The Puddle

Greg Diamond – ByrnesMedia

When was the last time you heard something like this? “The talent pool in this country is more like a puddle!” If you haven’t, then book your room now for Canadian Music Week, next March. I guarantee you’ll hear words to that effect within an hour of arriving.

I can certainly understand people’s frustration when it comes to finding talent. It’s easily the most difficult thing I do. We shouldn’t be too upset, though, given that the pain is self-inflicted. At the start of the 90’s I was a young Program Director in a small market when budget realities forced everyone to start cutting staff, and with it the vehicle that had nurtured talent for years – the Overnight Show. Later would come Evenings, and then voice-tracked Middays, etc. Soon, the rush to reduce operating costs and embrace capital investment in technology worked its way from the small markets (necessary), to medium markets (opportunistic), and finally to large markets (greedy).

I broke into the business in the 80’s as an overnight jock (although I preferred to call it the Early-Early Morning Show) in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. The hours were terrible, but I would never have traded the opportunity I had to cut my teeth and train in an environment that was tailor-made for experimenting, making mistakes, gaining confidence and simply getting better. I acquired experience from every break, including my very first one which was a case study for a finely edited, rehearsed and executed radio break… and if I had remembered to open the mic before doing it, someone might have actually heard it. Truth be told, the dead air was probably much more compelling than whatever it was I had planned to say. Regardless, lesson number 1 learned.

Being on the air is all about experience. You have to do it and do it and do it. There’s no other way to gain the confidence required to gradually relax and allow your personality to start shining through. Nowadays, though, we are forced to demand a new announcer be qualified for at the very least an evening slot, but more likely Middays or even Afternoons. These kids usually lack the seasoning and maturity for such shifts and are often unfairly shown the door.

The days of the farm system are long gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still help up and comers gain some valuable mic time. Put that intern that’s been walking around with nothing to do in the voice-track studio to VT your overnight show. If it isn’t up to snuff, you can have it redone or just keep the kid in there to practice until it is. Again, it’s the repetition that’s so important for younger jocks. I’ve known of a few situations with my client stations where this exercise has yielded their next full time announcer. Also, encourage them to read (out loud, of course) everything they can get their hands on when not doing their voice-tracking. I’m not a huge fan of sports analogies, but I’ve always thought of that as being the driving range and the actual on-air execution as the golf course.

The Summer Cruiser position is an ideal way for someone to get on-air experience. Just take the time to audition and find someone who really wants to be in radio. You should also produce an intro and extro to look after sponsor commitments, so the cruiser person can concentrate on the particulars of the cut-in.

Put the person in the Production Studio and have them make some commercials. Again, repetition may result in something that’s good enough to air, but if you don’t get there, at least have one of your more seasoned voices also read the spot to compare the finished product. That’s an ideal way for a newbie to learn.

Put them in the room with the jock live for a few days so they can see what actually goes on in the studio.

Help them listen to good jocks in other markets that are streaming. Have them record them and tell you, as the PD, what they liked and why, and what they didn’t like and why. This is another important part of the learning process.

Finally, grade all those resumes you receive and keep the best ones. Encourage those people through correspondence, and pass along some of them to friends in other markets who may be looking.

You have the means to help find the next great personality. It may not be the whole farm system of days gone by, but at least you’ll be doing your part to deepen the puddle.