Thursday, 27 June 2013

Dealing with losing that radio gig

As another local broadcast veteran exits, now is a good time to ask: what do I do next?

It’s funny how newspapers never bother with radio unless there’s bad news to report. This week, they’ve been full of stories about the departure from BBC WM of Carl Chinn, after 19 years at the station. 

June has been a bad month, with the closure of Kerrang on local FM – so, lots of lovely radio distress copy for the papers to feed on.

In the meantime, for the radio people affected, there’s the awful matter of learning how to let go of something that you absolutely love.

I’ve often felt that radio stations resemble football clubs – the presenters up front, the bootroom boys in back, the trainees waiting like baby sharks for someone to fail, brilliant / maverick / deranged (delete as appropriate) team captains, and, far too often, a macho ego-driven atmosphere. Oh yes, and a chronic lack of job security. Like football managers, presenters can be certain of just one thing: one day, they will be sacked.

Now, please don’t shout at me about this next point: for management, it’s not easy either. I get that WM are under heinous financial pressure, and that this is not of their making. It’s ironic that, as the BBC cuts continue, commercial radio’s risk-averse retreat to national brands presents a golden opportunity for BBCLR to seize huge slices of local listening. I’d love it, just love it, to see them grasp that opportunity.

I feel for Carl Chinn. We chatted last night. I know him to be a passionate and committed man, who loves and knows his city like few do. And I know just how he feels right now. Twenty years ago next month, after, like Carl, over 19 years at the coalface at BRMB, I was dispensed with at an hour’s notice by the new management. That's often how radio is. I was shattered; it was very painful.

After the initial shock, my challenge was to find a way forward, and I really couldn’t see one. Mid-forties is already old by commercial radio standards, and radio was all I had ever done. I felt my career was over. But I could not have been more wrong. There was growing demand for radio-specific IT skills as new software rolled out across the industry through the nineties. I was well placed to meet that demand. It was brilliant; a magic carpet ride (the details of the ride are here if you're interested).

I was lucky, of course. Friends helped; good words were put in on my behalf. For those kindnesses I am, and always will be, grateful beyond words. 

But I can’t say to anyone who is exiting radio right now that that sort of outcome is guaranteed, or that you'll get lucky like I did. Times and finances have changed. However, there is one rock-solid certainty: new technology constantly changes the landscape. It did for me, to my enormous benefit. 

So now it’s a question of working out how best to use what’s on offer right now. I see huge potential. The old days are gone; the clock never ever gets turned back. But, as a wise and valued old friend said to me repeatedly at the time: as one door closes, another opens. She was spectacularly on the money.

Time to seek out that next door, Carl. I hope it’s in radio. 

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1 comment:

Terry Griffiths said...

What a drag.

I was at QM AM & FM in Vancouver in the early 90's when I learned the station(s) were being sold to corporate giant CHUM Ltd. Of course I had been in the business long enough to know very often when a station is taken over by new owners they clean house. But I was prepared. While PD at CKDA in Victoria, my wife Kelly began a career as a Chevron franchisee. So, when I decided to pre-empt CHUM and jump ship we had a business to support our lifestyle and that allowed me to start my own show prep service.

So, it pays to be prepared. But not many jocks do prepare. They just carry on without a care in the world not realising it doesn't go on forever. It either ends or if your smart, changes.

And we decided eight years ago that the oil industry was not what we wanted to be involved in. Kelly's Chevron stations were large convenient stores selling high-end sandwiches - meat sandwiches, which was kind of hypocritical for a vegan. We sold her business, bought property on a lake 70 miles north of Vancouver where she got a job as a small business accounts manager at a bank and continued my show prep service out in the wilds of BC. Once again it pays to be prepared.

That safety net is essential to any presenter or PD!