It’s a vicious cycle. The woodman says to the stove, “give me heat”. The stove says to the woodman, “give me wood”. In the business of radio, it’s somewhat similar. At the very time radio programmers need to maintain their best talent, to differentiate their product from the competition, the owners are telling them to cut payroll. And the first to go, in far too many cases, are those who command the largest salaries because of their talent.
I can tell you all about that. Very personally.
A couple days ago, Clear Channel, the largest radio station ownership company in the known universe, fired 590 more people. They fired 1,800 people in January. Yesterday’s round of firings hit Madison, and one of the people they canned was a fellow whose very first job in radio was an entry-level position back in 1989. I know him well because I was the guy who hired him 20 years ago. He worked his butt off, and following the time-honored route, earned his way to a Program Director position several years ago. Now, he’s “on the beach”. Again.
Radio broadcasting is one of the few careers where firing is not really a black mark on your resume. There’s an old saw to the effect “you aren’t really a broadcaster until you’ve been fired”. It’s much like pro sports. For some players, things may not work out under a certain manager, but you flourish under another. Managers who fail in one setting, flourish under a different setting. Except the pay is orders of magnitude better, in sports. And there are far more incompetent radio managers than sports managers.
Radio is somewhat like baseball, in that you work your way up from the smaller markets (leagues) to the big time. At least, it used to be. Now, in markets like Madison, where the radio and TV people came from learning the ropes in smaller markets like Wausau and Eau Claire, they’re hiring kids right out of college or trade school.
Here’s the thing.
Bankers don’t know diddly squat about running radio stations. Or running anything else, for that matter. They know about leverage, derivatives, ROI, IRR, Accreting Principal Swaps, and a number of other arcane things that have little if anything to do with managing talent, and that’s what radio comes down to.
But bankers are calling the shots with broadcasters these days. From the idiots who paid waaaaaay too much to buy Clear Channel a couple years ago, to the morons who thought the way to make money in radio was to cut payroll, to the former owners who sold their businesses for forty pieces of silver, there are plenty of bozos to go around.
I’m saddened that more of my friends and former colleagues lost their jobs this week. But I’m even more sad that so many clearly incompetent people are at the top of the broadcasting industry right now.