Q It Up: Are you ready for Downsizing? Let’s hope it never happens to you, but downsizing (the nicer word for companywide layoffs of real people) is something that’s way too common these days. Are you prepared for it? Have you already been through it? Know somebody who has? If so, what advice would you give others in radio production departments to better their chances of surviving the cut, or if they don't, advice for surviving after the cut?
Micheal G Ziants, Airlift PROductions, New Orleans, LA: Wow, Mr. Vigil, of all the softballs you’ve thrown out there this year, allow me to squarely smack this one over the left field wall! Because this question just resonates through my most recent blog, along with Churchill’s “Never. Never. Never. Quit”. It’s all HERE.
Art Hadley: 35 years ago I used a 16-in 4-out mixer designed for TV, about four feet wide. $16,000.
It lasted fifteen years, and I replaced it with a digital 16-in Yamaha with 49 scene memorization and motorized pots and EQ and gating and reverb, about two feet wide. $1,600.
It lasted fifteen years, and I replaced it with an 8-in 2-out Yamaha USB mixer. I don’t have carts and reels any more, so don’t need all the inputs. I do my processing in Audition, so don’t need it in the mixer. A foot wide. $160.
Budget for the next production mixer in 2026: $16.
Downsizing can be good.
Chadd Pierce: First, you're keeping an off-site collection of your work, right? Because, if you work for the kind of place that would suddenly cut people at the holidays, it's probably a good 2017 resolution to find a better company before it happens to you. "Holiday Downsizing" indicates an inability to meet the financial obligations to which a company has committed. Lack of warning means the company has mismanaged the situation (if they knew about this for months but are just telling you now, that's even worse). Fat chance you'll find the people responsible for this disaster on the chopping block, so if you survive, it's probably time to leave anyway.
Did you get cut? Bounce back immediately. Take an hour to absorb this, but make it short-- you've got hunting to do. Call everyone you know. Email. Press-release your availability. Get to your networks. Check LinkedIn Jobs and industry sites. That's what worked for me, anyway. On the way home from my surprise final day at work, I was already on the phone with my industry support system getting tips. Within 4 hours of being let go, I made first contact with my soon-to-be new employer. That was 10 years ago Spring '17, and I'm still producing here.
Drake Donovan: Video. That’s how I staved off being RIF’d for a number a years. I saw the need for it in my cluster and ended up making myself indispensable in the production department because I could do lots of things others couldn’t. Unfortunately it seems that the longer your tenure and the more figures in your paycheck, the higher you move up on the line item list. I’ve seen a lot of folks, who from afar appeared indispensable, get let go at the end of the year. So really, there are no guarantees.
1. Learn something that can add to your value: Video, graphic design, web design, social media, etc. If you possess more than one skill and could potentially fill more than one role, chances are you’ll be more valuable than a one-trick pony who might make more than you do.
2. Become an incessant saver: Not just your money. Save your work and save your contacts. You never know who or what can be an asset to you down the road.
3. Be active on social media: Find and engage in the production groups on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Get your name out there. Share your work and politely ask for feedback. Keep in touch with the folks who engage with you, but don’t be a pest.
4. Make sure you have what you need to work from home: Getting work can be full-time work. So whether you’re going to hang your shingle as a freelancer or trying to get another radio production job, you’ll need a functioning home These days that can be just a decent computer, a good suite of plugins, a USB interface and a mic in a treated space to record audio. You don’t need a huge mixer board or a custom room with a sub floor and double walls.
5. Attend conventions: get out to Conclave, CRS, WWRS and the like while you’re still in your day job. Network and learn what’s going on outside of your building.
Those are just some of the things I did to ensure my survival when the time came to leave radio. That, and marrying a doctor/lawyer/accountant/pharmaceutical sales rep, can help too!
Al Peterson, Radio America Network, Arlington VA: Ugly stuff out of the way up front. First, don't delude yourself. Everyone is born with a larynx, so having the Voice of God is no longer the golden qualification it used to be. Assume that downsizing is the way of the world and not just an exception to the rule.
But rather than panic over it, take control now: diversify and build other skill sets, while you also increase your visibility.
On the diversification front: If you're already working as a jock, get good at production. If you're good at production, start learning basic engineering and bulk up on your I.T. skills. Pull a few free VST synthesizers off the Internet and learn how to create all those zaps, wipes, swipes and rewinds that you now buy from someone else, then share them with other stations in your corporate chain. Touch base with agencies you work with and offer to write radio copy as a freelancer.
