based on degrees, not experience or wisdom or teaching ability.
Broadcasters could care less about degrees, what they care about is results. If you’re an air talent, can you get ratings? If you’re a sales person, can you make sales? Those are the things that are important to broadcasters.
Where once upon a time universities were measured by enrollment numbers, the metric is moving to one of graduating students and improving the graduation rates; which were anywhere from 27% to 60% for students graduating after six years at four year institutions.
Colleges need to change the way they hire/retain faculty in the 21st Century as the focus goes to getting results versus just filling seats in classrooms.
Unfortunately while what employers’ needed never perfectly aligned with what a college education prepared graduates’ skills for; the mismatch in 2016 has reached a tipping point. All the more reason that the broadcast industry needs to re-think how it recruits talent and when it begins the process.
Broadcasting is a great business, but it’s a people business that needs to attract talent to stay great.
8 responses to “Where You Should Be Recruiting Radio Talent”
An excellent perspective from the Professor who’s done & seen it all! Radio is a Life Skill. Depending on circumstance, it can start anytime from childhood or later in life. Passion, caring and practice makes perfect. After a lifetime of show prep and 50 years on air, I’m still at it ’til I get it right.
Adaptive radiation demands daily updates. Survival of the fittest is constant awareness. My start was learning to walk with a microphone hooked to Grandpa’s big AM/FM/Phono speaker, followed by visits to every available live NYC TV kids show.
From kindergarten through high school, it was all PA, MC, sports announcing and newspaper writing until July, 1966 at WBIS-AM 500w D, Bristol, CT. From my childhood Yorkville apartments, I listened everywhere to find major league baseball and become exposed to hit music & iconic broadcasters.
Those of us in our 60’s were there in the ’60s to be part of the FM Revolution, build a 3kw stereo college station (WWUH, West Hartford), cue records, read teletype news, and do real radio as AM progressed from reel-to-reel to carts. It was live and local, creative and fun.
Two generations later, radio faces cross roads and cross hairs. One person with a mike can still perform magic; now with multiple channel http://www.delivery. News sources, remote studios, eager minds and thousands of super hits from all genres are at our disposal. Sadly, opportunities, mentors, creators and developers are in short supply.
Radio needs change with constant “Refresh.” Owners must encourage and the money folks must understand R & D is essential to drive audience & income. Great radio / audio delivery isn’t necessarily costly. Too many broadcasters have all the shiny new objects with nobody home.
The audience wants creativity that’s being held back. Advertisers want to reach the audience but doesn’t understand digital is an outstanding connector that’s nothing without content. Big dollars are being left on the table to be grabbed by “new” media.
Radio has the roots and tools. Broadcast engineers and content providers are supreme beings. Radio’s Fountain of Youth must keep creativity moving forward by encouraging future curators and those “New Trick Old Dogs” who know how to do it. Let’s do it again. With feeling.
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Thank you for all you wrote Clark
My formal education ended after I got an Associate degree from my local community college. I then sold radio advertising, became a sales manager, director of sales and eventually general manager. When I left radio, the ad for my replacement said: “MBA preferred”. I laughed. I’m in my second career. This time as a web developer. I am fairly well educated but most of the learning happened outside a classroom.
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Thank You Jerry for reading the blog and adding your personal experience to the discussion.
I would bet your situation is more the norm, than the exception.
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Can’t disagree with anything you say, and it mirrors the path that most of us followed into radio.
My only concern is the lack of entry-level jobs for part-timers in the business today. Forty years ago, most stations employed one or two weekend or fill-in announcers, often recruited from the ranks of local high schoolers who were interested in radio and often hung around the station, willing to do anything to get a shot in the business.
These days, many of those same stations–the ones still on the air–are automated. The station in Missouri where I landed my first gig as a high school student now has one announcer, the morning guy, who doubles as the sales manager. When his air shift ends, the computer takes over and he’s off to call on clients. The FM side of that combo is completely automated; couldn’t tell you the last time a “live announcer” was heard on the station.
Given the challenges facing the industry, I completely understand the desire to save on personnel costs and improve the bottom line. But the focus on short-term fiscal concerns and profitability is actually challenging radio’s future. As you observe, succeeding generations of radio stars have typically climbed the ladder, except today’s ladder is often missing those all-important bottom rungs.
What’s the solution? Wish I had one. In college, I worked at a 100,000 watt regional NPR outlet, honing my on-air skills and learning more about news gathering and station management–lessons that served me well during my time in the business. But when I returned to my alma mater about 10 years ago for an alumni panel and discovered that students no longer broadcast over that station. Instead, they learn their skills in radio “labs” and the TV studio. The NPR affiliate is now a big-time operation, and they don’t want student announcers who might make a mistake, degrade the product and “hurt” fund-raising. So, the college station option isn’t as viable as it once was.
So, where will the next generation of radio talent come from? Podcasting? Internet stations? Migrants from the world of TV? All of the above? Professor Taylor has written extensively on this topic, and it sounds like no one has a clear answer. This much I know: the ability of a high schooler to land a part-time job at the local radio station has been greatly diminished and (sadly) most of those positions are never coming. And the industry will pay a price for that.
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Thank you Gary for reading the blog and for contributing to the discussion.
In fact, you might enjoy reading this article in Radio Ink: http://radioink.com/2016/10/24/radio-needs-create-local-stars/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Is+Radio+Creating+Enough+Local+Stars%3F&utm_campaign=10+24+Monday+Mittman
Bruce Mittman makes the case for all radio needing to start creating local radio stars once again.
A survey I did of the 300 members of the Kentucky Broadcasting Association showed that KBA radio stations said they planned to move more towards local radio personalities vs. syndicated or voice tracked.
So maybe the tide is turning.
Let’s hope so.
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It’s getting tougher to get a middle-class job without a college degree. According to a Georgetown study, the share of jobs paying more than $35,000 a year going to non-college graduates fell from 60% in 1991 to 45% in 2015 — leaving 45 million workers in low-paying or part-time roles. Odds of finding work with a path to the middle class improve with an associate degree, the study found, but high-school graduates and dropouts, or those with some college experience, are faring worse in today’s job market than in 1991.