Observations on a Monday Morning!

I know there are some weather folks on the verge of a major conniption because the Memphis area didn’t get the nasty winter stuff they got in Missouri. That’s okay with me. I can handle rain and I can handle snow. Freezing rain is not welcome here. It makes life way too miserable. I wish it hadn’t hit the areas that it did, but I’m content that it didn’t hit here. We’ve “been there and done that” often enough in the Midsouth. Enough said there.
I received a YouTube posting featuring the good mayor of Memphis who spoke at the big national media conference taking place in the city. The mayor was taking potshots at the local media for what he feels is some sort of bias. Listening to his rant I think he feels he’s targeted because of race. He’s probably lucky the local media isn’t tougher on him and race has nothing to do with it. Anyway, I thought his comments (and I only heard the portion posted on YouTube) were a cheap shot on his part. He blasted the local media and their coverage suggesting they pick on black men and women in power. Maybe that is the perception in the black community. I don’t know. I don’t get that feeling overall when I’m out and about. I’ve met the mayor on a number of occasions over the years and chatted with him, usually at public gatherings. He’s a nice enough guy but some of the things he says have started to worry me over the years. The reality is he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so unless he decides to step down or a tremendous candidates comes along, this is what we got.
My wife and I talked about swinging by the big media gig to see some folks speak but we didn’t. I would have liked to heard Helen Thomas speak. She reminds me of the Energizer Bunny in that this little 86 year old woman just keeps going and going and going. I’m sure Bill Moyers had some interesting insights as well. While these folks might have lit a fire under journalists from across the country and here in Memphis, the reality is this: The news business has changed, evolving into something completely different than it was even ten years ago, at least in the TV game. It ain’t going back no matter how much some would like it to. Those in the business talk about how it used to be. Some in the business have found there’s money to be made if you present news with a slant. Tthe news game is a business and if you aren’t making money then you need to do something about it so you will. You have to do something to make your operation stand out from the crowd.
There was a time when news was considered part of the public service a television station pursued. Then someone realized you could make a lot of money in TV news. They found it was cheaper to put on additional news shows at various times of the day than to buy syndicated programming. They ended up diluting the news product but at least they got more mileage out of their news folks. The schools cranked out of the students who had visions of making Katie Couric salaries AND getting to be in front of the camera at the same time. That helped the schools grow. The shift in the news business created the need for a consultant as stations tried to figure out how to get better ratings. The stations probably could have figured it out for themselves but now if they didn’t they could always blame the consultant.
Something most people don’t realize is that if a station thought it could make a lot of money doing it, they would put a chicken playing a piano in front of the camera and let it go at that. Sure, there is that pesky public file where people can write out their complaints and there is the fact that you have to have a federal license to operate a TV or radio station. Still, I would bet that if one station found it was “pushing the wheelbarrow to the bank” by having a piano playing chicken on the air 24 hours a day, the station would do it. Then you would see that station imitated in other markets as others scrambled for the same cheap success.
Just before Christmas, I stopped on Union to get the oil changed in my old Pathfinder and saw an older gentleman sitting in the business waiting for his car. He looked familiar to me and when I asked him he said yes, his name was Fred Cook. For those not familiar with Mr. Cook, he started in radio at WREC and later expanded his duties to include the nightly newscast on WREC-TV for 3-dollars per 15-minute newscast. For the record he did NOT know who I was and was surprised that I had been on the air in Memphis for 16-years at his old station. He told me really didn’t watch that much local television anyway. Most of his comments focused on how much the business had changed and how it had become such a business. He said he remembered his reaction when he learned that former local anchor Jerry Tate was making more than 100-thousand dollars a number of years ago. Mr. Cook also told me that back in the good old days when stations cared more about their employees that he was given the boot when the radio station he worked for as a manager was sold. He says he won’t be surprised to see it happen again to some folks as the station DOTR is sold. It’s not personal. It’s just business.

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8 Comments on “Observations on a Monday Morning!”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    After being laid off more than once in my career, it’s tough to hear “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” In the most recent event, the decision makers (a local firm, execs are not far away), left the dirty work to the managers and department heads to do the dirty work. After several years of loyalty and doing good work, (including non-paid overtime), no one at the top had the class or guts to say, hey, sorry we’re having to do this, thank you for your service, we wish you well.

    Hope I can get to the position in life where IF that happens again, it won’t be so earth shattering. In other words, be prepared…for anything!

    I remember Fred Cook…he did the Saturday night late news on Ch. 3. He and John Powell did a morning radio show later on WREC 600 for years.

  2. Average Guy Says:

    Joe,
    Good observations. No, TV is not like it was 5 or 10 years ago. What business is? The reality of today’s global business environment is that the lifetime job no longer exists. Efficency and effectivness are the guiding hands in business. Each year managers are expected to return a performance better than the year before. Frankly, its just like college football. “So what if you won a national championship seven years ago, you were 4 and 7 last year and 8 and 4 this year. You’re not getting top recruits. We’re spending a ton of money on you and the facilities. You’re not giving us a return on our investment.” Does anyone really believe Alabama wouldn’t throw Bear Bryant under the bus if he had back to back losing seasons and Nick “the Savior” Saban was waiting in the wings.

    Also remember in the “good ole days of TV” there were three, maybe four, broadcast stations in a market. Local TV had a license to print money. Look at it today. In Memphis you have five or more affilates, some independents, cable, satellite, internet and now cell phone advertising. It ain’t personal, its business.

    The GM

  3. Anonymous Says:

    But it’s the GM who is usually last to go, even though he’s more likely to be responsible for both the station’s failing culture and ratings.

    Everyone gets fired before the GM. So, it’s easy to say “it’s just business” when your financial security is relatively secure.

    Enjoy the 19th Tee at your local country club while the news director or sales manager you just blew out has to stay up late at night to figure out how to get his kids into a new school in a new state.

    I invite “the gm” to share his views with his staff next week and measure the loyalty it buys him.

    Business, when it comes to the lives and success of your staff and their families, is very personal.

    May you soon experience the same humanity shown in your post.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Well, I guess it’s now obvious that “the GM” isn’t actually Howard Meagle.

  5. Average Guy Says:

    Okay, I’ll try this again. I posted a response earlier but being a GM, I guess I did something wrong.

    The GM is not always the last to go. In sale situations, the GM is first to go. The GM is responsible for the performance of the station. If ratings are falling or sales are lacking, should the GM not have the right to make the necessary changes? Does the GM have to consider a sales manager’s personal situation before deciding to make a change? As “humane” as that sounds it is also a recipe for failure. Unfortunately business decisions should be just that — business decisions.

    Have you ever worked with an individual who wasn’t getting the job done and wasn’t being held accountable because of their personal situation or a relationship with the GM? It’s not good. Is it?

    The fall out from a business decision is indeed personal but the decision itself is all about business. I’m sorry but that is the way the world works.

    I shoot very straight with my staff. Some may find it cold. Others like knowing exactly where they stand. Which would you prefer? Me telling you not to worry when ratings are falling and revenue is lacking or me telling you unless things improve changes will have to be made? I’m hired to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of my station. My boss is not worrying about my kids attending a new school or being uprooted. My boss is worried about growing ratings, revenue and profit. When I can’t do that, I’ll be gone.

    The GM

  6. Joe Larkins Says:

    My apologies to the GM since your earlier post didn’t take. I saw it and thought it got posted but apparently it did not.
    Thanks for being persistent.
    Regards,
    Joe

  7. Average Guy Says:

    Joe,
    Since I had a major misspelling in the original post, I’m glad it didn’t take. I wouldn’t want to offer any more evidence than necessary that your friendly GM is an idiot.

    Cordially,
    The GM

  8. Average Guy Says:

    I disagree with your accessment that the GM is the last to go. In a sale situation, the GM is the first to go. In rebuild situations, it is often the case that the GM will replace managers.

    To make sure I understand your point, if news ratings are falling the GM should be fired and the ND should not be accountable. If sales are lagging, the sales manager should help the GM pack his bags. I have no problem taking responsibility for every aspect of the station’s performance. However, I should also be able to make the decisions to improve those situations. If I do so and the situation does not improve, then guess what, I’ll be looking for a new job.

    Do you think each and every GM was born into the job? Believe it or not, most worked their way up and experienced some of the inhumane attitudes you cite. A GM can be like Ghandi but if the station is failing, changes will be made.

    The GM

    P.S. I’m very direct with my staff. No, I don’t have build personal friendships with my staff. I have teammates who know what is expected and know that we’ll win as a team.


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