"My first job was playing the religious tapes on Sunday mornings. Every now and then one of the tapes would break and I'd be on the air live."
-- John Tesh, TeshMedia CEO
"My first paying job was as a part-time disc jockey in 1976 at WLYV/Fort Wayne. I got fired three months later because my voice was still changing."
-- Tony Richards, Federated Media CEO
"WMID/Atlantic City. It was summer, and I thought it would be a good idea to get a job 'down the shore' while my friends were flipping hamburgers on the boardwalk. I was playing tunes for $80 a week, from midnight to 6am, except on Sunday, when it was midnight to 8am."
-- Bill Figenshu, former Viacom President, and now President/Broadcast Operations for Peak Broadcasting
"I had my first full-time job before I graduated (Emerson College). In my junior year, I started working for Greater Media. I was producing the Wolfman Jack show overnight. I learned a great deal about being a personality from that show. Wolfman Jack had an influence on how I was on the air, and I never even knew the man."
-- Ken Johnson, Format Director/Urban, Cumulus Broadcasting
"I went on to Utah State, and working in radio helped put me through college. I did overnights on Q92 FM, KBLQ in Logan, Utah."
-- John Dimick, Lincoln Financial VP of programming & operations
"My sophomore year (Swarthmore College) I sent a tape to WMMR in Philadelphia and started doing part-time at the dominant station of free-form progressive radio. I graduated college and started doing afternoons at MMR. I was very lucky."
-- David Dye, host of WXPN's "World Cafe"
These reminisces are from a handful of radio's celebrities and movers & shakers who first got their start in the business doing overnights, part-time, and/or weekends. Those were the "gateway shifts" where aspiring radio professionals got their start, learned their craft, and fell in love with the business. Radio was so intoxicating that most aspiring broadcasters felt considerable pressure to get that first job in the business, the stepping stone to bigger markets. There was always a great deal of competition for radio jobs, even in smaller markets.
Today, radio finds itself at the opposite end of the spectrum. A recent report from the U.S. Labor Department notes that radio will be among the slowest-growing industries in the next decade. Among the "negatives" for radio work, reports Inside Radio, are shift work and low pay."
If you talk to station managers and PDs in Norfolk, New York, or Nome, the story is the same. We cannot find talented, motivated, energized young people like the Bill Figenshu's and Ken Johnson's of decades ago. That's because many of them aren't captivated by radio as an entertainment medium. We saw this in vivid color during our "Bedroom Project" interviews. If you're not a core radio listener, why would you want to make it a career?
Among the many difficult challenges facing radio in this new millennium, perhaps the most glaring is the need to reintegrate youth into the business. As we have noted in this blog before, HD2 stations should be doing just that. But the problem runs deeper because the training grounds, known as overnights and weekends are too often walled off by the economics of voicetracking. We are so intent on saving money during this quarter that we are in the process of mortgaging the future of radio's employee base. One of the key reasons why there aren't many great new morning shows, sales reps, research companies, and consultants is that we've virtually eliminated radio's equivalent of baseball's minor leagues.
I was impressed by the spirit of Edison Research's recent "30 Under 30" campaign, designed to shine the spotlight on talented youth in radio. But the fact is, our numbers are down, there isn't a line of young, energetic, intelligent people ringing around our stations, and we need to take action to reverse this trend.
As the NAB continues to move forward with its recently announced "Radio 2020" initiative, let's hope that a youth component is part of the plan. Because long after the PR campaigns have run their course, attracting the youth of America back to radio ought to be on the front burner of radio's new strategic plan.