The Advantages of Being Fired From Radio

I’ve previously written about a Temple University college professor of mine – the legendary Lew Klein (ABC in Philly, American Bandstand) – who told my freshman class in communications that if you are not fired from your jobs several times, then you’re not in broadcasting.

Professor Klein would be proud of me – and my fellow classmates who went on to careers in broadcasting. We didn’t let him down.

We’ve all got stories. That’s why I love the people in our industry. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with such a resilient lot in a system that has always been rigged against us. It’s always been that good.

Now, it’s that bad.

Before consolidation if you were fired by a station, there were always many other places to work in radio -- plenty of stations owned by other companies – across the street. Hell, you could fulfill Professor Klein’s prediction of getting fired several times in just one city.

Today, that’s not possible.

If one consolidator discards you, you’ve only got a few other choices in the same city or region. Blacklisted? Did I say that? You’re screwed. So if you’re fired from a group that owns 300 stations, lots of luck even if you're willing to move your family 2,000 miles away to work for them elsewhere at your own expense.

I've quit and I've been fired. Quitting was more fun. But without a lot of other options for employment we would have had -- well, what we have today -- slavery.

I had the dubious honor of walking out on that radio wild man John Tenaglia when he wouldn’t give me a $25 a week raise. It was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it. I know that now. I was just a kid. I'm sorry. My jocks also walked. I did not ask them to – great people like Bill Figenshu and Mike Anderson. They came to their senses and returned to Johnny T for a while anyway. Actually, looking back -- I’m glad I quit.

I got a better job across the street. I should have been blackballed for that stunt. Maybe I was, but it didn't matter. Options -- that's what radio people always had -- lots of options.

Today, though, forget it. You’re persona non grata for a lot less. Like, say, doing your job every day at a low pay with constant budget cuts.

Having seen an unemployment line in Camden, New Jersey, I can easily identify with the inequity that today’s radio people face at the hands of proven incompetent "leadership". I know a lot of folks who have lost their jobs have health care issues, educational responsibilities for their children, retirement to hope for some day and just plain pride.

But there are some benefits to being fired by radio consolidators that will become evident. Among them:

1. The radio industry is dying by every measure. But the Internet and the mobile space is a potential employer that needs talented marketing people, managers, talent and content providers. It's a great place for entrepreneurs. Internet streaming is stunted by the lack of a fair royalty agreement so it may not look like the future to some, but it is.

2. Podcasting is going to be big. Disagree if you like, but the next generation doesn’t need only 24/7 broadcasting. They want programs they can control – stop, start, rewind and listen to in a time-delayed fashion. Broadcasting will be so – 70’s. Those of us who are moving on will be preparing and marketing content that the next generation can load onto a mobile device and use wherever -- whenever.

3. Centralized programming is on the way out. Mashups are in. The next generation wants a say in what they consume and then, if possible, a way to add to it. Look at the popularity of YouTube. Remember a piece I wrote recently about how cell phone users like to shoot photos on their phones and pass them along to friends to add music, edit or otherwise revise. Radio will resist the mashup concept because radio owners think they control the programming. They used to. Not anymore.

4. If you’ve been fired, stop trying to stay in the business. There is no future. Even the good guys – the companies that are not necessarily public and still very decent – can’t turn this baby around. Even they are cutting back – perhaps more humanely but nonetheless we must never forget we are playing in the house consolidation built.

5. An industry dependent on morning shows for the majority of its revenue is suicidal to cutback talent and resources as they are now doing. Cutback on corporate aircraft not morning air staff. One makes you money. One spends your money. Know the difference.

I have come to appreciate that out of bad comes good. For me, it has been very good and none of it would have been possible without the radio manager who got so drunk each night he called to tell me how lousy my act was only to compliment me the next day. Or the group exec who likes to kick desks over while you’re sitting at them.

The disadvantage of being a consolidator is that they are going down with the ship.

The advantage of being the talented people they are firing is that for you there is life after radio and today it is more exciting than ever.

Welcome to the “new” radio – Internet, podcasting, mobile content, social networking, terrestrial streams, satellite radio and the online music industry.

This month's budget victims will soon discover the advantages of disadvantages.

Their employers -- the consolidators -- won't be able to say the same thing.

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