Lessons Learned on the Job

With about forty years of professional work experience, there come lessons.  This letter was so significant to my life, I’ve held on to it for nearly fifty years.

 A letter received in my senior year of high school inviting me to audition for a school news reporter at a local radio station.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection)

A letter received in my senior year of high school inviting me to audition for a school news reporter at a local radio station.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection)

The letter was in response to an inquiry I made to my hometown radio station about doing a weekly school news report over the airwaves.  

The person who had previously done the job had graduated from high school.

In the letter, the station’s News Director invited me to set up a time for a voice audition.  I promptly called the station, set up an appointment, auditioned, was reminded it did not pay anything, and got the job.

It was the first step in my broadcasting career.

Labor Day is as good a time as any to look back on the virtue of work.  Most of us have to work. We support our families, add value to the economy, and reap the benefits that come from doing a job.

In forty years as a working professional, I have had ten employers.  There’s a lesson from each one.

 

  Reading the news on station WBRV in Boonville, New York.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

Reading the news on station WBRV in Boonville, New York.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

 

The no-compensation job of reporting school news in my senior year of high school paid off about seven months after graduation.  

The station was in need of a weekend announcer. The weekday morning DJ who would replay my taped school news reports, suggested the station manager give me a call.  

Thanks to my recent successful test for my Federal Communications Commission Broadcast License, I got the gig.

After landing that weekend announcer job at WBRV in Boonville, my outlook for a planned career in broadcasting looked promising.  Now, just a few months after starting college here was a job in the field where I was pursuing my degree. The lesson learned: sometimes you are the link that connects an employer’s need with the solution they are seeking.

Between records on the air, I read announcements for lost pets, weather reports warning of pending snow storms, and generally kept company with my small audience in rural upstate New York.

  An art card depicting television station WKTV in Utica, New York.

An art card depicting television station WKTV in Utica, New York.

From the disc jockey job in radio, I secured a television news internship at station WKTV in Utica, New York for my final semester at Syracuse University.  

The college class schedule permitted me flexibility so that I could make that eighty-mile round trip drive from my college dormitory to the station three days a week.  

By the end of the internship, I was filing on-air reports. Those stories helped make up an audition tape to show potential employers.

It was an unpaid internship, so the lesson learned was don’t let money get in the way of a good job.

  The Eyewitness News team at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, New York.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

The Eyewitness News team at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, New York.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

That audition tape caught the eye of the News Director at WICZ-TV in Binghamton, New York.  The interview took place during the finals week at Syracuse.

The News Director is the department head for a broadcast newsroom.  An offer was made one week after graduation.

I was on the job three days later. The lesson learned: when an employer asks “when can you start” the answer is “right away”.

  This photo from my personal collection was used as the cover of the book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories. It was taken while I was reporting in the field at station WAAY in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

This photo from my personal collection was used as the cover of the book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories. It was taken while I was reporting in the field at station WAAY in Huntsville, Alabama.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection

WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama hired me a year-and-a-half after starting in Binghamton.  Newly married and looking for adventure, my wife and I headed south. Putting away fond memories of upstate New York, we headed to Dixie for the next chapter.  The lesson learned: never get too comfortable.

Developing some management skills in the latter part of the tenure in Huntsville paid off when a station in Rockford, Illinois wanted to hire a News Director.   I couldn’t wait to start this job. The lesson learned: be ready to move on if you want to move up.

Rochester, New York was the next stop.  With relatives in upstate New York, and one child new to our nest, my wife and I chose family proximity over anything else as I accepted the job as Senior Producer at the ABC affiliate.  

The job lasted eight years. We added another child to our family during that time.

While I enjoyed my coworkers immensely, there was a feeling I had not reached my potential as quickly as I would have liked.  While knowing I would miss my colleagues, I knew it was the right choice to accept a new position with another station in Rochester.   

The lesson learned: know when it’s time to leave.

  Working with the WROC-TV anchor team where I served as Executive Producer, rounding out a twenty-year career in broadcasting.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

Working with the WROC-TV anchor team where I served as Executive Producer, rounding out a twenty-year career in broadcasting.  Photo: Newvine Personal Collection.

The post of Executive Producer was mine at WROC-TV for three years.  Oddly enough, and with the benefit of hindsight, I knew that the career I had chosen was no longer right for me about six months into that job.  

It took two-and-a-half years to quietly figure out what my next career would be. The lesson learned: always have a back-up.

Counting that part-time, no-pay, radio job in my senior year of high school, I spent twenty years in the broadcasting field.  It was at times exciting, rewarding, and satisfying. Working odd shifts, including some holidays, often made family time a challenge.  

Every day seemed to bring on new and usually rewarding experiences.

The time in broadcast news also showed me other career paths.  I would eventually embark on a new journey down an entirely new pathway.  

But the lessons are similar:

  • Be the link between what an employer needs and the solution they seek.
  • Don’t worry about the money.
  • Be ready to work.
  • Never grow too comfortable.
  • Know when it’s time to leave.
  • Always have a back-up.

These are lessons learned on the job.  Lessons that started with a letter from that small town radio station offering an opportunity that would help define a big portion of my professional life.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

In September, he begins his thirteenth year as a director on the Merced County Workforce Investment Board.  

He wrote about working and learning on-the-job in the book Soft Skills for Hard Times, available now at Lulu.com