Is Your Iceberg Melting?

94This past week was another tough one for the wonderful people who work in radio. Most people who get into radio do it because they’ve caught the “radio bug” and the work becomes their life’s passion. I know that’s how it is for me.

When I caught the “Radio Bug”

From my earliest years, I knew what I wanted my life’s work to be. I built a radio station in my parent’s basement and broadcast to the neighborhood (about a 3-block radius) on both the AM and FM bands using transmitters I bought from Radio Shack.

When I started high school, I earned my 3rd Class Radio/Telephone Operator’s License, Broadcast Endorsed from the Federal Communications Commission in Boston. I wasn’t old enough to work, so I had to get a Massachusetts Work Permit. They didn’t have a category for disc jockey, so they branded me as “talent.” (I never told them I had to take meter readings every half hour in front of a transmitter that put out 1,000-watts of electromagnetic power. If I had, they would never have given me my work permit.)

College Radio

In college, it was radio that paid for my bachelors and masters degrees. I took my college’s carrier current radio station, got an FM broadcast license and was the first general manager.

Radio was in my blood.

RIF’s

After the Telcom Act of 1996, radio began its road down the consolidation path funded by Wall Street. It was during this period of time a new acronym would come into radio’s every day lexicon, RIF’s, or Reduction In Force. In other words, people were being terminated in huge numbers.

This past week, I sadly read about another round of RIF’s taking place among our country’s biggest owners/operators of radio stations. It breaks my heart.

RIF’s from the Manager’s Perspective

We all feel sorry for those that have unexpectedly lost their job. What we often don’t read about is the perspective from the other side of the desk, what the management is going through when these decisions are made at corporate.

I lived through it in 2009 as a Clear Channel Market Manager.

It’s NOT FUN.

With each corporate meeting, I would come home with a flash drive that could not be opened until a specific date/time with who I would have to RIF next.

I RIF’d my entire news and promotions departments.

I RIF’d DJ’s and PD’s.

I RIF’d my national sales manager, my director of sales and local sales managers. With each round of RIF’s I got more hats to wear. The work still needed to be done, it didn’t go away with each round of RIF’s.

I hated my job.

Then my regional manager showed up unannounced and RIF’d me.

His manager showed up after he had RIF’d all of his designated market managers and RIF’d him.

The company president RIF’d the senior regional managers.

Then the CEO RIF’d the president.

It was not a happy time, but believe it or not, being RIF’d to me was better than being one of those that found themselves with more and more hats to wear, with more and more responsibility, without a penny more in pay.

There were many folks who told me to find another line of work, but they didn’t know that broadcasting was the only thing I ever wanted to do.

Except for one other thing, teaching and mentoring the next generation.

My education was in teaching. Both my bachelors and masters degrees were in teaching.  My best teachers were those who worked in the field first and then came into the classroom to teach.

Paying It Forward

My long term goal was always to one day teach at a college or university the very things I had done all of my professional life.

My big opportunity presented itself at Western Kentucky University’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting in 2010.

When I was RIF’d by my regional manager, I had met or exceeded every goal I had been given and was paid bonuses for my accomplishments. I was even named one of radio’s Best Managers by RADIO INK magazine. The issue of the magazine with me in it came out almost the day after I was RIF’d. Funny how life is: good things happening at the same moment as bad.

One Door Closed, Another Door Opened

When my last management job came to an abrupt end with Clear Channel, my broadcast professorship door opened at WKU.

Let me tell you, going from being a radio market manager to broadcast professor is a steep learning curve. But with the help of Charles H. Warner at NYU, John Parikhal of Joint Communications and others, I successfully made the transition and became successful at teaching. In fact, my new broadcasting educational work branch opened my eyes to all kinds of new and exciting learning opportunities.

I started this BLOG and a column for RADIO WORLD magazine during this time.

Those have lead to numerous invitations to appear on podcasts, Vlogs, articles, and broadcast interviews with others sharing stories of my work and experiences.

I’ve done research on the radio industry and their employment needs in the 21st Century. I’ve presented panels every year at the national conference in Las Vegas as well as been an invited broadcast expert on many panels at both BEA and NAB.

I’ve presented seminars at state broadcast associations and done training sessions for broadcast companies.

