Right after the most recent wave of layoffs and “downsizing,” our Digital Dot Connector, Seth Resler, wrote a great blog post – “Is There Life After Radio?” We all know many people that have given up on broadcast radio, pursuing new careers in other industries. But most of the “dislocated” people I talk to indicate they want to stay in the game, and continue to work in radio.
At last year's Morning Show Boot Camp, WMYX/Milwaukee morning show host, Elizabeth Kaye, asked our panel about how “veteran” radio pros could stay relevant as the industry adapts. I'm not sure we gave her the most thoughtful answer, and it remains a good question especially as so many find themselves “on the beach.”
In today's post, Seth Resler did his due diligence and asked the most influential people in the process – those who make talent hiring decisions – about the digital skills they're looking for. I think you'll find it to be another substantive read. – FJ
In recent weeks, we've seen a record number of radio personalities lose their jobs. Many are having to update their resumés for the first time in years, if not decades. In that time, the skill sets companies are looking for in air talent have changed — particularly when it comes to the digital arena.
Which skills and areas of expertise are most important to potential employers in the broadcasting space these days? I asked some of the top minds in radio programming that question, and I hope their perspectives are helpful to those of you who are looking, as well as those in hiring positions looking to revisit your priorities.
They represent big and small markets, multiple formats, as well as commercial and public radio.
Here's what they told me:
When you are hiring on-air talent, which digital skills have the biggest impact on your decision?
“Hiring on air talent is quite different than it used to be. Having responsible, creative social media managers is now an essential part of talent’s on air presence.
First thing is how important do they view their online presence? It is quite easy to spot who is on brand and who is not based on a potential employees ‘self- brand.' If they are a brand ambassador for themselves chances are they will be excited to be one for your station. What good are 50k followers if all they hear about is complaining, redundancy, and lack of creativity?
Even if the person is presently unemployed, my radar is up, as are my red flags. I look for content rather than complaints. Monetization opportunities rather than moaning, emoji’s not emotions, relevance, writing skills, and a video presence and how they present themselves while on camera. Are they engaging? Are they selling themselves with sincerity? Do they respond when responded to? What is the frequency of their story?
WDHA is also very involved in the community, so do their social skills have a sense of connectivity to community and potential clients? While we look for stars in artists of our music formats to carry the torch, we should also be looking for stars of our station brands to engage our ever-growing online presence.”
—Terrie Carr, PD and Midday Host, WDHA-FM (Beasley)
“Some of the best marketing and customer engagement today is executed via social media. We look for thought leaders and evangelists in the social arena. Masters of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and other platforms bring intrinsic value to the team when it comes to audience engagement and promotion through stories, images and conversations.
An accelerated interest and fearless approach to video is another attribute that elevates on-air job applicants. Video as content is much more entertaining and easier to consume than a standard blog post. Hosts should have a highly positive outlook on participating in the process of conceptualizing, writing, producing, and starring in video content that enhances the audio product.
We are also always in search of something different. When faced with a crowded field of applicants with similar work experience, the unique perspective or distinctive take on emerging technology and digital applications generate extra attention in the hiring process.”
—Rob Cressman, Managing Director of Branding / Content at 97.1 FM The Drive in Chicago (Hubbard)
“Every day the job becomes less about being on the radio and more about delivering great content. If we make that the job description, a candidate could have the greatest content in the world; however, if they do not have the ability to deliver that content through multiple platforms, in the proper way, it truly becomes content wasted. Therefore all candidates must have a diverse digital skill set.
Jacobs Media's Techsurvey aids us in knowing what platform matters most to what format. For example, if I am looking for someone at my sports brand, I need them to be a beast on Twitter first.
Being able to edit video and use Photoshop is almost the new ‘How many words can you type?‘ (Yes I am that old!) Radio is evolving into an omnichannel content delivery platform, the talent must have a wide range of skills to match that evolution.”
—Randy Hawke, VP/Programming for Mid-West Family Broadcasting in Madison
“When I’m hiring air talent, that’s exactly what I’m looking for: Air Talent. Solid on-air skills cannot be compromised, nor can they be done by a producer. Digital duties can be passed off to someone else. Digital skills are certainly a plus and if push comes to shove, if all the general qualifications are equal, I’d probably lean toward the individual with the stronger digital skills. I’m also not going to pass up on the next Howard Stern (a general use of the term) because an applicant doesn’t like to post on Twitter.
A general competency and awareness of the technology and its capabilities is the primary need. A mindset that keeps all digital opportunities top of mind is probably the most important factor. I have on-air people who do social posts while sitting at the board, while other hosts assigned other people do it, and still others hosts have developed ideas for on-air program extension through podcasts. In our business, it’s best to be a self-contained Swiss Army Knife, meaning as efficient as possible, but we can flex based on the people involved.
In our house, the most important digital function is understanding how to write for digital print platforms. The digital writing style is different than broadcast and it’s important to be able to quickly adapt a story for that type of consumption. While this isn’t a ‘technical' skill, it is a vital need for populating an accompanying text based digital platform quickly.
As we rapidly continue to move into the digital, on-demand landscape, it would make sense for all existing and aspiring on-air talent to become as savvy as possible with digital skills and opportunities, while not forgetting for one moment how to be a great communicator.”
—Sal LoCurto, Program Director at KPCC in Los Angeles (Southern California Public Radio)
“At this point, I expect all talent to have a strong grasp of social media and how to engage with friends and fans there. They should appreciate the value of social as a brand-builder for the station and themselves as personalities. Blogging is also an important part of what we do.
