Thursday, March 12, 2015
If you were in the hotel it was not hard to pick out who was part of the convention. Everybody pushed their voices down trying to impress everybody else. Forty buffoons at the bar, posturing, and trying to sound like Darth Vader. And of course everyone dressed in ratty jeans and leather jackets. Not a lot of fashion horses in radio. Remember, it’s an industry where no one sees you.
There were great hospitality suites, primarily sponsored by the record companies. Lots of booze, and I suspect for influential music directors, women.
Radio syndication firms also had hospitality suites. You could have a drink and listen to the AMERICAN TOP 40 demo. Needless to say, you could shoot cannons off in those suites. Casablanca Records had hookers and Drake/Chenault had demos for “Hit Parade 69.”
God knows what went on after the bars and hospitality suites closed. If Insurance Conventions are wild Bacchanals you can imagine what a radio convention must be like. Even the attendees who were single probably got laid.
The sad part of these conventions was all the out-of-work disc jockeys just meandering around the lobby. You could easily spot them. They had boxes of their audition tapes. One time I was standing with a program director, Chuck Browning, when one of these guys approached and handed him his tape. Chuck said, “So are you Side A or Side B?”
If PD’s are not going to listen to AT40 demos when they’re offered unlimited free tequila, they’re sure not going to spend their evening listening to you. On the other hand, long distance calls were expensive. Here in one place was everyone who could hire you. Why not give it a shot?
Happily, I was either employed or out of radio when I attended these conventions. And since radio people are spread all over the country and move more than Richard Kimble did as THE FUGITIVE, this was the one chance to see all your buds at one time in one place. The flip side of course, is that it was also a chance to come face-to-face with everybody who ever fired you. For me, that was everywhere I turned.
Eventually I got asked to be on panels and in one case deliver the keynote address. This of course, was after I became a full-time TV writer. I’ve always maintained that the only way I ever got respect in radio was to get out of it.
Are conventions really useful? You could make a case that they’re not. We live in such a global society now. Teleconferences can substitute for panel discussions. Airfare is expensive. Hospitality suites are not justified if attendance is low. But I think you miss something in not having the personal contact. You do learn things in conventions, and usually they’re at the bar, a suite, in the elevator, at the coffee shop. Panels are nice and they’re a good lure, but the real deals are going on behind-the-scenes. You don’t come there looking to be enlightened by the future steps your industry is taking. You go to bitch and hear how others have dealt with the same problems. Your goal is to come away with a better understanding of what you need to do, a renewed passion for your profession, and to not get caught.