As for visibility: Sit in on sales meetings and contribute to the creative process. You might come up with a campaign no one else thought of. Offer to do outside talks and workshops on radio production. Colleges will love you. In my own case, I've done presentations in New York City for the Intercollegiate Broadcasters (www.collegebroadcasters.us) since 1992. This Spring will be my 25th year with the group.
Every time your name is in print somewhere, make sure your boss and his/her boss is sent a copy of it, not just a link. Offer to write an article for Radio And Production. The more visible you are (for all the right reasons), the more valuable you appear. Suddenly, that 21-year-old kid with mad Pro Tools skills they were thinking of hiring isn't such a bargain anymore.
Should the unthinkable happen and you are shown the door – regardless of the real reason -- go back and look over your paperwork. Can you get out of a non-compete? Are you being properly compensated for said non-compete? You can endure being on the beach for a while if your severance package is worth it.
Finally, look long and hard at how you conducted yourself while you were there. Were you helpful and even-tempered, or were you a conceited jerk?
The best way to be remembered at any job is to be the one they tell the new hire, "Oh man, you just missed a great guy."
Morgan MacGavin, 94FM The Fish, Nashville, TN: You know, I’ve been in corporate radio since I was 16, and am now 34--so “downsizing” and “corporate restructuring” isn’t new to me. It always stings, though. We work in such a personal industry because it is creative, and behind the scenes most of us are friends. Friendships aside, radio is a business that revolves around whether or not people like you. When we let people go, deep down we know it’s about the numbers, but at the heart level, it feels like betrayal. It’s hard to separate the two.
Having been wished well in my future endeavors a couple of times for the reason of downsizing, as well as watched numerous friends go through it, my best advice comes down to wardrobe and attitude. Throw on as many hats as you can without being a doormat, and look good doing it. Redundancy is key to survival. I’m the Production Director for Salem Nashville, but I also do some of the local imaging. I track 3 shifts on one of our music networks, fill in for our traffic manager when she is off, schedule the barter every week, “volunteer” to work our monthly Saturday morning shopping show, and even hold trainings and one-on-one creative meetings with our sales team. While I love the vast majority of what I do, and am completely capable of doing it, I’m not naïve. I know that when it comes to looking at two people on a piece of paper, my foot is wedged in just enough doors that I would have to do something pretty extreme to get the boot over someone else who is only doing the bare minimum. Make yourself indispensable.
The other key to survival is attitude. Yes, it stinks wearing a thousand hats. If I could just do one job and call it a day, I’d be ecstatic! The reality is that no matter what industry you are in, multi-tasking is optimal and preferred. If you whine and complain about it, there are plenty of other people who won’t. If this isn’t something that comes naturally to you, then you’d better learn how to swallow your pride before budget talks come up again for the year.
As for surviving after the cut—been there too. Whatever you do, don’t walk into your GM’s office and tell him/her what a jerk they are. I promise you, unless they have zero soul, they didn’t like laying staff off and impacting someone’s family. In a pay-cut scenario I actually looked at my GM and said, “Look, I’m unhappy about this, and it comes at a really crappy time, but I get it, and I know this has to suck for you too.” He nodded and said that it wasn’t his favorite day. So again, attitude. Have a heart. You’re allowed to be upset and grieve—it’s our friends, after all—but we still have a job to do, and it’s with the people that remain. If your leadership hasn’t already called a strategy meeting, don’t be afraid to sit down with your boss and ask the best way we can attack the workload with less people.
If you’re someone who didn’t survive the cut, you’re also allowed to be upset, panic, and to grieve—but don’t burn bridges. For all the same reasons I mentioned before, know that it’s probably unlikely that it was personal. (Unless you’re the PD I once had who basically skipped down the hallway to call me into the termination meeting. ?) You never know who will be the person who opens that next door for you. Take a day or two to process and watch Netflix in your underwear with a pint of Talenti’s. THEN, hit the pavement, and don’t badmouth anyone while you’re at it. There’s that attitude again. “Suck it up buttercup” can be a harsh phrase, but when you have to feed your family (or pets for my fellow singles), you don’t have the luxury to wallow. You’re still talented. A piece of paper with your termination agreement doesn’t strip you of that. So get back out there and take whatever comes your way. In January of 2015 my unemployment ran out from being let go. I reached out to all my connections and wound up with 5 hours a week as a board op with Salem Music Network. By the summer, I was a 25 hour a week Assistant Production Director. September—the new Production Director. It doesn’t always happen that way, but if I’d been “too good” to take that 5 hour a week slot every Thursday night, then I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this to you.
