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Lisa Miller - "How I Got Into Radio"

Get The Chair And Grow From There


By Lisa Miller

Radio has always been a business of 12 chairs and 15 people. Qualified, tenured, earned, deserved, recognized, appropriate or not getting the chair in radio has never followed the protocol you might expect in more standard business practices. So when you get the opportunity to take the best job, with the best opportunity for success, dont blow it because the market isnt your favorite or the compensation package doesnt live up to your expectations.

There are only a handful of stations that will reach number one in rank or revenue, and having the opportunity to hitch your wagon to one of those stations happens only if youre lucky. Tom Murphy (now heard on KISN/Portland, OR) once told me, Always go to the best station. Dont worry about the size of the market or how much it pays. He was right. When a prospective employer in a major market is looking to hire on-air or off-air personnel, they look at the ratings and revenue of stations in smaller markets, and theyre often more comfortable hiring personnel from a top-ranked station. The general rule is that youre a better bet coming from a top-ranked station in a smaller market than from the 10th- or 15th-ranked station in a larger market. Why? Because its presumed that you were instrumental in creating or maintaining the success of your station.

Recognizing a good situation is easier than you may think. Dont be seduced by a set of call letters or the cool factor of a particular city, and absolutely do not be lured by market rank. Almost every television anchor or reporter who currently works in market 30 or smaller has a top 10 market out as part of their contract. Im not sure where the misconception that being in a top 10 market is nirvana came from, but I know many professionals in the biggest markets who would love to go back to the medium or small market where they had the most success. Why? Because they were often happier there.

Select a station where there is potential for your professional growth. If market size matters to you (and as Ive said, it shouldnt) and you feel youre on track to move up, remember that being at the number one station in Columbus will put you in a better position to jump to Chicago than being at the 15th-ranked station in Cleveland.

I have seen mediocre people hired merely because they came from a successful station and, conversely, some very talented people overlooked simply because they worked at an underachieving station. Management can justify hiring someone from a successful station because if it doesnt work out, its not the managers fault the employee had the pedigree to make it reasonable to presume theyd be successful.

If you get that chair, make it work for you. Create new sources of revenue, become entrenched in the community, get involved with a charity that needs your talents, and make the most of yourself to help the station grow.

You have the opportunity, so dont blow your chance. Dont get involved with the politics (every station has them). Be an overachiever: Get the client everyone has failed to get, go to appearances when youre not required to be there, create revenue-driven promotions, do whatever it takes to stand out and make a difference.

If management changes and theyre not the best, hang in there. Bad management usually wont be around long, and you cant let a minor and temporary change cause you to give up on your paradise. Dont let a pesky coworker get under your skin, and dont, for any reason, throw in the towel because you dont get promoted in your time frame dont be misled by some arbitrary idea that you should be a salesperson by the age of 25, or a sales manager by 30, or a general manager by 40, or promoted to morning host after doing afternoons for three years. Dont start dwelling on the minutiae that take your focus off the prize. Forget the myths about radio, and focus on the strengths.

Set your goals, make them realistic, be patient, and when you arrive, make it your goal to keep the chair and grow or to move on, on your own timetable, to the next great opportunity you created by choosing the right stations.

Lisa Miller is president of Miller Broadcast Management in Chicago and can be reached at or 312.454.1111.

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