I’ll never forget the NBC studio tour when was 11.  What impressed me most was watching the WNBC radio morning show.  The studio was big, with a lot of people working in it…behind the scenes stuff — very cool, I thought!  WNBC’s morning guy was Bill Cullen — who also hosted the The Price Is Right on TV. “Imagine that,” my hard-working, blue collar dad said, “getting paid to sit on your ass and talk!”

That made a big impression on me.

Or maybe it was Larry Lujack’s start on WLS in Chicago. He had come over from working overnights at WCFL and even as a teen I understood that this was a real opportunity…kind of like being called up from the minors to start for the White Sox.  I hated Lujack that day.I thought he was blowing it. He made a lot of mistakes.  There was a lot of dead air. He was snarly and sarcastic — not smooth and smiley like the other ‘LS jocks.

A week later, I was hooked.  And I didn’t just like Larry Lujack…I wanted to be him, or at least where he was, doing what he was, at that moment.

Larry Lujack was the reason I had to get on the radio.  Didn’t just want to…had to.  I didn’t want to miss a minute of his show.I would constantly tell my friends about the crazy things “Superjock” said.

This isn’t just my story.  I suspect it’s your story too. Many of us got into this business because there was a personality they idolized and identified with.

Here’s my question for you: Who are they identifying with now???

Let’s flash back to a more recent memory.  It was the ’90s. WNDU-FM — “U93” — was my client when it was owned by Notre Dame.  As a favor to them, I would drive to South Bend once a quarter and talk to a Radio-TV class about radio.  Actually, my one-hour talk was the only radio part of the so-called Radio-TV class!

And that was probably appropriate. Because,  invariably,  few or none of the students raised their hand when I asked who was interested in a radio career.

Radio isn’t glamorous any more.  It’s more like a utility. Still important and valuable, but I don’t see kids aspiring to work for Detroit Edison!

Some of this was inevitable given the explosion of technology and new media.  But radio has helped it along by watering down or flat out eliminating the most unique aspects of its product…the very things that make radio radio and not just a succession of songs.

Our personality “gene pool” has been in a death spiral for decades.  I was inspired to go into radio because I idolized Larry Lujack.  But I wasn’t as good as Larry Lujack, and not as inspiring to the next generation of would-be radio personalities. Still, there were a handful of kids who hung around the station to work “gofer” jobs for free they thought it was the coolest place they could possibly be, and wanted to be like me.

Unfortunately, most weren’t even as good as me.  So as time went on, personalities as a group weren’t as good or inspiring as the ones who came before.  Fewer and fewer kids even thought about radio as a career.

And because “personalities” weren’t as good, they were put on a tighter leash so their ability to screw up was limited.  Some who had potential never got a shot, since owners increasingly turned to syndication to cover shifts and slash expenses.

So, today, at the very time radio needs great talent to compete with all the other sources of entertainment available today, it has instead a handful of aging stars and no “farm system” for replacing them.

Who am I to complain about this, you might ask. I’m a research guy…aren’t we the ones who tell stations to “shut up and play the music”???

No!  We sometimes tell stations they’re perceived to “talk too much.”  But shutting jocks up is the knee-jerk response and usually the wrong one.  Instead, how about coaching them to edit their bits?  How about encouraging them to talk about things that entertain and relate to listeners?The issue isn’t literally the amount of talk…it’s if it’s worthwhile.(Few complain that Bob & Tom talk too much, and they talk all the time!)

Radio must rebuild its farm system.  It must refocus on its local communities.  It must start giving budding personalities opportunities to grow, succeed and even fail sometimes.  It must take some chances, even if it’s on an HD-3 channel at 3 in the morning.

Radio must do this because if audio entertainment simply comes down to who plays the most tunes a listener likes best it will lose.  Radio has to be more, and in most cases, personalities are a big part of that.

Rush Limbaugh started out as a journeyman jock.  Howard Stern sucked when he started out. Larry Lujack’s first show on WLS was a nightmare.

Where is the next generation of Limbaughs, Sterns and even Lujacks coming from?

Who wants to be in radio???