The Secrets Of The Address Book posted on February 4th, 2015
Where Broadcasters Landed, Who Disappeared, And What It Says About The Industry
In the radio and music business, a contacts list is never just names and e-mail addresses. Even when radio and music were at their least volatile, any industry person’s address book was a testament to a business in constant flux. Rolodex cards (back when they were rolodex cards) often had contact information scratched out and updated by hand not once, but several times.
Then, in 2009, the economy’s scariest times exacerbated trends that were already happening in our industries. That year, a dismaying number of radio friends stopped having industry addresses and became part of a growing “Gmail Nation.” On the record side, ad hoc indie labels or rent-a-labels sprang up to take advantage of both the label and artist talent that was suddenly available. It wasn’t uncommon, especially in Nashville, to update somebody’s business e-mail address a few times a year.
I wasn’t looking for trends when I set out to update my Outlook contacts last February. It was both a long-delayed housekeeping task and an attempt to get back in touch with some industry friends. Instead, it took nearly a year of outreach during off-hours. In doing so, I cleared out about 15% of my address book – not just people who’ve left radio, the music industry, or music journalism, but people who weren’t easily found at all. The missing names and some of the people I reconnected with say a lot about how, and how much, our industries have changed.
I caught up with a lot of people on LinkedIn, with some help from the industry directory at AllAccess.com (and, to a lesser extent, other social media). LinkedIn was best for finding those people not currently at a radio station or a record label—some of whom had been through major career changes since their most recent “formerly of … ” listing in All Access. All Access was best for tracking down radio people with common names, of the sort not easily winnowed down in LinkedIn. Also for finding people with names like “DJ D-Structo.”
What I found was alternately dismaying and encouraging. The contraction of the broadcast and music industries is already pretty well evident. The encouraging part was seeing how many radio and music people had made seemingly positive transitions. For some, anyway, there was definitely life after radio. But it was dismaying to see exactly which sections of the industry had the greatest professional instability.
Hiding in Plain Sight?
For starters, there were some well-known broadcasters who had disappeared from the industry rolls altogether – some likely hiding in plain sight merely by deleting any reference to their “radio names.” Among those I couldn’t track down were a few once-prominent consultants and several major-market GMs. There were also those people who you thought would always work: the program directors whose job moves were a regular presence in the trade magazines, until they suddenly weren’t. There were also a few broadcasters who had kept their profiles up between jobs by commenting regularly on message boards, then, seemingly, ran out of enthusiasm and disappeared entirely.
Also missing were a number of once-prominent assistant PD/music directors, people whose gatekeeper positions had always carried a certain amount of clout. Off-air APD/MDs had always been particularly at risk when budget cuts came, but some of the missing were air talent as well. There was one APD in particular whom I remembered discussing in a competitor’s conference room as a possible PD candidate. Had he really turned down multiple offers, as we speculated? After leaving the “station he’d never leave,” the APD now appears to be out of radio altogether.
There were several groups of people who were particularly likely to have left the business and/or become hard to find. The first was urban radio PDs and MDs. Their format was one with only a handful of outlets in most markets, a large number of syndicated dayparts, especially in urban AC, and a (mostly) contracting number of stations. A friend who left a prominent R&B radio job and I were commenting on somebody who’d just been hired elsewhere. That PD, my friend noted, was returning to the business after four years. When somebody tells you that, it’s hard to be encouraging.
The radio writers I had spoken to a decade ago, when radio was more often a story in the consumer press (and often a negative one), were usually easier to find. But many had left the newspaper business as it contracted, some as far back as six or seven years ago. Among radio writers, there was a rough split between those who had gone to other full-time jobs and those now freelancing. Few were still covering media on a regular basis.
As for iHeart Media, the target of so much consumer press ire in the era when radio was still a regular beat, the company then known as Clear Channel was not the last known professional address for the majority of those I was unable to track. That was actually the former Citadel Communications. If your e-mail had not changed from Citcomm.com to Cumulus.com in 2011, when that company was absorbed, you were more likely than your peers to have disappeared.
Even though the word “retired” has become the new “exited”– the word that obscures whether certain broadcasters are leaving of their own volition — there were the number of genuine retirements you would have expected in the last decade. Broadcasters I’d known from the Northeast now showed addresses in Florida. Then again, during this project, there were several prominent “retirements” that ended abruptly after the retirees showed up across town or elsewhere.
