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September 21, 2014

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8/13/01 The Call You Never Want
The call you never want came to me one afternoon, when I was running a local station. One of the three most important media buyers in town left a message, saying she was very upset and wanted to see me right away. What could it be? Had we screwed up one of the many schedules she had placed? Were we about to loose an account? Maybe several? Like any good GM, I dropped everything and responded to this customer’s request for a meeting.

“Eric, I think I know you pretty well,” she began. “And I have a hunch what I’m about to tell you is not company policy. Needless to say, I’m very upset, and your entire budget is at risk.”

Okay, she definitely had my attention. She then told me that one of my male sales reps was “coming on” to her. Not only was he bold in his approach, he was blatant, saying things like “I know you want it.” She said he commonly referred to her as “babe,” “sugar” and “sweetheart.”

I was indeed floored. Not only had I never seen or heard him treat anyone this way, it seemed out of character for this unusually successful sales guy who had been above-board in all ways. He was truly a family man — not anyone I would have suspected of this behavior. I reassured the buyer that this was not our policy, I told her I would look into this disturbing matter, and I removed him from the account to eliminate her discomfort.

You could have heard the high pitch of my voice across the street: “What were you thinking?” His response was, “Simple, Boss. She was sending me signals that she was attracted to me, and I knew I could play it to my advantage. Of course, I would never actually do anything, but I believe she is interested in me, and I intend to use it to increase her business.” Rolling my eyes, I never expected this in modern times. We fixed his problem, made the buyer happy and got through the crisis.

Most women today will tell you that these uncomfortable events still take place — very much so around the Radio business. It’s bad enough that many clients play this old song when women are trying to sell them. The tragedy is that we still hear unfortunate stories of bosses and co-workers who mistreat women.

For several years, my personal goal has been to elevate the level of respect for women within our industry and remove the glass ceiling. I don’t understand how, in 2001, we can have so many large Radio companies, many of them public, yet none of the top companies have senior-executive positions filled by women — nothing, it seems, beyond the general manager level. There are some smaller broadcast companies with women in key positions, but too few. Where in the 40 Most Powerful List — beyond Cathy Hughes (thank goodness!) — are the women?
Radio’s “good ol’ boy” mentality is changing, but it’s all talk until we see women who are promoted to prominent positions and actually handle the controls. This should not be done solely because they are women; it must be based on qualifications.

I have no doubt that there are capable women to fill critical leadership positions beyond general manager. I’m calling on the biggest Radio companies to make it a goal to set the tone within their organizations by seeking ways to change this awkward imbalance. I would have expected this imbalance in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, but not in 2001.


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