Downsizing doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you don’t let it.
Gord Williams: First, I have been ‘retired’ for some time now, but yes ‘downsizing’ is something that happened to me. Apparently. I say it that way because it was 1982, and I refused to go across town before my shift and pick up the mail. I ‘did not think it was a programing function’ as I put it at the time. Realistically, I wonder if this was true or a prejudice thing. The bosses name was also Gord so, I could go either way on that one. ‘Not enough room for two Gords in this here place"…might have applied easily. In short I don’t think you get to the truth on that sometimes, but there was an economic slowdown in 1982 and people started losing their jobs for said reasons. True or not.
I fought it by believing in my dream, and I think I was still fresh enough that I had the determination to see it through. Though I don’t quite know what I would do in today’s climate, people are getting literally locked out of stations at a moment’s notice. At worst, a house cleaning might have meant one or two individuals at the time. It certainly makes me feel weary at my age to think about it. I think I would just fade away. Some of my contemporaries have taken early retirement or packaged out. But if in the same shape as 1982 and facing today’s climate, I think I would respond according to how I first reacted to your question.
1). Give them what they want. Which is usually better cheaper faster, or right sized. Assume that any counter offer you make would be a feather in management’s cap and they could take it to shareholders or the board and tout what great negotiators they are. If you don’t see a purpose in tabling it right away, prepare it and keep it fresh. Usually this means becoming a free agent and dedicating enough time so that you can be sold to be equivalent to full time. Maybe put a clause in it, they are first served and have right of refusal of outside work. A lawyer is probably a good idea. I would gauge it based upon whether you think they are operating for the common good, or your picking up the mail for them. The second one I would make a tougher clawback on my hours so I can get some in freelance.
2) Learn how to sell. Not just call people up and say you’re available; learn how to market yourself so effectively they are stupid to turn you down. When I was a talent, all I wanted to do was the work, and I could care less about being a self-promoter. I railed against them in meetings. Opinion hogs I thought. But many got the work because managers in particular come from sales. Let’s leave it at that. It could get nasty if I dive into what I thought about the environment at the time. The point is, utopia it’s not and your talent alone is never enough, even if you think so feverishly.
3) Cultivate and learn what is going on. It a tough one but keep an ear to the ground as best you can. Many have been caught on this in the past couple of years as mentioned with more than one network or large station literally locking people out due to new economics. Beware of ghost stories and tall tales but do listen to the wind.
4). Decide pessimistically where you draw the line. Do you love it so much that you can put in a part time day as a sole survivor giving only the weather forecast two times an hour, being paid for exactly that? Never mind it’s times eight stations, is exactly two weather forecasts or two station sounders with 18 different tags, or one sponsor with similar tags. The thing is you may surpass your most pessimistic forecast to stay in it.
I don’t think I would ever get back into it because of the last one. The water line has changed so much in the twenty years since I was last full time and I believe fully in the first one. Give them what they want. When you do work at it, you do what you want and you get paid what you think is fair. Often there are people who are better cheaper faster but not to sound old, I am also not up to schmoozing some award ceremony till the wee hours and trying to get in for 5am. I don’t think I ever had that energy honestly. If they saw that they read me right.
I try not to think of it in terms of wins and losses. I try to think of it in terms of integrity both personal and for the work.
Ryan Ghidoni: Want to survive the cut? You need to be a triple threat…and I don’t mean act, sing, and dance. You need great production chops, great work ethic/workload management, and great communication skills. Even if you are a great producer, they will still cut you if you are disorganized sluff with a chip on their shoulder who doesn’t know how to talk to people. Identify your weaknesses and take Udemy courses to improve.
Want to survive after BEING cut? Start planning now. 1) Build up a freelance client base while you’re still working. It will be your foundation to launch a media production company from if you get cut. 2) Learn video production. Media production companies can’t survive on audio alone. Local businesses all need a short video produced to promote their business on social media and most of the video guys out there suck at audio. Make great video AND audio your unique selling proposition.
