Advice for Those Starting Out in the Radio Business

Chris Byrnes – ByrnesMedia

I was recently contacted by a young broadcaster, who had just landed his first full time job at one of our client stations. His was eager to meet me and asked if I could give him some advice on how to be successful in the radio business. I shared with him some advice that I wished someone had told me when I was starting out in this industry some 34 years ago.

Research your new employer: You probably did some research in order to land the job in the first place. But now you need to dig deeper and learn as much as possible about the company that you will be working for. Find out who the key executives are, the goals of the company and their vision for the future. It may also be helpful to know who their competition is as well. The reason for doing this research is to try and be on the same page as the company when you walk through the door on the first day. Be sure to check that your information is correct, as this will help you become integrated into the team more quickly. Here is an example of why it is important that all the staff are operating from the same playbook: I was at a station several months ago and found that each member of the on-air staff had a different impression of who the station’s target listeners were. We quickly corrected this and the ratings are now improving because they all understand who they need to be talking to and the type of content that relates to this target audience.

Ask good questions: You should never be afraid to ask questions at work. More often than not, others around you will be thinking about the same questions. Ask important people any sensible, relevant question, for their opinion, or advice, then make sure they know who you are, and maintain your contact so they remember you. Often, when you ask a well-crafted, intelligent question it will cause people to think more profoundly. When someone thinks more deeply than before, new ideas, new answers and new possibilities emerge. But as a new member of the team it is important you ask questions so you are clear on the expectations of your employer or supervisor.

Be positive: Before you arrive at work each day give yourself a little pep talk and remind yourself about the power of being positive. Frankly, there are too many negative people in the world as it is. Just imagine what we could accomplish every week, every month, and every year if we were exclusively positive? Being positive is a choice you can make that will connect you to the best possibilities. Being positive forces you to also be positively creative. When things are difficult, do you really want to make them even more difficult by being negative? Choose instead to realistically see the situation for what it is, and then to be positive about moving forward from it. Eventually, somebody is going to change things for the better, and it might as well be you. Think and see and do from a positive perspective and create good, meaningful value. By being positive you are being more effective. Motivational speaker Ralph Marston says, “Make the choice to be positive, and truly make the world a better place.”

Always go the extra mile: It’s hard to believe, but not every person in the work force actually does this! So get out of bed earlier and get to work sooner, stay a little later and find ways to go that extra distance to make a difference. This also means saying yes and helping out wherever possible. Volunteer to do as much as possible around the station and develop a reputation as being the most helpful person on any radio station you work on. This will be noticed and appreciated. Outside of work say yes to something you would normally turn down. Try different food, different music, going to a movie you’d normally avoid. So many people go through life and work convinced that there is only one path open to them. That makes it true, because they never try anything else, but the world is a huge, glorious experiment, not a set of rules to be followed and boxes to the checked. How much you are willing to join in that experiment is up to you. The closer you stick to the same script, the less you will discover about what might be even better. What holds most people back is fear of losing what they already have, however imperfect it might be. Just remember that you are in control of the experiment. You can try a little change as easily as a huge one. And if it doesn’t work, you can always go back and try again. Saying no is the real risk, because it closes the door forever on anything different.

Get involved in the local community: This is easy to say but can be hard to do especially if you have moved across the country for your first job. You are unlikely to know many people, you will be unfamiliar with the area and may not know where to start. I was told many years ago that it is always easier to teach an interesting person how to do radio than to teach someone who has been to radio school how to be interesting. So moving to a new area and getting involved is always easier for an interesting person because chances are they will already have developed interests and hobbies. They can seek out those organizations they have belonged to previously or be adventurous and try something completely new. All too often, young people move to a new community and miss the importance of getting involved in that community and miss the opportunity to meet new people and do interesting things. I encourage new broadcasters to find interests and activities beyond the radio station and the staff at the station. Not only will you quickly become integrated into the community, you will make new friends and find your time in that community more enjoyable. Perhaps this will not be your final stop on the road to fame and fortune, but I promise you it will make your time in that city a lot more enjoyable. It may also help you land a job in a bigger market as most employers will be eager to employ someone who is an interesting person who does interesting things with their free time. If you do not get involved in the community then you are a tourist and you are less likely to enjoy your time in this city.

Get to know your colleagues: It’s easy to sit at your desk or booth and dive into your daily tasks. In any office, no matter the size, the relationship with your co-workers is crucial to a successful and productive environment. Simple questions are always best to begin with—where do they like to go on vacation? What are their hobbies? Where did they purchase that great pair of shoes they’re wearing? Ask questions to break the ice. Remember, real friendships take time to develop, so don’t expect them to happen instantly. The goal is to set up opportunities to meet and interact with co-workers that give friendships a chance to develop naturally. It’s also important to respect the culture of your organization. Some workplaces are more or less oriented towards socializing than others. Research by the Gallup Organization found that people who said they had a “best friend” at work were more engaged in their jobs than people without a best friend at work. Another study of employees in a large telecommunications company found that workers who frequently do favours for co-workers and get lots of favours in return, were more productive than people who did not exchange favours with co-workers. One way to get to know co-workers is to participate in work-related social events. You can also join a workplace committee that will expose you to new people or participate in workplace volunteer and fundraising efforts.

