Rather, I feel that it is necessary to educate the public on the truth about the radio industry. My career in the radio industry started in 1987, almost completely by accident. I started in talk radio at the age of 9, and it wasn’t until the late 1990s that I made the transition into what is now considered “mainstream” urban radio. Nothing that I’ve written in this piece is coming from anyplace other than a place of honesty for those who are wondering about how the industry really works.
The general public’s perception of the radio business is so far from the truth that it’s laughable to anyone who actually works in radio.
First, if you are an aspiring hip-hop artist, it is an egregious waste of time to ask your friends and family members to call up to the radio station 50 times a day to request your song in hopes to get it played. To think that all of a sudden someone is going to put you into heavy rotation is utterly ridiculous. Even if you wind up getting into light rotation, it’s not going to be enough for you to actually make the record labels pay attention to you.
On the “bright” side, there are several companies (google them) who’d be happy to take your money to get your record played on the air. But if you have anything less than a $10,000 budget, don’t even bother. Those companies have a lot of palms to grease, and they have to make a profit as well. While your record won’t be officially added into rotation, they will “spike” (play sporadically) your record.
Now before you get into telling me how “illegal” that is, I want you to understand that there are businesses that basically do what COULD BE CONSIDERED money-laundering. They are “independent promotion companies” (known as “indies”) that give radio stations money for “promotions”. That way EVERYONE’S hands are clean. The record label pays the independent promotion company, who then in turn pays the radio station, who then in turn plays the record. And that is how you get around any FCC regulations or potential fines.
Does this happen with every record that gets played on the radio station? The answer is of course not. However it happens a lot more than you think. If you think that Elvis, the Jacksons, or several people you listen to on the air haven’t cut a check, you’re kidding yourself. But let’s go all the way, shall we?
Let’s just say you want to be a radio personality. In this climate, I don’t know how you’re going to pull it off. There was a time when you could be an intern and that was your way into the business. Unfortunately, with companies like IHeartMedia removing the option of internships in many markets, it is next to impossible for you to find your way in if you’re an aspiring talent.
Also let’s just say you do get in. Congratulations! Get ready to be a puppet. Unless you’re some type of comedian, Pseudo celebrity, or washed up celebrity, There is no way they’re going allow you to be creative in any way shape or fashion. The radio industry have a thing where they do not want to cultivate or create talent that elevates itself the level of a superstar. There will NEVER be another Tom Joyner, Rick Party, Doug Banks or Russ Parr. However, there will always be plenty of Rickey Smiley’s, DL Hughley’s and Steve Harvey’s. DJ Khaled is an anomaly who will never be duplicated. The funny thing (no pun intended) is that these same radio companies (who are in many cases) struggling to maintain relevance will give people who have the slightest level of celebrity (but little to no actual training or radio skills) the ability to do whatever they want. These “talents” can show up late or not at all without regard to the amount of money it costs the company or its impact on producers and cohosts. (That’s not calling anyone unprofessional. I’m only talking about what I’ve seen with my own two eyes).
If a full time radio talent asks for resources to improve their show (like a producer or maybe someone to videotape moments to send out for press or awareness like The Breakfast Club), they are told that there’s no money in the budget. However, there’s money to spend on things that make no sense, like TV commercials that are as archaic as a fossil, or a fleet of promotional vehicles which don’t get used (except for making appearances at sporting events or concerts or the same tired nightclubs).
The object of the game for most radio companies is to keep talent in a certain arena. They don’t want to get them to be too large. Because if you create a radio start, then you have to pay them and worse yet, you have to deal with their ego or run the risk of them leaving your station for greener pastures. To be fair there are some great people who are Programmers like Hurricane Dave in ATL or Derrick Brown in Chicago who encourage talent to go for it. Unfortunately, those programmers are rare. Most companies want you to talk about the same things and do things the same way. If you have creativity, it will most likely be wasted.
Oh! How could I forget about the voice tracking (pre recorded and canned shows that are piped between pre-programmed music)!!! 90% of the average radio talent staff isn’t live or local, making the job pool even smaller for potential air personalities. It’s easier to pay a great talent like my good friend T-Roy (who is on in so many markets that I can barely count one) salary, instead of paying 40 full time people 40 sets of salaries and benefits.
Think that radio is a great way to advertise your business? Think again! With the streaming services, and podcasts, there are so many choices fighting for eyes and ears that it’s difficult to gain traction without having the advantage of an ad buy worth thousands of dollars. When you advertise on a podcast, then your ad is there forever and can still give you a better return on investment months and sometimes years later. Think about it: If you’re driving in your car and the commercials come on, what do YOU do? You bounce around until you find some music to listen to just like everyone else.
Also the poor radio salespeople! They have to be mini-promotions directors. That’s when they aren’t forced to push sales “packages” that fit the radio station’s agenda as opposed to making the advertiser more money. Their commissions break down to less than $10 an hour unless they have been grandfathered in and gotten the Lion’s share of the profitable client lists in the market. The turnover rate is about 50% for salespeople in radio. The pressure is intense and many people wind up depressed or in another career after dealing with package pushing and missing quotas.
There’s very little training all the way around and most of the general public don’t understand that what you see or hear isn’t always the truth. People in radio don’t actually wait for the 105th caller to award a prize. They try to find the most excited person they can so that the recorded call sounds exciting. However, most radio stations don’t even have a budget for prizes that many people care about. That is unless you’re counting national (cheap money saving) contests that you have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning
As a person who gladly gave up his childhood and 24 years in the business, I’m happy to be retired. While I don’t have any plans on going back and amidst all of its flaws, I still love the business of radio. I love the music and I love the people. I just don’t like the politics. My truth is as raw as it’s going to get. Most people won’t go on the record and tell you this, but I believe that if you don’t understand the business from many aspects, you’re always going to be at a disadvantage. if you want to learn how to grow your own business, go to http://bit.ly/2JoinTheBully
Dave Anderson is a speaker, entrepreneur and #1 Best Selling author living in Philadelphia who loves sharing knowledge and helping others on the topic of entrepreneurship, branding and sales.
Dave is a passionate person who will go the extra mile and over-deliver. His aggressive, unorthodox and in-your-face style has earned him the nickname “The Business Bully.”
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