Holiday music is on the airwaves, budget meetings are taking place, and anxiety is running high in the radio business. As we've come to learn over the past many years, while there can be great personal joy around the holidays, there's also considerable stress on those who make their livings on the airwaves.
That's because November and December have become synonymous with “down-sizing,” or the dreaded RIFs – reductions in force. I don't care who you are in this business – chances are your thoughts have explored the dark side of your employment situation with your current company or station.
And departures have already started – personality shows, midday jocks, market managers – you name it. There is now not a day that goes by when we're not reading about – or whispering about – who will not be with us in the new year. We used to speculate about format changes at this time of year. Now, the topic is much more likely to revolve around staffing and personnel decisions, often coinciding with the dreaded budgeting process.
How companies plan these departures can often be an important factor on the moods and states of mind of many other people – staffers, co-workers, advertisers, and of course, listeners. Everyone pays attention to the care and empathy a company exhibits at this critically important and emotional time.
But there's another side to this – and that's how those who have lost their jobs handle their departures. Reactions can run the gamut, from anger to resignation to acceptance. The famous Kübler-Ross “5 Stages of Grief” emotional roller coaster definitely apply here.
Radio broadcasting has always been a volatile, fluid business. In some ways, these modern times are sadly reminiscent of the “good old days” when U-Haul seemed to be the biggest beneficiary of the industry's unstable nature. In those days, you got “pink-slipped.” Today, it's a notice to meet with the HR department. The end result is the same.
Last week in Miami, four radio personalities lost their jobs on the same day – an event that is becoming all too familiar in many markets this time of year.
Kimba (WLYF, and a Zeta alum I crossed paths with back in the 1990's), Jade Alexander (WMXJ), Todd Allen Durkin (WKIS) and The Beast (WAXY/The Ticket) are the group that now find themselves on the beach – not where any of them hoped to be.
But this time around, the Miami Herald kept in touch with these recently unemployed personalities. As you might expect, members of the audience – as seen on social media – were far more outwardly upset by the sudden absence of favorite companions.
The personalities themselves took their harsh career news like the pros they are, thanking fans, their former employers, friends and supporters.
Let's be fair – these sweeping dismissals are occurring in multiple markets, staged by a number of companies. It's just that the Herald decided it might make a good story last week.
Aside from vacancies in the air studio, there are also the high-level executive departures that impact entire staffs of employees and managers. When someone at the top vacates a position, the losses often reflect on long-term plans and initiatives already underway. Many employees were hired by these now-exiting execs, often feeling cast adrift by these top-level decisions.
That was recently the case at ViacomCBS, the site of a major executive shakeup. Two of the victims were Kent Alterman, longtime head of Comedy Central, and Sarah Levy, Viacom media networks' COO.
The most remarkable part of Alterman's departure was his letter to the staff, the epitome of class and honest perspective. It was published last week in a story by Variety's Elaine Low and Daniel Holloway.
The ominous subject line of Alterman's memo?
“We all get a turn; now it's mine.”
Here's the message he wrote to his staff:
Dear Treasured Colleagues,
Some of the most inventive fiction I’ve read comes in the form of farewell emails, so I’ll resist the temptation to be creative and try to be factual and brief. I apologize in advance if I’m not able to deliver on that.
As you have likely heard, I’m leaving my position as head of the Entertainment group. I’m not going to brag about all we’ve accomplished together (another temptation resisted). Instead, I will tell you how grateful I am. We were given a rare opportunity to create and maintain our own culture within the confines of an ever-changing and challenging corporate environment. While some might call me delusional, I contend that our ethos is defined by passion, respect, strong points of view, collaboration and kindness to each other. Dare I call it soulful? Maybe I just did.
We don’t give lip service to these things – we live them. On a daily basis. When I was offered the position of President of Comedy Central a few years ago, I was honestly not sure I wanted to accept. I worried it would take me too far away from the creative process, which is what attracted me to this business in the first place. Instead of fretting about that, I decided to embrace the opportunity and really lean into the leadership aspects of the job. I have been continually stunned by how deeply fulfilling leading this group has been for me. I’ve made smart bets on talented people who always make me appear to be smarter than I am. Together, we have shaped an organization that fills me with immense pride.
don’t want to turn this into a name-checking email – if you don’t personally know how appreciative I am, then I have failed and I’m sorry. Thank you for being such a stellar group of humans. Thank you for letting me be myself. You have allowed me to take a strong stand on things, for right or wrong. More importantly, you have also allowed me to be transparent about the things I don’t know without feeling diminished or compromised.
I remind you that everything we do is driven by the talent with whom we work. I am forever grateful to all the artists who have chosen to trust us, especially with so many options available in the marketplace. This is something I never take for granted, and I urge you not to either. No matter how risky or uncertain our jobs can feel (and believe me, I’m in touch with that right now), please remember we are dependent on talent, and they are always in a more vulnerable position than we are.
As disruption and cataclysmic change have become the norm in our business, I remind you that change creates anxiety, but it also creates opportunity. How you respond to uncertainty has the potential to help you grow and make you stronger. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Please continue to act in good faith with your colleagues and collaborators. This is what allows you to assume the same in them, fostering trust and a spirit of being in it together.
I’ve been so fortunate to work with all of you and be the steward of great brands. We have managed to create real meaning and relevance in Comedy Central, and Paramount Network is emerging in such an exciting way. These brands are the North Star of everything we do, and I hope their essence will continue to guide you moving forward.
Addressing an email to “Comedy Central_ALL, Paramount Network_ALL and TVLand_All” for the last time fills me with deep sadness and intense joy simultaneously. Or, put another way, the richness of being alive. Being in it with you these past years has been a privilege and honor. I will always be in your debt. If I can repay you along the way, I am always available to be helpful in any way I can.
With love, respect and appreciation, I remain,
These are challenging times for most industries, and the media business is no exception.
The necessity for helping your people – even if you're out the door – has never been more important. Alterman's charge to his team – to “act in good faith with your colleagues and collaborators” – is what great stewards of brands and companies just do. And his presence – on the job and out the door matters:
I am one of many who is grateful for all that Kent Alterman has done for my career. Beyond that, he greenlit some of the most influential comedies of the last 2 decades. This news makes me sad, but I also know a lucky company will grab him quickly. Thanks for everything, Kent. https://t.co/g4SwaZW374
— Daniel Powell (@danieljpowell) November 11, 2019
Alterman's missive to his staff is loaded with spot-on perceptions and wisdom. But the observation that jumped out at me goes to the heart of the media business – and that includes radio – as we know it today:
“No matter how risky or uncertain our jobs can feel (and believe me, I’m in touch with that right now), please remember we are dependent on talent, and they are always in a more vulnerable position than we are.”
That's true whether you're a news anchor, the star of the show, or the afternoon drive DJ.
There will no doubt be many more “realignments” in the weeks to come. How we collectively handle these very trying and difficult transitions says a lot about our industry's future.
Will today's young people still want to be a part of the high wire/no net radio industry? Can broadcasters provide a constructive, growth-oriented environment, despite the disruption that has rocked it to its core? How can current employees continue to navigate these roiling waters, bullet-proofing their job status with stations by providing great value?
Best of luck to you and my hope that this year, it's not “your turn.”
Thanks to my friend & colleague, Marshall Cohen, who gets it.