Intestinal Fortitude

By John Pellegrini

A former colleague of mine, who for the purposes of anonymity will be referred to in this article as a former colleague of mine, has had a rough time with unemployment. Not in terms of money alone but also in terms of how it’s been affecting his psyche. He’s a 40-year veteran of radio and is shocked that he can’t find a job. Anywhere. This whole economic meltdown has really shattered his confidence and his ability to remain professional.

People who used to routinely seek favor with him are now refusing to talk to him. Pros in the industry he’s known for decades, many of whom he gave their first, second, third, and even more “big breaks” don’t return his calls. Consultants, VPs, major players in the industry are now unreachable. “I don’t get it,” he says ruefully, “there just aren’t any jobs left!”

In the recent few years of upheaval in radio, I’ve noticed among my colleagues that there are those who do well with job loss and those that don’t. I’ve also noticed that there are essentially three types of attitude about this situation that determines how well someone deals with job loss. The most interesting conclusion I’ve discovered is that all three attitudes are correct. They will bring exactly the outcome the person expects. I haven’t given names to these attitudes because I’m not some kind of self proclaimed expert on the subject – I’m just reporting what I’m finding and what the results are for the people going through job loss.

The first attitude is defined by an understanding that your own talent and creativity is not limited by the industry or business model where you are or were employed. In other words, you can succeed no matter where you are because you believe you can. These are the people who have pretty much come to the conclusion that radio is dead and they can make it in other industry and business models. This attitude is absolutely correct and the people who have it are succeeding well in other industries and businesses.

The second attitude is that the person is determined to stay in radio no matter what and will accept any kind of job change, format change, location change… whatever it takes to remain employed in radio. They’re willing to sacrifice anything and everything needed to stay in radio. This attitude is also absolutely correct, and the people who have it eventually find work and can stay in the industry they love, knowing that all the sacrifices they must make to remain employed will allow them to stay employed.

The third attitude is that the person is absolutely devastated by their job loss and cannot comprehend how there aren’t other stations ready to employ them doing exactly what they’ve been doing all along. They had great ratings and success in their daypart or job -- be it programming, production, promotions, et al -- and they are convinced that they should be able to remain in exactly that same position. The fact that they have not had any job offers or any phone calls returned is a huge shock to them. Their talent, experience, and track record makes them refuse to accept any concept other than getting their old job or something similar back. They tell me that radio is insane not to talk to them, and they can’t understand why they can’t get work. This attitude is also absolutely correct and these people will be waiting a long time to get work.

Attitudes are interesting because they always determine what will happen. It’s completely factual that those who think they can succeed in any industry will, those who think they must sacrifice all to remain in radio will, and those who refuse to accept anything other than what they had will not get anything other than what they had (and not understanding the full implication of the past-tense of that statement). In fact, it is guaranteed that your attitude will get you exactly what you expect.

One thing is certain: radio has never been an industry known for security and now it’s worse than ever. I don’t know what your attitude is, and I’m not going to make any smug comments about which one is correct. But I do know that those who have the first attitude are generally a lot happier than the other two. And the only other statement I can make about all of this is that attitudes can be changed. It all depends on what you want and what’s important to you, not just now, but five, ten, fifteen, twenty years from now as well.

A decade ago I wrote an article in RAP on “The Dream Gig” in radio and how to figure out what your objectives are to getting the job you’ve always wanted. It may be time to revise that article somewhat and focus on getting any gig that can keep your knowledge, talent, and creativity focused.

One major caveat is that in almost every business and industry the concept of “full time employment” is pretty rare if not obsolete. More than likely you will need to consider that you will be a “contract worker” or temp, or free-lancer, possibly with benefits, more likely without. That’s just the hard reality. The new workforce is becoming highly nomadic. The good news is, you won’t be at the mercy of one single employer any more. That’s also the bad news.

Whether a new job or career move will involve a physical relocation is something else you need to figure out at this point. There are those who will tell you that there are plenty of opportunities in X city or X state or X country, but relocating anywhere takes a lot of time and money. And these days most employers inside and outside radio do not pay for relocation. Need to move for a job? It’s your money and your responsibility to get there. In the “Dream Gig” article I wrote about figuring out cost of living as well, because moving to a new city, state, or country is the least costly aspect of relocation. How much more or less are rents? What about housing costs, should you decide to purchase? Do you have kids? How much are property taxes in the good school districts? How much more is your car insurance in the new location? Where you live might cost you more or less than what you’re currently paying in insurance fees. What’s the commute time, because sometimes, depending on the city, you might need to live a long way away from where you work to be able to afford a decent neighborhood.

