Recently, I was invited by Steve Jones, Vice President and General Manager of ABC Radio News, to sit in on an editorial meeting at their New York headquarters. He didn’t have to ask twice. And when he mentioned he would also give me a tour of the studios, I was ready to camp out in front of the Manhattan office until it opened in the morning, like someone in line for an Apple product launch. There is something about on-air lights and that special energy of people running in and out of studios that has always given me goose bumps.
I love radio. And that visit to ABC reminded me why. Listening to Executive Director of Programming News Coverage Andrew Kalb, and his counterpart in charge of operations Jeff Fitzgerald, along with Jon Newman, Cristi Landes, Ryan Kessler, Josh Cohan, Andrea Dresdale, Wayne Fisk, and Heidi Oringer, who were seated around the conference table, as well as others on the phone from bureaus around the world as they ran through stories they were working on, their precise and energetic voices were not only fun to hear, they were inspiring. Here was a team of real professionals, each bringing something different and exciting to the table. On that day, I watched and listened as they collectively focused on one goal – deciding and coordinating the best possible news product to be delivered to listeners of radio station affiliates around the country.
There was the update on a sleep-deprived but “ready to roll” reporter who had pulled an all-nighter hopping planes and driving until dawn to reach a breaking story, followed by a producer setting up archived materials that would provide background for an awards program. All of them were doing what they loved.
After the meeting, I had a chance to chat with the group and what struck me then, and has stayed with me since, was how positive and passionate each and every person was, and the fierce pride they share for radio and their profession.
Later, Steve and I walked the hallways. We passed a row of studios, and as on-air lights
blinked, I peered into windows where men and women behind mics appeared to be talking to walls. But, of course, we know better. They are communicators who understand that on the other side of the microphone are unseen masses listening to pictures being painted with their words. When they open the mic, these anchors and reporters have no idea who those masses really are – whether they are passively tuned in or hanging on to every word. If they tell a joke, there is no studio audience to register if they hit the mark or fell flat.
Someone once told me, “it’s not brain surgery.” Really? Perhaps not in a physical “life and death” sense but I would offer that “theater of the mind” could be considered pretty brain-altering at times! Of course, this magic isn’t confined to one network, or major markets like New York, or Los Angeles, Chicago, or Philadelphia. On-air lights flash across the country in markets of all sizes. Perhaps not as often as some would like, due to consolidation, syndication, and voice tracking, but it’s still there.
And it’s the main reason so many talented, driven, smart people continue to be drawn to radio, to love it and to make it their profession.
These are not easy times, especially among those who have been part of the radio industry for many years and remember a different day. If it’s any consolation, they say this is also true of about every industry, from health care and education to finance and retail. Everyone has been impacted by new technologies, economic globalization, and a wave of social changes.
When I sat with the editorial staff at ABC, however, that was the furthest thing from any of our minds. Maybe another conversation for another day but that morning was driven by passion for product and putting a great one on the air. This group had found their center and were in pursuit of excellence in delivering it to the world.
I left and went back out into the streets of New York, feeling revitalized by what I had just seen and been a part of, reminded again that against any odds, it is, and always will be, about finding what you love and giving it your best. Circumstances be damned. The industry will never again be what many would want it to be – or at least not enough of it. If you love radio, don’t let go of that or the unseen masses you are reaching. Don’t allow your talent to be trampled by naysayers. Control the things you can. If you want to see the on-air lights flicker outside your window, you have to keep giving it your all. You’ve got to just do it.