The Virgin’s Guide to Consolidation - Part 5: The New Radio Reality

by Craig Jackman

It’s been a year now, a year in the brave new world of corporate radio. Was it what I expected? Was it good or bad? What it was, was a year of non-stop surprises. It was a year where I learned a lot more about the radio business than I had the previous fourteen.

To review, Rogers Media bought my old company (CHEZ-FM INC.) after a change in market ownership restrictions. Rogers Media is a small part of the Rogers Corporation, a company with holdings in cable TV, broadcast TV, radio, publishing, the Internet, and God knows what else. After a long period of waiting for regulatory approval, it was 12 months ago when Rogers took over. They drastically changed previous management and staff to better suit what they wanted to do.

What’s changed? Well I can’t go up to the President or Chairman of the new company and ask how it’s hanging like I did before. Before the merger, if I had a problem or an idea that I thought was great, I could go right to the President, lay it out for him, and then together we’d take it from there. Now, I have to go through the Creative Director about some stuff, the Program Director for some other stuff, and the Chief Engineer for something else, and then they have to take it through the Market Manager. I see the new GM about once a month when we happen to hit the coffee machine at the same time. Naturally, everyone else wants to add his or her $1.95 into my idea, so I’m finding stuff is getting watered down by the time it comes back to me.

Dealing as a minute part of a huge national company is something new. Apparently, the corporation is about to buy 80% of the Toronto Blue Jays for $120 million. One of our national cable sports networks has to be sold within a year (government ruling…), and rumors say that Rogers is looking to buy that too, and use the ‘Jays for content on it. One of our national newspapers is also floating the rumor that Rogers will also buy the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL team and the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, also for content on their cable stations, Internet service, and possibly for their radio stations. Hmmm, and I was sitting here trying to convince people that for what is going to be essentially 5 stations in one building we need more than 3 production studios. And why, I’ve asked rhetorically, is it that the new buildings in other markets for consolidated stations are getting spiffy new digital consoles and workstations, while we are going to be salvaging what we can and running it through notepad mixers? While I appreciate being part of a corporation that has a vision to try and compete with anybody anywhere, suddenly I feel what I do is a pretty insignificant part of the bigger picture. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

With the new company, come new people. All very nice, committed people that I like, but I don’t know if I necessarily trust any of them. On the other hand, they probably don’t trust me 100% either. They have certainly given me a great opportunity that I’m grateful for and run with. They’ve certainly given me the freedom and the tools that I felt I needed to really do my job the way I hear it in my head. What I’m having a slightly hard time with is the amount of work, and it just keeps coming. Remember when you were learning to swim, and you got to the point where you weren’t drowning but all of a sudden realized that you couldn’t touch the bottom anymore? That instant of pure unadulterated panic followed gradually by confidence? That’s where I am. I’ve reached a point with my PD where he tells me what he wants, lets me toddle off to do it, knowing it’ll get done and sound good on the air. There have been very few times where he’s asked me to revisit something, or re-do it. He pushes me to do more and greater, but positively, without being pushy or by bullying. To my surprise, I’ve had the least amount of problems with the Sales Reps—all they want is the finished product. They make a request and they take what I tell them at face value with very little negotiating or arguments. All business interactions with the new staff have been nothing less than 100% professional.

The variable that has compounded the headaches this year is vacation. My old company gave good vacation benefits, but didn’t make us use them up, so I carried my vacation over from year to year. Hey, on what I was getting paid, I couldn’t afford to go anywhere, and I really didn’t feel like just sitting around the house! I certainly wasn’t going to take any vacation during the 11 months the sale was pending—if someone was going to buy me out, I wasn’t going to go out of my way to make it any cheaper for them. If they didn’t want me, they had to pay all my outstanding vacation plus buyout. When the new company took over, they carried over our seniority, meaning I had 5 weeks of new vacation to add to my previous, so that turned into a total of 63 days. The new company had a policy of not buying out vacation days, and you were not allowed to carry over vacation time into the next year—use it or loose it. Not being stupid, we are all using them. It took a while, but we managed to get everyone in the combined Creative Department their allotted time off. Yes, I hear your collective hearts bleeding for us, but just because someone is not there doesn’t mean that his or her work doesn’t have to get done. There has been so much working ahead, catching up, and covering off of projects and duties that I have no idea where things sit.

