As a child, I dreamed of being a journalist. How cool it would be to grow up to be a member of the same fraternity of those I watched growing up: Cronkite…Severied….Huntley & Brinkley…Chancellor…even Roger Mudd, one anchor type who’s on air popularity, I never quite understood.
Still, how groovy it would be–or so I thought–to have millions read my thoughts in print on the front page of a newspaper; hearing me wax comedic, political…whatever…live over a radio’s speakers; being on TV. All those thoughts gave a little girl from a very small town in South Texas a reason to see go forth and explore all the things that might lie beyond the city limits and its many limitations.
So, I graduated from High School and moved to the big city. Going to college was the goal. I never considered not going. Call it a Catholic/Protestant work ethic. My two older sisters quit college and got married young and started procreating almost immediately. I didn’t want to do that. Perhaps it was because I was selfish, perhaps I was smart–maybe a little both. All I know is that I couldn’t go through my life without that sheepskin.
So I struggled through college working full time, taking as close to a full load of classes each semester. It wasn’t easy, but like countless others, I forged through it. I was a typical college student; broke and exhausted. I lived in cheap hovels which the vermin adored. I ate ramen noodles (ten packages for a dollar) and some months, finances were so compromised that I had to choose between having a phone or electricity. I worked through every Spring Break and many holidays. I made a lot of sacrifices and I knew that graduating witha degree was vital, especially if I wanted to persue a gig in TV or radio and even then, I knew life wasn’t going to get any easier….certainly NOT in the beginning of my career.
You see, in journalism, you learn early on that you have to pay your dues. You need to earn the right to work in the major leagues. Everyone does this and every success story on TV or radio shares this belief and had similar experiences on their way up. They, like me graduated from college, then went to work in small markets that paid even smaller salaries. These were hard, thankless jobs that included horrible shifts. These were positions below the very bottom rung of the broadcast ladder. In many ways, it was like being in college all over again, just without the books and homework. But somehow for me, through all the missed holidays gatherings, family reunions, weddings–even my own birthdays–and crappy wages, I did it. I ended up in a top ten market.
Houston to be more specific and it’s where I’ve been for the past 21 years.
In January, I’ll celebrate 29 years in journalism and in that time, I’ve done it all; print, TV and radio and all of these gigs possessed all the things that were the focal points of my juvenile daydreams. Trust me, there’s no bigger ego rush. But while there’s a thrill with being recognized in the grocery store or looking up at a billboard and seeing your likeness or hearing your voice in your car radio as you drive down the street, there’s certainly a side to broadcasting that never enters the visions of grandeur that occupy the daydreams of your future.
There’s some glam assoicated with the life of a journalist, but make no mistake, it can also be a very difficult one. I’ve only dabbled in print journalism briefly and my tenure there wasn’t long enough to know the particulars of its ways and means, but I’ve known my share of hard-drinking, hard living, angry and jaded newspaper reporters.
But I can say that I know a helluva lot about broadcasting, though. It’s a job that requires you to have a brassy, ballsy ego, yet by radio’s very nature, that ego is wounded constantly. Broadcasting forces you to apply generous amounts of Teflon to your heart and soul.
In TV and radio, you live and die by ratings. You can be the General Manager’s darling one minute; the station’s pariah the next. And more often than not, the reasons behind the rise and fall of your own career can’t always be traced back to anything you did, or didn’t do. Very often, it has a lot to do with a fickle audience. You know, trends. Research indicates your P1 audience, the particular age range your targeting, would prefer a more humor infused newscast for one ratings period. Okay fine. You bring on the funny. Then the next thing you know, you’re being told to “rein it in” and treat news and its dissemination with gut-punching seriousness. Why? The audience says so, that’s why.
Advertisers have influence, too. And let’s not forget the personal bailiwicks of Program Directors and News Directors. Young, skinny, big-boobed brunettes fresh out of college, they believe, are far more credible than an experienced zaftig blond. Some TV News Directors and Radio Program Directors often confuse credibility with on air “hotness”. Women like this “show” better and the show, even in the non-visual world of radio, is sadly, what it’s all about.
And while TV and radio can be incredibly misogynistic, more and more men are finding themselves being replaced by younger , more virile looking hard bodies. Finally the genders have reached some parity in the Department of Disregard. For a while there in the world of Journalism, all that mattered was having a dangling participle. The cold hard reality these days, is that aging simply isn’t tolerated in broadcasting. Hollywood ain’t nuts about it either, but this is a very real phenomenon in many industries. Broadcasting especially.
