The Road Back

by Ed Thompson

There are some things about being in a wheel chair that are fun. Parking is much easier. Giving my 4 year old daughter a ride on my lap really rocks. And rolling down the ramp from my house with my arms held wide like I’m flying is a blast. Though there isn’t much else. The best thing is, I don’t plan on being in my wheel chair for very long.

Since my fall last Christmas, I have been going through intense physical therapy. From my first 8 steps in parallel bars, I have learned to walk with the assistance of braces and a walker from my car to my pew in church. This week, I’m going to start working with forearm crutches. Oh. On Easter Sunday, I moved a toe.

What’s next? I expect a dance with my wife this coming New Year’s Eve.

Also, I’m back to work.

April 1st was my first day back. It was very strange. Everything seemed so different. There were some changes to the building with remodeled studios. Changes to the staff with some people having been let go. The computer network had been rewired and the servers moved around. I couldn’t remember any of my user names or passwords, and I forgot nearly all of what I’d learned of the new automation system. I was rusty, to say the least. I felt like I was a new employee.

The feeling didn’t last very long. The folks with whom I work came from all over the building to welcome me back and I felt at once like a part of the team again. As out of practice as I was, my boss decided he’d take it easy on me for the first couple of days. The first few production orders were mostly dubs, which was just fine with me. It was very much like a baseball player practicing the fundamentals of hit the ball, throw the ball, and catch the ball. With a dub, I had to watch my levels, make sure all the information was correct: client name, spot title, out cue, end date, ISCII code. There’s nothing like doing dubs to hone the edges. It brought back the focus and the discipline I needed to rebuild that physical memory (not unlike relearning how to walk). I don’t care how long you’ve been in the business. If you somehow think you’re above doing dubs, I don’t want to work with you.

After a couple of days came the first writing assignments. They were easy jobs at first. Mostly the kind of spots that all you get are notes off the napkin and you knock ‘em out just so you can get ‘em on the air. I smiled. I don’t know why, but I thought that somehow during my absence, those kinds of things would have changed. Welcome back to radio, Ed. AE’s were, after all, AE’s.

The biggest change while I was gone was the change on the economy. It’s funny. Economics is half numbers while the other half is psychology. During the downturn, countless agencies suddenly dropped their ad schedules like hot rocks. That sent countless GM’s into a state of fear and panic which caused them to send out pink slips. I read emails with shock and horror as some of my colleagues were shown the door. One group went so far as to let go their whole production staff and replace them with DJ’s who would now have to pull an air shift and a stint in the production department.

Some GM’s, however, did not give in to the panic and actually looked carefully at their numbers. Sure, agency business was down. Way down. But what could they do to make up some of the losses? They began by looking at their assets.

In the “Princess Bride,” Wesley was asked by Indigo Montoya for a plan to get into the castle to prevent Prince Humperdink and Princess Buttercup’s wedding and at the same time seek revenge on the six-fingered man. Welsey, who’d been mostly dead all day, asked Indigo for their assets. “Your brains, my steel, and Fezzig’s strength,” he replied.

“Not a chance!” protested Wesley. Even with weeks to plan, he argued that it couldn’t be done. However, if they only had a Holocaust cloak and a wheelbarrow, well it might be possible.

How do you make up for the loss of all that agency money? By putting on your Holocaust cloak, grabbing your wheelbarrow and going after that direct money. A production department with a copywriter who possesses a good knowledge of how a client can use radio to its best advantage is the most valuable asset to any sales department.

When was the last time you sat in on a sales meeting? When was the last time you had a meeting with an AE to discuss what kind of campaign your station could put together to help a client stay competitive in a rough economy. When was the last time you offered to meet with an AE and a client before the first word of a script was written?

If you think your job is tough, imagine being one of your station’s sales reps and watching your paycheck get smaller every week as agencies or clients cut back on their ad buys. It’s not unlike watching your freelance money dry up for the same reason but, with one big exception. Most AE’s I know don’t do freelance sales. If you’re sitting there, worrying if you’re the next one to get a pink slip, chances are you will. However, if you make yourself a valuable and necessary asset toward bringing up the bottom line, you just might make it through. This economy will eventually come back. Wouldn’t you like to be one of the drivers of the bus on the road toward a recovery?

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