November 27, 2015

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05/23/05 Turning Turkeys Into Peacocks

Three weeks ago, as I conducted a “future of radio” seminar to a group of broadcasters, they ended up whining that there is no pool of new on-air talent. Young people are not getting into radio because they are not inspired by what they hear, and there is no petri dish for growing new talent.

Like many “broadcast boomers,” I was on the air at age 14, doing weekend overnights and running church tapes on Sunday mornings. I was terrible on the air, but I eventually improved and got a shot at a regular shift. I am in my 36th year of broadcasting because Bill Anthony at WLYV in Fort Wayne took a chance on me, so I understand their concerns.

Fifteen years ago, I predicted that technology would become one of our strongest tools and one of our biggest deterrents. As satellite-driven radio formats and computerized automation systems became a part of the mainstream radio, less-polished markets could now sound “big time.” These remarkable systems allowed stations to cut local talent, thus saving money by employing only one or two local air personalities; the rest of the lineup came from space. It was a programmer's dream: major-market talent on the air at their little station.

My prediction was that radio would abuse these marvelous tools, cutting local programming to the bone and becoming overly reliant on satellite talent and voice tracking. Not only would we have less local talent, but also, by automating the fringe times, we would not be developing talent. It now seems that too many stations went to the extreme of having no local programming whatsoever.

I cannot fault stations for choosing quality and saving costs. Many automated stations sound better than some that are produced locally, yet a decade of automation has placed the industry in a talent drought. Radio has no farm team - no next generation of talent practicing in the wings. Most of today's top talent cut their teeth in small-town radio. Today, however, automated small markets are not breeding talent. A Junior Achievement program sponsored by a local station exposed me to radio. We sold time and produced a weekly Sunday-morning show. This eventually led to an actual job at the station. At least two of us made careers in radio.

What are you doing to expose young people to radio and give them a chance to cut their teeth? I suggest that you turn off the automation during late nights or weekend overnights and take a slight risk to develop radio's next superstar. Consider adopting a formal plan to evangelize radio and plant seeds for future broadcasters.

Each station must commit to training our future talent. It's not someone else's responsibility - our industry future is in your hands. You must be willing to have some turkeys on the air so they can learn to become peacocks. Someone gave you a start. What are you doing to give others a career - and to give radio a future?

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