Is Your Past Killing Your Future


(By Eric Rhoads) You’re a busy executive, running or operating a fast-paced radio cluster or group. You’re like the proverbial plate spinner on stage, with plates spinning off of each arm, leg, and from your head and your mouth. As you spin, more plates are thrown your way. You catch each one and keep them all spinning.

Your plates are projects, people, departments, sales pressure, budgets, managing up, managing down — and if any of the plates fall, you consider it a failure.

On top of that, your world of spinning plates is not just for a few minutes on stage during business hours. We’re spinning plates from the first moment we awaken, spinning plates on the phone when we’re driving, spinning plates during lunch, during meetings, and at home for most of the night. We even spin plates on vacations because of our fear of falling behind.

If we were to interview a professional plate spinner after a stage performance, he or she would be dripping with sweat from all the physical and mental exertion. That performer would tell you there is no way they could spin those plates for much longer than the show — they simply don’t have enough energy left to keep all those plates in the air.

Yet you’re in full-time spin mode. No downtime. No time to recover.

Most of my colleagues in the radio industry have been spinning at this pace for years. It has not exactly been the easiest time to be in the radio business, and we have to do more and more to simply stay even.

But what if the plates you’re spinning are the wrong plates? After all, you have zero opportunity to stop and look. You just keep them spinning as they come at you.

There is an old saying, “When the past becomes the present, you lose the future.”

Are you losing the future?

Twenty-five years ago I started Radio Ink, and at year 20, I realized I was stuck in the past, even though I’d always felt I was on top of the future. In spite of my desire to keep all the plates spinning, I understood there were things I needed to know — but I didn’t know what they were. So I set out on a quest to find out, which meant I had to drop a lot of plates.

Over the course of two years, I became consumed with growth and learning what I was missing. I attended as many “out there” conferences as I could find. I also invested thousands in training video and audio and invested a minimum of an hour per day in growth study.

In that quest I realized that most of the plates I was spinning were no longer relevant and that if I wanted to survive, I needed entirely new plates. The realization resulted in the reorganization of my company, hiring of entirely new people, and creating new divisions and directions.

It took me close to another year and a half to get the plates to spin, but once they started spinning, they started throwing off tremendous amounts of cash and flooded our business with new customers in entirely new business units that didn’t even exist just three years earlier.

Since that time we’ve immersed ourselves in a culture of learning, sending many team members to new learning events outside of our own industries. The culture is changing, and the ideas and new directions are flowing.

Though I always prided myself on being on top of tech and media, I hadn’t known what I did not know, and today, just five years later, the entire business of the past makes up only 5 percent of the total now. Our business has doubled twice since those days, and it’s on track for even bigger growth.

I share this not to flaunt success; I share it to make the point that by slowing down, going to new places to learn, and embracing and investing in new things, my business, which had been flat, is now on fire and growing.

Media has changed. Advertisers and their needs have changed. Their measurements of success have changed. Yet I would guess that many who are operating stations today are oblivious to these changes. They’re telling themselves they are up on all the latest trends, but they’re unable to see things are changing.

Plates have to spin, yet if you don’t take the time to look deeply by going outside the industry norms, and escaping the industry standards, you’ll keep spinning until you’re no longer relevant.

Can you say, “Don’t judge me by my past. I don’t live there anymore”?

Eric Rhoads is Chairman of Radio Ink magazine and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. As always, Eric…great wisdom in your comments. I’m happy to report that I’ve accepted the position of Market Manager for Bi Coastal Media here on the Southern Oregon Coast, managing 8 radio stations here. —spinning 8 different sets of plates 24/7 for one of the best companies in our industry and loving it! Best regards, Roger W. Morgan-


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