Ever hear of Intern John? How about that hot morning duo, Kelly & Wood? Or that nighttime sensation, Greg Beharrell?
Unless you're an avid reader of the trades and follow talent very closely, chances are good these names have been flying below your radio radar. But at Morning Show Boot Camp last week, the very last session on the agenda was “Radio's Rising Stars,” moderated by WDRV's head of programming, Rob Cressman.
They shared their stories and talked about their career paths.
It is one of the few panels in all of radio that celebrates new talent. Now to be fair, Joel Denver showcases “Ria's Rising Stars” at his conference, while Conclave salutes up and coming young radio broadcasters.
Until it was sidelined by COVID, Dan Vallie's “National Radio Talent System” (now owned by the RAB) offered education to young, fledgling students of radio. And there are other celebrations of young radio personalities.
But for the most part, radio is an industry that is more likely to celebrate its past than its future. While halls of fame and Marconi and Crystal awards are dominated by legendary call letters and iconic personalities, newbies often struggle for the limelight in radio.
And why not. Broadcast radio is aging. Each year in all three Techsurveys – commercial, public, Christian music – we see the average age of our survey takers ticking higher on the gray scale.
But it's not just listeners. Our three AQ studies of on-air personalities in 2018, 2019, and this year, show the average age of talent steadily moving northward: 47, 48, and 50 years-old in the three surveys.
And as the trades dutifully report – week in and week out – many of radio's best known personalities are hanging up their headphones and moving into their retirement years. Or passing away.
More often than not, they've been difficult to replace. From Tom Magliozzi – one of the two brothers who charmed public radio fans on the massively popular hit show, Car Talk – to Rush Limbaugh, radio frequently has not had “the next big thing” waiting in the wings. The exception, of course, was The Kidd Kraddick Show, where the star's team successfully stepped up to carry the show after its eponymous host passed on. Most veteran shows won't be that fortunate or crafty.
The lack of raw, young talent ready to step in is a concern that just about every company is facing. Especially as we're experiencing “The Great Resignation” in so many other walks of life. Is radio that different?
And the next great round of stars? Where will they come from, especially in an environment where fewer young people were seeking radio as a career even before COVID? Generally speaking, younger radio professionals are not well-compensated, compared to other lines of work. How can we inspire burgeoning talent there's an alternative to becoming a YouTube or e-sports star?
There's cause for hope, especially if you attended Morning Show Boot Camp. Despite the COVID rollercoaster, several hundred attendees bravely made the trek to Chicago to commune with their tribe. And while I didn't take a census, it's a young, enthusiastic crowd of excited radio practitioners, despite all the negativity that surrounds this industry, from layoffs to increasing responsibilities, often without commensurate compensation.
I ask each year in the AQ study – an impressive half of Boot Camp attendees tell us they pay their own way. That's another indication of their commitment to their craft and their community. (And how many other industry conferences can match that stat?)
And then there was the aforementioned panel. Greg Beherrell's humor aside in the photo at the top of this post, he is reminding broadcasters the 7-midnight daypart actually matters, racking up affiliates to his nighttime show, heard on rock and alternative stations. And Greg was not alone on the Boot Camp stage. In fact, he was surrounded by a bevy of stars many of us don't know much about.
There's Intern John entertaining the D.C. market on Hot 99.5. Lore'l who's part of the “Morning Hustle,” Janda Lane, rapidly earning her musical chops on the Drive in Chicago, Shelby Sos making a name for herself on the Atlanta airwaves, and Kelly Jordan and Matt Wood, getting laughs in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
This was the first panel of its kind at Boot Camp, and Don tells me it will be back in 2022. And why not?
It is important for the radio industry to showcase its youth, it's up-and-comers, its rising stars. They are the talent with the ability to attract new listeners to a station – and maybe even to the medium.
As is always the case at this talent-focused conference, we get to hear from industry pros, sharing their experiences. Once again, iHeart's talent master, Dennis Clark, artfully led a star-studded panel of overachievers, among them Mojo, Patty Steele, and Woody. Other veteran talent appeared in several Boot Camp panels during the two-day conference.
But the session showcasing new stars perhaps you've never heard of underscores the need for more radio organizations – from state broadcaster associations conferences to the NAB/RAB Show itself – to devote more of the spotlight to the next generation of radio talent.
While successful talent can be influential, along with veteran researchers and consultants, they may be less impactful than seeing actual young stars making their mark.
I spoke with Rob Cressman after the session, and he concurred the “Rising Stars” session was well worth everyone's time. Knowing who's around the corner provides encouragement for newbies as well as us grizzled vets.
As the media revolution evolves, and as broadcast radio continues to be rocked by disruption and more competitive threats, a focus on “Who's next?” rather than on “Who's left?” might be a smart use of everybody's time.
And the next time, someone asks you who's the next Howard, Rush, Mancow, or Dahl, you'll have the names of radio's rising stars.
Join us for a free webinar – our AQ3 presentation – a look inside the hearts and minds of radio talent. It's Wednesday, August 25th at 2pm ET. Info here.
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