Wipeout

One unavoidable impact of The Great Recession that started in 2007 was how people’s wealth got wiped out in an unexpectedly sudden drop in the value of housing. The radio business has been hammered with its own wipeout, too.

Venerable career paths in the radio business now are gone from markets of every size and geographic location. The loss is especially significant because these radio career paths date back nearly a century to the glorious days of David Sarnoff. Everyone knows the job titles that flourished in the radio business of yesterday: Disk Jockey, On-Air Talent, Radio Announcer.

Evan Haning WNEW news, Washington, DC
Evan Haning, CBS radio news WNEW 99.1 FM, Washington, DC
One of my lifelong friends, Evan Haning (a Washington, DC news anchor on the CBS all-news station WNEW in Washington, DC), years ago could be heard on the legendary KRLA in Pasadena. In the Forward that Evan wrote for my Neon Fun Jungle ebook he directly addressed this loss of radio career paths:

‘Top disc jockeys in major cities enjoyed a celebrity comparable to that of rock stars. When I went to work at KRLA in 1973, the awe was tailing out (sadly for me!), but the stories I heard were amazing. KRLA was a 50,000-watt powerhouse (and competitor of Drake-Chenault’s blockbuster KHJ) located on the grounds of Pasadena’s Huntington-Sheraton Hotel.The staff told me that as many as 300 teenagers would crowd the lobby and parking lot—sometimes as late as midnight—hoping to see the jocks or visiting musicians. Disc jockeys were often encouraged to show up for work during the last record played by their predecessor, and to leave during their last record, to avoid being mobbed by the kids. Super groups such as The Beach Boys would arrive at KRLA and KHJ in a limousine to hand deliver their latest single. Same as the kids, the jocks were important them. The broadcast world Woody writes about no longer exists, of course…In fact, disc jockeys, as such no longer exist. There are radio personalities and talk show hosts, but apparently there is no longer any business need for cultural gatekeepers—Boss Jocks, Good Guys, what Bill Drake described as “hip older brothers” to introduce new songs, generate excitement, bestow “validation” on teenagers, and do whatever else they did’

The recent evidence of this wipeout was strong at the end of 2011. All on one day, numerous who one day worked on the air (as Disk Jockey, On-Air Talent, Radio Announcer, or by whatever job title) found themselves out of a job the next day. Music radio was not the only format affected. This wipeout splashed over into talk radio.

What caused this wipeout? The answer is simple: The ways in which the entertainment and information industries in the United States do business nowadays differ substantially from how things were done during the days before government regulations were changed by Congress. At the very least, the federal laws are very different today compared to 50 years ago governing what companies can or cannot do with radio stations. Consider whether there are there any media corporations today that would dare to give any major market radio station programmers the freedom to use strategies and tactics like what made 93/KHJ financially successful starting in 1965.Consider whether there are any on-­‐air personalities in any radio market today— especially in this era of mass terminations of on­air radio station employees—who can ever hope to achieve the national status and influence like Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele did.

For those of you reading this who are attending college right now to prepare for media careers, stop texting or tweeting or masturbating and just wake the eff up. You are too young to remember the immortal words of Paddy Chevefsky for the lead character of Network (1976), but listen up like it matters to your life:

Peter Finch -- Network -- 1976
Peter Finch in “Network” (1976)
‘Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job.The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it…I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’

I will close by adding my own, far less poetic, yet equally urgent cautionary words for the younger generation. What I have to say is based on having lived many years and never being satisfied to stay within only one career lane:

You should reasonably expect to have more than merely one professional career over your expected lifespan of 70 or 80 or 90 years. This means that what you learn during your undergraduate and graduate degree programs may end up being completely insufficient to serve you over your entire lifetime as you change careers in response to economic changes and changes in public policy in Washington, DC.

You should aim for achieving the capacity to keep learning. You should acquire life skills and the appropriate mental health to keep adapting your professional career choices to whatever happens to you in real life.

[This commentary written by Woody Goulart has been reposted here from http://www.hollywoodhillsgroup.com/. The original post date was June 24, 2012]

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