In the Know
I was about 5 years old, and we were visiting friends in New Jersey. They had a very cool in ground swimming pool, and that all-important rope between the deep end and the kiddie side of the pool was missing. I couldn’t swim, but I really wanted to go into the pool so my mom let me, putting me on the “honor system” to watch for the line at the bottom of the pool or the two rope hooks at the edge of the pool to be sure I didn’t venture into the deep end. Really, what kind of mother puts a five year old on the honor system? This was destined for disaster and you already know what happened, I teetered too close to that line, and went over, sinking like a cute little stone.
When we returned home, my mom immediately signed me up for swimming lessons at a local diving school with a big indoor pool. You know what they do to little kids on the first day of swim lessons at a diving school? Yep, they line the kids up and shove them into the deep end of the pool!
Here’s what I learned in all of this; when you’re actually drowning, you don’t know how to get back to the surface, and you panic because your lungs have filled up with water. In the first pool, I was panicking because I was really drowning, luckily someone spotted me in time and came to my rescue. In the second pool, I still sank like a cute little stone, but I didn’t panic because I figured one of the 8 or 9 adults standing around would probably not let me die. Indeed, I got some help getting my head above water, and started learning what to do almost immediately.
What does any of this have to do with the state of broadcasting? Simple, the first scenario isn’t going to happen, broadcasting doesn’t employ enough people or sub-contractors to warrant any kind of a bail out. Nobody is going to pull us out of the deep end of the pool. We’re stuck on the bottom, and we can either panic and flail wildly about, or start trying to think our way out of this.
Panic equates to cutting expenses wildly, laying off massive amounts of employees, and treating every nickel that comes through the front door as if it were the second coming of whatever it is you believe wasn’t done with us the first time around. Problem is; we’re not a manufacturer of autos or anything else for that matter. It’s easy to make “less cars”, just make 50 this week instead of 100. Not so easy to make “less radio” or “less TV”. As far as lay-offs go, hate to say it, but in most instances we’re letting go of loyal people who were working hard for less-than-staggering amounts of money. When they’re gone, they will probably find another industry or employer who pays them better and is a bit less… shall we say, fickle? Bottom line is, when we need some people back (and we will), we’ll either have to pay more to get them, or lower our standards. Yes, I’m sure you’re just as shocked as I at the possibility of a broadcaster lowering their standards! Now, about those nickels coming through the door; do you really think that once we’ve provided our unique and invaluable services to dozens, if not hundreds of clients for reduced rates, that we’ll EVER be able bring those rates back up again? No matter what some sales guru has tried to teach you, we are not a necessity for anyone. People will pay whatever the oil companies tell them to for gas, they’ll buy electricity without ever truly understanding all that gobbledygook on their bills, they just write the check and move on. But if a media outlet tells you that what you bought last week for $20 is now going to cost $60, first comes the inevitable, uncontrollable laughter. Then, once you settle them down, you have to try and explain on what planet someone would pay for an increase like that.
So here we are, still denying our new reality. This is the way things are, and probably will be for longer than any of us would like. How do we get through these difficult times? What? You really thought I had the answer? You’re reading this and thinking “He’s the Broadcaster of the Year, he MUST have the answer”. First up, if I did have the answer, I’d be Broadcaster of the Freakin’ Century. Second, nobody is going to give you an answer, a magic formula, or any other panacea. The best we can do is to do what we do best… make good radio or TV. Find the efficiencies where we can and when we can. The days of cruising through a work day are over for everyone, if somebody’s not busy, you either don’t need the position or that’s the wrong person for the gig. Cut the expenses where you can, but once you reach bone… stop! We still need to transmit a viable product, without that, all is lost. None of this is going to be easy, and it’s not going to happen this year (I don’t care what anybody says)… We need to learn to live within this new reality, get our heads above water and realize that it’s the best we’re going to do for a while… until we learn to swim all over again.