What They Can’t Teach In School

by Ben Thorgeirson

I recently had the opportunity to be a part of a Q&A panel for radio students starting their first semester at SAIT. It was refreshing to be back there, and I remember being as scared as they were when I started. Lots of great questions were posed and some great answers by other panel members were given. However, I’m worried if they’ll retain what we told them or not.

If they’re like I was on the first day (or first year for that matter) then I can take a pretty good guess and say they won’t remember a thing. This got me thinking; if I could go back to my LAST day of college and explain to myself everything that can’t be taught in a classroom, I’d be working on a flux-capacitor right now.

Being just 2 years out of college, the last little while has certainly been a coming of age. And although my production skills have improved over those years, my ability to deal with sales, creative and programmers has improved 10 fold. When I first cracked the major market, I was cocky and I thought I was going to change the world with my production. I should clarify that I’m a Commercial Producer and I’ve had more than a couple of humbling experiences to disprove that attitude. For instance, I’m a commercial producer… people tell ME what to do… how is that changing the world?! But that’s something I would love to tell my very green self. We’re not programming anything. We’re not managing anyone. We’re bringing energy to the airwaves for a few seconds…  get off the high horse. The following is a list I wish I could tell my graduate self in order to prepare me for a life in radio…

Business of Radio

That’s exactly it. Radio is a business and a business needs to make money. I didn’t realize that until almost a year into working a major market, and to be honest, the day that was told to me was the worst day I’ve had in radio. I thought we got into this business to have fun and be privileged that we get paid to play with audio. Apparently that’s not the case. The radio stations I work at are businesses. The radio station I used to work at is a business. I felt like I’d been lied to for almost 3 years. But I got over it and re-evaluated my role as a commercial producer. Our stations need to make money through selling advertising. In doing that, we have a set of guidelines we follow to ensure all of our clients are getting the same treatment. If I bend the rules for a rep or a client once, they’re going to come back thinking they can do it over and over again. ‘Don’t feed the bears,’ ‘Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile,’ or whatever saying you want to use, you HAVE to stay true to your department’s practice. We make spots for this much money, we take this much time and we have this at our disposal. If these guidelines are broken once, what happens when the rep or client wants to do it again and you say no? All hell is broken loose and business is lost. It’s so easy to fall into a trap of doing whatever the rep says in your first full-time gig. You have to be strong and stand your ground. That brings me to my next point.

Stand Your Ground Without Getting Buried

(This section will probably seem pretty harsh on sales reps, but I just want to preface it with, they’re just trying to do their job and I understand where they’re coming from). You can easily tell a rep or client or writer to go do something with themselves, but is that really what’s best for your career? Don’t get me wrong, nobody likes or respects a pushover, but it is possible to stand up for yourself in a respectable way. Whenever my girlfriend and I argue, she always asks me, ‘Do you want to argue? Or do you want to be an adult and talk it over?’ (I’m usually the one putting up the fuss). The same goes for when somebody’s trying to get a client some special treatment. Reps are funny because they’ll always say, ‘well, why can’t we do this? They’re spending this much money’. I. Don’t. Care. You don’t walk into A&W and expect to get special treatment because you bought a bunch of Teen Burgers. If a client wants to spend a lot of money with your station, that’s awesome! It probably means your station has great ratings or you have someone in the pit who’s good at their job. But, special treatment just because they spent a lot of money? I don’t think so. That client will get the amount of advertising that’s worth their buy and if the rep has an issue with that, politely refer them to your company’s rate sheet and creative guidelines. If there is a rep that’s giving you grief, the best way you can tell them to go do something with themselves is to say, “All revisions must go through creative first,” they love that! Of course, I SAY this, but the cold truth is, if your boss is a GSM, it’s probably best to do what they say… sigh

Your Boss

...is going to piss you off sometimes. Whether that’s your Production Manager or your Program Director, they’re going to get your blood boiling, probably more than once in your career. Even if you don’t agree with it, respectfully voice your opinion and just do what they ask. Because honestly, you’re going to end up doing it anyway. You have to realize that the people in these positions have a job to do and they report to someone as well. And getting a paycheck from that station means you are a part of them getting the job done. There will be a colossal amount of duties in your career that you will not want to do. Just. Do. Them. It is completely okay to ask why the station is doing something. As long as you’re not asking it in a snarky way. It’s okay to be curious and want to learn – in fact, most employers embrace that trait. But it’s NOT okay to tell your boss that their idea is dumb and the station should go another direction. That’s for the behind closed door conversations.

Gossip

There’s a good chance that speculation and gossip happens more often in a radio station than actual work. As a producer, you have a sound proof room. And whether you like it or not, people will come to voice their views on life, their relationships and yes, the station. Try to forget everything you were told as soon as the person leaves. It’s just better that way. TRUST me.

Need to Know Basis

I’m a very big fan of the ‘Need to Know Basis.’ It’s not because I don’t want more responsibility. Not at all. It’s because there’s a lot of things that happen at a radio station (format flips, ‘re-structuring,’ company purchases) that are simply not for you to know about until it becomes public. Snooping into these situations is not going to better your career. In fact, it could do the opposite. You have to know your role within the station. If there’s a format flip going on around you and your job is to make the spots, then just make the spots. When the time is right and your superiors believe you have something to contribute, then they will bring you in and ask for your help. But until that time, just enjoy having the least amount of stress in the building… it won’t last forever!

Stress and Dealing With Stress

They told you in class. This is one of the most stressful industries you can get into. But the payoff is amazing! You’ll have reps asking for spots. Programmers asking for shows. Music Directors asking for songs. What you don’t realize yet, is that everything that hits the airwaves (minus the jock talk) HAS to go through you in order to get there. You’re the one to load it, and with the way radio’s going today, 9 times out of 10, you’re the one to make it. It’s a heavy work load and it can get very stressful at times. You MUST remember that this is only a job. Show up, do it the best you possibly can, and go have a life outside of it. Keep close with your friends, go to hockey games, go golfing, take your girlfriend to the movies, do WHATEVER you can to have fun OUTSIDE of radio. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a hell of a lot of fun on the inside, but you need that break. If you show up and get the job done the best to your abilities, you won’t have to stress about anything because you know you did it. When the holiday season shows up it’s going to suck. I’m not going to sugar coat it. When you’re banging out 20 spots a day because everybody has a daily deal leading up to the big day and then daily deals for Boxing Week and New Year’s, you’re going to stress. You have to push through it. You have to know that it’s not like that every day. You have to know that you can get the job done. You convinced them you can do it when you got hired. Now prove it.

Plan for The Future

The simple fact of the matter is, it’s a pretty expendable industry. Since the dawn of radio, people have been getting hired and fired. Someone younger and newer (and CHEAPER) comes in to take the industry to a new place. Don’t be offended; how do you think you got your job? But you have to plan for this. Freelance is hard to break into, but it pays out well. You’ve been around commercials and advertising your whole career, take a night course and get the piece of paper saying you know how to market a business. I assume you’re caught up on the latest technology and how to use it… go teach it! It’s not something you need to do right now, but it’s something to ponder over the coming years.

Lastly

I don’t know where you’ll go and I don’t know where you’ll end up. Just know that when you get to these places, it’s because you know how to get the job done and done well. It’s an industry of never-ending growth. Keep learning and keep these 7 points in the back of your mind. You’ll have a great career.

Ben is a Commercial Producer for Newcap Radio in Calgary, AB. He welcomes your correspondence at bent@newcap.ca.

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