What Do You Want To Do When You Grow Up: Part 9


The last post of my boo-hoo chronicles.  

Let me state the obvious:  when you have as many college degrees as I do; degrees that are supposed to qualify one for an academic career, it’s not easy to convince non-academic employers that you’re an asset to their company. I don’t have evidence to back up this up as a universal truism, but I’ve heard from a number of prospective employers that my “impressive” background makes me overqualified for a job. It’s another Catch-22 of sorts. On the one hand, employer X says “You have wonderful credentials, but…” and they find an artful way to say I’m overqualified. On the other hand, people will tell me, “You mean, you have all those degrees and you can’t find a full-time job?” HR and hiring managers see me and the red flag of “overqualified” gets waved, or they may think, “No way would I hired that guy. He’ll take my job.” Meanwhile, I languish in low-pay part-time work.

The old saw of who you know is certainly key in finding work. But even those connections are tenuous. Most friends and casual acquaintances want to be helpful and run the proverbial interference for you so you can get in front of a hiring manager, but the reality is that most can’t help much because their power is limited. It also doesn’t help when you know that numbers are against you. At one point during the Great Recession, there were 10 qualified applications for every job. I think by the time I got laid off, it was more like 5 to one. Employers were and are in the so-called catbird seat when it comes to jobs. Most are running their operations “lean and mean” with technology designed to automate some jobs and make it so one person can do the job of three people. Employee production is high, wages are stagnant (or trending down), and people are terrified of losing their jobs.

By luck (and with the aid of a former co-worker who is a real go-getter), I was able to get an introduction to a production company in San Francisco that was just starting up. The idea was to bring uncensored, live radio-type programming to the Internet. The twist was that they added live video streaming, too. So you had radio and TV combined into a programming philosophy. I pitched a show to them where I was going to talk about politics and pop culture. It was a weekly one hour show that broke up the hour into four 13 minute segments (they ran commercial stop-sets at the quarter hour, so there were “hard stops”). It was called “American Liberal,” I was able to convince a former student of mine to join me for a couple of shows. He wasn’t able to continue, so he asked a friend of his, and for the most part, his friend stayed with me for the 13 week run. Now, mind you. I was unemployed at this point. I did the show because there was a clause in the contract whereby I would do revenue sharing with the company if I brought in any advertisers who bought time on my show. I was no fool, however. I knew I was doing this gig was for free and the company didn’t have enough viewers for any advertiser worth his or her salt to drop any coin on ads that were going to be seen by less than 100 people. What kind of return on their investment would they get? None. I was doing the show for my portfolio. If my academic career was in the crapper — along with my radio career — why not take a chance and build a brand with some shows that covered politics and pop culture in a more uncensored way?

The show was fun. Pure and simple. I did all the booking of guests, wrote the majority of the questions, and assembled all the images needed for the show (for cutaways). It took time, but I enjoyed the process, and it kept me busy with work that was in a realm I liked. As the show progressed, I could tell that the episodes were generally good. If the guys in the studio booth controlling the cameras was any sign of audience interest, I knew I was being too technical and boring because I could see them talking to themselves to pass the time. When I was truly firing on cylinders, they were listening very closely to the discussion and would want to talk to me after the show. Sure, the program that followed me got more views, but that’s because it featured burlesque dancers. I remarked to one of my co-hosts that if we could get a woman to work a stripper’s pole during our conversations (with her interjecting her political views into the conversation), I thought we’d be able to compete with the burlesque show. Alas, my theory was never tested because my 13 weeks was coming to a close and I wasn’t going to continue to work for free. In a selfish way, I had what I came for: 13 episodes of a show I could edit to create a good demo of my work.

Finally I get to Direct!

The production company I worked for was starting a series of TV shows that they would broadcast on a local Bay Area TV station.  After some discussions, I was picked to direct a show called “Fresh From The Farmers Market.” This was version two of the show because version one kind of fizzled out due to personality conflicts.  This revamped version meant a new crew, new host, and new director (me).  It was a 13 episode contract, and I jumped at the job. It paid well, too. Suddenly, I went zero to 90 mph when it came to production. I had to write the scripts of the show and do the editing, audio mastering, and a few other post-production things. It was a big job, but I was pretty thrilled about the gig. I thought to myself, “What a strange journey.  I started out from high school wanting to direct, got my PhD and tried for an academic career, worked in radio in a jobs that weren’t my first choice, but paid the bills, and now I get to direct a TV show — and they are going to pay me.”  I summoned all my film and TV training from 30 years ago and applied them to this show. It worked. I was prepared, organized, had a vision of how it should look, and even though I was working with a crew who had little to no TV production experience, I made it work.  It’s not the best thing, but given that the budget was next to nothing, I made what I had look as good as possible.

Have a look at a couple of segments!

This one is about apple pressing…

This one is about making cocktails for Christmas…

And this one is about making Latkes and applesauce…

See? Not stellar production values, but pretty darn good given the budget on these shows.

Alas, all good things end, and this ended faster than I wanted.  After delivering the fifth episode on Christmas Eve, I got word that the productions were “taking a break.” That was fine for me because I wanted to enjoy Christmas with my family and take a week or two just to chill.  Well, that “break” turned out to be three months.  During that time, whatever money I had banked from the job (remember: it was good money!) was dwindling. I kept pestering the Executive Producer (i.e., the guy who was writing the checks) about the show, and he kept putting me off.  Finally, an offer came down to start producing the show again. This time, however, the money wasn’t all that good.  In fact, it was pretty low.  I got a contract, and in less than 24 hours, the offer was rescinded. “Going in another direction” was the reason.

I went right back to EDD and filed for Unemployment Insurance — which I was on for about three months.

And now?

After many false starts and “things just not working out,” I’m back in radio as a news and traffic reporter. I work for a company owned by Clear Channel Media in San Francisco. If it wasn’t for my former co-host who really advocated for me, I wouldn’t have gotten this job.  My status?  Part-time and fill-in.  I’m on a lot of Bay Area radio stations and have been able to hone my news writing and anchoring skills — and traffic skills. I’ve done this job for over a year, the pay is low, but it helps pay the bills, I’m in a union (SAG-AFTRA), so theoretically, I could audition for acting and voice over gigs.  And on the positive side, I work with some of the most professional people I’ve ever worked with in radio. I also host a video series for the website Truthout where I interview writers who contribute news and opinion pieces.  I host and produce the video and get paid for it (not much, though). I was trying to build a freelance writing career and had a brief gig with a site that focuses on classic rock, but I got cut from that job because of budget reasons.

So this is my so-called career. This is what I do for now. I know I have talent, I know that whatever job I do, I don’t half-ass it. I know that sometimes despite your best efforts, things don’t work out.  Yes, it’s depressing, it’s unfair, it seems like forces out of your control are aligned against you, and it gets very, very dark at times.

Even with all that, I remain hopeful that things will change in my favor and I find a place where I can find satisfaction (if not happiness) in a job that pays well — and lasts.

Middle class dreams…at this point in my life, that’s what I dream about.

Read Part One Here.

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