There is a cancer among us. A cancer growing daily for which, so far, there is no cure.
The radio and record industries have always operated on an “I need to know” basis. Rumors and gossip have fed the entertainment business forever. As a part of that business, both those in radio and records have been a part of it. There’s no way to keep from it. We feed daily on “Did you hear about…” and “What’s going on?”
When I first entered this business, I asked a wise old veteran why this industry was so interested in rumors. He told me, “Because most of them come true.”
The wise old crone was right. Knowledge is a powerful thing in any business. Inside knowledge is all powerful in our business.
Much like my politically correct (it had a different definition in those days) father, who would buy “worthless” timber land because he knew where the next highway was planned, most successful executives in our business keep one ear to the ground in anticipation of the next seismic shifts.
Taken as a part of the whole, there’s nothing wrong with “good” gossip. It serves all of our interests from time to time. It even got me my first major-market programming gig. While working in Phoenix, I started a rumor that I was going to Boston to program WRKO. At that time, no one from WRKO had contacted me and I knew no one in the RKO organization. The rumor made the trades, the GM at WRKO read it and called me for an interview. Bottom line: The rumor came true. I left Phoenix to program WRKO in Boston.
Rumors and gossip boil down into two categories: good and bad. The good rumors are positive statements about people in our business that might be moving to better jobs. These rumors occur daily, often, as outlined above, started by the very individuals who are seeking better positions. Having this industry say positive things about you is like an actor’s name in lights. How are you going to conquer the world if nobody knows your name? I’ve always encouraged “good” rumors. How can we go wrong by saying positive things about our colleagues?
The “bad” rumors are another thing entirely. These are ugly statements about people in our business…disparaging comments about their ability, connections, actions, looks, etc. As much as I wish these “bad” rumors would disappear, they won’t. Because we are in a business that feeds on itself, these “bad” rumors will continue to be a fact…just as those classified as “good.”
However, our industry has always had a built-in immune system that fought these “bad” rumors. Most of us refuse to perpetrate these ‘bad” rumors…particularly if they are about our friends. When these “bad rumors run into enough defense, they go away.
Unfortunately, these “bad rumors have a new carrier…one that is much harder to combat. With the advent of the computer system, unreliable rumors and gossip are allowed to run amuck. There is very little we can do about it. Anyone and everyone with a modem can dial up AOL and say virtually anything and everything about others. The cowards among us (virtually all of those using the gossip channels on AOL) are allowed to spout vile and venom without fear of reprisal. There’s nobody there to say, “Wait a minute, that’s not true,” or “Hey, you’re talking about a friend of mine,”
We’ve become entangled in the web of the Internet. If you’re on AOL, you’re S.O.L.
Lately, the rash of ugliness has broken across the face of the industry in big splotches. More than one record company president was vilified to the point of predicting the demise of their careers.
Certain promotion people have been crucified for a variety of usually senseless reasons. We’re talking drawn and quartered here. More down was predicted.
A couple of weeks ago, a particularly nasty tirade appeared on AOL about our opposites at Hits. Because the message was so well written (I guess I’m supposed to take that as a compliment), several of my colleagues called to ask if I was the author.
I wasn’t. If I had written it, I would have signed my name. Whether or not some of the comments are true is not the point. The point is that these messages are written by cowards who hide behind anonymity. They take shots with no fear of recrimination.
I understand that some people think this cloak of secrecy might be helpful. Because no one knows who is leaving the messages, some feel safe in commenting on people in power. Some may use this forum to criticize their boss or their company. Certain ugly truths may come to light that would otherwise remain hidden. I have serious reservations. Throwing ink into the washer with out a bottle of bleach handy can leave stains that will last forever.
Talking ugly about others or starting “bad” rumors is a fact of life in our industry. As I mentioned before, in some cases, it is even healthy. But talking with others always provides a stopgap. You might be wrong. Someone might change your mind. If you’re way out of line, someone might sue you.
Put simply, to write whatever you want without admitting you wrote it is chickenshit.
Network 40 doesn’t use rumors from AOL. We don’t read them. No one should. It’s not right. And there’s another reason. Anonymity isn’t guaranteed. Several people haven’t covered their tracks well enough recently and have been busted.
If everyone in the industry stopped feeding the gossip-mongers on AOL, this useless bullshit would cease. Though you can dismiss it as no big deal, it is, at the very least, time-consuming. If someone writes something about you, you’re going to be fielding calls from people asking, “Did you read what someone wrote about on AOL?” If something is written about your company or boss, you’ll be getting the same calls.
Of course, just by writing this column, I’m sure I’ll be the target of some nameless coward next week. Who knows, if it’s well-written, with no mistakes or grammatical errors, maybe some of you will call Hits and ask them if they wrote it.
Everyone knows it couldn’t be R&R.