I’ve often asked this question to my friends and colleagues in the biz— when will some TV or radio station ever get it into their head that seasoned anchors and reporters are still completely viable? That age can be a boon, experience can be a benefit…
Well, enter Radio One.
This Maryland-based company owns and operates 69 radio stations in 22 cities. Its target listeners are almost exclusively African-Americans in urban areas. Radio One has a strategy of acquiring stations in a given market and making sudden format changes they believe will be profitable. Radio One tends to favor urban-based formats targeting African-American listeners, and makes format changes to target their demographic.
It’s currently a gospel station and will remain that way until November 14th. That’s when the station will flip to a 24-hour news and information station. This is a first for Radio One–they’ve never done news before, but when it comes to business, you have to take a station to where the needs are. And Houston as been without a real and unbiased local news radio station for some time.
Doug Abernethy is a Radio One Regional Vice President: “Our review of Houston’s broadcast landscape told us that those listeners interested in local news as well as national news were being poorly served, so we decided to make a commitment to delivering the news in a dependable fashion. People want to hear about news as it happens, and they shouldn’t have to wait until their radio station ‘catches up’. We’ll deliver the news as it unfolds.”
And who’ll be delivering that news to Houston and anyone from anywhere on the planet who chooses to stream will be Texas Radio Hall of Fame honorees J.P. Pritchard and Lana Hughes. Additional duties throughout the day will be handled by other local talent including Mike Barajas, Scott Braddock, Carolyn Campbell, Kevin Charles, Brent Clanton, Lanny Griffith, Laurie Kendrick, Martha Martinez, Bonnie Petrie, Matt Sampsell, Pattie Shieh, Meteorologist Dr. Joe Sobel, Craig Roberts, and Jorge Vargas.
Yes, you read that right–Laurie Kendrick. And do you want to know what I like best about this line-up OTHER than the fact that it includes my name?? The youngest person in the on air reporter/anchor division is in his late 30’s. Everyone else is in their 40s, 50’s and 60’s. This is a well seasoned roster of professionals, from all walks of life, all with more than enough real world experience under their belts. I’ve worked with many of these people before. They’re family and I’m getting to know the others who I’ve listened to or watched over the past two decades I’ve lived in Houston. They are rapidly becoming family. The vibe is good at this place and so far, management seems fair and accomodating. Finally, a broadcast entity who “gets it”. Age CAN be a plus.
We’ve all gathered for training over the past few weeks. Recently, I looked around the room and saw so much experience, literally etched on do many faces. A wrinkle here, a double chin there. True, we’re not the flawless specimens we used to be, but then again, like wine, we’ve aged…and we’re better. Calmer, more dependable. We can now dictate life (well, sort of) and we’re not as victimized by it’s capriciousness. That’s one of the plusses of getting older. You get to make a deal with life. You develop a mutual understanding. Life starts to give you more freedom and trust me, there IS freedom in no longer needing to be all the things your youth demanded that you be.
And what makes this new venture even better, is how Radio One is handling it. They’re not firing anyone employed at the gospel station; employees will be absorbed within the company. And they’re being very considerate to the fans of the soon to be former gospel station by keeping it on the air, via a side component; a high-definition frequency at a different dial position. To make that work for the audience, Radio One is shelling out an untold amount of money to buy high def radios that will be distributed throughout the community, absolutely gratis. They’re also sending corporate liaisons into the community to explain why a Black gospel format has been replaced by an all news one.
I applaud my new employers for their foresight, consideration and sensitivity. These attributes are very,very rare in the big, cold business of corporate radio. Radio One is laying down the best karma possible. This my friends, is how you flip a format. Other radio entities–the ones who have traded profit margins for integrity and humanity–could learn a thing or two.
Hooray for Radio One. They’re in it to make a profit, of course. Even so, it appears that corporate greed isn’t the biggest motivating factor, instead, a certain degree of altruism, is.
As for my duties at the station, I’ll be working the early morning shift, doing features and lifestyle reporting during morning drive, in my own inimitable way. This will include reviews of TV shows….and yes, American Horror Story will one of them. I’ll publish the new website address and streaming ap as soon as both are up and running. That means you can listen to me and my crones and cronies from anywhere in the world. Ain’t technology grand???
Again, News 92 FM will launch November 14th.
And yes, make no mistake, I’ll still be blogging, too. I can’t give that up just yet. It’s part of my routine and after years of unemployment, I really enjoy keeping busy. Besides, you can’t keep an old broadcasting war-horse down.
Especially an employed one.