Monday, December 28, 2009

Bill's Rules for Radio

A dear colleague asked if I had anything I could say to a young woman who wanted to get into radio - "other than 'DON'T.'" So I came up with the following and realized it may apply to to other areas as well. Here goes:
1. Breaking In: Do anything you can, and this means offering to work for nothing (for a while). I wrote jokes for a DJ for free for three months. Then a producer quit and since I seemed to know what I was doing (I went to Emerson College) I was hired to take his place.
2. Start Local: It may be tempting and even possible to start at a network but I suggest you start at a local station. Networks exist to service local stations and once you know what a local station needs you'll have a leg up on lots of people.
3. Learn Everything: Be a jack of all trades. Technical stuff, writing, news gathering, commercial production even (gasp) sales. They're all intertwined, especially at the local level, and once you know where your talents lie you'll be able to move on. And since you'll know a bit of everyone's job people will like working with you.
4. Be Nice: You're going to work with all sorts of personalities, some of them kind of strange. I think there are more egos in local radio (it's the big fish in a small pond syndrome) than in networks...but that's not always the case. Jerks do seem to rise to the top now and then but there's always a target on their backs. Nonetheless, a good rule is to treat celebrities like real people and treat real people like celebrities. I got more scoops from security guards (be extra-nice to them) than any publicist.
4. Don't Panic: Equipment will break. Computers will go down. Guests will not show up. A good producer says "okay" and moves on. There is nothing cooler than that. Screaming does nothing positive. Crying is not productive either but it's OK in private after the crisis is over. It might even help.
5. Ask Questions: If you don't know about technical stuff or procedures it's perfectly acceptable to ask someone else. You might even make a friend or two. And if anyone asks you something you don't know the answer to it's OK to answer "I don't know." Don't make stuff up. It's bound to bite you in the butt.
6. Always Have A Back-Up: This is the first thing I was taught by a veteran NBC tech on my very first internship. Need a microphone? Bring two. Got batteries? Bring extras. Know how to get to the location? Have an alternate route.
7. Be On Time: When you're supposed to go on the air you go on the air or you're fired. No one is going to wait for you. Leave early. Wear a watch. Radio is run by the clock.
8. Get A Life: Know some things besides radio. My hobbies (fencing and cooking) have actually made it easier to interview people. I've been able to make some interesting connections during interviews. Oh, and if you do interview anyone - listen to what they're saying. Don't just move on to your next prepared question. Even if there are no radio-related uses for your hobbies they'll make you a more interesting person and will help you keep sane when things start to suck. And they will.
9. Help Someone Else: Even the competition. Chances are you'll need help some day and you'll be grateful when someone returns the favor. Do watch out for those who always ask for help - they're being unprofessional and leaning on you, and they'll never return the favor. Those people you don't need but they're the exception rather than the rule.
10. It's A Business: And business in America is screwed up. Management decisions will make no sense. You'll want to mouth off but be careful who you spout off to. You often have to grin and bear it. Then you go home and have a drink. If craziness continues you may have to move on. But just know that it's a screwed up business these days and the inmates are running the asylum.

I hope some of this makes sense. Good Luck!