If You Could Smell What I Hear

by John Pellegrini

This is sort of a follow up to both of my articles on creativity and professionalism [April '92 & October '92 RAP], because, believe it or not, both are needed to keep yourself sane in radio production. And they can both exist in harmony together. I was reminded by our station's receptionist and weekend guy Mark Krueger of the old saying, "change for the sake of change is worthless." This is a perfect philosophy for both creativity and professionalism. Change should always be a learning process. If you want to get anywhere in this showbiz thing, or any career, then your job choices should be based on the opportunity to learn, improve, and grow, either in your present capacity, or in new directions.

People who say "I know all I need to know about the subject" worry me because all they are saying is "I'm ignorant." Ignorance destroys not only creativity, but even routine operations because you're no longer interested in paying attention. Business magazines are full of stories about major corporations collapsing because they wouldn't accept change, or were too slow in discovering changing attitudes in the American consumer. Ignorance, more than anything else, is the reason for America's economic problems. However, companies that did well, and are still doing well, are almost always companies that invest heavily in research and development. Production and Creative people should think of themselves as their station's research and development departments.

So, the next question is, how do we do research and development without budgets? This is where you have to operate on a personal level. I've learned that the only way to get anything to happen is to just do it for myself. Information, and lots of it, is the key to research and development. Find out what's going on. I watch network news, including CNN, as often as possible, as well as the local news. At least twice a week I try to get a copy of The New York Times (they have a wonderful habit of publishing "more than anyone ever cared to know" about every subject they cover, and their national and international reporting is second to none). Time and Newsweek are great sources of information, as well as Businessweek and The Wall Street Journal (you can also find out about all the new products coming out well before you'll need to write a commercial for them).

The more information you can access, the more ideas you'll have to work with. Never, ever be satisfied with one news and information source. As the other old saying goes, "freedom of the press is limited to those who own one." And there is no such thing as unbiased journalism. Fortunately, here in the '90s, it seems that every single person on the planet has their own magazine or newsletter. Walk into any news store or book store. You'll be amazed at how many titles there are (and I'm not just talking about the adult section, either) as well as how many different subjects, groups, demographics, and interests that are covered. You can definitely place these magazines into radio format categories, as well. Yet, you'd be surprised at how many people in the biz wouldn't think of doing this. An on-air announcer at one of the stations I worked for previously got a huge laugh one day when he caught me with copies of Cosmopolitan and Glamour. He couldn't believe that a guy would read that "crap," as he called it. I reminded him that our station's target demo was women 18-34, and wouldn't it make sense to find out what they're interested in for on-air subject material? He indicated that this was one of the dumbest things he'd ever heard of. (His show was also one of the lowest rated programs in the market, and he was soon replaced.)

Always keep in mind the absolute question of all communicators: "Who am I talking to?" Keep your messages relevant to your audience. Also, don't be afraid to admit that you haven't a clue as to how to reach a certain audience if you don't. This is the key to making the right career choices. I've realized that, in radio, I'm best suited at AOR, or heavy information formats. CHR and AC are completely out of my interest, and I just don't communicate with those audiences very well. That's okay. By acknowledging this, I won't end up where I'm not happy; I won't be frustrated on the job. Of course, it helps to have a delivery and ability that can work well in the various formats. If your dream gig is a station that is a format that's different than what you're currently working at, then start practicing, and learn the new stuff! Yes, I mean you, production gods! Nothing hurts a station worse than production that doesn't match the sound and attitude of the format.

Change, as a part of the learning process, is the way to improve. Now that I've finally gotten above the poverty level of pay in this business, I can be more concerned about my job choices. The opportunity to "move up the market ladder" has come up every so often. But now, I look at each offer with one major criteria: "Will this new place really improve my talent, will I learn newer and greater things?" I'm lucky that the job here at 'KLQ is exactly that. I'm surrounded by creative people who I enjoy working with, and I can get as creative and crazy as I want. Sure, there are offers for bigger money, but so far nothing has been able to match the creativity and learning opportunity that I have here.

Getting a job like this is not all that difficult. All it takes is figuring out where you are, and where you want to be. In other words, what's really important to you. Then, see if you can achieve this at the station you're currently working for because it's a thousand times easier to work within a system you're familiar with, than to come into a new one. That's change with purpose.

Stress is the leading cause of everything wrong with your health. If you're stressed out on your job, then it's time to examine your job. Keep in mind that stress is ninety percent self-inflicted. Your problems cause you stress only if you let them. Everyone has problems on the job, but the professional realizes that solving the problem, or getting around the problem is the task, rather than wasting time worrying, blaming, screaming, or feeling sorry for yourself. Problems are opportunities -- opportunities to learn, to change, to grow. I know I'm starting to sound like an old sermon from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, but it really is true. It's all in your mind, and how you choose to look at it.

How do you start to make change work for you? Try within yourself first. A new fashion look, perhaps. New hair style, or maybe even shave your head. (I did once; I really liked it for a while, but later I grew my hair back.) So what? Try a different form of entertainment or maybe a new hobby. I work at a hard hitting AOR. We play Metallica and Megadeth in morning drive. When I'm home, though, I listen to classical music. I like the change, and it relaxes me by not reminding me of the previous eight to ten hours of rock. Pick out a book on a subject you've never read anything about before. See how other people on the planet live. Go see a movie you think you'll hate. Once you start accepting change as normal behavior, you'll start looking for it in your approach to creativity and your job. Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society asked, "Why do I stand on my desk? To gain a different perspective." If you keep looking for a new perspective, you'll never be bored.

There is one last element of change, and this one is perhaps the most frightening: change also means the ability to recognize a hopeless situation, and get out of it. Quit. Leave it all behind and move on to something else. And when you associate that philosophy with your job security, most people start to have panic attacks because sometimes you may really have to ask yourself, "do I belong here? Is this really the career I want?" The most courageous thing you can do is to answer that question truthfully when you suspect the answer may be "no." To be able to realize that you don't like what you are doing, and you'd really be happier doing something else for a living, is the greatest feat of self-awareness anyone can have, because that's the first step in really getting to where you'll be happy.

Why is that tough? Because we all have the ground-in attitude that to quit is to fail. Quitters are losers. The only true winners are those who stay in there, tough it out, and get the job done. They're also the ones who die a year after they retire due to all the stress from their crappy jobs. That's not a winner to me. That's a fool. The winners are those who succeed because they enjoy their jobs, are talented at them, and improve their abilities and capacities every day. The winner doesn't have stress that ruins their job or their families. And, as clichéd as this sounds, the only thing that will prevent you from being a winner, is you.

I think I'll go start my own religion now.