Perhaps the responses to this Q It Up question would do you more good if you could read them in early December, but you can always save this issue and look it over in about 11 months, when the holiday season rolls around once again. A special thanks to all who responded during this hectic time of year (a rather star studded lot as a matter of fact). There’s a lot of good advice below, and lots to remind us, we’re all in this together. Happy New Year!
Q It Up: It’s the middle of the holiday season, the busiest time of the year. Not only is your workload reaching limits, but it’s also a time when family and friends need your attention too. Is this a stressful time of year for you? If so, how do you deal with the stress? If this is not a stressful time for you, how do you explain that? What do you do to keep stress under control?
Yaman Coskun [YamanCoskun[at] clearchannel.com]: Two words: Wet Bar! (Strategically located adjacent to my hard drive.)
Chris Nicoll [Chris[at]zmonline.com]: Christmas is totally the most stressful time of the year. I find myself turning into the “Grinch” because you always seem to be doing Xmas related promos and whatnot for a good 2 months before you get to have a wee holiday. Insanity. Organization is the key, writing check lists and prioritizing your work, and saving all the Christmas stuff so the next year you can rip some of your old ideas off again and speed up the festive spirit giving. Also having an assistant or intern helps ‘cause you can give them work to do for you! Bliss!
Dave Foxx [DaveFoxx[at]ClearChannel .com] Z100 Radio, New York, NY: The holidays are without any doubt, the busiest time of year for me. In spite of all that’s on my plate, I do manage to find at least a little time every day to turn it all off. If the weather is decent, I’ll fly. Otherwise, I might go home and cook some exotic dish. (My ex-wife would be shocked, I’m sure.) I might just go to a movie. The object is to do something that requires ALL of my attention, even if just for a little while. When I fly, there are so many little things I have to worry about in the cockpit, I don’t have time stew over a knotty production problem. It’s gone! When I cook, I worry about the spices I’m using instead of the schedule deadlines I’m up against. When I’m in a movie, I become one with the story and even forget who I am and what I do for a living.
The key is to do something that requires a little brain power. When my grey matter is involved in something, it doesn’t have time to deal with all the rest of the daily BS. Then, when I land the plane, serve the dish or walk out of the movie theater, all of those energy draining problems come sliding back into my head, but in single file. Very often, I will see solutions to issues that I couldn’t see before because I was mired in the day-to-day grind. It’s kind of like not being able to see the forest because the trees get in the way. Once I step back, the fixes to my problems seem really obvious.
The BEST part is, all of these activities can easily involve the people who matter most in your life. Fortunately, my wife loves to fly, really appreciates my culinary efforts and enjoys going to movies almost as much as I do.
Stress? I don’t have time for stress. I’m having WAY too much fun.
Jeff Berlin [JeffBerlin[at]clearchannel w.com] Kiss 108, Boston, Massachusetts: This is undoubtedly the most stressful time of year. Not only is the workload intense, but we have to buy presents, network (parties), and work around everyone else’s remaining vacation time that’ll be lost if they don’t use it before ’06. I deal with it by exercising. Mountain Biking if there’s no snow. XCSkiing if there is. Apparently exercise is better at stress reduction than any pharmaceutical available. And I get my best creative ideas when my mind is focused on something other than computers, microphones, and monitors. Of course, finding time to exercise is another source of stress in itself! Happy Holidays everyone!
Johnny George [jg[at]johnnygeorge .com], Susquehanna, Indianapolis, Indiana: With November sweeps out of the way and clients trying to close out their last quarter of the year, December rush is almost over by Week #2 in December. Then it’s our “daily commercial load” that’s normal for our department.
Account Managers and the rest are taking off their final days of vacation throughout November & December which slows down the load a bit too, just as we do also. So at times it may be a quick strain, but manageable. Our stations, fortunately, have a great deal of veteran broadcasters that anticipate the upcoming crunch and attempt to work ahead whenever we can. I do the same with our imaging so my guys don’t have to do their job and mine too. They have their hands full with commercial production without having to tend to my backyard when I’m out. But we all jump into balance out the load no matter who is out for a few days here and there.
Families of broadcasters understand our “on-call” status, just as other professions do, and we certainly try not to stress them out anymore than we have to in order to make it through the holidays. Balance is good on both ends.
Donnie Marion [dmarion[at]104krbe .com], 104 KRBE, Houston, Texas: For the past few years, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas haven’t been memorable in the stress department. Some of that may have to do with the end of the TV sweeps. Anything that comes after that time of year will seem like a cakewalk. Another reason things move more swiftly when at work is the way technology has improved the work flow. Now I don’t have to use magnetic tape for anything. Not touching reels is a time saver, whether it’s only dubs or recording voice work for in-house production.
The other thing I’ve learned when dealing with co-workers is, if you’re busy and hard-working and creative and grouchy, folks don’t like you as much as when you’re busy and hard-working and creative and don’t bite their heads off. I try to take a moment before I respond so I prevent myself from sounding like a guy who is snapping at you.
