Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Good riddance to the decade

It occurred to me that sometime in the last ten years, a drastic change took place. And not just in broadcasting.

Careers became jobs. Work that was once fun had become a chore.

Blame it on 9/11, the Internet, the economy, or whatever. We all seem to be hamsters on a wheel. Everything depends on the bottom line. Company loyalty disappeared from both directions.

How did we get here? Well, it was a gradual process, and if you look back you can see the tide slowly turning.

The 50's: The age of innocence. Life was fun, music lyrics didn't hide any deep inner meaning.

The 60's: Innocence died with JFK. The decade was turbulent, and for the first time people really began to distrust the government.

The 70's: A heck of a lot of fun if you owned a white suit, knew how to dance and lived in the New York area. Otherwise, sitting in gas lines in 1973 and 1979 was a pain and showed us how much we depended on other countries. Inflation ran out of control, and a big recession hits the last part of the decade.

The 80's: A tremendously fun decade in which budgets had no end... well, until around 1989. Then someone turned off the money faucet and consultants became more powerful. Smart owners saw the writing on the wall and started dumping stations for huge profits.

The 90's: Cutbacks and drastic changes in the newsroom. Live shots for no good reason start to dominate a newscast. Producers with no experience were given more control than veteran field crews. Franchise reporters (feature, consumer, etc.) began to disappear.

The 00's: The Internet starts to kill the golden goose. Cell phones become electronic leashes. Live shots are out of control. Reality show "news" starts creeping into newscasts, along with YouTube video and security camera clips. Cutbacks and layoffs get really bad toward the end of the decade. Consultants start killing sports departments. And the one-man-band thing throws quality out the window.

So where do we go from here? Will January 1, 2010 be a fresh start?

It all starts with you. It has to start from the bottom up, not the top down. Because the top doesn't care.

Years ago we got a new ND who treated people like dirt. I was out on a story one day with a terrific photog who had just gotten chewed out for no good reason. I noticed he was going all out for this story.

"I'm surprised you even care after what happened this morning," I said.

"I've got too much pride to let some jerk affect my work," was the reply.

And that, in a nutshell, is the attitude that can save this business.

Most of you are overworked, underpaid, and not being treated well. You're wondering what the future holds, or if the business even has a future.

If it's going to have a future, it starts with you.

No matter what happens around you, you have to block out the negative and focus on your job.

Because when all is said and done, you're really working for yourself.

A trick when working the phones

The best example of working the phones is seen in the movie "All the President's Men" when Robert Redford is tracking down a lead.

Of course, menu systems didn't exist in the 70's.

These days it's a crapshoot as to whether or not you'll get a human being on the line when calling any sort of business. If it's a major business, you could end up in some infinite loop black hole anomaly vortex from which you will never emerge. (Can you tell I've been watching a lot of sci-fi during the holidays?)

Anyway, I decided to try an experiment. I called a few large companies that I knew had crazy menu systems. I waited for the first question.

And said nothing.

In fact, I waited through every question and said nothing.

Each time, after the automated voice said, "We still can't hear you," I was transferred to a real person.

On average it took about three automated questions for this to happen, but each time I got a real person on the line.

So if you're working the phones, and time is of the essence (or even if it's not), just dial the number and be quiet. The computer on the other end will obviously get sucked into it's own infinite loop black hole anomaly vortex and kick you out to the humans.

Beating technology is cool, isn't it?

Monday, December 28, 2009

George Michael

Those of you who have been around awhile may have recognized the name. George Michael passed away during the holidays, and the guy brought back memories.

Many of you know him for his weekend sports show "Sports Machine" but I remember him as the afternoon drive deejay on WABC in New York. Back in the day, 770 on the AM dial was the place for top 40 music, and Michael was one of the hyperactive guys doing talk ups to hot records.

I liked listening to him while driving home after work, and the guy would frequently kick off his Friday shift with Redbone's "Come and get your love." His way of launching date night.

When Michael moved from radio to TV, radio lost a classic voice but it was television's gain.

When I attended my first RTNDA convention I looked at the list of seminars and saw that Michael was giving one on sports. As expected, the room was packed, and Michael was as energetic in person as on the air. He did a hilarious talk about interviewing jocks who weren't exactly Rhodes Scholars, and what to do if you get a sound bite without a verb in it. He had everyone in the room howling.

Michael was an original, and broadcasting won't be the same without him.