Why Do We Do What We Do?

by Craig Jackman

Sometimes on those rare occasions when there is nothing else to do, my mind wanders and thinks about any number of things. I’ll bounce from thought to thought at a dizzying pace until something jarring wakes me out of that spiral and leaves me stopped like Bambi caught in a car’s headlights. Why do we do what we do?

I mean really, why? It’s a question my wife asks me about twice a year. There has to be a reason why we put up with all the negatives. Let’s see how many we can count: same day, even same hour deadlines; uncompensated long hours and weekends; low pay relative to the amount of revenue that passes through our studios and relative to other staff members; abuse (there really is no other word for it) from Programming Managers, clients, and sales reps; having to step delicately around the overblown egos of certain personalities; financial resistance preventing desired software or hardware upgrades; the pressure of balancing family time and work time; the internal pressure of your personal quality grade and trying to do better than what you’ve already done (the need to grow creatively); societal pressures to be better than previous generations or better than the neighbors (keeping up with, or passing, the Jones’s). I’m sure that list is missing many, many other negatives that will vary from individual to individual.

Some of those negatives are going to be there regardless of what you choose to do for a living. Every job had deadlines to a greater or lesser degree. Radio just seems to whine about them more than any other industry. I mean the software industry has deadlines (which it seems are rarely met, but I digress), and you don’t hear them whining about them on a daily basis. Likewise, everyone has to balance family and work. When one pisses you off, you devote more time to the other, and that balance constantly changes like the teeter-totter in my kid’s playground. In this consumer society, the cliché is that you can never be rich enough, thin enough, drive the nicest car enough, have the highest returning mutual find enough, or make the biggest killing in the stock market enough. Enough is never enough.

If you take those out of the equation, what are we left with? I have to shake my head sometimes at this industry. It seems like it was designed to eat its young. Working ridiculous hours and weekends without paying overtime? Giving labor laws a wink and a nod, radio weeds out those that don’t want to “put in the effort.” My P.D. says that you can’t do great radio while keeping an eye on the clock, and while I do agree with that to an extent, it doesn’t mean that I still don’t resent it sometimes.

If you worked as a carpenter and you could get a bigger/smaller/faster/better router/saw/drill/lathe, don’t you think that you would? Why is it such a headache to get approval for equipment upgrades—both hardware and software? We are the carpenters of the radio industry. We build the products that someone else sells off the showroom floor. How much of your companies income doesn’t flow through your hands every day? After creating new commercials, dubbing supplied creative, or doing a killer promo for those value added contracts, I’d venture to say there isn’t much that doesn’t have our grubby little fingerprints all over it. I’m not saying that we deserve a different colored hammer for every day of the week because we like the way it looks like a rainbow hanging on the tool rack at the end of the day, but being audio carpenters, it’s not too much to ask to have a wide belt sander to go with our random orbit, palm, and drum sanders. It’s all about having the right tool for the job, and after decades of stagnation, the right tools for the job are now available and getting better all the time.

I’ll never understand radio’s salary structure either. I don’t begrudge those in sales who work on commission getting as many zeros on their cheque as they possibly can. Good for them. While most air-staff work hard on their craft, working as many (if not more) hours than we do, are morning shows and afternoon drive really worth many times what production is paid? I realize I’m biased, but Talk Radio excluded, the output of the production studio is on the air waaay more than any air talent.

Personally, I decided a long time ago not to take the abuse from anyone anymore. I just don’t. What’s the worst thing that would happen? Get fired? I’ve discovered the empowerment that comes with being comfortable and confident enough to just say “No.” I love the word “No.” That’s not to say I go nuts and say “No” to everything. Saying “No” should result in a negotiation that results in everyone being able to leave the table a winner. I’m prepared to give some ground, but I expect to gain some ground on occasion as well. It’s called a professional atmosphere, where people respect one another’s skills and opinions, with the goal being higher revenue and ratings. There have been occasions when saying “No” has resulted in hurt feelings, accusations, and repercussions. There are people who may not feel comfortable approaching me on occasion. When I get deeply wrapped up in a project, or overloaded, I’m sometimes a little curt. I don’t mean to be, and to those whose feelings have been trampled, I’m deeply and truly sorry, and I try to ensure that I tell them that I am. At it’s very best, radio is a collaborative medium and my best work is always done in collaboration with other very talented people. I have nothing but admiration for those like John Frost who seem to be able to create wonderful radio solely on their own talents. Combining a professional atmosphere with collaboration results in better, stronger product that everyone believes in.

Why do we do what we do? Since it’s not the pay cheque, it’s not getting your ego monkey being fed as a personality, and it’s not usually the heaping of praise from those you work with on a daily basis, as I see it, in the end it seems to come down to one reason only. The need to grow creatively as a person. I have a Successories framed poster that I keep on my studio wall, just above my CD rack so I see it often. It says: “Pride is a personal commitment. It is an attitude which separates excellence form mediocrity.” It’s obvious, but that constant reminder urges me to do my best. Is everything I do excellent? Hardly. I sink lower than mediocrity as fast as everyone else. Every time I reach for a CD though, there’s something prodding me to do better and not settle for just good enough.

How can you break out of a “just a job” into something that grows you as a person? Only you can answer that. It may be reading RAP every month and being competitively inspired by the outstanding work that exists out there. Before we moved into a faceless office building in an industrial park, the radio station was in a converted warehouse in one of the oldest sections of the city. I would go for a walk and be inspired by the trim detail on a turn of the century house. Maybe taking a night course in something completely unrelated to radio that lifts your spirits.

It’s something you have to stop and think about for yourself, and you should have an answer to the question whether you work in radio or not: Why do you do what you do? If you’re lucky enough to do it for the money, then more power to you. At the end of the day, is that going to be enough? There are days when no matter what happens, nothing is going to be enough for you to make it little more than just another job. That’s the day when you have to sit down before your personal mirror and decide to either go home early and get a fresh start next day, or go home period. Just like a typical production day, most of this article has been negative, with a spark of positive towards the end. Is that a teeter-totter you can balance on? You tell me.

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