Is There Life After Radio? You Bet There Is!
I have wanted to write this blog article about my post-radio life for quite a while, but I never could sit down and get the thoughts to come together in a meaningful way. With the slew of layoffs this past week from iHeart, the struggle to find a professional identity beyond a radio station has never been more relevant.
My story is different than those that currently find themselves on the precipice of moving on to something else. I left day-to-day radio on my own terms in 2013 when my wife’s career took a new direction, forcing us to relocate. I knew this time was coming so I tried to set myself up for a life where I would no longer be known as Drake Donovan, Creative Services Director for CBS Radio Pittsburgh.
I started at this cluster in 1995 as a promotions intern, working my way up to board-op, part-time on-air, full-time nights, morning show producer and eventually imaging producer for two of the four stations in the group. For nearly 17 years of my professional life, I’d worked mainly for this company in its various iterations in the post-consolidation era. One thing I knew for sure, at some point it would all go away. So, I always had my exit strategy in the back of my mind. I was going to be a working voice actor and I worked toward that goal.
Eventually I did reach that goal. My wife took a job in Kentucky and I found myself being “radio adjacent”. In those first few years, I was able to build up a client roster with a mix of straight v/o and production. I succeeded in bringing my income up from less than what I made at the radio station, to matching those wages, to reaching the level I was when I had a full-time job and those handful of clients that gave me my start. It was great! I was a working voice-actor with my toes still in the radio pool. Then things began to change.
I lost clients. A restructuring in Canada took away four of my accounts at once, knocking my income down by a quarter. It was huge hit. Usually the rule of thumb was “lose one, get one” but months went by and I wasn’t booking anything new. To make matters worse, the production workload was beginning to slow down as more stations were getting deals from services for production company-wide. I found myself with more and more free time. It was almost crippling. I needed to find something that I could apply the creativity and skills I learned in radio to.
One thing I realized is that working in radio we are promotion machines. We promote our stations, our contesting, our clients, our communities. As a working voice actor, I had been employing some of those same practices to promote my voice-over business. I may not have a radio signal to promote, but I do have a website, a Facebook page, Twitter feed and blogs to drive audience to. I then began to see how other businesses marketed and promoted themselves. I could see those that were falling short of their goals with half-hearted posts and failed attempts to make strides in their marketing and advertising.
It came time to rethink Drake Donovan Creative Services’ position as a radio focused business, to one that targeted small business owners. The goal was to identify people who had a vision for their business but lacked the skills and experience to bring it to life or had absolutely no time to devote to the effort.
We all possess a lot of professional skills that can benefit a small business: copywriting, audio production, video production, and graphic design. We all have a working knowledge of social media platforms, audience behaviors, and advertising best practices. I set out to use those skills and knowledge to be a one-stop-shop for a local small business to effectively market themselves without investing heavily in an ad agency.
Performing a bunch of pro bono work for businesses that I frequented and those owned by friends and neighbors helped to build up a portfolio of examples to populate my website. I did a bunch of different things: logo designs, radio commercials, TV commercials, social media strategy, on-hold messaging and provided some basic marketing techniques that every business should employ.
For example, while they don’t have a radio signal to tout, a small business owner has a lot of other channels at their disposal. Waiting rooms, roadside signs, window displays are all blank canvases to unleash some creative, memorable messages that can connect with your potential customer base.
Think about churches for a moment. Some of the most clever marketing ideas I’ve seen came from churches and their changeable letter signs. “CH CH…what’s missing? You Are!” “Cutting carbs? Try the Bread of Life!” “Faith at 1%...time for a spiritual recharge!” Relatable, direct and memorable.
We’re conscious of trends in social media, national days of blank, etc. You could be the miracle worker for a donut shop by just helping them promote national donut day. Build a social media campaign leading up to the day while positioning them as the go-to place for weeks in advance. While their competition is just discovering it that morning, you’ve made your client that much more visible in the long run.
We can also help in the purchase of traditional media. I was having my furnace replaced and the owner of the HVAC company worked with me directly. When the topic of what I did came up, he explained that he ran ads on the AM news/talk station figuring, “the old folks could jot down the phone number while their doing their crossword puzzle.” I explained to him that he was throwing his money away. The “old folks” as he put it, aren’t replacing HVAC units. They’re downsizing to low/no-maintenance living.
The people that need HVAC are the people our age, who buy those homes and need to update or remodel. He’d be better off running spots on the CHR and Country stations. He, of course, objected by calling the local Top-40 a “teenie-bopper station”. I smacked my head. “What do your teenage kids listen to?” He responded, “Spotify”. I then asked about his wife to which he replied, “Kiss FM”. BINGO! Who’s more likely to hear and respond to your ad for Gault Heating and Cooling? Mom!
We take it for granted that people in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s want to feel 21 again and remain connected to what’s relevant today. We know that means CHR, New Country and Mainstream Rock. Educating individual business owners is a way to apply your media knowledge. We can also help them write effective commercial copy and produce ear-catching commercials that will help radio work for them instead of the rip-and-read garbage that the local station will provide.
Bottomline, you have skills. Those skills have value. Maybe you’re not ready to hang your own shingle as a media consultant/production house/ad agency, but businesses and larger companies need people with our knowledge and skillsets. Will those jobs be as fun as radio? Probably not, but they’re a hell of a lot better than retail sales, accounting or food service.
So, as you begin to emerge from the fog of “dislocation” and start to plan your next steps, know that there is life beyond radio! And while you may no longer be known as DJ Broheim or Just Plain Allison, you will be known a dynamic, creative resource who's not afraid to wear multiple hats and work weekends and has some great stories about meeting Sugar Ray or Lady Antebellum before anyone knew who they were!