No Guts, No Glory: Take Two

by John Dodge

Might as well come right out with it: I've resigned my position as Program Director of WCRB, the commercial classical station in Boston, and by the time you read this, I'll be on the road goin' west.

Wait a minute...you what? What, are you nuts, man?! I thought things were going fine, getting better all the time!

That's right; they are. The station is on a super roll. It's a ratings and revenue love-fest. In two years we've turned nearly everything around -- new studios with new digital equipment; new and bright people in key positions on air, in music, and in production; new Account Execs who are hitting all time high dollar figures selling the best numbers the station's ever had; awards for programming; and most important, we've created an exciting, contemporary sound in a format and a market famous for clinging to tradition. My job was to pour the coffee; hats off to the staff that had the stuff to spring into action and come so far so fast.

So why in the world would I want to leave when the party is so hot? I must either be stupid, crazy, or...willing to take a calculated risk.

If you're a Radio And Production member, pull out the September 1993 issue and read the cover story called "No Guts, No Glory." If you don't have it, call RAP and see about getting a back issue or a copy of the article. The article is all about taking chances, about risk and reward, about standing out in the crowd. It's about doing what radio does too little of, go against the grain and create something different. It's ironic that all through school we feel that the most important thing in life is to fit in with the group, to be like everyone else and not to stand out -- individuality is too weird and risky -- only to discover later when we grow up that exactly the opposite is true: the world rewards people who are the most individual.

I'm going to program the KidStar Network of radio stations based in Seattle. If you're in a top ten market, you'll get an affiliate and be able to check us out by spring of '95. It's a multimedia format consisting of radio, a membership magazine, an interactive telephone playground called the "PhoneZone," and a children's computer network with on-line educational and entertainment software. It's an extremely exciting opportunity to pioneer something new and to do it on a national level. But, it's a high risk venture, a race to reach the beach. The industry is aware that kids are a hot new target market, and the power players have their plans, too. Twelve months from now I could be playing guitar in coffeehouses again!

So, that's my plan, but enough about me. My story is good for you only if you can pull analogies out of it for your own career.

So, first the "guts" part. Let's spill 'em. It takes guts (or is it nuts?) to leave something that's doing just fine for something that might do better, to put yourself and your loved ones through the upheaval of moving, to go through the pain of separation from friends and family, to roll the dice and risk almost everything on a new course of action that could crash and burn. Bag that dice image because it rarely pays to be a gambler. It regularly pays, however, to think like an investor. And rule number one in investing is no risk, no reward. You want protection from failure? Put your money in a bank account that's protected by the government from ever losing a cent, and what you get back these days barely keeps pace with inflation. Might as well stash it under the mattress. To rack up any real gains you have to stick your neck out. You have to step out on the risk/reward ladder. You have to accept "failure" as one possible outcome of any new venture. But that possibility is easier to consider if you look at mistakes merely as growth tools for grownups and not the result of some fatal character flaw.

So what's the worst that could happen if you "fail?" A person as talented as you are can get another job pretty quickly, so don't freak out about a temporary loss in salary -- unless you don't have any cash cushion, in which case maybe your first move should be to cut up your credit cards! If things don't work out long-term in your new venture, you still get two important things from trying: a new set of experiences and people to test your skills on, and the increase in reputation that comes to someone who doesn't stand still in his or her career, someone who shows the characteristics of a seeker.

Okay, that's a look at the downside, now for the glory. If you have the chance to participate in a new venture or to be a key team member at a high profile station, you should go for it as long as the business plan is sound. Never be afraid to ask the basic question: "Say, how do you guys make money anyway?" I can't stress this part enough. Groovy feelings are fine, but a tight business plan is what really cuts it if you're going to take an intelligent calculated risk. But even once those business questions are satisfactorily answered, you may still experience skydiver's stomach. Fine. Jump anyway. Fears of "what if this thing goes south after I've given up my nice secure gig" will paralyze you and freeze your career in place. You'll be having Sunday dinner with the folks for the rest of your life. Worse things could happen, I suppose -- especially if Mom's a good cook. But, if you do take that chance, you probably won't regret it. Your patented, signature sound will be all over the new project. Your name will wind up on more short lists, and your circle of influence will expand. People will call you up. People you don't know will take your calls. Dogs will begin to bark all over the neighborhood. Jerry Vigil will beg you to write for Radio and Production. Sky's the limit, dude.

Harry Truman was supposed to have said, "I wish I had a one-armed economist so he couldn't say, 'But on the other hand....'" Just in case all this talk of growth and change sounds like a prescription for a new job every two years, let me jump on the other side for just a second. There's something to be said for the "equity" you build up by staying in one market over time. This is particularly true for air talent. And there are other issues like home ownership and community and family ties. It's never simple. But you can still engineer personal growth inside your company, inside your own position, by nurturing a healthy mistrust of the status quo. If a rolling stone gathers no moss, you can turn in place. Just beware of the comfy chair. Examples? Take a course in recording, creative writing, or business; learn to play piano, guitar, or tennis; get involved with your community theater; set aside two month's of winter evenings and read those books getting dusty on the shelf; teach what you know to others. Remember that the more interested you are, the more interesting you are. And the more interesting you are, the more successful you'll be.

So that's it. My life is in boxes, and in my mind I'm GTS: Gone To Seattle. Just like "Love means never having to say your sorry," "A Career in Radio means never having to stay in a motel." Somewhere east of Kansas City I'll run out of friends and family to stay with inside a day's drive. But I do want to spend some time in KC because I understand they've got some crazy little women there. The rest of the itinerary includes the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota. (Did you know that you can fit a push broom inside Teddy Roosevelt's nose on Mount Rushmore?) A bit farther west, I want to see the place where George Custer's big ego finally got the best of him. Plus, there's some pretty spectacular (read BIG) scenery in Montana and Idaho before the Washington State border. And Carmen San Diego fans take note: the "Evergreen State" is mostly desert east of the Cascade Range, yet the Olympic Peninsula just northwest of Seattle is home to Continental America's only genuine rain forest. I plan on drinking a lot of high octane coffee, doing a lot of bike riding, and letting the eight-year-old inside take over creatively. Wish me luck.

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