Radio: “For the Love.”

I’d like to ask you to take a moment and read this article:

It doesn’t just hit close to home, it wounds.

The last conversation covered in the article hurts – from both sides.  I’ve returned to desolated studios that have erased entire professional legacies in a matter of hours only to be faced by your replacements that have no recognition of what came before and even less time to dwell on the nature of “progress.”  It doesn’t matter that you made something great here; what matters is that your quality can no longer keep up with their quantity.

You have to move on.

But I’d mentioned it hurts from both sides.  I’ve been that kid, too.  I’ve seized opportunities because it meant a chance at carving out a place for MY vision.  I’ve looked at every holdover before me at some point and internally screamed to get the hell out of my way.  Whatever they had was over and it was my turn to create a quality legacy.

Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

I understand that this is the cycle for any job, any business, just about any aspect of life; but I’ve worked in radio now for 12 years and so naturally this is what brings it home for me.

I can’t really claim to have been in radio for the heyday of it all.  I’ve met surprisingly few celebrities and have never used a razor blade to cut a tape reel (nor any of the other reasons razors used to be kept in studios for).  However, what I can claim, is to have been a part of an industry that thrives on a pirate ship model – you my have someone to answer to, but you can only succeed by creatively pushing the limits, taking risks, and sometimes playing downright dirty.  It’s more than a little like swimming with sharks and, to be honest, it’s one of the main addictions of working in radio.

“Addictions?”  Yup.  A lot of the pros who helped bring me in called it “getting bit by the bug” and it works the same way a lot of addictions do.  It starts off feeling great and you love the idea of waking up at 4:30am to make the World’s Largest Mai Tai, then you chase that feeling with a prime-time air shift and being named the head of the Production Department, and finally you run yourself down and are mired in forced homogenization and the complete lack of funding.  People want to assume that any form of broadcast entertainment comes with a sack of money.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Any good idea for any business must be tempered with a budget, but the straw-to-gold ratio expected of radio is disgustingly lopsided.  Often, it’s a lot of free work accompanied by the grossly manipulative phrase “do it for the love.” And, like an addict, we do.  Even knowing it means more work for no payoff, we do.  It creates a callous of cynicism that turns an adorable phrase about a bug bite into the jaded saying from one of my mentors: “Radio is the only industry that eats its young.”  Pleasant.

So why do it at all? Why bother to bend down after every stumble, pick the flag up out of the mud, and keep marching?  Why would I bother fighting my way out of the mire to get back to a place where I actually enjoy what I do?  Honestly, it is for the love.

I may have not met many celebrities, but I’ve met plenty of listeners and most of them are pretty cool.  Finding a genuine connection with people who you’ve never met face-to-face, but want to hang out with you, want to hear what you have to say, is a powerful thing. Is it a little arrogant? Sure, but no one’s ever accused a radio jock to being the most emotionally stable of people.
We want to be a part of the conversation and sometimes, we want to steer it.  We want the fame of acknowledgement without the hassle of being visually recognizable. (And some of us are just ugly, too.) There’s a need we have to do a running commentary on life. We’re the DVD commentary tracks, the friendly bloggers, and the bitchy internet trolls from before those things existed and it’s no longer our unique domain. I’d like to think I know what radio has the potential to still be, but it might not matter anymore. As a medium I still think it won’t disappear, but the days of fully-staffed, trend-setting, info-tainers (yes, I want to kick my own ass for using that word, but it’s accurate) are mostly gone. Of course we’re being replaced, and someday soon the last person will shut off the lights as they leave because computers running pre-recorded Ryan Seacrest shows work just fine in the dark.

Sure, it makes me sad, but there’s new things to move towards. You don’t need to be a shock jock anymore, as YouTube and podcasting have no language censorship rules; breaking new music virtually never happens as most stations now rely on the audience to tell them what’s popular before it gets airtime; and there’s no exclusivity on having a microphone and an audience anymore as it’s now easily in reach of anyone online.  The silver lining for both the listeners AND the broadcasters? The talent will prevail.

As internet radio becomes more and more pervasive, including podcasts, vlogs, etc., personalities and the discipline to regularly produce good content will still win out, just in some new way that we probably haven’t even figured out yet.  Let alone monetized into a career.  Until then, I still love talking to a crowd of friends I can’t see through the radio.  I still love trying to make new shows through podcasting.  I still love getting that fix from telling a good story or joke.  I still do it for the love.

Part-time, anyway.
The next of many,

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