I have always loved radio. At five or six years old, I put together a makeshift radio studio in my bedroom and I practiced, practiced, practiced!
In the mid-1980s, I noticed that a nearby community college ran an ad in the weekend section of the newspaper, offering a degree program in radio and television broadcasting. From then on, there was no doubt.
I had no clue how frustrating my chosen career would be. Of course, I brought the frustration on all by myself.
iStockphoto/carloscastillaSIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE A SIGN
The first sign of trouble was when others at the college station started landing paying jobs without finishing their degrees. Two of these guys had only been there for five or six months, whereas I’d been diligently working away for more than a year.
So I started making demo tapes, too, and I mailed them out to every station in town. Did anyone ever call? Nope. Did I call them? Absolutely. And I was told, “Send us another one when you’re out of school” or “Format sounds good” — but no comment on the voice.
When it was time for an internship, lo and behold, there was Ryan Seacrest, who was only 16, but on the air already and not an intern. This should have immediately sent me looking for another program of study/field of endeavor, but it did not. Here I am more than a year into my degree and I’m interning under a 16-year-old? Once my internship ended, the PD was canned, and I was persona non grata.
You’d think that maybe I’d start smelling a rat by now, but instead I went full time at the store, funneling my paycheck into tapes and postage for my demos. I also kept rolling at the college station to keep my demos current, although I was no longer a student. I started paying particular attention to the Help Wanted ads in Radio World. If they had an ad, then they got a tape and résumé.
After another couple of months, I got a call from one of the local big-boy stations. In the conversation, I made the mistake of asking how much the gig paid. And the guy laughed and said, “It doesn’t pay anything. It’s an internship.” I came unglued! I yelled, “My days of working for free are over!” and hung up on him.
TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT
I ended the radio show and severed all ties with the station. I really meant it this time. I was done.
Two years passed and then I visited a school of broadcasting whose name you would recognize. This is where I had The Epiphany.
I had brought a tape, but they insisted on recording me on the spot. I nailed the copy on the first take, and then there was a lot of commotion. “You must attend our next course!” “Excellent!” “The best I’ve heard in a long time!” “You should be doing radio news!” “Where have you been?”
I thought, “Um, I’ve been in college and then trying to get a job, but I can’t even so much as get a crumb …”
And then a big red light went off in my head. I realized that all of their praise was just a big load of crap to get me to sign up for a $7,000 course — when I already had a college degree in the same field!
I went home and stewed. I realized: If I have a degree and have had numerous opportunities to catch on somewhere and haven’t, then … I must suck!
I wrestled with this new perspective for a while because I had identified myself as an up-and-coming radioman for so long. But I was getting a little old to be chasing a career.
AGAINST THE WIND
The college had taken thousands of dollars, and in exchange, they blew smoke up my butt to keep me writing those checks. I could have earned a more suitable degree, or bought a car … or some beer. Point being, spending that money on anything else would have been a better option.
If I were any good, my degree from a legitimate university, combined with real entry-level work experience, should have put me on the path for a successful career. I had all of the other requirements, so it must be the talent factor that prevented my employment.
Once I accepted this to be true, I could also accept that the college probably knew I’d quit if they’d been honest with me. The same applies to the broadcasting school; they told me I was awesome because they wanted my money.
Remember: If you pay someone enough, they’ll tell you anything you want to hear.
Comment on this or any story; email[email protected].