Remember that fictional town of Mudville? It's the place where a struggling baseball team comes up short when the Mighty Casey strikes out. That Mudville disappointment is reminiscent of how the inside of many radio stations and clusters are feeling right about now. While there are many bright, motivated radio professionals out there who still are optimistic about the business, morale feels like it's at an all-time low.
Many years ago, we were consulting a very successful station owned by a guy who was simply tyrannical in his approach. In his eyes, everything sucked, his people were slackers, and every day was another flogging for a poor staff that had to endure his badgering. During a visit, I was treated to several staffers pulling me aside, pouring their hearts out about how frustrated and demoralized they had become. At dinner that night, I swallowed hard and addressed this issue with the owner. And his reply to me went like this:
"I didn't hire you to deal with morale issues. I hired you to get ratings. Don't ever mention morale to me again!"
OK, please pass the salt.
Over the years, I have learned that in addition to trying to help stations build brands, achieve higher ratings, and attain better revenues, we consultants also provide that proverbial shoulder to cry on. A bedside manner is a must in this business, and in recent years, we are spending more time listening to some pretty depressing stories about life inside radio stations. That shoulder is getting wet.
Let's face it. These are difficult times, and the rich futures that many imagined, highlighted by thousands of shares of valuable stock have all but evaporated. Few radio professionals are earning raises or healthy bonuses. Many are now saddled with additional duties, without the support necessary to truly excel. And yet, they plod on because they are pros and they care.
So when a great ratings book occurs, many of them frankly feel unappreciated. Unfortunately, a top 5 ranking 25-54 is no longer a guarantee of financial windfalls. In fact, many stations are struggling to keep the ad dollars flowing, good ratings or not.
Or one station's great ratings get cancelled out by a bad one for another station in the cluster. And as a result, there's no dancing in the hallways.
Not so many years ago, a great ratings book was celebrated by the GM reaching into the petty cash drawer (or his own pocket) and buying a case of lager for the staff. Not a big thing, but an acknowledgement of a job well done.
While the money, the bonuses, the stock options, and the perks may be in the past, the importance of an "atta girl" email from a market manager or the CEO goes a long way, and is so often missing in action in today's turbulent times.
Staff morale is important. The folks who are still toiling away in radio stations may be some of the most committed professionals who have ever worked in radio.
This was a fun business in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But today while the feasting may be over, the programmers, traffic directors, production guys, and jocks who are still proud to wear a station jacket are doing it because they believe in radio.