As for other digital properties, it's all about playing to strengths. Do you have a podcast idea you're passionate about? Are you great at conceptualizing and editing video content? All of these things and more are vital to brand-building and can help round out a team.”
—Leslie Scott, Program Director of 107.7 The End in Seattle (Entercom)
“When all the first tier questions are answered — i.e. the questions about work ethic, on-air skills, promotional appearance skills, production/editing, technical knowledge, plays well with others …and the #1 concern: never let crazy into the building — then I look for overall digital literacy.
Does the candidate just know how to behave on social media? Being inclusive not divisive, knows how to write for online, knows how much detail is enough, can use the power of the tease, no politics, no trolling, etc. Basic good social behavior, Facebook rules, and maybe a touch of video prowess.”
—Bill Weston, Program Director of WMMR and WMGK in Philadelphia (Beasley)
Weston photo: © 2015 – www.chorusphotography.com
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Joel Dearing says
This was mentioned in the article: “The digital writing style is different than broadcast and it’s important to be able to quickly adapt a story for that type of consumption.” Can someone elaborate on the differences from broadcast, maybe some examples? Thanks in advance.
Seth Resler says
Thanks for reading, Joel!
Writing for the ear is different from writing for eyes. Try reading a newspaper article out loud, and you’ll find that it doesn’t sound the way you naturally speak. If you’re used to writing for the ear as a broadcaster, writing blogposts or articles that are meant to be read can be an adjustment, and vice versa.
Personally, I’ve also found that my voice is very different depending on the medium I use. When I’m on commercial radio doing short breaks between songs, I make sarcastic deadpan jokes with lots of pop culture references. When I write blogposts here for Jacobs Media, my writing is actionable advice. When I podcast, my style is “NPR Lite.” It took me a while to figure out my voice in each medium because they’re not necessarily the same.
Hopefully, some other folks can also chime in with their experiences with different writing styles.
Bob Bellin says
Late to the party here I know, but what if you asked the same question of people who hire social media managers and their answer was “the first thing I look for is the ability to be entertaining and topical on a daily basis in front of a mic and interact live on air with co-hosts in a friendly way?” Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it.
it seems that radio’s top programming minds have forgotten what business they’re in. When hiring air talent, how they sound on the air should drive the decision, not their Twitter feeds or Instagram selfies.
its interesting that the Public radio PD (the only radio people that really get digital IMO) believes that digital can be offloaded to someone else. He’s right you can pay college kids $10/hour to repurpose your content all day long, but finding air talent that can be entertaining and relevant is much harder and more important.
Sorry, but people don’t listen to radio because it’s digital, they listen because it isn’t. If you just want music and nothing else, there are digital options that are better than radio. That doesn’t mean that radio personalities shouldn’t have an effective social media presence – but it shouldn’t be a key element in a hiring decision, their ability as air talent should be.
I’d take a funny, relevant, topical radio talent with no social media presence over a so-so show prep service aggregator who owns social media like the Kardashians. Obviously, you want both, but one is the business you’re in and the other isn’t and doesn’t add any revenue.
Imagine a morning show that was as entertaining and compelling as an awesome Twitter feed. I wonder what would happen.
Fred Jacobs says
Bob, your points (as always) are well-taken. I believe these PDs were considering the question with the “given” that the applicant be entertaining and topic on a daily basis, etc. And while Sal is correct, of course, that on-air skills by far trump any of these other secondary or tertiary skills, it is tacit (to me, at least) digital needs are accessory abilities that have changed the game. Most of these PDs would also tell you that an “analog-only” personality at this point cannot always e supported by other staffers – because those people don’t exist (or aren’t always around). I know that’s a topic for another blog post and another day. Thanks again for chiming in here, Bob.
Pat Holiday says
Something to ponder. After I mainly retired, I started dabbling with video for travel. Specifically Final Cut Pro. If you’ve edited audio in radio, it’s EASY to pick up and be pretty good, pretty fast. I’d say I can easily do most commercials that you see on TV now and I’m an amateur. Point being, you should pick up this skill with Final Cut or even iMovie (it’s free with a Mac). SO MUCH you can do for a station.
I would have done TONS of sales videos when I was a GM, and promos for contests etc for our websites. Also, if I were on the air again I would ABSOLUTELY be doing a video blog once a week. Probably more than anything, doing a decent (interesting or funny or just plain stupid) video with you in it can vault your recognition over others super quick. TV, in any form, even Youtube, makes you look like you matter. One last thing.
Back to those sales videos if you’re looking for a job. You mention to the potential employer that you can knock out sales videos for free for your new station and they will DEFINITELY put you to the front of the pack for new hires. Final Cut Pro on Macs. An amazing investment for your career. Even for super old guys like me.
Fred Jacobs says
Pat, from another super old guy, thanks for this. I was a bit surprised to see video (on-screen, editing, production) wasn’t mentioned much by our great PDs. For those of you reading this, Pat is a true standout – one of the great air talents, but also an accomplished exec who never rested on his laurels, always thinking about the next angle. As you can see in his comment, this is a great suggestion. And may I add one more – why not a video trailer when looking for your next job about YOU? GMs and PDs are so used to simply seeing a photo (maybe) and an audio file (probably), along with a stock resume (definitely). Imagine an electric :60 video on you – who you are, what you’ve done, and what you can do.