Salespeople around here don’t have many people tell them “No,” at least from our spot-load that’s how it appears to me. But, I try to provide them with the balance their lives lack. If they don’t think to ask for business, or turn in the paperwork/info until minutes or hours before air time, then we may have to put off the 1st run for a few hours until a suitable business — to Production Director health — compromise can be worked out. If I don’t get enough rest, I forget to take the moment before I respond, then I can sound snappy.
I have a stack of production orders — some are just dubs, some need to be produced. I treat it as I would any list; I can’t do the next one until I finish the one I’m working on now. It’s more stressful to think about a lot of work than to view it as one commercial at a time. When someone makes another sale, the production order goes in the stack, by air date, not when they want play the spot for the client.
I usually try to take time off with the family between Christmas and New Year. Some AE’s want me to do the spot for their club clients for NYE, so that stuff comes to me before Christmas. It adds to the list, but it’s only a problem if things look like there is a possibility that attendance of the Christmas Eve service at church may be jeopardized.
The final thing for me is the kids are older now; they already have all the things that need to be assembled. I don’t have a playhouse or a Barbie car or a bicycle hanging over my head, but the prices on the things they ask for have gone up.
As long as that idiot Santa Claus doesn’t bring another dog for Christmas, it’s all good.
Craig Allen [craig.allen[at]citcomm .com], Citadel Marketing Group, Saginaw, Michigan: Stress, thy name is December. Maybe not as much stress as tectonic plates grinding against each other, but close.
What gets me is not the workload, but the UNNECESSARY workload. Example: Our Thanksgiving deadline was the Tuesday before Turkey Day. The Friday and Monday before weren’t so bad load-wise, but that Tuesday was a killer. Everybody turned their prod orders in on Tuesday, with a trickle over to Wednesday morning. Tuesday and Wednesday were a frenzy, when they didn’t really need to be.
In the race to put dollars on the books at the holidays, unfortunately Production gets reduced to nothing more than support staff -- a bunch of dub monkeys slapping together spots with mediocre Santa and elf voices — and usually at the last minute.
So my stress level would decrease if reps started planning for holidays about 6 weeks before they happen, instead of 10 days.
Vince Lynch [vince.lynch[at]virgin radio.co.uk], Virgin Radio, London, United Kingdom: When I get stressed I think about working construction wearing a hard hat on a scorching summer day. Then I take a deep breath lean back in my comfy chair and sing at the top of my lungs, loving the fact that no one can hear me.
Gary Michaels [michaels[at]wask.com], WKOA, WASK, WKHY, WXXB, Lafayette, Indiana: Yes, it is a stressful time of the year, especially for someone like me who has young kids and absolutely loves Christmas. Not only are I and my department flooded with spots by the drove for clients who want to ‘play’ to the holiday and gift giving, but during my off time, radio, television, newspaper, direct mail and the internet vie for my personal time as well. The bustle is maddening. It’s hard to find time to quiet down the mental processes and try to enjoy it. It’s all too easy to fall into a state of melancholy or resentment at the commercial world, so I find myself consciously trying hard to slow down, take a breath when possible, and make ‘my own’ Christmas holiday. Perhaps the song Where Are You Christmas reflects our frustration with the times.
I believe you have to consciously work at stress reduction this time of year (like we need more things to ‘work on’). I guess my way of doing it is to shut down after I leave the office. I don’t listen to radio during my drive home (don’t tell the GM!) I drive a little slower so all the ants can pass me. I watch very little television, and I try to separate myself from the group consciousness of the mall shoppers. I take time to eat all the goodies, which explains my growing figure, and do what I can with the family. Then again, I’m older and have learned to love my quiet.
I’ve learned to take great joy in reading a good book.
Bill Downs III [billdowns[at]clear channel.com], Clear Channel, Little Rock, Arkansas: Well, at the risk of being accused of rampant navel-gazing...
I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t have my “stress-out” moments at work this time of year — there are a number of sales reps who can attest to that! But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned better how to keep things in perspective — not perfect, but better.
The job is important, of course, and I will always try to do it to the best of my ability. It’s something I enjoy, at least most of the time, and not to toot my own horn, but I think I’m pretty good at it.
But in the end, it’s just that: a job. It’s a way to make a living. I don’t live it as I might have tried to do 20 years ago. The job is important, but it’s not rocket science. And it pales in comparison to family and friends, and more recently for me, my church, which is something of a second family to me. I love music, and participate in both the hand bell choir and the adult choir that sings each Sunday. It’s about as far from this job as it gets — and it’s a refreshing change of pace.
On a related note, I recently got around to reading “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom. It took me a while to bring myself to where I could read it, because I thought it was a book about dying, and I didn’t want to feel that negative. Having now read it, I can say it’s just the opposite. It is a positive, affirming story, and very much goes toward keeping things in life in perspective.
