By Trent Rentsch
I think it was the Philosopher Bob from Sesame Street who said, “One of these things is not like the others; one of these things is not the same!” It certainly felt like it was time to play that game as I listened to the radio the other day. It seems that the extremely excited young DJ on the radio was working at the “Most Sizzling” station in the known universe, and he would be serving up more of the latest Sizzling Songs in SECONDS!! Next, an equally excited older guy with voice steeped in years of Bourbon and unfiltered Camels “ca-ca-came” on, to again remind us of how SIZZLING the station is, underscored by lazers and bombs and earthquakes and all other manner of aural assault. Whew. THEN, two EXTREMELY excited people, who were obviously the funniest people they knew, came on to laugh and scream about the “Morning Frying Pan” show, that “Sizzles” in the morning…again, only on this SIZZLING station, and, you guessed it, they too had an underscore laced with screeching guitars, throbbing drums and adrenaline. I was just fumbling in my jacket pocket for my nitro pills, when the next element blew through my speakers. Well, “blew” might not be the word (depending on your definition). Another young voice, this one a “little” less excited. In fact, I recall sounding more excited about my first wisdom tooth extraction. The audio acrobatics were gone…no zip pows, no drum machine with its tempo cranked to 11, not even an unplugged wailing guitar…nothing at all. Just Perry Como’s grandson droning that ever ear-catching opening, “Hey Mr. Farmer!” It went downhill from there. So, Big Bird, which one isn’t QUITE the same?
How does this happen? Really, in this age of nitch marketing, on a station that obviously has its imaging focus well in hand, that certainly seems to know its audience and how to talk to them, how does one come up for an excuse for this obvious, blatant goof-up?
Let’s look at the usual suspects. It must be a salesperson, right? They’re always “whoring the station.” They’d sell the afternoon announcer’s vocal cords for an annual and the down payment on a Lexus. It must have been that sales weasel over on the AM Country station, sneaking some bonus spots on the Implement dealers’ grandson’s favorite station. Of course, the Sales Manager probably okayed the abortion—he came from used cars, barely knows what an avail is, much less a format! And the GM?! Sigh…let’s not even go there. Who else…oh yeah, what about the Program Director, asleep at the wheel again, or possibly having Sushi and imported beer with that record rep from Chicago. Does the PD care so little about his carefully crafted musical temple that he allowed someone to fart in the middle of the service? Yeah, and what about Mr. Sizzle, the guy who screamed his way into the stop set, the pusher of the offending button. He was probably too busy pounding back Diet Dew to notice or give a rip. Let’s see, who did we miss? Yes, I see you in back with your hand up…huh? The Production Director? Oh, ha, ha…good answer. The problem is, they don’t have one. She was fired two months ago in a corporate cost-cutting/blood-letting.
It’s happening again. Our audio crafting brothers and sisters are being cut out of budgets like so much wheat to the sickle. They are being replaced at half the cost by some client’s brother’s nephew’s friend who wanted out of Taco Bell, and thought that radio would be “cool.” Another scenario: the poor producer who’s been doing 25 hour days for 9 days a week the last 2 years, just so the job would continue during the “great consolidation.” Beyond burned out, paid less than one should while doing the job of five, that audio gig with the Internet company down the street at twice the pay and a third of the hours must look like a one-way ticket out of Purgatory. And then there’s the gifted Creative who finally lands that dream job at the dream station, does EVERYTHING right for a few years, and walks into the office one day to find a pink slip in the mail slot—no reason given, probably because there really wasn’t one.
All kidding aside, I really do believe in teamwork in radio. A station needs a strong sales staff, there to be the advocate of the client, making sure that the proper ads are placed correctly so that those advertising dollars actually do the job of attracting customers. A station needs the leadership of a multi-tasking Program Director, there to be the advocate of the listener, keeping the music, promotion and announcers on task and focused on the target audience. And it goes without saying that the person in the big office up front HAS to be the advocate of the entire company and its bottomline. It’s not by coincidence that they are called “General” Managers. And then there is the advocate of the sound, the image of the station, the person who some radio stations seem to feel isn’t necessary. It’s the person who should’ve been there, arguing that the Implement spot had no place on the sizzling station, who would be strong enough to state a case for the format, and, losing all battles, finally win the war by working with the sales rep to at least have a format-friendly version of the ad cut, approved, and not offending listeners.
I am not going on record with my obvious bias and say that the Production Director is the most important position at a radio station, but it is most certainly a vital and essential part of an effective radio team. Considering the endless fronts radio faces today in the battle for advertising dollars, the station without a strong, creative producer is going to war as unarmed as it would be without a great morning show, or a well-trained sales staff. None of these things are quite like the others, but it takes a bunch of dissimilar pieces to successfully put a puzzle together. Let’s hope that stations remember to keep something in the budget for that unique piece that has a little blue sky and day dreaming child on it.