Thursday, April 17, 2014

Radio days

It's no secret that conventional media outlets are experiencing historic difficulties. Plummeting advertising revenues and increasingly fractured audiences are challenging newspapers, television stations and radio outlets as never before. The Internet's ruthless ability to deconstruct legacy industries continues, and conventional media continues to do itself no favors by ignoring the threat for as long as it has.

Radio isn't immune from the grind, as local stations across the country grapple with the need to do more with less. Once fully-staffed facilities can look like ghost towns after successive waves of layoffs and downsizings. Listeners looking for voices of stability and reason have been repeatedly disappointed as their favorites are time and again shown the door.

This week, the merry-go-round claimed two of this region's best. And unlike past layoffs where I've shrugged my shoulders and explained it away as "one of those things," I feel compelled to share my thoughts this time out.

On Monday, a producer from 570 News in Kitchener reached out to me to book an interview with Gary Doyle. Gary's been in the biz for close to 3 decades, and has become a mentor to me as I've built my own practice as a journalist and analyst. I frequently speak with him on-air about tech stuff, and have always enjoyed how he "does" an interview. It isn't about the Q&A. He really speaks to you. Really cares about the topic. Makes it personal. Real. He's the kind of interviewer I've always wanted to be. The kind of guy I've been listening to ever since I can remember so I can learn how it's done right.

I agreed to the interview and we set up a time for Tuesday morning. As I've often done, I dropped it onto my calendar and went back to my regularly scheduled programming.

Late that evening, however, the producer emailed me letting me know Gary wouldn't be in, so someone else would be doing the hit. No biggie, I thought, as I dashed off a reply, hoping Gary wasn't down with a cold or something similar.

When I did a quick scan of social media, however, I saw a snippet that Jeff Allan, Gary's colleague and another longtime guide-figure to me, had been laid off. And sure enough by the next morning, Gary had confirmed online that he, too, had been shown the door.

I get that radio station leads make business decisions all the time, but forgive me if I disagree with the logic behind this particular move. Eventually, a community reaches the point at which it can no longer stand idly by and watch while corner office-dwellers in distant locales - 570 News is owned by Rogers, a massive telecom conglomerate based in Toronto - make remote control decisions that upset the lives of people they've likely never even met. I'm willing to bet whoever pulled the trigger on Gary's and Jeff's jobs never even listened to the show, never even spoke with a listener to understand why they tuned in every day, never bothered to give a damn about the after-effects of their spreadsheet-based decision.

Since this news went public, social media has been scorched with ticked off listeners who are sick of being left out of an equation that sells their loyalty to advertisers. And understandably so. Because if good people continue to be shuffled into oblivion and content continues to be winnowed down to the point of irrelevance, maybe that loyalty needs a bit of a rethink. And maybe this industry needs a rethink, as well.

Wherever Gary and Jeff end up, I hope I continue to be in a position to find some way to work with them again. They're really that good. But in light of who calls the shots in a business where doing the right thing - with the right people, and for the right reason - doesn't seem to matter now as much as it once did, I fear we're fighting a losing battle for the next generation of broadcasters, of folks like Gary and Jeff, and anyone else who still thinks radio (and, let's face it, TV, newspapers and magazines) is a value-added contributor to the life of a community.

The dark forces won this week, and I wish I knew how to finally beat them back into the cave where they belong.

Thoughts?

7 comments:

Bill K. said...

I can see the reduction in staff. That can be done not only for corporate profit but because technology has made a job obsolete. But is there any chance at negotation? Or are they...biz...looking to cut so big that they know there won't be an accept? I worked a factory job a while back. When the closing and move to the U.S. south + satellite in Mexico were announced there was big talk of an offer to take a cut. Now mind you most of the jobs weren't paying really high at all. Word was that corp. decided that since we'd have to cut the avg. floor worker 30% or better ( because skilled trades and tech etc. would not take much or even any cut )that it wasn't worth the effort. I doubt Gary or Jeff were even approached on this. Now what to do. As usual Canadians will do..nothing. Sell off our jobs to China...buy an extra iphone for the 8-yr old made by a 16-yr old pulling a dbl. shift in China.

