Restoring the Balance

Coming up through the ranks of radio as a programmer primarily, I always felt like a second-class citizen. In radio, as in most businesses, actually, the pecking order is clear: salespeople are kings and queens, while programmers are–well, not.

Along the way, I “graduated” to sales and management and ownership, which gave me a more objective perspective. And it confirmed my impression about who is on first in our business.

As a manager and owner, posts which presumably confer upon us more objectivity, there is no question that I’ve prized sales performance above everything else. After all, that is the only thing that you can truly (and literally) take to the bank.

But it always bothered me that those who produce the product that our highly-prized salespeople sell are, for the most part, in most parts of our industry, treated as temperamental interchangeable ciphers.

It’s a little different in markets where ratings drive sales. In such markets, programmers are paid better and treated better–but they are still thought of as temperamental and interchangeable, even if the size of their contracts prove that they are no longer ciphers.

I also think the situation has improved in smaller markets, where the line between programming and sales is a little more squiggly. We don’t, for example, hear very much the old boast, “It doesn’t matter what it sounds like, I can sell it.”

For one thing, the ranks of small-market ownership are filled with former programmers who remember how it feels to be disrespected on a daily basis. For another, I firmly believe that the quality of the programming side of this business has improved–in small markets, maybe not so much in terms of skill level, but we are doing a better job of hiring quality individuals who are worthy of our respect as human beings.

All the foregoing brings me to what is really my point: Programmers deserve, and generally get, equal consideration (if not equal pay)–but they are given short shrift (if any shrift at all) when it comes to education and training. While larger markets have consultants who allegedly can provide training to programmers–having been one, I can tell you that is an almost nonexistent aspect of the consulting profession–smaller markets have very few resources for their programming people.

That’s why The Conclave is so important to our industry. Not only is it devoted to programmers, but it is devoted to educating programmers—something that Executive Director Tom Kay, the staff, and especially the Board of Directors take very seriously.

As you are budgeting for the coming year, I highly recommend that you seriously consider sending your key programming people to The Conclave. It’ll cost you about $1000 for the tuition, travel and lodging. For most of us, that’s a huge bite–but, other than the early days of the RAB Managing Sales Conference, I can’t think of a better way to educate a broadcaster.

And, as dedicated as your programmers are likely to be–working all kinds of weird hours to keep the station on the air and sounding reasonably good–this gesture will pay unimaginable dividends, not just in the improved proficiency applied to your product, but in making these loyal employees feel valued and respected.