Marilyn Kirkby: Just went through it this summer. Never like to see people lose jobs but for us it made sense. So far it's been pretty good, but we have a lot of growing pains to get through. Communication is a key one in our prod and writing department.
Putting away half of what you make on the outside over time will give you a financial cushion to help through downsizing.
After making the first step, it took me five years of late nights and working weekends but eventually I downsized myself, tendering my resignation. That was eleven years ago.
Two years later the recession hit, all of our customers went belly up, and I had to restart from nothing. We did in two years what we did previously in five. One of those restart customers is now my largest and longest term client.
Some producers didn't go for self-employment. They were able to take their time to find a job, and didn't have to worry about their car being repossessed because they had enough of an independent income stream to keep things in order between gigs. It doesn't take much to maintain if you can get the family on board, and control spending.
The moral: Start somewhere. Start now. Build slowly. Do not ever take out a loan to have side income. Build and buy when you have capital. Superserve your customers. Stay on top of your receivables.
Understand you will always be working. You will always be going out to find customers, always be selling, closing, producing a product, whether it's commercials or cupcakes, seven days a week.
Find something you'd like to do as a career, and figure out how to monetize it. Then start slow and be steady. It will take time, but in that time you'll have a reliable income stream and one day, like those of us that have done this already, you'll realize you have just made yourself immune to "downsizing".
Now you'll be in the position to take a few months to find a new gig, or you can turn your side work into full time self-employment.
You can stay one step ahead of the cut list. And, you get the benefit of going to work each day because you want to work there, not because you have to. That alone can give you a fantastic change of mental status that can turn what once felt a dreary job into a valuable customer of your services.
TL;DR - Start somewhere. Start now. Build slowly.
Michael Shishido, KUMU / KDDB / KQMQ / KPOI, Honolulu, HI: I can't speak for radio stations in large or major markets, but for us in our medium market (Honolulu #63), one thing that can help is to be well-rounded. Multifaceted, if you will. In addition to being a great production person, be a good on-air personality, too. It helps to write and be a good marketer. Make yourself invaluable to your company. Wear multiple hats. Be of value to your organization. On top of that, don't be a jerk.
All things being equal, the jerk is the one who gets the boot.
DJ Mike, Chris-Mar Studios: The word downsizing still sends shivers up my spine. I was one of the fortunate ones who saw what radio was becoming (automated) and moved out of the programming dept. and into the engineering dept. I have had friends go through downsizing and it hurts me to see such good talent wasted to save a few dollars. I am one of the lucky ones who was never caught in the downsizing of talent.
Abdulwahab Ibrahim: What a question. This is definitely directed to me. I am a victim of downsizing for 16 months and counting and yet to get another job. It's quite depressing when you’ve lost your job, especially a job which one is passionate about. I worked with an ad agency as a radio commercial producer. This is the kind of job that one doesn't come across often, especially in country like Nigeria that is currently going through recession right now. I only wished I had an opportunity to start up my own business, but this is difficult because clients don’t so much believe in radio. They rather prefer TV because of the reach, yet they complain TV is much more expensive.
Ben Thorgeirson, 101.5 KooL FM / WILD 95.3, Calgary, AB: I got 'downsized' 'restructured' 'package out' 'booted' 'cut' 'let go', however you wish to phrase it, back in August. My advice to anybody in any production department would be to diversify your knowledge of other departments. I'm now in sales in the same city as I was let go, but with a different radio company.
Mitch Faulkner, Mitch Faulkner Group Inc., Atlanta GA: Surviving the cut?
It happens all the time and catches people off guard! If it happens to you today, your chances are less in getting into another gig in the same market or Format!
Best advice if you still have a gig: If you are an announcer you must start making yourself more valuable to the brand.
If you are in Production you have a greater chance of surviving the cut if you have some production gear at home. If you are employed start building your client base now. The clients that advertise the most are your best asset. They will need you often, and the more you are on the air doing the spots the more valuable you are to other clients.
Create relationships with the clients while you work for the station. Don't just cut the spots and hand them to the Sales staff, insist on calling the clients to play the spots for them and get to know the contacts. So when the CUT comes you can still be there for the CLIENTS you have nurtured at the station.
