One of the first lessons I learned about working in radio is that, in this business, there is no such thing as job security. “Don’t get too comfortable,” I was warned by more experienced colleagues, “because you never know when a new format, a new owner, or a new line-up might leave you ‘on the beach’.
One of the second lessons I learned about this industry is that if and when you are let go, or you decide to leave, it will be effective immediately. There will be no going away parties, no fond farewells, no speeches. Expect to be swiftly and without further adieu, on your way.
The reason for the rapid exit, I was told, was mainly to prevent disgruntled (now former) employees from doing any damage on their way out. Someone with an ax to grind might get behind the mic and say disparaging things about the station and its management. Or, bulk erase a bunch of carts…er…delete a bunch of stuff from the automation as a final act of vengeance.
So, despite the hard work and dedication of these employees, despite the fact that they’ve never really given us reason to think they would act in such a reckless or destructive way, despite the fact that they have spent countless hours building trust and friendship with our listeners, we cut them out like that weird looking mole on our ear.
I just watched this play out in the market where I live. A very well known and loved morning show host and her co-host were on-air right up until the switch over to Christmas music. When the regular format returned they did not. This personality, this person, had been hosting mornings at that station since 1986. For 37 years, people in this market woke up to her voice, hung out with her at all the big events, got to know and care about her family and her life. And then one day, she was gone. No explanation. No press release. No chance for listeners to say goodbye. She hasn’t said anything publicly either, I’m assuming that legally she can’t.
I’m guessing, if you’ve been in this business long enough, you’ve got some stories, too.
Does it really have to be this way? I understand that there may be some legal implications to consider and damage control to be done, especially if the air talent is being dismissed. But, what would this look like if we considered our listeners’ feelings when we formulated our offboarding strategies? What would it look like if we, as media ministries representing God’s Kingdom, let people go in a way that was more loving toward our team members and our listeners?
Well, it might look like it did when Rob Anthony left the position and the team he loved at KDUV for an opportunity at Worship 24/7 that was just too good to pass up. Rob describes the transition this way, “I had been at KDUV for 10 years, so I was worried about how difficult leaving would be. It’s practically cliche for leadership in any business to wax poetic about how we’re not just employees, “we’re family.” My GM at KDUV, Nic Ferguson, really showed how much he cared about me as a friend, not just me as his PD. He went beyond expectations when he reached out and connected with my new future boss (David Harms at W247). Together, they decided to not play the typical announcement game and put out a JOINT PRESS RELEASE about the transition. That was so encouraging, and made it really feel like we were all in this together.
Another recent departure that broke the mold from the typical “don’t let the door hit ya’ on the way out” was Summer Shepherd’s departure from Life (Life 102.5 that is, she is still very much alive). I watched on Facebook as Summer shared photos of the beautiful celebration of her time there and the kindness with which they sent her off to her new adventure at WGTS. She was given ample opportunity to share with her listeners about her decision to leave, and to pour some love out over her audience, both on-air and on the station’s socials.
It was handled just as well behind the scenes, too. Summer says, “I wasn’t applying for another job because I wasn’t satisfied with the one I had; I was applying ONLY because I knew it’s what God was asking me to do. Because of that I felt safe letting my management know pretty early. Before I ever found out if I was going to get the final in person interview, I wanted them to be aware. I was able to explain my heart and, delightfully, they understood. I believe Steve Young’s exact words were, “don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to get it. But I will support you in this and am so proud of you.” Dave Conour, my program director and dear friend, gave nearly the same reaction and offered himself as a recommendation, should I need it. That’s leadership. I trusted (because it does require trust) that there wouldn’t be negative repercussions if I didn’t get the position. I guess I’ll never know, but I felt safe there.”
The experiences Rob and Summer had are certainly not typical, but shouldn’t they be? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we, in Christian media, set a new standard here? Combining both wisdom and grace with smart leadership and loving mentorship, I believe we can.
Tami has worked in radio for over 30 years. These days she serves as a freelance radio host, hosting middays at Worship 24/7, CFR in Bowling Green, KY, and weekends at Hope 107.9 in Eugene, OR. She’s also an experienced voiceover talent, fundraising host, and she dabbles in podcasting. Learn more at www.tamirumfelt.com.