A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone with my old friend and colleague Francene Cucinello, a midday radio host on WHAS-AM in Louisville, Ky. She was less than a half-hour from going on the air when I mentioned that everybody I talk to these days is either looking for work or worried about losing their job. I said something offhand like, “You know, you should tell your listeners to call in if they have a decent job to offer.”
She saw the potential right away and launched it. The phones lit up and have not stopped. I asked her to give us some insight about this.
Al Tompkins: What is the need?
Francene Cucinello: I’ve been working in talk radio and television for 15 years. Like so many of us, I’ve been laid off several times. Guess you could say I’m an expert when it comes to knowing how emotionally and psychologically debilitating being unemployed is.
When unemployment figures for 2008 showed that 2.6 million people lost their jobs and [I saw news stories about] unemployment offices in my broadcast area being overwhelmed … I decided I needed to respond in a way that would help people.
While in college, my first radio job was at a station that aired a feature called “Trading Post.” People would call in and list things to buy, sell or trade. I turned that into “Radio Want Ads.” At first I wasn’t sure the segment would make good radio, but I gave it a shot.
How does it work? Do you have restrictions on who can post jobs?
Cucinello: On Fridays during my 10 a.m. hour, employers call in and give their company name, a brief description of open positions and contact info. Some also e-mail. I’ve featured IT, hospitality, clerical, warehouse, sales, retail, etc. I tell my audience I want to hear about “good jobs” — at least $8 an hour. That might seem a bit low to some people, but two major employers in Louisville offer entry-level positions starting at $8 an hour with full benefits and the potential for advancement within the companies. It’s honest work and a really good deal for somebody who can’t afford COBRA and has no insurance.
What has the response been?
Cucinello: The response has been TREMENDOUS. Unemployed listeners appreciate the service and companies use the opportunity to connect with talk radio listeners. The rest of my audience listens vicariously and has e-mailed in huge numbers complimenting me on the community service. People have commented that it’s good to hear jobs do exist. My bosses love the idea because it makes the station look really good. We’re going to repeat it for a while and we’ve launched a Web component: a special Web page with job listings and podcasts of my shows.
Last week a Kentucky station about 80 miles away started running its own jobs segment. That host said on the air, “another station in the state is doing this and we liked the idea.”
Cucinello: I’m producing a free seminar for jobseekers in mid-February at a local university. I expect 300 to 400 people. Today’s unemployed haven’t had to look for work in years. They don’t know how to cope or where to start. Their jobs just disappeared and today’s marketplace is radically different.
My seminar will feature speakers discussing topics, including using technology to land a job, handling an interview, selling yourself, managing money and mortgage during this time, how to know when going back to school is right and how to stay positive while job-hunting. My goal is to inform and empower attendees.
This is the kind of civic responsibility local radio (what few of us are left!) is supposed to demonstrate.
Thinking differently about help wanted ads
I wonder if newspapers could breathe new life into their classifieds by pushing them as a solution to people who are out of work. What would happen if, say, you offered free job listings for anybody who would hire five or more workers for $10 an hour? What if you ran a ticker on your Web site with jobs? What if newspapers and TV/radio stations created partnerships so the stations aired job ads that were placed in the paper?
What if, instead of closing a newscast with silly kicker stories, you closed with a video resume of a couple of viewers who need work and a couple of employers who need workers? Set up a camera at a mall and let people record their video resumes. Play the job seekers in one section of the newscast, play the employers in another segment. Collect all of the videos online in an index.
- What if you partnered with a company like Office Depot or Kinko’s and offered to help people type up resumes on a certain day?
- What if you worked with a local community college IT department and set up free Web sites for people looking for work? You could easily use Blogger, for example, and pump out sites.
I think we need to stop wringing our hands and show the public that media care. If we help a jobless person land a job, I don’t think that person will forget us.
Are you already doing something to help the jobless or the soon-to-be-jobless? Post the links in the comments section.