Let me be the first to say it:
Morning Show Boot Camp is back.
(And perhaps so are in-person conferences.)
It felt excessively normal yesterday at Day One of MSBC33. Credit to Don Anthony. He sensed that many of his attendees wanted to do this. I served up a brief survey for him in April, and respondents told us they wanted this gathering.
Of course, we did the research as the vaccine rollout was hot and heavy, and before we had a clue about the Delta variant. Nonetheless. Don persevered, and a great crowd filled a ballroom yesterday at the Swissôtel in Chicago. (Day Two is today.)
While there was the prerequisite “Battle of the Bits,” yesterday was a day of thoughtful panels and sessions. I was honored to kick off MSBC33 with the results of AQ3, the talent survey we do in collaboration with Don and Boot Camp.
I present a lot of research every year, and without a doubt, the Boot Campers are the most attentive audience that sits through my “data dumps.” They are a true community, supporting each other through good times, bad times, and times like these.
I can tell you no one was texting or posting on social media while I hit them with slide after slide. They were riveted on the results. And this year's findings were sobering – starting with something as mundane as the sample size.
Only 600 personalities (and producers) from commercial radio in the U.S. took part in AQ3. You may raise an eyebrow at that – after all, that's a solid N-size under most circumstances. For a relatively compact group like air talent, it's more than enough.
But when you consider our first two AQ studies – fielded at about the same time of year in 2018 and 2019 using the same outreach tactic – yielded just over 1,000 respondents each, something's up.
Of course, the radio business – like most industry sectors – doesn't have a “census.” There's no way of knowing how many jobs were lost in 2020 (and 2019) due to COVID and other “reductions in force” that aren't coming back. But my first conclusion yesterday is that at a time when if you asked leadership at the competition – Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM, etc. – to name broadcast radio's “secret sauce,” I'd bet that personalities would be at or near the top of their checklists. And yet, talent in radio is a shrinking breed at a time when the industry needs to recapture attention and buzz. And respect.
And of course, everyone on the air is impacted – especially women. That's because in past years, we've seen the ugly numbers – men outnumber women 3-to-1 on the U.S. airwaves. And this year was no exception.
But our data also identified that women are losing ground at radio stations all over the U.S. – in all sized markets and companies. The #MeToo movement seems to have lost some momentum. Similarly, on the question of whether women have as good a chance advancing on the air as men, the degree of agreement is lower than what we saw back in 2019 in AQ2.
But here's the kicker – the gap between how both sexes view a woman's chance to move up on the airwaves is dramatic, as you can see on the “Venus & Mars” chart below:
It's unusual when a single chart from a long survey tells this vivid a story. But in many ways, the AQ3 data set the table for what was to come.
In the annual Women's Forum, aptly named this year – “Breaking the Glass Ceiling…and Beyond” – a half dozen highly accomplished women were led by industry vet Charese Fruge in a wide open, no holds barred discussion of the way it is.
The session was well attended – overwhelmingly by women – but there were some men in the room leaning into the conversation, too. And the panelists acknowledged and thanked them for engaging.
There were more applause lines than in a typical political campaign speech. Both attendees and panelists seemed to feed off each other, especially during the Q&A.
There were some strong moments during the session as the women told their stories of what it was like – and in many cases, what it is still like. And not only were attendees in the Zurich Ballroom nodding in agreement, the data confirms their perspectives as well.
Why aren't there more women program directors was one of Fruge's jump ball questions. And while each woman gave their theories, the data suggests to me that until there are more female air talent in prominent roles, the PD pipeline will remain dry. After all, most program directors come from the air studio. More women on the air at least opens the door for more PD promotions.
Syndicated morning star, Dana Cortez, was especially generous with the high's and low's. Even at this point in her storied career as both a woman and Mexican American syndication success, she continues to encounter blatant sexism – and ignorance – in her dealings with less enlightened broadcasters.
Cortez thanked her team, from the screeners to the engineers, noting that everyone plays a key role in making her show a success. But when she considered the overall environment for women, she commented:
“We need men to be there for us.”
And that comment spurred Tyrene Jackson to step up to the mic during Q&A, look around the room, and lob this prescient response:
“How do we create change when men don't come to the party?”
That is the question, and everyone on stage and in the seats sensed it.
Tyrene – or T.J. – has a great story of her own. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, she has worked her way up to become a talk show host, PD, and Operations Manager at several stations. She has launched her own online talk show, worked for SiriusXM, and is now Executive Producer for the syndicated show, “Get Up Mornings” with Erica Campbell.
T.J.'s trajectory confirms there's a path for talented, motivated female personalities who won't be discouraged or denied. But as her question suggested – and the panelists affirmed – men need to not only attend these sessions, but also develop a finer understanding of the environment – then and now.
Broadcast radio is at an inflection point – please excuse the cliché – where contributions are necessary from all corners.
But of course, it starts with showing up.
My wish is that at MSBC 34 – hopefully, another in-person conference – we see more of radio's C-suiters in attendance. Personality is the industry's most important resource. Our AQ3 data – and Boot Camp – suggest the need for more leadership engagement from the highest levels.
And as parties go, this is a pretty damn good one.
Of course, I bet Art Vuolo would sell you the video. email@example.com
I'll be presenting the full results of AQ3 – radio's only talent survey – on Wednesday, August 25 at 2pm ET. The webinar is free. Bring the airstaff – and your GM. Info/registration here.
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