Where Did I Come From?

With apologies to the authors of the wonderful book many of us have read to our kids over the years, we thought it was worth thinking about where those of us now in the radio business came from. Why’d we want to get into the business? How’d we get our jobs? If we were 21 years old today, would we want to be at a radio station? If not, then where would we want to be?

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Decades ago, when many of us were starting, we were interested in radio because it was something that we listened to. It was a way to connect to youth culture on a daily basis during a time before the Internet. It was a time when youth-oriented print publications were few (and certainly not daily) and TV choices focused on youth were either sparse or lame or non-existent. Some of us remember seeing or meeting DJ’s and envying their jobs; they were getting paid for playing music we loved.

Internships at radio stations were sought-after postings when we were in high school or college. For some, the glow dimmed during those experiences (and those kids went on to jobs in other fields). But, for many of us, those initial encounters just dug the hook in deeper and we could imagine no other future than one immersed in a radio station.

Early entry-level radio jobs for many of us were weekend or overnight (or weekend overnight) DJ in a smaller market – jobs that are largely gone in 2016. While it may be good for listeners that stronger, more seasoned talent are on across more dayparts across more markets, it’s cut off a valuable on-ramp into a career in radio. It’s still possible for a young person to get into radio, but it’s become tougher to get into the business. At the same time, radio has less impact in the lives of too many younger people. And besides, what are we doing to make them want to join our club?

While managers and owners worry about fragmented ad budgets and programmers worry about competition from Internet streams, we should all be worrying about who is going to bring new, youthful ideas into stations and who’s going to run the business after we retire. Young people bring new ideas into the business, challenge our thinking and adapt to new technologies quickly. These are the skills we want – but do those who possess them want us?

It’s all too reminiscent of the 18th Century celibate religious sect, the Shakers. While members of the sect took in orphans and some people converted into their sect, members didn’t procreate, so we don’t hear about Shakers much today. As of 2010, there were three Shakers in the US, down from about 5,000 in the 1840’s.

Along with thinking about how to get younger people to listen to more radio, we should be thinking actively about how to get more young people into our stations. What useful, paid roles with possibilities of future growth do we have for them now? What can we imagine? What might they imagine for themselves?  Those who don’t replace themselves, die out after a generation or two.  What are we doing to make sure that we’re not the last generation in an industry that’s forgotten where we came from?