Friday, March 19, 2010

Where Would You Work?

By Frank Absher

It was actually an innocent question that set it all in motion.

I was having lunch with a buddy. His question was simple: “If you could work at any radio station in town, which one would it be?”

My immediate response was “None of them.”

My buddy was taken aback, so he tried again. “Okay. If you were just graduating from college and could work at any local station, which one would it be?”

That, of course, was an entirely different parameter.

Young people entering the media market today don’t have the benefit of knowing how bad things have gotten because they don’t have the perspective brought by experience.

But it you talk with profs in media departments around the country, they’ll tell you very few students aspire to go into radio or print. Television is the biggest draw, but interest in working in media isn’t as high as it used to be.

Maybe that’s a good thing, given the massive job cuts we’ve seen. But if bright, well-educated kids no longer want to get into the media, what’s the future going to look like?

Worst case: Media will be staffed by more incompetent kids whose closest brush with “education” is a short, grossly overpriced course at a local trade school.

What’s sad here is that television and print are following in the footsteps where radio trod many years ago.

Back then some management genius decided it wasn’t worth it to pay good money for top personalities. You could pay mediocre personalities less money, listenership would drop, but ads were still sold.

The manager was hailed because he’d cut costs, but the profit margin improved a bit, and we all know that’s the only thing that matters.

Now print media and television are cutting their most expensive people. Of course, just as in radio, those people are usually the senior, most-experienced and most-talented employees. But who cares? The only thing that matters is the profit margin.

Listening to radio today should send a clear message to these other media managers. The quality of the product has plummeted, just as it will in these other media. By then, of course, these managers are hoping they will have been promoted to CEO.

What message does this send to those students I mentioned earlier? Simple. There’s no reason to strive to be good in media. You’ll just be fired for making too much money. It all hearkens back to the bumper sticker I once saw at an NAB convention (edited slightly):

“Please don’t tell my mother I work in media. She thinks I’m a piano player in a whorehouse.”

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