A Family Affair


The changing landscape of our business has generated a ripple effect that washes over all employees…from the president’s office right down to the sanitation engineers.  Being “well-read” in our industry once was quantified by a familiarity with trade publications.  Now, our majority pours over the Wall Street Journal.  Not long ago, a radio company could only own 12 stations total.  Soon, many will own that number in one market.  Record companies were owned by independent raconteurs who built their labels on a love of music and an astute business sense.  Today, most are owned by large conglomerates.  The music of choice is that generated by bells ringing on the cash register.

It’s big business, baby, and like it or not, we’re a part of it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Big business brings an entire package.  Pockets are deeper for promotion, marketing, research and development.  In the short term, even the salaries are higher. But there is no free lunch.

Creativity can suffer.  Individualism is harder to maintain.  A Family Affair is no longer the company song.

In a relatively short time, we’ve gone from, “Your loyalty is being rewarded,” to “What have you done for me lately?”

Today, the catch-phrase is “What are you going to do for me tomorrow?”

Remember when we had those “five-year plans?”  With companies changing hands so quickly while stocks rise and fall like a Love Rollercoaster, those “five-year plans” are mostly obsolete.  If you’re lucky, it’s more like five months, or in some cases, five weeks.  And depending on how you answer questions in the department head meeting, it could be five minutes.

Record companies were once looked upon with envy by those in radio.  Where programmers notched their belts and judged their worth on the number of times they were fired, record executives couldn’t relate.  Most had never been terminated.

It’s hard to believe that from a personnel standpoint, radio is more stable than the record business.  More record executives have lost their jobs in the past few years than in the history of the industry.  And it’s not going to get any better.

Conglomerates are buying more stations and record companies.  For this concept to work, operating expenses must be cut.  Don’t believe that this means getting rid of a few computers and phone lines.  We’re talking about people.

This had to change the way we feel about our jobs.  There was a time, in the not so distant past, that people worked for people.  I wrote many letters to new employees that began, “Welcome to the (KHJ, WRKO, KFRC, etc.) family.”  Those words can’t be used today.  It’s all about business.  Family has nothing to do with it.

All of us need mentors.  As baby deejays or fledgling record executives, we need older, wiser, smarter people to teach us the ways of our business.  Those of us who have attained some measure of success can look back on those who helped shape our future.  Then, we can use the knowledge that we gain to pass along to others.

I was lucky.  I had three people who helped shaped my world:  Buzz Bennett, who taught me that creativity was the root of all success; Paul Drew, who passed along his passion for careful planning and execution; and Gary Stevens, who instilled an understanding of the business part of the puzzle.  Without all three of these lessons, my accomplishments would have been much less.  Creativity without planning and execution is a play without words.  Creativity, planning and execution, without a knowledge of how the three combine within the structure of business, is as worthless as a sail on a power boat.

Today, it’s more difficult to find mentors.  Too often, those with the knowledge are too busy moving their company ahead to take time to share and teach.

As for those needing to be mentored, it’s tough in today’s workplace.  There is no sense of family.  The motivating atmosphere is more a fear of failure rather than an excitement to succeed.

We need to understand the business and our part in it.  We all got into this business because of love.  We love music and we love the excitement of the entertainment industry.  That’s what drew us into our jobs in the first place.  Now, we’re driven by a company that is more about profit and loss than a love of music.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s just reality.

We must be self-motivated.  We must continue to nurture the love we have within the framework of a business environment.  We should still work for and derive a great deal of pride from making our bosses satisfied, but the greater pride should come from within because of a job well-done.

If you work only to get accolades from the person in charge, you’re dooming yourself to disappointment.  The boss could be gone tomorrow.

Judge your worth and accomplishments on how you’re fulfilling your own goals.  Take pride in yourself.  But don’t confuse your job with your family.  It’s a job.  A good one, but nevertheless, just a job.

When you’re done for the day, then you can go home and sing all night long…that’s a family tradition.

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