Every broadcaster knows this time of year well. With young folks complaining, school districts public service announcing and parents rejoicing, you know it’s back to school time. I figure it’s a really good time to give some veteran’s advice to broadcasting wannabes about the choices they are facing as they move into the higher grades and especially to college. Chances are your parents know next to nothing about what you need to follow a career in broadcasting, and likewise for your counselors at school. They’ve all been indoctrinated with the idea that you need a college degree to succeed in life. I’m not going to say they are wrong exactly, but I do think they have a skewed view of what is really required, particularly in this field.
Am I saying you don’t need to go to school? Hell no. Go to school. Even if you only get an associates degree, this could be the most important part of your career, but it’s NOT about getting that parchment. DO go to school but DON’T get a degree in broadcasting – it’s an absolutely worthless degree. Major in business, journalism, political science, or even music. They all have a bearing in broadcasting. Regardless of the actual declared major, while you’re there, take advantage and learn some basic music theory. You don’t need to become an expert, just someone who can find the downbeat, match tempo and know the difference between harmony and counterpoint. (You won’t believe how helpful this will be.) Also, get some creative writing under your belt. Don’t worry so much about substance as style. Tell your instructor your intended career and make sure he/she gives you the tools you need to write creatively. If you’re anything like my own kids, you might be turning your nose up at the suggestion that you go to school. I get that. School basically sucks because so little of it has any real practical application in the real world, or at least it seems that way. (I still haven’t figured out how to use quadratic equations in my work.)
Here’s the thing. The degree itself is really unimportant in this field, but school offers you something you can’t get in the real world… experience while still close to the nest. You learn social skills there you can’t get anywhere else. If you’re lucky, you’ll learn how to manage your time too. Most importantly, you will learn how to learn – something I know I missed when I went through middle and high schools. It’s really not about the parchment. I don’t recall any employer ever asking to see mine. (Good thing too, because after 7 years of higher learning, I never got one.) To my way of thinking, school is really all about the learning...both academic and personal. If school is out of reach financially, or for some other reason is out of the question, I have a suggestion. Start reading – a lot. Books, magazines, at least one newspaper a day (online is fine), anything you can get your hands on will help. The topics don’t really matter. If you’re reading a lot, you’ll start to pick up culturally significant topics and begin developing your own thoughts and feelings on a wide range of subjects. You’ll also start to understand where the public mind is collectively, because presumably, the public is reading at least some of the same stuff you’re reading. This is the most important thing you will get from school, and it’s not so terribly difficult to get it on your own.
You need to watch television and go to the movies a lot too. (I know, it’s tough work, but somebody’s got to do it.) This is where pop culture lives. If you know which TV shows or movies are hot, you have a ‘bridge’ to your listeners that will bring them ever closer. If you don’t have a DVR, I really recommend you get one and start using it. Truly successful broadcasters mirror pop culture for their listeners and become a shortcut to the so-called “real world.” Years from now, when you’re doing a VO for MTV, you’d better know how to pronounce every pop star’s name, or you’re dead meat.
Just a short word here on getting your information on the web. You have to be very careful about what you accept as truth. You need to become familiar with Snopes. If you see something online that challenges your view of the world, just remember that people (like me, LOL) are not being edited. They can write anything they want, whether it’s true or not. So much of what I see on the web is ideological, or based on a belief system. I’ve read some outrageous claims on certain websites that are so far removed from the truth, it’s amazing. Even the website that gives out Pinocchios for inaccurate facts has been tainted by ideology lately. Books and newspapers at least have more than one person involved in the process. Just be careful…that’s all I’m saying.
So if you can, go to school. Start reading, whether you go to school or not. Read at least one book a week. Read two or three magazines every week. Read at least one newspaper a day (again...online is fine.) Go to the movies at least once a week. See the most popular films, even if they don’t look that appealing to you. Watch some television every day. If you don’t watch anything else, watch one of the Hollywood “sleaze” shows and some MTV or VH1. Immerse yourself in pop culture. This is the homework you need to complete if you want to compete.
Let me tell you one last thing...although the radio business is a business, if you’re not having fun while you’re doing it, you’re going to be OUT of business before you know it. Always look for the fun. (Man, this stuff is GOLD! I ought to write it down.) OK. That’s enough advice. I sincerely wish you the best in your chosen path. Unlike many who view every newcomer as more competition, I see people like you as the catalyst that will take broadcasting to a higher plane. When I hear your ideas and how they’re executed, it’s inspiration for me to kick it to the next level. Bring it.
P.S. By the way, did you know that you can claim newspaper and magazine subscriptions as tax deductions? Same thing goes for your cable or satellite bill – up to a point. You need this stuff to do your job properly. Even the Internal Revenue Service knows you need these things to do your job. Just make sure you have an accountant cross all the t’s and dot the i’s.