If you have done a good job for them while at the station, they will want you to continue to Produce their spots after you leave.
This has served me well, over 20 years after the cut and has kept me from panic over a station job when they go to swinging the AXE.
And AFTER the CUT when you hear bad spots on the air in your market, cut a spec spot and call the client for review in order to get more business. We have all heard spots that suck on the air that are usually written by the sales guy and produced by a jock who does not have the skills or effort to do it effectively.
The sorry spots you hear are just screaming for your talent. Take the initiative and do the spec and reach out to the client. It pays off big time because most clients have no idea how to present a great spot, nor do the staff at the station, so YOU win big!
Doing spec spots is like your advertising for your business, sometimes you have to put in the work before you get the gig. Focus on improving your skillset because if you are a jock and all you can do is intro and outro songs on air, your days are numbered when you start the on air gig!
But when you can cut great spots, you can always survive the CUT. And do it independently.
There are a truck load of GREAT JOCKS without jobs, but production people will always eat if you use your marketing skills in tandem with your production chops.
Jay, VoiceMaster LTD: No downsizing expected here. Already bare bones and looking forward to 2017!!
Jeff Shade, KRKO / KXA, Everett WA: “Downsizing,” “reduction in force,” “realignment of company structure,” – it all means the same thing, you’re fired. Probably, at the same time you’re being jettisoned from the premises, your computer has been locked, and you’re headed for the other side of the door with a final check and a home version of their little radio game to play. No matter how good you are, no matter how vital you think you are to the operation, you should always remember that in today’s corporate radio environment, you’re just a pay check they’re trying to get rid of. There’s really nothing you can do about preserving your job if the bean counters think otherwise. But you can minimize the damage if you realize that it can indeed happen to you. I once worked at one of the biggest radio companies where, with a change in the P.D., it became like fighting a war every day. You never knew where the mines were and which one of your buddies was going to get blown up. It was my personal Vietnam. Even though I was wounded, I was able to recover enough to fight again because I had a backup plan.
Never let one person or company dictate whether you eat or have a roof over your head. While you have a regular job, you should always work on multiple streams of income. If you lose one of them, it reduces your income but doesn’t eliminate it. Think of yourself as an entrepreneurial business. Develop outside clients for what you already do, but additionally, expand your skills. I have a number of ad agencies and other businesses I work for as VO talent and producer. I also host, package, and distribute a financial show and an automotive show. I’ve done a TV version of the car show and plan to bring it back nationally. I do video production and even edit. The best investment you can make is in yourself. Don’t rely on some company to take care of you - YOU are responsible for taking care of you. You should always have a non-radio skill in case of an emergency. Personally, I learned some auto restoration skills and this past year made a few grand doing that. I’m about to get my insurance license to bring in clients to my financial planner’s firm. There’s a LOT more money in that than radio, and I’m my own boss. Be diversified.
If you’re still working, you should always have a resume ready and a recent demo on your home computer. Be a good networker. If you want to stay in radio, meet your next employer before there’s an opening. Contact PDs at stations in places you’d like to work and check in quarterly by email. There are also a number of internet music-streaming companies that use people with production skills. Cast a wide net. Finally, don’t have more stuff at the station that you can fit into a 20” X 16” box! Think of yourself as a temp. I know many talented people who have never been able find another job once they were “let go,” because they got too comfortable and let their guard down.
These are the tips and techniques I’ve learned over the past 40 years and still use to prevent being another casualty. I may be wounded in action, but I won’t be KIA. Be prepared for the worst at all times and remember…never put your back to the door!
Dave Stalker, Combined Communications, Bend, OR: The trend must be widespread because it has reached my small market. The last few years have been brutal on small market radio groups. One of the groups we compete against in town has just 4 paid announcers to keep 5 radio stations on the air 24/7, and they let their Production Director go over a year ago. My group is seeing similar losses. My stable of available voices, primarily our morning show DJs, is shrinking, which increases the frequency with which listeners hear the same announcer on local commercials.
I believe there is a real need to keep people with good writing and production skills. Turning over production to salespeople is a disaster for the quality and effectiveness of the spots. Unfortunately station owners look at the bottom line more than anything, and how to make us a more profitable looking acquisition target.
Thanks to all who responded. Your input is valuable and appreciated. If you have a question you’d like to see posed to the RAP Q It Up panel, email it to