Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Letter to Dan

41 Talking to 19

On August 19th, 2007 I wrote this farewell letter to a 19 year old co-worker who was leaving the radio station to continue his college education and move on to his second job in radio. There was a lot I wanted to tell him to sum up the two years or so we worked together and my hopes for his career.

Dear Dan,

I just wanted to say it’s been a genuine pleasure to work with you, and I wish you nothing but great success in the future.

You’ve shown a great capacity to learn in your time here, as well, of course, as a tendency to screw up. But at least you do the latter endearingly, and most importantly, you seem to learn from your mistakes. Most people never understand that it’s more important to learn from your errors than not to make them in the first place. If nothing else, it makes you a more interesting person.

You’re a great guy and I believe you have a good radio career ahead of you, if you keep your eyes and ears open, absorb as much knowledge as you can every moment of every day, and don’t ever think that you know all the answers. I’ve been doing this 22 years, and it’s only in the past three or four years that I’ve felt I have any idea at all how things work, and more importantly why they work the way they do, so if you’ve ever thought I knew what the hell I was talking about, please remember it took me two decades to get to that point.

I want to leave you with some advice, both because you always seem to appreciate it (or are an even better bullshit artist than I think you are), and because I think you could use some. So for what it’s worth, here’s what I think.

1. Always do the very best job you can at whatever job you agree to take on.

2. Always remember that no company will ever put your best interests ahead of its own. Watch out for yourself, no one else will.

3. Always remember it’s in your best interest to do your best, but don’t let anyone take advantage of you. Your time, your skills, and your energy are uniquely yours and are of great value. Demand that that value be recognized, always.

4. Know when to say no. If you always say yes, no one will respect you or your work.

5. Pick your battles wisely. Before saying yes or no to any task, weigh the plusses and minuses to you, to the company. Know what all parties involved are getting out of any situation, and if you’re getting the least of anyone involved, and yet not doing the least amount of work, demand a more reasonable arrangement.

6. Be careful about listeners. We become on-air personalities in large part because we want to be loved, but the love offered by the average adoring fan comes with too high a cost. If they meet you because you are in radio, chances are it’s radio they’re truly attracted to, not you.

7. Do not, under any circumstances, ever let anyone in a position of authority over you bully you into doing something you think is wrong, unethical or illegal. Call bullshit on this every time.

8. When you’re at work, be at work. Your personal life and your personal time are for your off-hours. A lot of young people, including yourself, seem to blur the lines. Your work and personal time will both be more rewarding and manageable if you draw strict lines and observe them faithfully. This is one you really need to work on, for the good of your career.

9. On the air, be truly interesting, but be yourself. Find things that truly interest you to talk about, and create a dialogue with your listeners. Once you do that, you will have them hooked for your entire career. Don’t fall into the easy trap of empty, vapid, pre-fab show prep material.

10. Keep a journal. One day you’ll look back and want to recall all the details of how you got wherever you end up. Keeping a journal is a love letter to your own life, and a valuable document for those that love you, and those that will in the future.

11. Your friends at work are not your friends. Your friends are the people that come pick you up at 2 in the morning because your car broke down, or who listen to you cry over a broken romance at 4 o’clock on Sunday morning. Cultivate pals and allies at work, but remember that very, very few of them will ever truly become friends. Cherish the ones that do.

12. Perhaps the best advice I could give you or anyone in this business or any other -- understand fully the underlying principles of anything you endeavor to do. Don’t just take my word, or Casey’s word, or Dan O’Day’s word, or anyone’s word, for anything. If you understand why things happen the way they do, it will give you insight and confidence that faking it never will. Think your way through any challenge or problem, and only ask for help if you truly cannot come up with a working solution on your own. It’s no shame to ask for help, but when you do, be sure you actually need it, or you’ll be seen as lazy or stupid. And you are neither.

Like I said, Dan, it’s been a great pleasure both working with you and watching you grow into a job that at this point I kind of think you were born to do. Few people succeed in radio unless they really have an inborn aptitude for it, and a stubborn ability to disregard and overcome all the assholes, creeps, crooks and morons they must work with every goddamned day; very few people can actually do that over the long haul. When facing people like that, remember what I told you long ago: Smile, agree to what they want, and then do the right thing after they walk away thinking they won.

Your first job has taught you only the slightest fraction about what it is to have a career in radio, Dan. But even the slightest fraction is a step in the right direction. This is a business only worth working in if you truly understand what it will and won’t do for you, and if you are prepared to be flexible, reliable, and always loyal first to yourself. When you find jobs and bosses and co-workers worthy of your talents and energy, give them your all. I think you did that here, and I’m proud of how far you’ve come in the time you’ve been here. Best of luck always, and keep in touch.