Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Do You Want to Do When You Grow Up?

When I was about 9 years old, my mother bought me a rather large radio. I think it was made by General Electric, although I can't remember exactly. One thing I am sure about is that I was able to listen to MANY stations on that radio, from all over the country! I had always listened to the radio to go to sleep at night, tuning in mostly to the sports talk show on WWWE in Cleveland. Pete Franklin was way ahead of his time, a host who could give any of the Jim Rome wannabes a run for their money today. Sometimes I would listen to "Viewpoint" on WHBC-AM, but mostly it was Pete Franklin.

But my new radio changed everything. With a gentle touch on the tuning knob, I would manage to bring in stations from faraway places. Some nights, it would be WHO-AM in Des Moines. Other nights, some obscure bluegrass station in Jackson, Mississippi. One evening, I even managed to find a talk station in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. "Tomorrow's high temperature will be an enjoyable 25!" 25? In June? Huh?? Slipping into deep sleep each evening surrounded by these far-off voices made me realize early on what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't know if I had a good voice or not but I knew I wanted to be behind a microphone on the radio. Answering the question "what do you want to do when you grow up" had never been very difficult for me.

Now, 23 years later, I, like many, feel myself sitting at a crossroads. On one hand, I've been fortunate to have been able to transfer some of my abilities into a self-sustaining business. Had I not developed a freelance enterprise earlier in my career, I'm not sure what I would have done when WGST in Atlanta decided at the end of 2006 that they didn't have the budget anymore for a Creative Services Director. But the economy has hit the freelance world, too. Many stations want the same amount of work for significantly lower compensation. And other commercial clients have felt the pinch, too. Annual projects that I continue to do pay far less this year than they did last year. So as the budget-crunch took one of our North Carolina stations out of the fold early this year, I began to ponder what it would be like if I had to answer that question "what do you want to do when you grow up" again.

As I read Facebook posts from various friends and acquaintances in the industry, I realize that some people who are dedicated, talented, experienced broadcasters didn't have a freelance client-base on which to fall back. Some have had to return to college or attend for the first time. Others decided to take the technical-school route so that their employment options might manifest themselves a bit earlier. So I scheduled a meeting with a career counselor over at Kent State. I've flirted with higher education. But because I don't think I've ever had the same passion for anything else that I have for the broadcast industry, I could never justify the cost and the commitment. I just moved on to another radio job in another city.

One of the first things she had me do was to take an SDS, a Self-Directed Search. It's a kind of assessment test put together by Dr. John Holland. Through a series of exercises asking you to chronicle the activities you enjoy, the interests that you have, and your vision of what would be a "perfect job", you arrive at a more focused answer to the question "what should I do, career-wise". I was actually pretty excited! Maybe I'm supposed to be a venture capitalist...or the captain of a yacht...or maybe even a world-class chef! I tallied up all the results and then we went over it together.

No real epiphany, though. It was almost as if I were back in the 8th grade standing next to Ms. Wittig's desk looking over high school course material and trying to decide "what it is I want to be when I grow up". I lean towards "creative" things and not "scientific". I'd do horribly in an office job, and math is not my strong-suit. I tend to be motivated by "helping others". Specifically, amongst the more artistic and creative positions like "playwright" and "advertising director" that popped up, career choices such as "radio station program director" and "announcer" also rose to the top of the pile. "So", I thought, "I can be a social worker or write copy at a radio station. There goes my dream vacation-home in Costa Rica."

What do you want to do when you grow up. I suppose I'm doing it. I know that I have to ponder the results of that SDS a little more, and perhaps even do some investigating on a few related fields. In May, I'll hit the big 5-0. Is it supposed to be a milestone? Does this mean I have to have a back-up plan ready to go if my chosen career field bottoms-out? What if acid-reflux carries out its dastardly plan with succinct precision? Should I start filling out more graduate-school applications tomorrow?

I have the apps in front of me and I know the wise thing to do is to start filling them out. But my iPhone is on, too. And one of the other "apps" that I have is for "Public Radio". Right now, between sessions, I'm listening to WDUQ-FM in Pittsburgh. Maybe later, it will be a station in Los Angeles...or, hell, even Missoula, Montana, for that matter. Just like that big radio my mother bought for me, it still thrills me to scroll through the various stations and listen in faraway places. Regardless as to what happens next year or the year after, right now I still get to do what I still love to do. Growing up isn't that bad.


* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com

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