Jim Harvill [JimHarvill[at]clear channel.com], Magic 107.9 KEZA, Fayetteville, Arkansas: It’s a very stressful time of year here in Northwest Arkansas — even more so than usual. I haven’t always dealt with stress in the most positive ways, and from time to time, still struggle in that area. But for the most, I do my best to make a priority of things that are important. It may not be much of a life, but it’s mine after all. I make a point to visit with friends and family to stay connected with them. It’s also important to me to be involved in both church activities (this year I directed the drama portion of my church’s Christmas Musical) and civic responsibilities (I’m in my last month of my 3 years of service as a member of the Parks Advisory Board in my hometown). “Of those to whom much is given, much shall be expected.” Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Drake Donovan [drake[at]drake donovan.com]: Talk about holiday stress. I’ve got two stations to image: a Hot AC and a Country. In December both stations do radiothons FIVE DAYS APART! Y108’s “St. Jude/Country Cares for Kids Radiothon” is usually on a Thursday and Friday, and Star 100.7’s “Variety Cares for Kids Radiothon” is on the following Tuesday and Wednesday, so at least I have the weekend to recover, or so you’d think. On the Saturdays leading up to Christmas, our Hot AC does two or three live broadcasts from area malls with Santa called, “North Pole Radio.” Those need promos, bumpers, IDs and sweepers. Throw in a couple of year-in-review shows and a bunch of holiday music sweeps and it’s... (c’mon everyone sing along) “The most he-eck-tic time of the year! There’ll be sweepers and promos and radiothons and not enough beer! It’s most he-eck-tic time of the year!” (bah ba-dum-bum bum)
Now you ask, “Drake, how can you possibly burst into song when you’ve got so much to do?” Well, it’s simple: recycle and reuse. Since it’s only once a year, I’m not too concerned about creating new stuff every year. So in addition to everything that’s already in the can, each year I’ll write a new promo and tweak a few sweepers (every awards show broadcast we do, I always try to get more celebrity and artist appeals to bolster our message). I’m fortunate that our VP of Programming oversees all of this and has laid out a detailed plan of what production pieces are needed and where they go in the hour. And, since he has four stations under his belt, he likes things to be as uniform as possible across the board (hence the similar titles of our respective radiothons listed above).
So Star’s plan mirror’s Y108’s. We have had the same phone numbers and voice people, so nothing much has changed (unfortunately, this year we changed our position statement on Y108, so that stuff’s being updated). But as long as none of my backed-up data is corrupted, and I get no other surprises (like that last minute sponsor that’s just got to be on the air!), I should be singing all the way to my in-laws this Christmas. (Not because I like them, mind you. It’s because I’ll be drunk! The only way to spend the holidays with those you’re related to by marriage – BEER!) Happy New Year everybody! <hiccup>
Craig Jackman [craigj[at]canada.com]: Not only is this my most stressful time of year, but every year feels like I’m inching closer to an aneurism! I deal with the stress by doing what I can through the day, and then ignoring the rest. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and that is January. If it just gets too much, I take a day off to do my Christmas shopping or just to sleep in and grab an afternoon nap — I’ve got the vacation time, the company won’t buy back my vacation days, and they legally can’t stop me as I’ve earned it. It’s better for the company too that I take one day when I really need it, rather than a 3 month stress leave.
For the workload it’s a matter of setting priority and reaching minimum levels before going on to the next thing. As much as the PD isn’t going to like it, the priority is commercials and getting revenue in. 2nd priority is sales promos. Last is Christmas splitters. If the PD doesn’t like that priority list, I’m sure the GM would agree with my view. Recycle past material, just do quick and basic Christmas production, whatever it takes to get through the day.
The best part of my situation is that my family has been through this for the past 20 years with me, so it’s nothing unusual for them. My only advice to others is to realize that it’s still a new Christmas for them (even though you may have been doing Christmas spots since August, and done 250 insincere “The management and staff of” holiday greetings). So even though you feel like toast, try your very hardest not to spoil it for everyone else. I’ve been guilty of that in the past and it doesn’t make the rest of the radio stress any easier to deal with.
Ian Fish [Ian.Fish[at]chrysalis.com]: Aaah, Xmas… my favourite time of year. When the weather outside is roughly the same temperature as the air conditioning in the studio, I’m happy. This time of year is of course very busy, but there’s one big difference that actually makes life in the production studio a little easier. The vast majority of clients plan their Xmas activity early, meaning I actually get advance notice on projects from our AEs. That allows for forward planning, which in turn lets me organize my time working for the sales side far more efficiently. And for the Programming side, well I’ve been making Xmas sweepers since early November, and collecting all kinds of Xmas related audio from films and TV shows since summer. You get some weird looks when you rent “Muppets Christmas Carol” or “Miracle on 34th Street” (“Coincidence on 34th Street” as us skeptics prefer to call it!) DVDs in early September.
Of course, the big pay off after all the hard work, and the way I can keep stress under control, is by looking forward to some time off, with my girlfriend, my family and my friends. And for me, that’s what Christmas is all about.