by Larry Williams
Since the recession hit over a year ago, management has started considering an off-air Production Director as a luxury. Radio had a slow fourth quarter last year, and we're heading for an even more dismal first quarter this year. In the next few months, there are going to be some major cut-backs, redefining of positions, and even total elimination of jobs. It seems management would rather let a full-time, happy, contributing employee go, just to temporarily satisfy their bottom line.
When budget cuts do happen, the off-air Production Director is one of the most vulnerable positions in a station. "What'll they do? They can't run a station without us!" The problem is that most of the decision-making, radio management types (I will further refer to these people as "Suits") don't understand our position and what it is that we do for the station. Think about it. When was the last time you went on vacation, got back, and heard horror stories about the production load and the problems that arose while you were gone. They don't seem to under-stand that we deal with all of this pressure on a daily basis...and do a pretty damn good job at it. Suits will not see the importance of the position until it is eliminated and everything starts to fall through the cracks.
Due to the recession and this lack of management's understanding of our position, we'll see a great many changes in production departments in this first quarter. The Suits will be assessing all job descriptions, trying to decide where to make the necessary cut-backs, and more and more stations will be limping along with an on-air personality doing the Production Director's job. Here's the budget review conversation between corporate and your GM:
Suit: "Production Director? What does this person do?"
GM: "Well he/she does commercials and a few station promos."
Suit: "Our other station, KXXX in small market Idaho, has one of their DJ's as their Production Director."
GM: "We're a larger market than they are, and we have more commercials and clients than they do."
Suit: "Don't your DJ's do commercials?"
This little conversation is closer to the truth than you might like to think. I'm not trying to scare you into thinking that you will lose your job in this first quarter; that will happen to only an estimated two to three percent of us. What I want to do is get you prepared for the worst, and be ready for that tough job search ahead.
BE PREPARED BEFORE IT HAPPENS
Each and every one of us should always be prepared to look for work tomorrow. Remember, this is radio. People get blown out with little or no warning at all. To combat this possibility, keep your résumé updated at all times. No matter how confident you are in your position, you're still vulnerable. Even if you don't get fired, there's always the possibility that you might get a call from a great station looking for someone. You had better have a current résumé ready to go. It's a simple task to do on a day off, so get it done as soon as possible.
Always have at least one master demo-tape standing by. This is a necessity. First of all, it's easier to run dubs than to go drudging through reel upon reel to isolate good stuff. Secondly, there are bosses that will walk you to the front door when you're terminated. (The "Hasta La Vista, Baby" syndrome!) If all of your work is on station masters in the studio, you may never get the chance to put together a great tape.
When you do have a good demo done, make copies. I always have at least six copies of my demo tape ready to be sent out. This way, if I get a call about a position, my package is in the mail that day! It also affords me with some assurance that I'll have materials ready should I get escorted to the door one payday.
If you are planning ahead and making job search preparations, it's a good idea to do a few specially tailored versions of your master demo tape. Make two or three different ones for different formats. Just because you are doing flame throwing CHR right now, doesn't mean that you may not want to apply for a position at an AOR or Country station. If this type of situation arose, you wouldn't want to send a tape that would be too intense. Do a tape that leaves off all the sampled kid stuff and concentrates on your more creative work. You'll have a much better chance of landing a gig outside your format.
WHAT TO DO WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU
KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE: When you do get fired, remember: your mom still loves you. Just because you were let go doesn't necessarily mean that you were doing a bad job, especially when it happens in the first quarter. It usually means that some people in this business don't quite understand what it is that you do. We are the unheralded pawns in this war called radio! It is not until we are gone that management actually regrets what they have done.
Sometimes your job search may take a couple of months instead of just weeks. In this situation, you may need to find another form of temporary income. The best way to keep call letters on your resumè is to work part-time at another station in town. If this is an impossibility, maybe some friends, or even family, can use you part-time. I happen to be lucky in the respect that both of my sets of parents own their own businesses. There's always a few bucks there if I need them. Keep an open mind about temporary work...it's only temporary.
If you need to find full-time work just to pay the bills, try to secure a position that will allow you to have a few hours free, either in the morning or afternoon. This will allow you to continue looking for employment in radio every day. If you end up working nine to five during the day, your job search will be severely handi-capped, as you will not be able to make and receive calls.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR WORK: You need to have access to trade publications, i.e. Radio And Production, Radio & Records, Friday Morning Quarterback, Gavin Report, Broadcasting, etc.. If you happen to be shut out of your last station, try the crosstown competitor. Call the Program Director at any local station and ask if you could look in his trade magazines for job listings. All it takes is a simple phone call, and ninety percent of all PD's will be empathetic to your situation.
Find out what days the trades are received at the station, and set up a time with the PD each week when you can take a look at them (Example: R&R is received on a Friday, stop by every Monday at ten-thirty in the morning to see the issue.) When you set up a schedule for yourself to look at the trades, you'll be conditioning yourself not to miss any job opportunities.
Radio & Records (R&R) is probably the best source for finding job listings. Plus, they offer a service where they'll mail you the job listings even before they're published (for a fee, of course). You can also find quite a few listings in Friday Morning Quarterback or Broadcasting. And remember, you can always list your availability or look for openings right here in Radio And Production. The free listing service is available to anyone looking for production work or to any station that's looking for a production person. You might be surprised at how many Program Directors read Radio And Production, and the RAP Network provides names and numbers of fellow producers around the country that might know of an opening in their market.
STAY IN TOUCH: If you've been in the business for any length of time, you've made a few contacts along the way. Friends and previous employers that have been happy with your job performance are a great source for employment opportunities. Call and talk with them often. They should have some sort of scuttlebutt for you. Remember that gossip is usually on the streets before it hits any trade magazines. Word of mouth is the fastest way to find out about a position.
Contacts in the business are important because they have even more contacts and friends of their own. There's a good chance that by keeping in touch with them, you'll eventually end up talking to a close friend of a person who actually has a position open. Checking in with your contacts and friends on a regular basis keeps you "Top of Mind," and that means a better chance of being recommended for a gig.
SET UP A DAILY SCHEDULE: Finding a job when you're unemployed is a full time job in itself. Get yourself into a daily routine and stick to it. Have a set time each morning to sit down and get started. Keep a daily diary of who you call and what you talk about. It's very easy to call six people a day, talk about things, then forget who you talked to and what was discussed. It's very important to keep track of all that transpires between the contacts you make.
Find out the most convenient day and time to talk with some of your contacts. Then call each one at the prescribed time each week. Some days you'll be scheduled to call a lot of contacts, and other days you can devote to trying to reach the people who actually have positions open.
BE OPTIMISTIC: Nobody wants to hire someone who is down. Try to keep an up attitude and don't let the fact you were fired get to you. If you were let go in the first quarter, it was probably just a financial decision and nothing personal. If you do get extremely upset over it, you're in the wrong line of work. We can all expect to be fired at least twice in our careers. It happened to me last January, the day after I closed escrow on a house and two weeks after my first baby was born. You just have to roll with the punches in radio...it's the nature of the beast.