Today's “Throwback” blog post is just a short four year-ride into the past – but it may as well be light years. The world was a very different place in pre-pandemic 2019. And today's topic – Gen Z and their willingness (or lack thereof) to pursue careers in radio – is even more critically important today than it was back then.
Sadly though, nothing has changed. Young people aren't flocking to the broadcasting industry, in TV or radio. If anything, they're choosier about the work they do and where they do it. And that puts even more pressure on employers to make their companies more attractive to the next generation of employees in America – and around the world.
Since I wrote this blog post in 2019, the RAB has taken over the National Radio Talent Institute. Back then, I was about to speak at their event in Boston; in a couple weeks, I'll gladly be back in Chicago. Believe me when I tell you, the need for us grizzled radio veterans to connect with young people seeking careers has never been more important. In recent years, we've worked with organizations like the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, very much aware of the hard work that must be done to make radio a more attractive destination for young people in schools across the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of the Great Lakes State.
Interestingly, we've found that when high school and college students visit broadcasting operations, they're pleasantly surprised to learn there's more going on than an announcer in a studio or an anchorwoman on a news set. Stations today are ensconced in all sorts of digital content creation, from podcasts to short video production. Their sales and marketing efforts are more varied and sophisticated than ever before, opening up pathways to more career opportunities. And of course, social media is at the foundation of their outreach to audiences and advertisers.
So, yes – better marketing of radio (and TV) to America's youth would be a logical starting point. But so would giving them something to listen to (and watch). Fact is, fewer and fewer spend much intentional time with broadcast media because so little is being produced with them in mind. If we broadcasters don't remedy that situation – and soon – we will most certainly live to regret it.
I'm writing this from Radiodays North America in Toronto. Last night at dinner, I was talking to a podcasting executive in the States about this very topic. He asked me whether young people would even listen to a radio station programmed to their taste. After all, they're hooked on Spotify, YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok.
And my response? I have no idea. But I do know this: if we don't produce anything for them, nothing will ever change. Let's hold hands as we go over the “Demographic Cliff” together. – FJ
Last week, I had the honor of once again speaking at Dan Vallie's National Radio Talent Institute program, this time at Emerson College in Boston. Beasley Media sponsors this amazing program where bright, motivated young people come to learn from grizzled, hopeful radio broadcasters from all over the market.
I met several students who were more than just on the ball. They were excited, pumped, and eager to learn from us radio veterans. And as often happens at these events when young people get together with older generations of radio pros, the learning flowed in both directions. I wish everyone in radio could see what I saw at Emerson last week.
Buzz Knight and I enjoyed a conversation with this group – they asked us questions and we turned right around and pumped them for information. I believe each of us learned a lot from one another – and where radio has been and where it may be headed.
The question on all our minds as I sat in that Emerson College classroom was how we “manufacture” thousands more of these kids who are absolutely, positively excited about careers in radio.
It gets more difficult every day, because of the continued bad rap broadcast radio gets from just about everyone. While some has merit, much of it is patently unfair. Sadly, however, the evidence suggests that jobs in radio – and in all of mass media – are becoming more scarce and don't pay especially well.
Lew and John Dickey echoed that thinking at Conclave a couple days later. When asked about job prospects in radio, they pointed to new opportunities in areas like video, social, and digital. But they also conceded that when industries consolidate, job cuts are inevitable. Given another pending round of deregulation if the NAB gets its way, that trend is likely to continue.
That reality was confirmed last week in a “Hey Tutor” blog post: “College majors with the highest and lowest unemployment rates.”
This isn't one of those subjective surveys made up of all sorts of weird variables. It's based on the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report. As we know, the overall job picture in the U.S. continues to be a bright one. Unemployment has dropped to new lows, while more Americans are getting college degrees.
Good news, right? That is until they start listing the college majors with the highest rates of unemployed young people.
And you can stop at #1 – mass media degrees.
At more than a percentage point above the next worst major, mass media students are facing industries beset by layoffs and “projected negative career growth.” And that leads the authors to conclude that those who attain degrees in this discipline “might want to look elsewhere for gainful employment.” They suggest advertising and marketing careers as a fallback.
And to make matters worse, the early career mass media average wage is $35K; mid-career salary is only $60K. A philosophy major makes more money.
So, what does this tell us about radio's future – not just the industry's ability to attract bright young people, but the need to create content that resonates with Generation Z, encouraging them to enjoy radio?
It suggests broadcasters have a lot of work to do in both areas. A good start is that there's a college, university, and community college in close proximity to every radio manager reading this post.
Establishing a relationship with these local schools, their administrations, their faculties, and their students should be at the top of the priorities list. Thankfully, many state broadcaster associations have programs in place to do just that. But they need your continued support because this mission is of paramount importance.
Institutes like Dan Vallie's need to expand into more markets, and become annual fixtures on the calendar. More and more broadcasters need to engage, participate, and contribute money, time, and expertise to make them happen. Beasley, Hubbard, Kerby Confer, Art Kellar, and a handful of state broadcaster associations – Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, Georgia – have already stepped up. But the industry needs to be more supportive of these efforts and invest in its future.
It's not just a good idea to engage and encourage young people seeking careers in broadcasting.
It should be Job One.
For information on Dan Vallie's National Radio Talent System, contact Dan here.
Thanks to Randy Kabrich for the heads-up on this story.