You haven't really had a full radio career unless you've been a part of an unmitigated disaster, a dumpster fire, an implosion. Or two.
Do this long enough, and they're unavoidable. Talk to some of the biggest names in the business – the “most powerful” broadcasters, Marconi and Crystal winners, Hall of Famers. If they're being honest, they have (at least) one true crash they were involved with.
A successful morning show that got a divorce, a promising station debut that turned out to be a lemon, a ratings winner that somehow lost it. These debacles are all part of our collective history in the business. And as the wizened philosopher Kelly Clarkson reminds us, “What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.” (Actually, it was Friedrich Nietzsche, but he wasn't much of a singer.)
Because after the total wipeout that was 2020, if you're still standing and still in the game, you've just overcome the worst of all time in the world of business, life, and of course radio. Hands down.
So, congratulate yourself on getting through this ordeal, take a short victory lap, pick up the pieces, and then let's meet up and talk about what's next.
What did you learn from COVID – about your show, your station, your company, yourself?
How can you build on what you accomplished, what you cobbled together, and what you innovated to not only survive but hopefully to also thrive.
Chances are, you gained insight about yourself – your resilience, your problem-solving, your agility, your creativity.
And you also probably learned a great deal about others in your orbit – your co-workers, friends, family, your bosses.
Especially that last category. Did they support you? Were they honest with you? Did they have your back? Did they believe in you?
It's hard not to feel fatigued by this ordeal – the disruption, the disappointment, the feeling of hopelessness and uncertainty that has pervaded lives, families, and careers.
Not surprisingly, many people have a sense of feeling burned out by COVID and its ripple effects. Who can blame them? Business Insider published the results of a recent survey they conducted to measure just that. On April 30, they interviewed 1,093 employed Americans about their mindsets at this moment in time. Here's the chart that jumped out at me:
These are sobering statistics that might shed some light about how your co-workers, bosses, and direct reports are feeling. The BI survey shows that six in ten American workers are feeling some burnout. And more than one-third are very or extremely fried.
A couple of highlights…
Women are quite a bit more likely to feel very burned out than are men. Based on many of their family and career workloads during COVID, this isn't a surprising finding.
And some encouraging news: more than half the sample say they felt very or somewhat motivated during the pandemic – in spite of the mental, career, familial, and health pressures they faced. That speaks highly for their resilience and spirit. We are capable of more than we could have possibly imagined.
These are still sobering statistics, suggesting there will be more to our collective recovery than the lifting of mask mandates and the return of concerts. The pandemic has taken its toll, and many will struggle from COVID's unique brand of PTSD to regain their equilibrium and their effectiveness.
How can we use this information as the country (and hopefully, the world) looks to bounce back this summer? How can we solidify our career and life choices?
When it comes to our jobs, are we ready for a few more rounds, is it time to look elsewhere, or is it perhaps a good idea to grab whatever marbles you can and call it a career? We've watched many grapple with these decisions throughout 2020. Now that the smoke is clearing, this may be an opportune time to reassess. And then either commit to what you've been doing or seek out another path.
And if you're still working in broadcast radio, what have you learned about your station, your brand, and your community? Are you equipped to do battle in an arena that has gotten infinitely more crowded and competitive? Do you have confidence your company has the knowledge, the commitment, and the strategy necessary to adapt and grow?
What have you learned about yourself? Your work/life balance, and your family? What about your commitment to the industry and your company? Your willingness to do what it takes – including what you earn and where you live – to enjoy a career you love and to make a living at it?
Did the industry learn from this existential moment in time – about serving the listener, the advertiser, and the community?
Did radio use the pandemic as a conduit to get its commercial load problem under control – or is it business as usual?
Did stations learn how to integrate virtual experiences into their content and their promotional strategies? Did they learn how to entertain and inform, despite not being able to physically work next to other staffers or clients?
Under the shroud of COVID, it's easy to forget that broadcast radio had been dealing with large-scale problems long before there was a pandemic. Many companies downsized in the weeks and months before the coronavirus reached American shores.
A vaxxed population and herd immunity aren't going to rescue an industry that was already being buffeted by competitive headwinds. Band-aids like political, gambling, and cannabis advertising may keep things buoyed up for a while. So may investing in podcasting and other digital platforms.
But the existential challenges are only more pronounced now. Does radio broadcasting have the research, the resources, and the resilience necessary to fight the good fight in this ever-competitive media landscape? Does ownership have the commitment to do battle in a redefined world of new media, content creation, and audience engagement?
As an industry, do we have what it takes to finally make a successful transition to digital? That means embracing the other channels, distribution paths, and connections that enable radio brands to thrive along with everyone else – rather than being all alone on the Radio Island.
Radio broadcasters must do more than ride the rebound, hoping that listening levels and business return to “2019 levels.” COVID has been more than just another global catastrophe – it is a game-changing moment. And that signals an opportunity for every company and every brand to cast themselves differently – one that was not there prior to the pandemic.
The industry finds itself at a crossroads – between a storied past and a challenging future. How will radio pass the next round of tests required to retain its position in the media hierarchy here in the U.S. and around the world?
It will require hard work, whether you're a commercial, public, or Christian enterprise; a big company or a mom & pop. It will require more than having a good team. It will require vision, leadership, courage, and focused persistence.
If I may be so bold, it will also require outside input and expertise. The truly best companies depend on carefully distilled mashups of their own team members, along with savvy, strategic, and visionary outsiders.
Yes, I'm biased. I believe our company belongs in the latter category. Over the past 2+ decades, we have put in the necessary work, commitment, and time to provide that all-important external perspective. We have walked the walk. And it has never been as paramount to seek out an outside perspective as it is for radio today.
That means having the stones to tell any CEO in radio broadcasting her baby's ugly. Or why his company's strategic plan needs to go back to the drawing board because it's not bold or adequate enough to win. Or whether the existing corporate team is made up of capable players who can truly take on aggressive goals and accomplish epic things – without the politics, the platitudes, and the posturing.
If you'd have talked to me a year ago about where we'd be at this point, I would have expressed doubts about the radio broadcasting world's ability to crawl from the wreckage, and recast itself for the next 100 years.
Today, I think we're sitting on an opportunity that simply didn't seem possible even a handful of months ago. “Life disrupted” means all bets are indeed off. The right idea at the opportune time can crack through and scale. But radio broadcasters must choose the best path.
It is one of those fork-in-the-road, red pill or blue pill moments. Do we opt to stay in the familiar, comfortable world of the past (even as it is disappearing) or do we accept the challenges, the discomfort, and the mystery of the unknown to see what is around the corner?
It is a scary choice, but one that everyone from owners to hosts to sales reps will confront at one point or another as this drama unfolds. The red pill – to confront what's next – is our fate. The question is, when do we look it right in the eye?
While it may still be a shock to the system, crawling from the wreckage can be an uplifting and rejuvenating experience.
Let's dust ourselves off, make sure nothing is broken, and do this.
And if you're looking for a soundtrack for your company's next initiative, might I suggest a little Dave Edmunds?