Moved On for What?
For those radio writers who had landed elsewhere, public relations remains a popular destination. In fact, it was also where a number of radio people had ended up. But even though the corporate communications departments of most major broadcasters have expanded in the last decade, most PDs or GMs who had made that transition had to go outside the media world to do so.
Some of the other after-the-biz jobs were the ones that broadcasters always talk about when they’re fighting to stay in radio, or ready for a change. There were indeed a handful of broadcasters who had gotten their real-estate licenses, or gone from selling radio to selling cars (or, in one case, the sales manager of a Harley-Davidson franchise). There were also one or two who had tried realty and returned to radio or moved on to something else.
But other transitions took some of my contacts further afield. And some unlikely paths were travelled by several. There was more than one military-related transition, including a “senior intelligence analyst” and a former streaming audio provider now working as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan. I came across more than one person working in some manner with Alzheimer’s patients, including label veteran Cheryl Khaner, now CMO at a company specializing in music therapy.
There were other health-care transitions: the community relations coordinator for a Canadian hospital; the CEO of a service that provided pre-packaged, nutritionally balanced meals; a label rep turned “senior services provider”; and one former Canadian promoter involved in alternative medicine for pets as well as her provincial equestrian federation.
It was hard to assess every career arc I came across. A LinkedIn bio can often obscure the difference between entrepreneurship and underemployment, or whether describing yourself as “assistant manager” for a restaurant chain means overseeing a region or a night shift. But I found myself pleased for some former colleagues with pleasing regularity.
Throughout 2014, I made myself a list of the most interesting jobs now held by my former industry contacts. They included:
- The senior director of the Nashville Opera;
- The executive director of the Oakland Museum of Children’s Arts;
- The executive director of Tickets for Kids Charities;
- The lead investigator at the market’s Human Relations Commission;
- Box-office operations for the Oakland Athletics;
- The VP/GM of Amarillo Bulls Hockey;
- The owner of a branding consultancy for small businesses;
- The director of music for Buffalo Wild Wings;
- Program manager for an online program at the Los Angeles Film School;
- A federal agency’s “chief of development” overseeing “110 engineers and $200m in contracts”;
- The director of sales for the Catholic Standard newspaper;
- The director of sales for the MIT Technology Review;
- The senior sales manager of Amazon Local in a major market;
- The VP of marketing for David’s Bridal;
- The senior VP of sales for NetJets;
- A campaign manager overseeing programmatic buying for Internet radio;
- The operator of a winery;
- A well-known programmer now a VP of marketing to the HVAC industry;
- The communications consultant to the Georgia Baptist Convention;
- The head of a Biblical-based counseling program;
- A label person-turned-Web designer;
- A small-label owner and hip-hop producer turned investigative journalist;
- Deputy general counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Telecom;
- A move from Irish radio to the offices of “Discover Bundoran”;
- Executive assistant at the World Poker Tour League;
- A regional marketing manager for Del Taco;
- A social media marketing specialist for Nestlé
- An electric vehicle “infrastructure planning and development strategist” — this was a former colleague. I’d never known he had any aspirations in this area, but then again, he wouldn’t have known that I would have been interested.
What’s So Good About Goodbye?
Even a successful transition can carry with it some ambivalence. Early on, I congratulated a radio friend on landing in social media. He wrote back, “Hey, I had to work.” It’s not uncommon to come across an ex-radio or record person leaving because of unhappiness with what the business has become. It’s rarer to find somebody who spent 20 years there, but never cared for it in the first place.
It became clear to me through this project that there is a tendency to think of anybody not working in radio as still “unemployed,” or at least underemployed. And while too many of my industry friends do fall into one of those categories, many others seemed to be no such thing. They just weren’t appearing in the radio or music trade publications any longer. Then again, if your successful career wasn’t at a chart-reporting station in a current-based format, you might have been off the industry’s radar anyway — such is the sometimes self-absorption of these businesses.
The good and bad news here is that there is no one career arc for ex-industryites. To some extent, that’s because my contacts came from three intersecting industries, although it was not uncommon for both record and radio people to end up in some of the same types of jobs, especially radio sales people and record promoters. But for those still contemplating the next step, there might be some encouragement in knowing that if there is no obvious next job, a less obvious one may await.