If you missed last month’s episode (1-5), go back and take a peek. This month I simply continue my list of things I think are essential to success in the broadcast business.
6. Have empathy for everyone you meet.
This is something you need to truly be successful as a broadcaster. A lot of people in this business struggle with sincerity. If you really want to sell someone an idea, product or service, the listener must feel how heartfelt your plea (or pitch) really is. I have long noticed that people who don’t feel real empathy for their audience’s needs or wants, get stuck in medium to small market situations. I honestly believe that it’s due almost exclusively to a lack of empathy.
MY ADVICE: Long before I ever got to a major market station, I made it a practice to never accept an endorsement deal from any client unless and until I have had a personal experience with their service or product. I generally prefer that when I have that experience, that it be NOT staged for my benefit either. I will go to the business on my own and find out what it’s really like. If it is a good experience, I’d accept the deal and move on. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t. I missed out on a fair amount of cash in the beginning, but over time, I more than made up for it with more and more success in my career. I know a LOT of major market talent who do the same thing.
The old adage says that “curiosity killed the cat.” The part people leave off is, “but satisfaction brought him back!” (Honestly, that’s probably a line I remember from the old TV show The Munsters, but it still works for me.)
In the many lectures and speeches I’ve given about creativity, the one word I’ve seldom used but strongly implied is, “curiosity.” The biggest and best fresh new ideas happen when you take two disparate ideas and mash them together. Curiosity is what gives you the impetus to do that. You ask yourself, “What would happen if I took this and added it to that.” BOOM, the spark happens and magic is born. Does magic happen every time? Heck no. But it almost NEVER happens if you don’t do that at some point. The really cool thing is, ANYBODY can be creative. The wilder the juxtaposition, the more wonderful the idea…sometimes.
MY ADVICE: When you get a new client, just imagine taking that business and combining it with something completely unrelated. Say your new client is a roofing contractor. Imagine combining that with an NFL team. In your head, you see a bunch of guys in full Kansas City Chiefs uniforms, lining up across the roof with shingles and hammers in hand. If that doesn’t work, try a Drag Queen Show with a bunch of Dolly Parton wannabes doing the same. Massage Therapists? Doctors and nurses? Do that enough and you’ll find something that’s fun and instructive to the creative process.
8. Feel comfortable in your own skin.
This is something that would benefit just about everyone I’ve ever met. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of people tell me that they want to be ME. That always leaves me feeling really uncomfortable. I know that what they mean is they want to be successful and a wee bit important to the business. I worry that too often they’ll lose sight of who they are, always comparing their success/failure rate to mine, and often coming up short…in their own mind. Most people don’t see my failures because like most sane people, I do my best to make sure none of my failures ever see the light of day. The unvarnished truth is, I’m certain I had a lot more failed ideas than brilliant ones. Instead of brooding over my failed ideas, which is a death-trap, I move on and swing again.
Perhaps you know that for decades, Babe Ruth was the reigning home-run champion of Major League Baseball. What a lot of people don’t know was that he was ALSO the strike-out champion! The Bambino swung at a LOT of bad pitches, but when he connected, it was gone. Wayne Gretzky, arguably one of the best all-round hockey layers of all time said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” He also said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A GREAT hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
MY ADVICE: Illegitimi non carborundum. Translated from Latin, it’s actually non-sensical, BUT English-Latin punsters have said it means, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Don’t worry about what other people think about you. We all have failures, it’s simply a part of the human condition, but don’t dwell on them. Move on and celebrate your successes. Build up your skills and keep swinging for the fences. Be like Wayne Gretzky. Don’t try to be where the ideas happen, be where they’re gonna happen. Don’t try to be me. Be YOU.
9. Have a willingness to NETWORK.
This is one business where very often being in the right place at the right time is the difference between complete success and abject failure. I’ll always remember a kid named Gordon at my first commercial radio station who desperately wanted to be on the radio, but couldn’t catch a break. So, he took a job as a janitor at the station. For several weeks, he dutifully swept and cleaned, emptied the trash and made everything shine. All the while, walking by the studio, practically salivating over the idea of being a “boss jock.” Gordon was a really good kid that everybody liked.
Late one Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting in PD Johnny Rider’s office going over an air check when he got a call. It was our late-night jock calling to say he was quitting immediately. After he hung up, he fumed for a couple of minutes, then picked up the phone to call a series of 3 different jocks to offer them a job starting that night. He was turned down flat each time. He looked at me and said, “What the hell am I gonna do?”
Of course, right at that moment, Gordon walked in to empty the trash and the Johnny smiled. Gordon went on that night at ten and was amazing.
I’ve told that story before, mainly to radio wannabes, encouraging them to not get discouraged, but I repeat it here to point out that some of the best jobs in radio have gone to people who, up to that point, were just an acquaintance or email buddy of the person offering the gig. It’s how I got my first job and my second job.
MY ADVICE: Obviously, reach out. Got a new air check or demo reel? Choose several people in larger markets and DO NOT ask for a job. Tell them that you have a new reel and you’re looking for a critique. One or two of them will usually take the time to give an honest opinion. If your reel is good, they’ll remember you, I promise. Go to a radio conference. Meet and greet with as many people as you can. Don’t just hang out with the handful of people you already know…that’s probably pointless and a shortcut to a nasty hangover anyway.
10. Never take yourself too seriously.
Honestly, this is a really hard one to do. I remember being on the air in a tiny little town in Utah, thinking I was hot S**T. I was really a cold, little, days-old turd. I was locally famous, I guess. People actually came to meet me when I’d do a remote broadcast from a car dealer or a new strip mall. I knew instantly how ignorant I had been when I sat down for my first shift in Washington, DC. My palms were sweaty, I had to keep clearing my throat before I’d crack the mic, and I’m pretty sure my voice cracked a few times during those first few breaks. I’m not certain, but I think I might have wet my pants at one stage because when I finished my shift my pants were wet. It might’ve been sweat. Yeah, that’s it…it was sweat. Who am I kidding?
When I moved up the Parkway to Baltimore for my gig there, I was nervous on my first shift, but only because I was afraid I’d say the wrong call letters. (I never did…I don’t think.) I DID say the wrong calls the first time I went on the air at Z100, but everybody just laughed at me, so it all worked out, I guess.
MY ADVICE: This is radio, folks. It’s not brain surgery. If you screw up, laugh and try again. (See point number eight.) Are you “God’s gift to radio?” Maybe…but probably not. Just try not to think like that. People who do are seldom respected by their peers, usually because they think WAY too much of themselves. Confidence is one thing. Arrogance is a whole ‘nother animal.
Between the emergence of internet radio, satellite radio, consolidation and big money running radio (some people think ruining), the last several years have been really tough on our biz. There are a lot fewer of us still plying our trade on the airwaves than there was even a year ago, but the same things that worked decades ago still work today. Is radio a “dead man walking?” I don’t think so, at all. It’s smaller, no question, but it’s leaner and every bit as capable of delivering a loyal audience as long as we give them a product that is worthy of their loyalty.
Keep fighting the good fight. Love what you do. Do what you love.