In short, I’ve been more active in broadcasting on so many levels than I ever was as a radio manager.  And I’ve loved every minute of it.

But I’m not going to candy coat what’s happening, not only in radio but in all ad supported media. It’s a revolution.  Not an evolution.

In revolutions the first thing that happens is destruction of the old. We’re still living through that period right now and it’s not fun. I get it.

Our Iceberg Is Melting

Back in 2008, many people picked up a copy of Ken Blanchard’s book “Who Moved My Cheese?”  I know I did. It’s a great read.

But maybe the book everyone in broadcasting should be reading today is “Our Iceberg Is Melting” by John Kotter. Kotter is an award winning author from the Harvard Business School.

Like Blanchard and Johnson’s Cheese book, Kotter writes a simple fable about doing well in an ever-changing world.

The fable is about penguins in Antarctica that discover a potentially devastating problem to their home – an iceberg – and it’s melting away.

It’s a story that will resonate with anyone in broadcasting today.

Read about how the penguins handle their challenge a great deal better than many broadcasters are doing today. Kotter’s book walks you through the eight steps needed to produce positive change in any group.  You will not only enjoy the read, but will be guided with valuable insights to deal with our 21st Century world that is moving faster and faster every day.

The Big Take Away

When corporate, middle management and all employees are on the same page with regards to change, it is amazing what can happen, despite adverse conditions.

These are lessons for people who already are in broadcasting, for broadcast students, enlightened colleges are already teaching the concepts, skills and providing the tools that will be needed going forward. My students know that the future is not bleak. They understand the history of broadcasting that brought us to where things are today and they are as pumped as you and I were when we were their age to craft the future of broadcasting in the new century.

I’m excited.

They’re excited.

The best is yet to be.

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

18 responses to “Is Your Iceberg Melting?

  1. Prof. Taylor, OUTSTANDING! Adaptive Radiation & Survival of the Fittest. The converse of RIF’s was SIN, growing up in New York City: Safety in Numbers. Besides practicing on a Webcor wire recorder and doing PA, my first on-air was 500w AM day-timer, WBIS Bristol, CT 1966, and had no cart machines. TV Directing at Connecticut’s Most Colorful station, WHNB/30 NBC had just one color camera. Our band of ’60s RF afflicted students at the University of Hartford signed on 1.8kw stereo WWUH-FM on less than $12,000. Nobody else was playing stereo Rock & Jazz. As founder at graduation, we had $17,000 in our account, showed up in Hoopers and were on 24/7. 10 years later at WEEI/FM Boston, the entire, original Softrock campaign (“The Eagles. Without the turkeys.”) had promo budget under $200k. Even with voice tracking, an IGM 880 and our own adult album playlist we were CBS/FM’s #3 biller, only behind WCBS/FM NY & KNX/FM LA and delivered Top 4 demos. Point is: You can do a lot with a little. Passion, experience, teamwork and presentation delivers audience & advertising. Current models and CYA lack of thinking demand evolution. You are indeed correct: With digital technology, excellent broadcast content and new enthusiasm, The Best IS Yet to Come. Here’s to the exciting month of May…and Let’s do it to it!. Thank you, DT! Clark, Boston. http://www.broadcastideas.com

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ds52

    This is true of many industries – I have added the two books to my reading list. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another good one today Dick! Saw our share of RIFs at WABC, thanks to first Citadel and then Cumulus, and I think one thing you didn’t mention, but that played hugely in your story is “attitude”. Your story is one of a positive outcome after being RIFed, but how much of that was because of your positive attitude? I’ve seen people, who when that one door closed, assumed another would never open, and for them, it didn’t. Then there were others who, once they dusted themselves off, and got over the shock of no longer being employed, picked themselves up, and got even better jobs, and a life they love. For some, being RIFed is not an end, but rather the kick in the ass they needed to get up and move on with their career and life!

    As with so much in life, attitude is a very important part of the world we all live in. As Jimmy Buffett would say, when life gives you limes, make margaritas!

    Frank

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent observation Frank. Yes, your attitude in life determines your altitude.

      If you think of RIF’s like a mother bird pushing her babies out of the nest, it forces you to fly and see new things in the world beyond what can be seen where you currently are.