Get a mentor: At any point in your career, it’s important to have a mentor. Reach out to men or women who are at a point in their careers at which you’d like to be in the future. Or, be brave and contact an individual you admire via email or phone because their words of advice often can make a real difference. Without an experienced mentor to calibrate your experiences, you’ll learn at a much slower rate and the process may be less enjoyable.

Network:  Make time to speak to other colleagues in your building, your market as well as in other markets. You never know who you’ll meet! Author Adam Small said, “Networking is the single most powerful marketing tactic to accelerate and sustain success for any individual or organization!” Ask any senior executive, politician, community leader or successful salesperson which single skill or habit helped them excel in their career – and chances are most will respond with one simple word… networking. Ultimately, it’s not about who you know… but WHO KNOWS YOU! Make the effort to attend the regional broadcast conventions and annual industry events such as Canadian Music Week or the NAB, and pay for it if have to. The investment will be well worth it I promise.

Listen more than you talk: This is so important in the first few weeks when the learning curve will be rather steep, and what may be second nature to those around you is totally foreign to you. Soak up information about how the organization works, and the reasons why, before you offer “helpful” alternatives.  When we listen more than we talk, the payoff can be huge. It’s worth the effort. It was Stephen R. Covey who said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Take mistakes seriously: You are going to make mistakes along the way and that is part of the learning process. But there is nothing more frustrating than an employee who made a mistake and doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal. When you make a mistake, immediately take responsibility for it, figure out how you’re going to fix it, and make it clear that you understand its seriousness. Responses like “my bad” or worse, no response at all, signal that you don’t take work seriously. Learn from your mistakes and in time you will look back and laugh at them.

Take notes: Your boss expects you to remember the specific instructions you were given—and that includes nuances, not just the overarching idea. For most people, that means taking notes. And while a good manager is happy to answer questions, he or she may not be if the questions are ones she already answered when you weren’t bothering to pay attention. So carry a note book or tablet or put notes in your smart phone, but take good notes and review them from time to time. The disciples you learnt in school and university for taking notes need to carry over to your first job and beyond.

Dress to Impress: The way you dress says a lot about you. Therefore, it is important to always show up at work dressed appropriately. Depending on the organization, this is likely to be business casual or business professional. You are better to be overdressed than underdressed and this gets noticed. Recently, I was visiting a client station and was introduced to an intern who was on summer vacation from university. This young man is taking a journalism degree and was eager to work inside a radio station to get some practical experience. He was well groomed, dressed in a suit and looked very confident and professional. What really impressed me beyond his clothing was his attitude. He was very polite, professional and eager to learn. I think he will be a star of tomorrow and someone who is worth watching.

Don’t steal from your employer: This is pretty obvious, but you also need to remember that when you’re at work, you should focus 100 percent on your work. There’s no quicker way to make a bad impression than to be spotted on Facebook, sending personal emails or shopping on-line when you should be working.

Don’t become part of a workplace clique: As much as you might like some coworkers, you should maintain professional boundaries. Don’t get drawn into gossiping, and don’t take on other people’s workplace battles just because you consider them friends. Too many young workers have harmed their own careers by focusing on chitchat over work, or by deciding to dislike the boss just because a co-worker does.

Be reliable: This means doing what you say you’re going to do and by when you say you’re going to do it. Being a person of your word will establish you as someone reliable and trustworthy, someone who is on top of their game. This also means being on time and being ready to work hard.

Pay attention to the culture: This is hugely important, and when new employees don’t do it, they come across as tone-deaf. Observe how others act and you’ll pick up a ton of information about cultural expectations. Are people compulsively on time for meetings? Do they take a real lunch break or eat at their desks? What hours do most people work? Is there a lot of chitchat during the day, or do people stay focused? Do people primarily use email to communicate or do they talk in person? While you don’t need to become someone you’re not, you do want to try to roughly fit into cultural parameters.

Be open to learning: You probably learned lots of theory in the classroom, but there is a real difference between the classroom and the work place. College gave you theory; work is going to give something entirely different, so stay humble and realize your first job is going to be largely about learning. And please avoid using the words, “At broadcast school we did it this way.”

Keep upgrading your skills: Take an online course or take a course at a local college. This always looks good to a future employer. I know of one announcer who took a computer course at a local community college because his keyboard or general computer skills where weak. That got this person the job over others when they applied to a larger market.

Thank people who help you: When your boss or another co-worker takes the time to help you with something, give them a sincere thank you. People who feel appreciated are more likely to go out of their way for you again. If you don’t seem to care, they probably won’t bother again.

Have fun: You will spend a lot of hours at work over the course of your working career and as the old adage goes “find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.” So remember to have some fun along the way and do your part to bring some levity and enjoyment to those around you. After all this is a great industry to work in.

Conclusion: Some of these points mentioned above are things I have learned myself over the years, heard other people say, or perhaps I have read somewhere and liked it, so I do not profess that these are all my ideas by any means. But I hope they may help some and cause others to think about what they could do differently to progress in their career. This is a great industry to be working in, and today there at 675 commercial stations in Canada with 6 new FM licenses being granted in the past year. There are over 10,000 people working in radio with an average salary of $67,000 including benefits. There will be more stations licensed by the CRTC over the next 12 months so this should mean more jobs for young broadcasters. If, as you read this, you think of other ideas that you feel might be helpful, please send me your suggestions and I will be happy to add them to the article on our website and credit you. The goal is to help those who are starting out in the business or those that might be looking for some ideas on how to get re-motivated.