Lots of people have asked me why I resigned from CHOM and I wasn't able to give them a straight answer, other than to cite "creative and philosophical differences" with management.
Well, my contractual obligations to Astral Media Radio expired yesterday, so I can speak openly about the circumstances surrounding my departure without getting a lawyer's letter threatening to withdraw the salary and benefits I was still due from Astral (although I'm sure they'll have their legal bloodhounds give this blog the sniff test to see if there are grounds for retroactive recourse. They're lovely people).
The beginning of the end for me and a lot of other old school radio people was the shift of radio stations across the country from family to corporate ownership. When Geoff Sterling and later the Waters family (CHUM) and the Slaight family (Standard) owned CHOM, the radio station was in the hands of lifelong broadcasters who were passionate about radio and recognized that it is first and foremost a craft, and that if the craft is carefully nurtured, the business end takes care of itself. There was a terrific creative atmosphere in the studios, offices and hallways. Radio was fun. Within the past five to ten years, CHOM and most of the rest of the country's radio stations have been acquired by corporations who jettisoned the majority of the creative people in favor of bean counters beholden only to shareholders. The impact was swift, enormous and predictable. By the time I left CHOM, it was about as much fun as working at the Soviet Ministry of Agriculture. No disrespect to Soviet farming apparatchiks, but that's not what I signed up for.
Some amazing creative minds used to occupy the management offices at CHOM, but day-to-day operations in the radio industry as it exists today are run almost exclusively by de facto bureaucrats who are either failed announcers or were never on the air in the first place. Rather than take a collaborative approach with the talent, these corporate political animals are making arbitrary programming and personnel decisions that go contrary to the instincts of proven, veteran radio professionals. In fact, the current program director at CHOM has been known to brag "I've never been on the air and I'm the boss!" I'm pretty sure he's also never been west of Atwater, and even though he's a francophone from Quebec City, he barely paid lip service to the insights and opinions of staff members who've been on the front lines of English radio in this town for decades. That spoke volumes to me, and I could not in good conscience continue to work for someone who was making decisions in a vacuum that were running a treasured Montreal institution into the ground.
Last weekend, less than a week before my last paycheque, I was summoned to a meeting with one of Astral's corporate errand boys, who had the nerve to offer to take me back in a diminished capacity at a reduced salary. He was - or at least appeared to be - genuinely surprised that I took offense at being thrown a bone on the assumption that I was desperate and could be lured back on the cheap. That's how out of touch they are with the human condition. We're not even people to them. We're commodities to be bought, sold or discarded, depending on circumstances.
That's fine if you're selling soap, but radio is about people. It's also instinctive, and if the pencil pushers in positions of influence in the industry don't have fundamental interpersonal communication skills, how are they supposed to oversee a product whose success hinges on the ability to engage listeners on an immediate and intimate level?
When CHOM was in its heyday, the announcers used to play what they wanted to play and say what they wanted to say, within the boundaries of broadcast regulations. It was exciting, unpredictable and real. It was also hugely successful. What we're force-fed today is formula radio that's not even broadcasting as much as it's narrowcasting to specific demographics, with songs pre-selected by a computer programmed according to focus group studies and music tests, and desk-bound borderline sociopaths telling experienced radio personalities how to connect with people.
The results speak for themselves.