      Thank you for adding how important a positive attitude is in meeting the challenges of life. -DT

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s amazing, Dick. My career path almost mirrors yours, including managing a Clear Channel cluster and going through all that you stated and then getting RIF’d myself. The last couple of years there was certainly not fun. I, like you and others, have moved on. I’m no longer in radio and miss it badly. But, I am learning there is life after it. Your BLOG is “spot on.”

    Liked by 1 person

      • As you mentioned in your blog, there are positives for the industry, albeit in a different model. It’s those that can exploit that and take it to the next level that will enjoy it. Change is inevitable in life. Many times (and certainly as we get older), we resist and reminisce. To those enjoying its new state today, they too, will face the same 20-30 or 40 years from now. Evolution. As we all know, this new world is not exclusive to this industry as all face their own change challenges. Look at retail as just one example. I miss those transmitter readings days, LOL!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Dick,
    I am a high school radio teacher facing some of the issues you have touched on in the blog. Our “middle management” seems to believe that radio is dying and the news seems to affirm their assumptions. I would love to know what things you are promoting at WKU to show the positive future for radio. Thanks for past post talking about finding talent at the high school level. That is what high school stations are all about!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. John Gorman

    Just as FM opened the door for new formats (album rock) and formats done best (beautiful music) in the late 60s, early 70s, on line radio offers the same opportunities to dedicated, creative individuals that can successfully balance art and commerce. Clearly radio, which is an outdated appliance to those under 40, is not going to have a resurgence. On line offers even more opportunities than FM did over AM (stereo, cleaner non directional signal, changing the definition of radio markets, etc.). Yes, we all have a right to mourn the past but let’s concentrate on the future. Radio worked best when it adopted the slogan “Have fun, make money. Have fun making money.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • John you’ve been ahead of your time with your vision for many years. It comes as no surprise to me you are out-front again with your thinking. Change is the only constant. Embrace it or be done in by it.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts to this topic. -DT

      Like

  7. Rob Balon

    Interesting piece that struck a chord. I steered my firm The Benchmark Company away from Radio research after I realized what the full implications of the Telecom Bill would be.
    While I truly miss working with radio stations I discovered a world of other markets for our services, most notably in IT and health care. It was not easy at first but I had to accept the reality that change is inevitable.
    I keep my hand in by teaching an adjunct course in radio at several universities around Austin and enjoy it very much.

    What I find truly regrettable is the lives and careers that were irrevocably altered by the heartless conglomerates that emerged from Telecom. Still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. T. Jay Dexter

    Even before the 1996 Telecommunications Act, RIFs were starting to happen as early as the latter half of the 80s, when automated satellite programming was starting to really take hold. What music-playing AM stations that were left in the middle 80s were dropping local air talent for the satellite feeds, which added the local ID “cues” from the satellite talent to make it sound the jocks were local (my station ‘flipped’ to the bird in late 1990).

    Then satellite music formats started to take over more dayparts at more stations, now being used to replace jocks during non-workday hours on both AM and FM stations. So then many stations were able to get by having 3 or 4 full-time jocks on a payroll, instead of 5 or 6 full-timers plus a couple of part-time weekend/fill-ins.

    I went to college in the mid-late 80s. Had I known how much radio would have changed during my college years, I would have spent more time focusing on the television side of broadcasting. At least I would’ve had about 20 more years of solid ground of relatively RIF-free environment in which to grow and become established in a broadcasting career as only now are we seeing sizeable cuts to both local and cable TV staffs due to mergers and budgetary reasons (coughESPNcough). With radio, I never got a true foothold before I decided to look for steady jobs that truly paid the bills.

    Like

  9. Being let go in 2008 after 28 years in radio was a mixed blessing for me. Good because I had already built my studio at home and started on my voice over business, and bad because I realized I stayed in radio about 10 years longer than I should have. Personally, the timing worked out for me. I feel for the younger people in radio that are being let go in the prime of their careers with no future plan. I always tell people in media, “Always have a Plan B.”

    Like

    • In the 21st Century, people need not just a “plan B” but also plans C, D, E, F, G etc. The chance of anyone staying in the same career for their work life is nil.

      Thank You Arlene for sharing that sage advice. -DT

      Like

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