Mike Kropf said...

I just find it rather disgusting that comments made by GM Mike Collins statement made absolutely no sense. (The Record April 15th). "Looking out for the desires of our listeners (to which I am one, and have been for a very long time), and then sending in a "kid" to do the exact same show that Gary and Jeff were doing - only lacking personality and compassion.
The decisions of the Rogers bean counters made no sense at all to us. But as I wrote both Mike Collins and the communications "suit" at Rogers for their radio group, my former email will have a new ending - rather than @rogers.com, it will read @bell.net because I plan to restructure and Rogers is no longer part of my local equation.
Jeff helped me out during the Haiti Earthquake (my wife was there), and I have been calling Gary for years. I truly hope all goes well with them - and screw the bean counters, for they know not what they do.

Dan Laxer said...

Oh, Carmi, do I ever relate to what's happened to your friends, Gary and Jeff. I don't know them. But I know the life they've lived, and the fate they've just faced. I know how they're feeling and what they're thinking. I know what their families are going through. But, despite the 2 posts that precede mine, the listening public is fickle. "I miss your show," listeners tell me. And that's sweet. But no they don't. when I lost my job the listener comment that resonated the most was from a guy who said "Dan Laxer's been canceled. Great. Now I'll have to get accustomed to a whole other guy."

You're right about the corner office bean counters. They don't know. They don't care. That's why it's so easy to fire someone. But I've also had to ask myself some serious questions in the wake of my firing: maybe I wasn't as good as I'd thought. I'm not saying that Gary and Jeff need to have the same thought. But it's bears thinking.

And to Mike Kropf, many Quebeckers swore they'd cancel their Videotron subscriptions after Pierre Karl Peladeau joined the PQ. But I don't believe that anybody really did. I you really did switch to Bell, then I commend you. But it also means that you've switched to a company that's responsible for just as many firings in my neck of the woods.

Just sayin'.

The question is, Carmi, if traditional radio is dying, then what do passionate announcers do who want to continue to make a living in the medium?

Dianne - Bunny Trails said...

Something's been going on here at one of our local TV stations. Reporters and anchors that everyone really loves are suddenly gone. To top it off, the weather guy - who is one of the best TV news personalities ever - is leaving said station. Not sure why, but you just have to wonder when so many aren't there any more. It's a huge disappointment and will only lead to fewer viewers. So many decisions made by corporations these days are a huge disappointment.

Michael Manning said...

In the U.S. the first signs of this type of trouble occurred with passage of the Telecommunications Act. I was in radio management at the time, and the pressure to salvage our operation was intense. We were successful, and I moved back to an on-air position elsewhere only to be laid off after three years. Today, automation has killed off the spirit of many historic and innovative radio stations, Carmi.

Hudson Foga said...

The radio train left the station years ago, when Mulroney deregulated and gutted requirements for local content. Unfortunately for talented broadcasters like Gary (with whom I worked 30 years ago), your number eventually comes up. When I was let go 7 years ago, it was a relief to get away from the ass-kissers and under-cutters that by-and-large populate the airwaves now. I loved radio and was fortunate to get in when it still respected its mandate and its employees. That was 1978. At the end of the year, everybody got called to the corner office for a handshake, a dirty joke perhaps, and a bonus cheque. And you worked your butt off for that guy. Now? Well, you can see (hear) what you get.

Anonymous said...

To put it bluntly, I am pissed off.
I love these two guys and listen all the time---I am not going to listen to any flakes. Rogers--did you ask your listeners what they want? No!
First off Gary Doyle and Mike Farwell are great radio personalities. As is Jeff Allan.

You didn't ask us what we want, so maybe we wont' ask you what you want and we can cruise on over to Bell.

We are not a Toronto market--we are a community market.

And we want COMMUNITY people.

Rethink your decision gentlemen--
you screwed up