Friday, May 05, 2006

Talent Shortage

-During the drive to my studio this morning, I was, as usual, punching the pre-sets on the radio dial to sample the airwaves. My erstwhile employer, KTRS, was presenting it's new morning show with George Woods...apparently being co-hosted or guest co-hosted??...by Victoria Babu. I must say this is a much more palatable presentation than the struggling, screaching, angst-overloaded, and painfully small-market modulations of the jetisoned Scott and Casey. While Woods has little recognition in this market, he certainly has a better shot at success than his predecessors. Whether he'll have any more than the last 20 morning hosts on that frequency... he'll likely need to prove within ninety days.

Anyway, the whole "merry-go-round-don't-let-the-door-hit-you" thing at 550 got me to wondering why it is such a struggle for managers to recognize, hire, and keep good talent these days. I think the simple answer is, there just isn't as much really good talent available in the industry as there once was. If this is true, I've come up with a few possible explanations that I think hold some water. See if you agree.
  • Satellite Outage

The world of daily radio show hosting has never been as lucrative a career choice as the general public seems to think it is. But the opportunity to forge a career, while actually being able to eat, has gotten even worse in the last 15 to 20 years when owners and managers were presented with the largely cost-free option of presenting syndicated, satellite-delivered programming. In most cases, the tantalization of presenting what's perceived as high-quality programming, at little or no expense other than the cost of a board-op or automation computer, is too much for local programmers to argue against. So, upper management and ownership frequently spurn employment of real, flesh-and-blood, local talent in favor of whatever is available "on the bird". I say what's "perceived" as quality programming...but that's an argument for another day.

This, of course, limits the amount of real quality jobs...and on-the-job training opportunities...for anybody interested in the talent end of the business. People with the "radio bug" almost have to be willing to volunteer their time in order to get comfortable behind the microphone. And "mic time" is severely limited when all you do is board-op a syndicated show. The evolution of local radio jobs into "button pushers running the board", means talented people are not coming into the business, or staying in the business, in the numbers they once did.

  • No Chance

Those of us who trained ourselves to be broadcasters thirty-plus years ago, understood that after college, or wherever we received our professional education, we would have to go to BFE to get our first job and "pay our dues". Many of those type of jobs don't even exist anymore. FCC deregulation is a major culprit here. Station operators used to have to employ at least a few "real broadcasters" who knew the ropes of radio to do public affairs programming and host shows that actually served the community, a one-time requirement in keeping a station license. Those jobs have pretty much gone away, and with them another potential training ground. No effort required of ownership by the feds...no effort given...no positions to get experience and put on a resume'...nobody moving up the radio ladder.

Along that same line, the local AM station that once competed with the community newspaper as a source of information, and hired a considerable news and sports staff to do so, these days has usually faded into a weak step-sister of the owner's music-driven FM station. Full-service local radio rarely exists any more. Again, fewer jobs in the small market, fewer opportunities, fewer well-seasoned professionals moving up from below.

  • Smart People

The world of radio...and now including talk radio...seems to be overrun with people who espouse the notion that real, quality programming is a waste of time.. and you have to out gimmick the competition. To be relevant in the current climate, it's believed you need to be silly and risque' with "Stern-esque" topics and guests to acquire an audience. In this environment, smart, educated, issues-oriented broadcasters, particularly ones with any experience, will find other things to do and not waste their time.

  • Union Weakness

I'm not the world's biggest fan of unions. But, AFTRA, the only radio performer union that I know of, has never been as major a factor in the world of radio as they might like to be. For whatever reason, unionization has never taken a strong hold on even major-market stations...let alone medium to small markets. But, if there were some actual monetary and union grievance consequences to the willy-nilly decisions by managers, they actually might be forced to put more effort and thought into the original hiring process. And they may be more inclined to hire people with a track record as opposed to gambling on borderline talent. This doesn't speak specifically to the lack of talent...more the eagerness to give up on developing it.

  • The Tube

Young people interested in a broadcasting career, and who've grown to adulthood not knowing that radio was once all the broadcasting there was, are gravitating toward television careers. Who can blame them? That's where most of the money and sexiness has gone.

Some of the best radio broadcasters I've ever known, or heard, have nothing to do with radio any more. Unless something changes to bring real opportunity back to the talent end of the industry, few will even try to chase the radio dream. Without those dreamers, the degeneration of local radio primarily into an outlet for syndicated programming, seems to be it's destiny.

Undoubtedly, there are other contributing factors to the current state, aside from what I've put forth here. Feel free to add your ideas.

6 comments:

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invisiblejim said...

Tom...you are so right. At my first
job at little peanut-whistle daytimer,
not only did I do everything on air, but also literally swept the floor, and typed the log when the secretary
had a day off.
The head of the radio/TV department where I went to college had a history
of NBC experience behind him, and he
made us do it right: announcing,
writing, production. We even created our own sound effects and put them on a heavy old Magnecorder.
Listening to the kids on WSIE, I'm
convinced they have NO classes to
teach them how to read copy. It is
a sad state of affairs, and I share
your nostalgia.

Anonymous said...

To amplify your point, Tom, here are my first few radio jobs:

1. WINI, Murphysboro. Sunday morning board op/news gathering.
2. WFIW, Fairfield. Weekend announcer for MOYL format.
3. WEBQ, Harrisburg. Night news reporter.
4. KKOY, Chanute KS. Midday jock.
5. KJJC, Osceola, IA. Midday jock/PD.

The point is, those 5 jobs do not exist anymore. So how does one get trained, sharpen their skills, etc.?

Anonymous said...

Talent has rarely if ever been the problem at KTRS and you know that better than anyone Tom. The only consistent thing at KTRS is the
management, management that wouldn't know how to program a lightbulb out of it's socket let alone a radio station. Other radio station managers would KILL to have some of the talent that KTRS management has discarded in an effort to cover their own rear- ends. "No, it's not MY fault Mr. Board Member, it's not that there's always chaos and no promotion or on air identity, consistency or vision, it's the lousy broadcasters on the air!"
Please!

Tommy said...

Dear Anonymous...

I wasn't saying that KTRS's management is futile because of lack of talent, I'm just saying that the lack of trained and expereienced talent is something that all stations will have to fight their way through over the next however many years, if they would choose to do local programming. If management is weak, it's weak....and the broadcaster-of-the-month parade at 550 speaks for itself.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the misunderstanding Tom. I knew exactly what you were saying and understood that you were not apologizing for KTRS management at all..

I enjoy the blog!!