Under Siege

By Michael R. Lee, Ph.D.

Disturbing signs are popping up all around us. And it doesn’t take much intuition to realize that we are now, more than ever, under siege.

Many of our friends and colleagues have been “laid off,” but we know that is a euphemism since the time frame is likely forever. The Reduction In Force was a mass “contraction” that took a disproportionate number of imaging and commercial producers as its victims. We are told that higher quality results will be forthcoming from hubs and metropolises and other producers who are presumably not too mind-numbed by overwork to rise to this auspicious challenge.

For a moment, let’s grant that entirely optimistic assumption. Have we saved the best and brightest producers so that they can step in for those who were presumably not as talented, hard working or creative? Do we have enough of these super-producers to keep radio at its current creative level? Are we rewarding the remaining, top producers monetarily and with the tools that are required to undertake such a mission?

Only time will tell. But this is a dubious proposition. Two reasons come to mind. First, some of the better producers have been in medium and smaller markets all along. Their replacements may not be as good. And eliminating those jobs decimates the developmental leagues that will bring tomorrow’s great producers. Second, many of the top producers in large markets have already been fired or have quit due to salary considerations. Perhaps a third question is in order. Are today’s imaging and commercial producers successful because of their talent and their dedication or is an increasing portion of them survivors because of their political abilities?

And that brings us to another disturbing sign, this one courtesy of CBS Money Watch, which recently published a list that asked “Will these 10 jobs disappear in 2012?” It’s really easy to understand travel agent and newspaper reporter at numbers 4 and 5. But when broadcast announcer (sounds a little like a government licensed bingo caller) comes in right behind them, it can’t be good for an industry that insists it is on the way back, streamlined, with increased advertising revenue, large audiences and as much relevance as ever.

No, broadcast announcers will not be disappearing in 2012 or shortly thereafter, but their jobs have been eliminated and downgraded for a number of years. The CBS Money Watch story was not frivolous in that it was based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation Outlook Handbook for 2010-2011. Most of the concerns for producers above apply more or less equally to air personalities.

While logic tells us that eliminating on-air people puts more of the responsibility in the hands of imaging producers, that hasn’t proven to be the case. Voice tracking and syndication do not raise the profile of imaging producers.

One thing that would help imaging producers at every level and is long overdue in our industry is reducing the number of produced sweepers. Creating 20 or 30 at a time is old mythology. The listeners don’t want that many. They are for program directors who spend too much time listening to their own stations. Quality beats quantity, even in the convoluted world of 2012 radio.

There is also a paradox at work when it comes to commercial producers. Radio maintains that advertisers are very well served by the medium, that it is effective and operating at full strength. At the same time, they are reducing the number of commercial producers and their ability to create innovative spots at the local level.

If a reversal of this reversal of fortune is in the offing, it is one splendidly well-kept secret. These signs may be disturbing to those who toil in studios long after the rest of the station has gone home. But in the radio boardrooms, it is just another day of keeping their jobs while eliminating yours.

And that brings us to the one smile in the CBS Money Watch story. The number ten occupation to disappear in 2012 is none other than CEO. There should be 5,500 fewer of them in 2018 than there are now. Perhaps they will learn what it’s like to be under siege.

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