by John Dodge
A funny thing happened on the way to my Steal This Script! this month. I got promoted! Not to another Production Director's job with more toys in a cooler market, though that nearly did happen. I mean into The Chair.
As you read this, I'm a few weeks into my first Program Director position at WCRB, Boston's 50kw 24-hour commercial classical station. And for the benefit of radio producers with their eyes on the programming prize, I thought I'd postpone business as usual and explain how one guy with "no prior experience" got from here to there.
Here's a quick twenty-year bio so you can see how this tracks: Started as a musician...still am. Got a communications degree, went to Juilliard, dropped out, joined a band, toured coast to coast, recorded for ATCO, the band broke up like bands do, did a morning show at a New Hampshire AOR, got a job producing KISS in San Antonio, then WROR, Boston, WBOS, Boston, and finally...the eighties hit the wall. Experienced a "downsizing" and began to freelance -- write and produce radio commercials, play a few gigs, do audio for video, teach copywriting and production (just like Dennis Daniel!) and write this monthly feature for RAP. Time flies when you have fun.
Being a creative by nature, it was never my goal to become a Program Director. I viewed the post as a combination of child psychology, politicking, endless meetings, stress endurance, and job security that hangs by the fickle thread of a statistically inadequate 500 pound gorilla named Arbitron. Who needs that headache? Not me! I'll sit in my cool, safe studio and create and let some other poor sucker get the headlines or the boot. The ultimate lieutenant.
But, then WCRB's President/General Manager, a person with both a vision and an unconventional mindset said, and I paraphrase, who better to be the PD than a successful Production Director? You have the one job in radio that touches each and every base. You are advertising and marketing savvy after years of creatively "selling" a wide range of goods and services, including radio stations. You've honed your people skills to a fine edge by dealing with the airstaff, managers, salespeople, and clients. You have a private eye's attention to detail, or else those zillion commercials you've written and produced over the years would have never aired. Etc., etc., etc..
In other words, Grasshopper, you know more than you think you know.
I'll make a long story short -- and this is the difference between inside and outside the box thinking -- get a legal pad and draw a line down the middle. On the right side, put all the usual, predictable resume stuff, all the stations you've worked for, your skills, all your big victories, the "I did it for them, by God, and I can do it for you" kind of stuff. On the left side of the paper, write down personal qualities like Enthusiasm, Curiosity, Honesty, Competence, Vision, Fairness, Trust, Resourcefulness, Versatility, Perseverance....
See where I'm going with this? If you have both sides going for you, that's excellent. Please call because I'd like to know you better. But, if we're weighing these things for their real value, the point is that passion is worth far more than technical expertise and "experience." A person with the right energy and attitude can learn the ins and outs of most new situations. A person without...well, I've worked both with and for those guys, and it devalued my job.
And another thing: I've observed that people who spend their whole lives climbing up a career pyramid are less likely to innovate and take risks. There's too much at stake if they fail; they carry too many preconceived notions or taken for granted assumptions. So, they play it safe, go with what they know, rework what worked before. Sound familiar? It should. It's the kind of thinking that makes our industry sound so damn generic. It's fear of flying.
I'm not leaving production because I'm tired of it. On the contrary, I love it; it may be the best job in radio. But I'm taking this new opportunity to grow and change, to do something different and recharge. It's a risk that has already increased my energy and enthusiasm and made me more productive, creative, and motivated. If I "fail," at least I can say I rose to the occasion. And my closing advice for you is: if you don't accept the challenge -- the chances for growth and change that come your way -- you run the only real risk of failure: spending the rest of your career wondering..."what if?"