“Dear Program Director . . .”

Early in the life of this blog, it occurred to me that tales of my experiences in radio might be of interest to the readership, if there was any readership. This post is based on one that originally appeared on August 27, 2005.

Every week I get an e-mail newsletter for freelance writers. From time to time, the list manager includes what she calls “the world’s worst book proposals.” You might find it hard to believe that anybody would send such sloppy nonsense when making a serious inquiry about starting a business relationship. I don’t, because I have seen things just as bad, and occasionally worse.

In general, the hiring process sucks. Some people interview a lot better than they perform. (I’ve hired a couple.) Some people are interviewing with you solely as leverage against another employer they’d rather work for. (That also happened to me.) One of my stations paid for transportation and hotel to bring a candidate in for an interview, only to have her tell us when she arrived that she had already accepted another offer. (It turned out she had family in Iowa and scammed us for a free trip home.) Ultimately, you need to be right about the person you’re bringing in. If you’re wrong, at best you’ll have to go through the damnable process again, and at worst, you can damage your reputation within your own company.

And long before you get to the interview stage, you have to pick through the applications. Back in the day, I was amazed at the number of horrid packages I would receive from job-seekers. In the pre-word processor era, I got letters and resumés filled with typos and corrected with ink or pencil. I got Xeroxes of Xeroxes of Xeroxes. I got letters and resumés typed on lined notebook paper and/or pulled from spiral notebooks, fringed edge and all. I got letters and resumés containing employment histories with gaps of several years, or containing the names of references but no contact information for them.

The content of the cover letters was often questionable, too. Sometimes the letters were barely literate, and more than one was subliterate. Some candidates were as unsubtle as used-car salesmen, promising on-air work that would raise my ratings beyond the stratosphere and commercial production work that would make me six inches taller and more handsome. (This sort of pitch often came from people who were looking for their first job out of college.) And like the resumés, these letters were occasionally handwritten, hand-corrected, and/or obviously Xeroxed, generic letters with my name filled in after the salutation, or, even worse, with the generic salutation “Dear Program Director.”

But the people who took time to craft their cover letters could make an equally bad impression by pushing a good idea a little too far. People generally expect DJs to be a little bent, which gives us wide latitude for behavior. This often extends to cover letters, which can be a bit more flippant than they would be for other job applications in the working world. Letting a bit of your personality show in the cover letter can help get the recipient’s attention and make him want to listen to your aircheck tape. But it can backfire.

Years ago, I was hanging out in my boss’ office one slow afternoon when he asked if I wanted to see the applications that came in from other candidates for my job. In the stack was this letter, which read as follows, in its entirety:

On [such and such a date], I was fucked without the benefit of foreplay by my now-former employer. Hire me and I’ll deliver the female demographic.

Wrong in so many ways, yes, but strangely beautiful, too, for its economy of language, and for its bottomless impropriety. I’d like to think it created another ex-DJ-turned-used-car salesman, but I fear that somewhere, some other program director got that letter and thought, “Hey, that’s just the guy I’m looking for.”

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