One thing that has been difficult is that we are running 5 stations out of 3 different buildings. We are phoning, faxing scripts, e-mailing, and sending MP3s of voice tracks, music beds and completed spots all the time. It was mayhem when a construction accident cut off our phone service for a week. Keeping track of who is doing what and where has been a challenge. One thing that I realized that I had to do was to remember that we’re all just one big happy family. As such, saying that we could do a certain thing at CHEZ was a little bit politically incorrect, and it was better for everyone’s feelings to say that we could do a certain thing at York St. (our address). It became a lot easier to think of things as York St. or Kent St. as opposed to CHEZ or Y-105.

All this will end soon as we are moving (again) into one building. Unfortunately it’s not going to be in our hip, funky little section of downtown. It’s off in some faceless industrial park out near the airport. It’s always an interesting exercise planning a new facility, and I’ve enjoyed being a part of it again, but it’s been a huge fight to keep and/or expand my vision of what a production studio should be due to the tight budgets involved. I’ve basically given up trying to get more than 3 studios for the 5 full-time producers, so it seems that shift work is looming in the future, with the choice of working from 5am to noon, or noon to 7pm. Also, with the new setup, I’ll be sharing office and studio space again for the first time in 5 years. Since I’ve had to do it before, I know I can do it again, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like it. With all the changes that are being asked of me, I wonder every so often what’s in it for me? How will schedule changes affect my family?

About the only fight I think I can claim victory in is that the new studios will be running the software that I’m running. However, the only reason I can make that claim is that I explained to the Chief Engineer that I could set it up so that it would be cheaper to change the other 2 computer systems to my software, than change mine to be the same as theirs. Whether it’s better or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that it’s cheap.

The hardest thing to get used to is the corporate attitude towards production. Creativity is not the top priority; getting it on the air so that we can get the cheque is. I understand why, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like it. Everybody from Rogers that I’ve had to deal with was pleased and excited the CHEZ Creative Department was joining up with them, but to my view, they haven’t taken advantage of our skills yet. There are too many rip ‘n read spots, or “Joe/Jane College” creative spots passing through my studio. That doesn’t mean that creativity is dead in the world of corporate radio. I’m sure that creativity will always have its place, but it means that my priorities are not the same as the Managers. When the PD is warning me that once we get into the new building the Production Department is going to resemble a “sausage factory,” it leaves me to wonder how much time he’s going to want to set aside for the “national quality productions” we are doing now. If we are tied up making “sausage” commercials, where and when is the time consuming long-form production going to get done? How do I get clients voicing their own spots to hustle it up, as the next guy’s coming in and he has other things he wants to work on? Will my clients understand and accept that I’ll no longer be able to give them a finished spot at the end of their session? Will they understand that I’ll have to finish it the next day or hand it off to someone else to finish, someone they may not want working on their advertising?

I really have to say that, for me, the experience of consolidation, taken as a whole, has been great. “That which doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.” Without a doubt, it’s been stressful. Change is never easy, especially when I was so firmly in the rut I was, but you know what? I lived through it, and it wasn’t really all that bad. It was educational. It was eye opening. It was different. It was a hell of a lot of fun at times, and I am without a doubt the better for it. End of the year and awards time will tell, but I think I’ve ended up doing some of my best work ever in the last year. Shows that putting the “gun” to someone’s head sometimes works. Everyone seems really pleased with what I’ve done so far and what I can bring to the table in the future.

However, to tell you the truth, if they want to downsize me when we move into the new building, that’s what they’re going to do, and there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it. You know what? That’s fine, I can move on. I’ve proven a lot, not only to the new company, but also to myself. I might get another radio job with one of the other 2 companies in town, or I might not. I might go into the post-production area. There’s a huge industry here that deals just with producing government and corporate video. I really have no idea what I would do if they let me go, but if you had asked me a year ago what would happen if I lost my radio gig, you’d probably find me in a fetal position hyperventilating. You know it really is amazing what living and flourishing through a year of consolidation will do for your confidence. I’m no longer practicing “…would you like fries with that?”

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