Grass

In these parts, we spend a lot of time thinking about the future of entertainment and media. It’s a future where media is converging, the old ways of doing things are collapsing, and the people who consume our content are becoming accustomed to getting multiple types of content – audiovisual, audio-only, and written word – in one place. It’s a future full of opportunities, particularly for people who can create all types of content and who are used to covering a lot of ground in showbiz, people who are used to dealing with all of the unique challenges that we face in entertainment.

There’s a world of opportunities, and a world of challenges, in that future.  Luckily, there’s a place where a lot of those people – people who’ve had their boots on the ground floor of entertainment all their lives – can be found.  The name of that place?

Radio.

Quick note to my many radio friends: you should take two messages away from this post:

  • If you find yourself wondering what career options there are for you – and I get asked about that topic a lot – think about what I’m about to say, yet
  • Nothing I’m about to say doesn’t mean you don’t have a ton of work to do.  If you want to continue on in entertainment, you’d better learn how to create all three types of content, and you’d better learn as much as you can about the non-radio entertainment businesses.

And now, back to our previously scheduled blog post.

Here’s the great thing about radio broadcasters: they’ve had their boots on the ground, dealing with entertainment at their grass roots level for so long that there are very few areas of the business where they don’t have intimate experience. Some of the big ones are these:

Creating Content. Simply put, radio people are storytellers. They know how to take pieces of their daily, semi-normal lives and turn them into compelling tales for their audiences. They also know how to create stories that might not really be pieces of their daily, semi-normal lives and make them sound authentic and compelling. (I’ve walked into many a morning show meeting and asked the question, “So, that break at 8:35 – did that really happen?”) The answer to that question is this: if the audience enjoyed it, it doesn’t matter.

Radio broadcasters know how to create and perform content that inspires passionate emotional reactions.

Fan Interaction. Never has fan loyalty been more important than today. In an era where fans have essentially infinite choices of content and performers to be passionate about, being able to connect with those fans – in-person, from a stage, on the phone, and via e-mail – in a one-to-one manner is huge.

Actually, it’s more important than that.

If you’ve worked in radio, you’ve got a world of experience connecting with people who are passionate beyond words about the content you create.  You’ve interacted with fans, and you know how to build relationships with them.  You know what motivates fans both as a group and as individuals.

In an era where public access to talent is so necessary, radio people also have copious experience dealing with the occasional problem fan. (I’ve never pursued a restraining order as an attorney. As a radio programmer, I certainly have.) It’s an unpleasant reality, but stalker management has become more necessary than ever. Because they are so accessible, both in-person and on the phone, radio people are used to handling those unpleasant, and potentially dangerous, people who cross the line from fan to something bad.

Live Appearances. Radio people are comfortable doing the grip-and-grin, meet-and-greet work that passionate fans demand. When you’ve worked in a local radio market, you’ve spent so much time meeting your fans face-to-face that making personal appearances, whether on your own behalf or on behalf of someone else – say, an advertising partner with very deep pockets – is second nature to you.

Radio people know how to work a crowd, whether one at a time, or all at once. Speaking of which…

Live Events. Earlier this year, I was sitting in an air studio (if you know me, you know which one), watching a major awards show with a 30+-year veteran of the Los Angeles market.  We looked on in amazement as some major name performers struggled through their acceptance speeches. We couldn’t understand how they could be both so nervous and so seemingly unprepared for a moment that was (1) a huge personal and career moment, and (2) by simple math, had a 1-in-5 probability of arising.

We came to a sudden realization: if you’ve worked in radio, you’re so comfortable with (1) performing live and without a safety net and (2) doing so in both a studio and in front of a live audience, that it’s second-nature. Every so often, I’ll give a speech to a group of non-broadcasters – typically lawyers or law students – and someone will eventually remark that I looked like I was so relaxed that they thought I was going to fall asleep onstage. Of course, I was relaxed; the stage is fun and working live and without a net is what I’m used to.

Not that preparation isn’t incredibly important, but radio people can deliver a line or a speech on a moment’s notice – and they can do it in front of a client or a crowd – without blinking.

Advertiser Relations. With more and more revenue expected to come from native advertising, performers and content creators need to be able to comfortably work on behalf of advertising partners. This doesn’t just mean that talent need to be able to perform and conceive the ads; they also need to be able to interact with both the product…and the advertisers (and agencies) themselves.

Radio people know that drill.  They’ve been doing it for years. Make that decades.

Using The Equipment. Just before I posted this, I had lunch with a lawyer friend who asked me a question that caught me off-guard. He wanted to know if, when I’m on the air, I engineer my own airshifts. To a radio person, the thought of not running your own board is, well, unthinkable. For the uninitiated, unless you’re part of an ensemble radio cast, producing and engineering everything you do is so baked into the radio experience that you don’t even think about it. Running a board, controlling the interaction of various pieces of content, producing & editing your own content – these are things that radio performers consider second-nature.

Radio people understand the different things that go into taking content from an idea to a finished product because they do all those things on a daily basis.

The Big Picture.  The big picture is this: radio people see the big picture…and so many of the details that make it up. That’s because they’ve had their boots on the ground in the one field of entertainment where interaction with everyone who supports their work is a daily reality. They create content – writing it, performing it, and producing it. They engage directly with the audience. They engage directly with advertising partners.

And now, a brief public service announcement for my radio friends: here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • When you create content, I hope you’re doing it with an eye to your future. You’re getting past the point where you can simply say, “We’re live without a net. I don’t need to write or prep this.” Learn to write, and by that, I mean that you should learn to write like a professional writer, not just like the radio writer you’ve always been. Learn to rehearse…everything. Finally, you’ve done this stuff on camera from time-to-time; now force yourself to get used to performing on-camera all the time. Oh, and if you’ve been doing audio-only production all your life, now’s the time to learn as much as you can about video production – and there’s obviously a ton to learn.
  • You’re seizing every opportunity to make a personal appearance, right? You’re treating every appearance as a learning experience, aren’t you? You see the unique value you have because you can interact with fans – no matter how easy or difficult each personal interaction is – on a one-to-one level, correct?
  • You’re not just going through the motions when you do this stuff, are you? We’ve all been at that station event or client meeting where we thought to ourselves, “Couldn’t I be somewhere – anywhere – else right now?” You now realize how important these things are to your professional future, don’t you?
  • The big question: Are you thinking about how all these things fit with your future, whatever that may be? Whether you’re planning on staying in terrestrial radio or expanding your career into other forms of entertainment, you need to need to think about how all the grass roots experiences you get every day can help you with your plans, and you need to seize the opportunity to use your experiences to help you grow your future.

To my many radio friends, never lose sight of this: Your career in radio has prepared you to do more great things than you can imagine. You do, however, have a lot of learning to do. You should probably be working on the learning – now!

To my many non-radio friends, when you find yourself looking for talent who understand the broad sweep of content creation, audience engagement, and advertiser engagement, don’t forget to take a long hard look into the one entertainment medium where people are engaged in all three of those pursuits every single day.

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