Production 212: The Minimum Wage

Prod212-Logo 2014 webBy Dave Foxx

I have been watching with some amusement the latest push by some to raise minimum wages in our country to 15-dollars an hour. While I’d rather not get into any kind of political debate, I would challenge anyone who thinks this is a good idea to sit down and do some basic math. At 15-dollars an hour, the burger-flipper at the local fast food joint would be getting about $31k annually. That’s nearly double the $18k a Private in the military makes.

The fast food training consists of a day or so following the manager around, watching others do the job. The Private’s training is just a little more extensive with six weeks of hard, physically challenging basic training and then extensive additional training. The burger-flipper is charged with getting your drive-through order right, and to avoid sticking his/her hand in the deep fryer. It’s the Private’s job to dodge bullets, grenades, rockets and other dangerous explosive devices and basically not die while inflicting as much damage as possible on the enemy.

The minimum wage job was designed to be something a person with no real skills can do. Typically, this job is filled with high school kids who want to earn a few extra bucks for gas or date money. It’s a great job, for what it is, but it was never meant to be a career. Anyone who thinks they can lead a successful life with a home and family while asking if the customer wants to upsize is FAIL with several exclamation points.

If you don’t want minimum wage, don’t have minimum skills.

OK, don’t check the cover to see if you picked up the wrong magazine. This isn’t a pitch to keep kids going to High School or even college, although those are both a great start. This is a plea to anyone chasing a career in creative production to continue your education in the school of life. You need to attend the College of Knowledge… every day.

Elliot Segal is a good friend, doing an extremely successful morning show at DC101 in Washington, DC. I first met him here at Z100 where he was an irascible, irreverent and most of the time extremely funny morning show sidekick. He and I shared a motto that, judging by his success in our nation’s capital, he and I still believe in: Any day that I don’t learn something is a wasted day.

College of Knowledge was a bit of his that was essentially an on the air trivia quiz. I recently got an email that reminded me of some of the amazing bits of trivia to stump everyone Elliot used to bring. “What was the original color of Coca-Cola?” [Green] “Which state has the highest percentage of people who walk to work?” [Alaska] “How much does it cost to raise a medium-sized dog to the age of eleven?” [$16,400] (That one still boggles my mind.) The point here is not the trivia. The point is he did the research every day to come up with the trivia. He is a voracious reader. Newspapers, books, magazines, even billboards are all sources for Elliot. Add the Internet and there isn’t anything he can’t find out.

I try to be the same way. When I was still in middle school, I learned that reading books sparks the imagination, especially science fiction. H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stephenson and Isaac Asimov were all staples of my childhood. As I grew older, I branched out into murder mysteries, tales of the occult and historical fiction, but I always came back to science fiction. It simply took my mind to impossible places and allowed me to wander about. The ideas for many of the inventions we take for granted were hatched in science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke wrote about communications satellites in 1945! Sputnik, the world’s very first satellite wasn’t launched by the Soviet Union until 1957. Microwave ovens, telephones in your watch, the laptop computer I’m typing this on were all part of my “reading” life long before any of them appeared on store shelves.

There is a long list of other places you can gain this critical knowledge: television, motion pictures, the internet (although I really don’t trust anything I read in social media), but all of these things combined will never equal reading.

I interviewed a potential intern once and asked what kind of books she reads. She replied, “I hate to read. It’s just so much time wasted.” When I asked, “Really?” she declared that she hadn’t read a book since she’d been in college. I wrote her off then and there. I finished the interview though, thinking she might be suitable for another department. In the end, I realized she had no imagination. She wasn’t stupid by any means, but I felt there wasn’t much hope of her ever progressing beyond where she was, so I turned her away. She wrote me an email a week or so later, asking why she wasn’t accepted. Being pathologically truthful, I told her it was because she doesn’t read. She wrote back to tell me that she thought I was the stupid one, only in more colorful words. I don’t know if it’s true, but someone who knew her said she was working in the fast food industry… NOT as a manager.

Look, I said that high school and college are good places to start, but I would be the last person to suggest that they’re mandatory. Just the opposite; I have one friend in the industry (who shall not be named here) who is extremely successful but never finished high school. He is highly respected, heard every day across the country and is without any question an icon in this business. He might have stopped attending high school but he never stopped learning.

This is my challenge to you. If you don’t know how to do something, never be too embarrassed to ask someone to teach you. Don’t think twice about going back to school, even if it’s just evening extension classes. The one piece of advice I have given over and over again in this space is, “Take some music classes.” Set aside some time every day for your own personal enrichment. Read something… anything. It won’t always pay immediate dividends. Sometimes you’ll think it’s a complete waste of time, but trust me, it will never be a waste of time. It doesn’t have to be about radio either, in fact, given what we do for a living, it’s probably better if it’s NOT about radio. Keep filling your personal creative well and it will end up being an inexhaustible supply of ideas. You will always be learning, improving your skills in grammar, math, science, and music, which interestingly are all skills we need to be better creative producers. You’ll even grow your skills in politics, and that brings me back to where we started:

If you don’t want minimum wage, don’t have minimum skills.

Some people think I have reached the absolute top in this business, but they’re wrong. I have so much more to learn. The funny thing is, the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.

For my sound this month, I have 3 promos, all for the same thing: Z100’s Jingle Ball. The problem we face every year is how to cram 17 artists into one promo without making it 2 minutes long. Here is my solution. MOST of the artists will have their music featured in one of the promos, while they ALL get their IDs. I hope you like what you hear.

Dave Foxx is the Director of Creative Services for Clear Channel New York. He welcomes your comments and questions at davefoxx@clearchannel.com

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