Let’s not forget the biggest factor of relocation, how quickly can you sell your current home (if you have one) before you move to the new location? Having two mortgages will bankrupt you faster than it takes to read this. And the worst thing you can do to your credit right now is to walk away from an existing mortgage. I don’t care what someone else tells you about this, you will not be able to buy a home or in many cases even rent an apartment if you have something like that on your credit report. One of my best friends is a bank manager, and I’m getting this straight from her – the laws are even stricter now than they were before deregulation. Don’t even think about doing anything that could affect your credit because you will not be able to get out of it for a very, very long time. Much longer than the 7 years they used to talk about. I’m hearing now it may be 15 years or more to get failed mortgages off your credit report. Don’t go there!

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to what you have to offer. Time to take stock of your talents and figure out where you can apply them. For your own sake as we get started, I hope you are honest with yourself about your answers. By that I mean don’t give yourself too much praise over something you’re not very good at doing, but also don’t be too humble or modest on what you can do either. Don’t overplay your talents, but also don’t downplay them… after all you’re the only one that this is going to help, so make sure you know what you’re capable of doing.

We’ve already discussed the technical side of where you could apply your skills in my previous article, Plan B. So let’s look at other areas for what you can do.

First off, do you have a college degree? If so – great! You can be a teacher. The surprising thing is you don’t necessarily have to have a degree in your chosen field. I have another best friend who is an Adjunct Professor of Internet application and Web design at a local college. He’s been doing Internet design for over 20 years, way before anyone even knew there was an Internet. He’s written three textbooks in the field, and schools all over the world have purchased them. What is his college degree? Parks and recreation, with a minor in music composition. He learned computer programming and Internet design on the side, but they were not his chosen field of study in college. Nonetheless, because he has a degree, he can teach what he knows at almost any college or school that needs his expertise. Sure, it’s not an Ivy League School, but it pays, and his kids get a massive discount on their college tuition, thanks to his teaching there. That’s worth major bucks these days!

Other avenues for work? Are you a fairly good writer? Do you have experience in writing information (advertising) for a variety of different businesses and services? Are you adept at taking complicated technical or trade related jargon and translating it into common language that consumers will understand? You can be a trade writer. There are plenty of books that can help you find work on trade, marketing, and technical writing, and almost all of them are available for free at your local library. Do you need a portfolio? Some will tell you yes, and you can always fake up some stuff, but I have another friend who is a trade writer, and she says don’t worry about a portfolio. She’s moved quite a bit over the past couple of years, and her portfolio was completely out of date due to the moves. So when prospective clients asked for her portfolio, she suggested that she would write a couple of sample assignments for them, and if they liked them then they could hire her. It worked well for her and it could for you.

Do you have good speaking skills? Of course you do, you talk for a living even if it is in a confined closed studio and just into a microphone. Being able to clearly articulate messages for an audience is always a great skill to have. Being a customer service rep is a logical move for those who are good at talking. Public speaking or becoming a spokesperson for a business or organization is another avenue for consideration. You may not find any one company that needs someone full time, but if you find several or more who are willing to have you on retainer or contract basis, you might find steady income when combined. You could consider coaching if you have the ability to train other people in this area. Being able to train people to have excellent speaking skills is valuable anywhere a company depends on staff talking to customers.

Now how to put it all together? Make a list of everything you’re good at or have experience in doing. Then read through your local classifieds (or the classifieds of whatever city, state, or country you want to move to) and find those jobs or contract gigs that list your skills in their requirements. Understand that you may not have all the skills that are listed, especially industry specific, but also understand that excellent speaking and writing skills are harder to come by among new employees these days, and you can always be trained in anything else you need to know, with the exception of high level degreed jobs like nursing or the major science related jobs. Most employers would rather have someone who can write and speak well and can be trained, as opposed to someone with great technical skills but whose communication skills are slightly better than grunting like a Cro-Magnon (though it seems some insurance companies want this skill in their advertising).

Just remember that you can change whatever attitude you have, and you can get what you want. Just organize yourself better and start thinking outside the radio studio. There is life after radio; what is not certain is if radio will continue to have life. Don’t wait to find out the hard way.