(By Deborah Parenti) The events of the past week have brought not only disruption to a lot of lives but stirred emotions, thoughts, and opinions by everyone who works, has worked, or has interest in the radio industry. Radio people are, to the core, a passionate group. It’s sometimes hard to explain to those on the outside. Maybe it’s tied to the “theater of the mind” that it creates. Or perhaps it’s the intimacy that can be felt when it is delivered or consumed. Whatever, I have always felt there is a sprinkling of magic – and all that passion – that define radio and radio people.
So the outpouring and commiserations were not surprising or unexpected. Nor was the criticism of the iHeart leadership. We are humans. We need a human face – a name – to which we can affix the blame. Sometimes with reason, and other times more symbolically. Whatever the case, in an age of Internet-driven social media, all the commentary and opinions are no longer confined to around the “water cooler” or over after-work drinks. News and views are tweeted, posted, chatted, and read from a smart phone 24/7. Much the same as you are likely reading this.
Technology has indeed connected us.
Technology has also changed our lives, virtually – in both the literal and the figurative sense. Every aspect of it, including media – how we consume it, how we communicate it – has been forever altered by technological changes. And it’s not about to stop. Indeed, we’ve come a long way from the telegraph (look that one up if it doesn’t ring a bell).
Ask anyone familiar with the Rust Belt and they will tell you how technology impacted the manufacturing plants that once delivered good jobs and even better wages. Or consider 20th century innovations that are today obsolete – things like dot matrix printers, fax machines, corded phones, PDAs, and typewriters. And what about floppy discs and phone books? Before you think “that’s different,” keep in mind that behind those products and services, there were people – and jobs.
All were changed by the tech revolution – the same one that brought ATMs, smart speakers and Alexa, navigation devices, and so many other tech tools many feel they could not live without today. That would include instant access to information like weather, news, and sports scores.
“Alexa, what’s the forecast in Philadelphia tomorrow?”
And it also includes radio. Technology has forever changed radio. Many in the industry have been foreseeing, warning, advising for some time now, that radio needs to change, take advantage of, and stay ahead of the tech curve as much as possible. Yes, local radio and local radio personalities can still be vital to their communities, especially in times of crises. But radio today does not serve all the same needs as it did once upon a time.
“Hey Google, what’s the traffic in Dayton on I-75 right now?”
Nor does it operate in the same environment or corporate culture as when many of us started our careers. Deregulation, economic downturns, Wall Street and outside equity partners, and the onslaught of digital and other new competitors for ad dollars – all of these have impacted the radio business model. Of course, as regards competition, interminable stop sets and other programming “sins” haven’t helped radio on the battlefield for ears.
Meanwhile, virtually every aspect of the business has been touched by technology, from accounting and traffic to sales support and on-air.
With this have emerged two different business models. One is iHeart, moving further toward and embracing technologies that are redefining the role and operational model of their stations within a much larger media conglomeration.
On the other side of the coin are the many thousands of stations that are owned and operated by smaller groups and individuals; those not owned by iHeart or other major groups. When you stop to think about it, that’s an awful lot of radio. They can certainly still be live and local – they can just as certainly take advantage of their digital assets while maintaining that up-close-and-personal community connection.
That can be a powerful force, not only for their listeners but for those who have been laid off. We have all read the social media posts and shout-outs over the past week, including many from those who might be in a position to hire or help find employment for those suddenly out of work. We know that means a lot to those impacted – to be able to air their stories and/or be bolstered with encouraging words by their comrades.
But now we need to do more than talk about it. Now we need to try to do something tangible to hopefully change some situations. Not everyone will probably find a job again in radio, or radio as they first aspired to, but if we can help at least some find a new gig, that’s a win. To assist in that area, Radio Ink has established a web page for both wanted and positions available. It’s fast, it’s easy to post on, and it’s free. If you own stations or are in charge of hiring for any department, especially programming in this case, we hope you will take advantage of it. And if you are in a business that services the industry and looking for someone from radio’s talent pool, please post those positions as well. Of course, if you are currently looking for employment, be sure to post your resume.
But could we take it a step further? If you run a radio group or station and are committed to local programming, how about going out on a limb adding someone who has been displaced in some capacity? It could be the best investment on gut you make this year. You might find you hired “magic” – and that can be priceless.
Let’s do this!
PS – Radio Ink is not alone in trying to help those who have found themselves out of work. Hats off to All Access for also spreading the word about those now seeking new gigs.
Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected]