Morning Show Boot Camp

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on August 18, 2021 

For those of you who have never attended Don Anthony’s Annual Morning Show Boot Camp Conference, you should know that it’s one of the best in the business. Most attendees are talent on any level, and they all have a lot in common. They all get up at God awful hours to prep for a show where they basically live their lives on the radio in order to relate to and entertain those who are living normal lives. There are genuine relationships and networks where talent help and hope for one another’s success. Like most industries, there are some politics, but there isn’t a lot of ass kissing and sucking up to the boss at this convention because most of the bosses aren’t in attendance.

Despite the concerns of the rise of the Covid Variant and number of breakthrough cases, the turnout was still really good, and this year, there were a lot of “first time boot campers,” and a lot of new faces. That was a good sign, and a good energy boost for the conference since the radio business continues to struggle with the “old school” mentality and the dominance of the “usual suspects” in positions of power and influence. It’s good to know that despite the massive layoffs, lack of diversity, low pay, and inability to grow unless you fit into a certain mold, are not discouraging Millennials and Gen Zers to work in the radio industry. After discussions with many of the attendees during and after the conference, there were a few good takeaways on top of everyone’s minds, welcomed distractions from the everyday life of radio in the “new normal.”

First, you can’t go wrong with Fred Jacobs and a good research project from Jacobs Media that gets inside the minds of talent. 600 talent and producers were surveyed about the state of radio talent after the pandemic, and while Jacobs Media will give in depth details on the findings in a webinar next Wednesday (8/25) at 11a (PT), Fred covered the priorities for talent in the opening session:

  • Nearly Half of all radio talent are experiencing more stress since before Covid-19.
  • Two in three express concerns with offending the audience in this PC world, particularly those on music stations.
  • More than six in ten women disagree there is gender equality for advancement, more than 4 times the Men (Shocker).

These three key findings were addressed in panels throughout the 2-day event with stories and advice from seasoned talent and radio vets.

First, WLAV’s Michelle McKormick (A ray of Sunshine), lead a panel on “What I learned During the Pandemic” which consisted of KRBE’s Roula Christie, WGN’s John Records Landecker, KMXB’s Mercedes Martinez, nationally syndicated DeDe McGuire, 97X’s Bill Michaels and Y100’s Joe Pesh. They shared stories and experiences of dealing with the stress of the pandemic.

On day 2, Bert Weiss of “The Bert Show” hosted the panel “Managing Content in a PC Charged World” which addressed concerns of offending the audience. The panel consisted of Fred Jacobs, nationally syndicated Dana Cortez, Brian Philips and Louie Diaz of Cumulus Atlanta, Brian Sherman from the Drive in Chicago, and Cat Thomas from Hubbard in Seattle. They shared expert advice and experience on protecting their shows, and content.

And finally, the Women’s Forum, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling and Beyond,” addressed the challenges and concerns women face in a predominately male industry, particularly when the research indicates things are getting worse, not better. I was honored to host a panel of powerful women consisting of Rock 95 Chicago’s Angi Taylor, nationally syndicated Dana Cortez, Hot 99.5 Washington DC’s Riley Couture , KOIT’s Joey Fortman, Audacy Chicago’s Julia Lepidi, and Hot 101.5 Tampa Bay’s Holly O’Connor. These Women gave incredible stories and advice on the gender challenges they have faced on their rise to the top and proved by example that mental health and powering through are keys to success.

There is one other panel worth mentioning, it became the topic of conversation at the conference as what occurred after the panel was a bit of a shocker for the entire industry. If you were in attendance, you know what I am referring to. “The Round Table Panel,” hosted by Mike McVay. “The VP and EVP panel,” if you will. It’s the one panel that takes place every year where we as talent, programmers and radio lovers hope to get real answers from the “guys” at the top. We look to them for inspiration and positive actions that indicate radio is moving forward and is not stagnant. Or at the very least, we hope they listen and share our passion for evolving our industry, instead of just pivoting into the latest trend, or succumbing to corporate takeover.

This year’s panel consisted of Hubbard’s Gregg Strassell, Beasley’s John Reynolds, IHeartMedia’s Tony Coles and Jon Zellner, and Audacy’ s Pat Paxton, all Programmers I highly respect. And while most were very outspoken and positive, particularly about the “latest trends,” and evolving “audio & digital” content, it was challenging to get real answers on the biggest concerns among those in the audience.

Don’t get me wrong, Mike McVay did an excellent job of leading the power panel (that’s a lot of pressure), but when it came down to addressing the loss of “local talent” due to downsizing and providing compensation for all the additional responsibilities being given to talent, the energy pivoted. Particularly thanks to one individual on the panel.

Its difficult to sit there and listen to someone talk about how important talent is to radio, and “highly recommend” that local talent learn to go on sales calls and reach above and beyond the call of duty to help generate revenue, when your company is one of those largely responsible for getting rid of local talent. It’s also difficult to listen to someone shoot you down, when you get up enough nerve to stand up and ask the legitimate question of what the incentive and compensation looks like for talent who do go and want to go above and beyond the call of duty. The answer is NOT “I’ll give you the tools and a platform.” Everyone has access to the tools and a platform. It’s as simple as an Instagram Account, YouTube or TikTok channel etc. And honestly, individual brands are easier to find and engage with than being a part of a “network” of brands. It’s a partnership, and both parties need to be invested in success.

Last week’s “The Bigger Picture” covered this topic exactly. “Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset: You.” Had there been enough time left over on the panel, I think everyone in the audience would have liked to have heard from the other VPs about incentives and investment in the success of talent. Maybe we could have left that session with a sense of hope and feeling of support. It’s something everyone in the industry is looking for right now.

The Jacob’s Media results from the first panel indicated that talent was overall down on their current companies and situations for many reasons. Perhaps this would have been a great opportunity to highlight the benefits of working for certain companies and attracting great talent both new and

seasoned. This would have been a great opportunity to showcase that. To me it was a missed opportunity.

Oddly, and I do mean Oddly, the very next morning, the entire industry received the news that the radio executive on the panel mentioned above was “stepping down” and leaving the industry. NO ONE saw that coming. There was massive whiplash at the Swissotel in Chicago Friday Morning. And people are still going “WTF?”

Morning Show Boot Camp was an amazing experience this year, and I have been to many. As I said before, the energy was good, and it was great to see new and old faces. When and if this Virus goes away, we need to do more things like this in the industry. It’s a good opportunity to refresh, reset and learn from new and old characters and remind ourselves that there are people out there who are going through what we are, just in different ways.

To watch the Jacobs Media’s Webinar from MSBC33 next Wednesday, register @jacobsmedia.com. If you were unable to attend Boot Camp, Don Anthony tells me the sessions will be available on Demand soon. I’ll be sure to direct you to the links as soon as they are all approved.