Pat Holiday
Pat Holiday

Pat Holiday: Talent Is Timeless

When I was VP of Content for Astral, there was the usual western road trip to all our markets. In Kelowna I was brought into the control room by Mark Burley to say hi to the person on the air. It took a while for the song to end. During those couple minutes I saw her update Twitter on her phone, and answer a couple Facebook posts, edit a contest caller, talk to us, look up something on Google, and get ready for the upcoming break. To her, it was effortless. To me, it was a revelation moment. She was the weekend person filling in on drive. I think she had maybe a year in the business. She looked like she should still be in high school.
 
Since that moment and for a long time, I didn’t want to utter these words because I know it’ll make a lot of peers and friends angry. I hope they/you don’t take it personally. There are exceptions and that may be you. In life, there are always exceptions.
 
Hopefully, like all these written pieces, something gets triggered to make you think a bit differently about yourself and the business.
 
Talking about the past makes me uncomfortable. Unfortunately I have to go back for a minute to write this. 
 
When someone starts talking about the heyday of CKLW, I inwardly cringe. Especially if that person wants to relive the good old days versus today. Yes, those days were exceptional and totally unique. Not like any normal radio station; closer to being at MTV during its first decade. 
 
For those unfamiliar with CKLW, it was a 50,000 giant station sitting in Windsor, Ontario. The signal blanketed the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S. and Canada and was always an uncontested crushing #1 station for about a 200 mile radius. That radius included Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Ft. Wayne, Windsor etc. All those cities. All #1 simultaneously. As I mentioned…unique. Magical. Suffice to say it’ll never happen again.
 
But the past, if you look, usually has answers to the future’s questions. I’d like to pass on one to you. It is the gorilla in the room.
 
Youth.
 
When I got to CKLW and did afternoon drive, I was the 3rd most listened to human on the continent. Almost 1.8 million listeners a week. When hired for drive I was 6 months shy of 22 and had been in radio a miniscule grand total of 4 years. Sure, I had worked in 7 different stations spread out over 5 cities and different formats and PDs, but the point being, I was just a kid starting out. So was everyone else.
 
Of all the jocks, no one was over 30. The manager was in his early 40’s, the PD, Alden Diehl, in his 30’s. The legendary MD, Rosalie Trombley was barely over 30. She had already been doing her job for 4 years. The producers and board ops, all early 20’s or teens.
 
In today’s world this would never happen. Arguably the greatest, most listened to radio station in Canadian history (many in that eastern corridor would vehemently say U.S. history, too) was being run by kids.
 
Funny thing about kids. They almost always are naive and have unbridled passion. Lots of work hours? No problem, “More time for me to be on the air”. Want to try something different? No problem, there’s not a lot of history there to get the, “Geez, in the old days we used to…”. Trying to stay abreast of the new music trends? Look no further than the kid down the hall with her headphones listening to her phone, not your station. Need a blog by your air talent? If you ask they may already have one of their own on Linkedin. Want to teach a staff to turn on a dime and to be great? Kids….tend to be sponges and want to kill to show you they can be amazing.
 
Usually they are. When given the shot.
 
You can teach experience. You can’t teach passion. Experience can lead to smooth, technically perfect, yet also that hard to put your finger on kind of show that's bland. Passion comes through. It may suck from a PD’s radio point of view but the audience hears it and gravitates towards it.
 
I know many peers who have hit that ‘going through the motions’ time of their career. I hit it myself when I wanted to be a PD. My ‘airtime’ was done and it was obvious to me. 
 
I also know many who still have that fire for the business. Perhaps the flame isn’t as hot but their experience more than makes up for the cooler temp. Essentially they’re still that kid who got into radio because they loved it. Only now they have a few more pounds and more grey.  Clint Eastwood still makes amazing movies at 85 so it’s not unheard of. Which one are you?
 
Your career depends on answering that question truthfully to yourself.
 
For the past few years outside of regular radio I’ve learned how to edit video, build websites, computer coding, ramp up on Twitter, etc (man, that’s a whole different world) and other things someone my age shouldn’t really care about. But those things are all interesting. And like it or not, they’re the future.
 
To kids…those things are like turning on a faucet. Just like that amazing young lady in Kelowna, those skills are already built in. But few radio companies ever really tap that resource. It just gets lip service. Why?
 
Our new adversaries, the entire digital space that competes with us, is run by kids. Most are founded or owned by ‘kids’. Maybe that’s the difference in why they’re gaining.
 
I think it’s time to start turning over the reins to today’s generation now. Carte Blanche? Probably not. They’ve probably never been given the chance yet to make mistakes and learn. But that’s critical to growth. Many of their ideas will be ludicrous, many will seem naive, but many will be genius and navigate you through the future. You just need to have an open mind and a few people to help guide (not suppress) that passion.
 
If you get a chance, it’ll be fascinating for you to watch the 25th anniversary documentary of Saturday Night Live. In it, Lorne Michaels, talks about the talent, the seasons, and the bits that were amazing and those that were horrible.
 
His most intriguing talk was about the continual new talent coming on the show. All full of piss and vinegar. It used to drive him insane when the new kids would come to him about doing a bit that was done before. 
 
Lorne said that he would gently try to persuade them away from it because he knew that it had been tried 2 or 3 times in previous seasons to dismal failure. Sometimes he’d win. Most of the time he’d let them go ahead and crash and burn to learn their craft more. 
 
Think of that.
 
Think of what it’d be like to work for a person like that. How much confidence do you think the SNL cast would have, knowing that they had that much freedom? Knowing that their legendary boss and mentor told them it’d probably fail, showed them why it’d fail, yet still let them take the shot to help them grow as entertainers. Perhaps that’s why SNL is in it’s 41st season with a strong start to boot.
 
Open minded experience at the top. Kids running the asylum.
 
What’s that old phrase? “The future belongs to the young”
 
It’s time to let the young go get it for you.
 

 

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