I tend to use that phrase a lot. “When I was in radio…” which is usually followed about some description of how things have changed.
I had a short and isolated ‘career’ in radio. I worked at four stations in Denver, CO for about 2 1/2 years at a very interesting time, from September 1994 to early 1997. I was an ‘Engineering Assistant,’ which basically meant I did technical things that didn’t involve working on the transmitters, or troubleshooting electronics to the component level (figuring out which capacitor was broken on a circuit board, for example). I designed and built a recording studio, and built new studios for one station, and almost finished getting an automation system working for the smallest AM station we had (I left before it was completed). I soldered and fixed things, ran cables and did remote broadcasts, and did whatever I could.
The title was really telling. I wasn’t an Assistant Engineer, I was an Engineering Assistant. I did what the real engineers needed, or what was at my level of skill. I was a sound tech, mostly. I could handle most things audio, but get me to a transmitter, and I only knew what not to touch. I knew that if I touched the big tube in the transmitter without grounding it with the grounding rod first, I was going to get a hell of a shock. I never, ever touched the big tube in the transmitter. Ever.
I don’t think you can talk about podcasting without talking about radio. The two are so intertwined, with radio shows being distributed as podcasts, NPR producing podcast-only content, and former radio hosts launching new careers with podcasting, or at least trying to. It wouldn’t just be remiss of me to not talk about radio here sometimes, but also against my nature. I grew up loving radio, or at least, I loved my radio, and I loved my stations. KIMN, the old KTCL when it was still in Ft. Collins (and still cool), KBPI in my hair band days (this didn’t last that long), and eventually finding NPR, The Current on Minnesota Public Radio, and even jazz and classical for when I’m working and can’t listen to podcasts (I can’t focus on writing when I have a podcast playing).
Right near the end of my radio career, the government enacted the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The very next day, the stations I worked at were bought by our cross-town competition. A few months later, I left. It had little to do with the changes at the stations, but more that I was getting back into the career I had tried to originally (and at the time, unsuccessfully) pursue, theater. And in the end, it was a smart move. Those stations got bought not long after by an even larger fish, and that fish wound up being quite the shark. Had I stayed in that job, I would have been let go eventually, because there wasn’t much of a place for me anymore. That’s the way it works with mergers, but also that I wasn’t all that useful anymore. The needs had outpaced my skills, and my pay at the time was more in line with my skills at the time. 🙂
But it did give me an individual sense of the industry, where it was, where it had been, and where it was going. And I remember thinking, there has to be a better way, and there has to be more fun in this.
And lo and behold, there is podcasting. And it’s a lot more fun.
I’ll tell a few stories about being in radio here, but mostly when I talk about when I was in radio, I will talk about radio and how it’s changed, how it relates to podcasting, and what I think about what radio has become. And I promise not to be all ‘get off my lawn.’ Most of the time. 🙂