by Dennis Daniel
Last month, I was waxing poetic on why I left the radio business and dived head first into the advertising and independent production studio world, thus making me a "businessman." I wrote about the "coddled" world of radio production, a world filled with pitfalls, to be sure, but a world that holds the promise of a paycheck, regardless of the workload. I wrote of how the present way production people are paid and treated in the industry "sucks!"
Geez, what a blowhard, complaining fool, huh?
I don't like to complain. It's not truly in my nature. The injustice that is served on a daily basis all over the world can never be resolved merely by complaint. I know this. You know this. So, why complain? Because it hurts. It hurts me deeply to not do what I truly enjoy and have a natural affinity for in the way that I like to do it. It hurts that there once was a time when I could do it "my way," but that time has passed. It hurts because it all just doesn't make any sense to me! Why wouldn't any self-respecting radio station upper management mucky-muck not understand the importance of having a talented individual in the production seat? Someone to count on! Someone to nurture and encourage! Someone who could make the radio station a lot of money through his/her creativity?
During my ten-year stint at WBAB (1980-1990), I was lucky enough to be considered a major part of the team. I was allowed total creative freedom. I helped make a lot of clients happy. I was respected and felt like part of the family. Why did it end? Why did I leave? In a word, "deregulation." In another word, "downsizing."
The problems facing production types have always been there. But once deregulation came on the scene, the problems multiplied tenfold. The first rumblings for me occurred around 1988, when WBAB was getting ready to broadcast from a second facility on Long Island. If memory serves, the old FCC rules were that you could not own two stations whose signals crossed each other. Now, with deregulation, you could own and broadcast the same (or different) signal (or format) in one market. And what does that add up to? More clients. I was dreading the extra workload! I didn't think it was fair for me to be producing commercials for more than one station! (Of course, to them, it wasn't another station, it was the same station being broadcast in a different place in the same market.) Another signal meant more coverage, more salespeople, more demands on my time, less time to do quality work. Pretty soon, all I'd have time for would be straight reads with beds. The thought of this killed me! It wasn't like someone was being hired to do production at the other signal. I knew it would all fall on me! What's worse, they didn't even tell me! It was just assumed I'd take on the load, period! No salary increase. No job description change. No nothing.
Just as all this was about to hit the fan, I was offered a job at another station for more money and, best of all, ONE STATION! ONE SIGNAL! That's why I left. It didn't matter to me that it was a smaller station with much lower ratings.
For two and a half years, my life was bliss. Then, the announcement came. We were going to broadcast our signal in Philadelphia! To make a long story short, by the time I left, the station was being broadcast in about ten different markets! Deregulation! Boned again!
Still, you would think that a situation like that would require a really hip, hard working, creative production guy/gal to pull it off. There's so many things to consider! How do you write commercials and promos for different parts of the country? How do you pronounce the names of streets, roads, and highways you're not familiar with? How do you get to know your new audience? Gosh, a position like that could be fun! You'd get to travel around the country, learn new markets and sales techniques, spread your insanity throughout the cosmos! Deep, involved relationships could develop between PDs and GMs. It would all be very cool and very fulfilling. Just think..."Network Production Director." Yow! Sounds important. IS important. (God bless all Network situations that do this!)
Reality, however, tells a different tale of the tape.
Reality, for most, is this: JUST DO IT. No title. No raise. No help. If you don't like it, get out. So...I got out.
I entered a world where the creative choices are few, but the monetary rewards are great. A place where you really work like a dog, but you learn more about the "real world." A place where there truly is no room for excuses.
I miss radio. I do. I look back upon it and weep. I'd give anything to find someone out there who's looking for a guy like me. Someone who's truly been in the trenches and came back alive. Someone who believes in the creative process and the "magic" of theater of the mind. (I know there are such people. I know several Production Directors who are very happy and well taken care of. It's very, very rare, but it does happen.) But these are tough times we live in. Most stations couldn't afford a guy with my experience, with a family. Production isn't an important position. "Get me someone who can cut donuts and tags. Pay the minimum." So what do you do? For me, I try to keep my hand in radio (I do a shift and position several stations), and I bust my ass giving my clients at the agency and production studio the best spots I can. They're not as pure. (After all, these guys are paying big bucks; they want their say! "Change that word!" "That idea sucks!" "Just do a hard sell screaming car commercial.") But, they pay the rent.
There's always something to bitch about, isn't there? No matter where you work, it's never really perfect. You can always count on dealing with one asshole or another. For all you know, YOU may be someone else's "asshole." You never make enough money. You're never appreciated. Home life sucks. The bills are killing you. The station just got sold! The format is changing. You don't know if they'll keep you! And on and on and on.
Wanna survive? Here's how I do it. I never take anything for granted. I appreciate all that I have. I'm thankful that I'm still doing the kind of work that I was meant to do. So, it's not as pure or free. So what! I can't say I didn't have my "glory years." And who's to say I won't again! You never know.