The latest unemployment numbers reminded me of one of the ways in which radio can be an important resource in a community.
In 2009, as the Great Recession was flaring across the country and millions of people lost their jobs, my friend Francene Cucinello decided to be proactive. I had mentored her as she started her talk radio career and was pleased that, at the time, she was thriving as the highly-rated host of the 9am-Noon show on WHAS/Louisville.
Hearing about the pain of unemployment daily from listeners, Francene started a weekly feature on her show in which, every Friday for three hours, she opened up the phone lines so that companies could publicize their job openings. It didn’t take long for every line to be filled with calls from businesses big and small. Francene insisted their representatives give as much information as possible to make it easy for her listeners to apply for those jobs. She also urged them to contact her afterwards to report the results, and they did — for nearly every opening mentioned on her show, a qualified person was on the job within days.
The concept was similar to old-style Tradio or Yard Sale shows, except the commodity being offered wasn’t a used lawn mower or sleeper-sofa, it was a chance to earn a paycheck again. Even in an era when websites like Indeed, Monster, and CareerBuilder were helping with recruitment, Francene’s job-filling hours offered a direct, personal touch — an attribute only radio could offer. It was also the kind of service only a local show could pull off.
Her effort wasn’t just effective, it was also hugely popular, and not just with the unemployed. Some who already had jobs listened to hear about openings that might inspire them to change jobs or careers. Others told Francene they simply enjoyed hearing what was available, often passing the information along to neighbors or friends who hadn’t heard the show. I witnessed it myself when I filled in for her whenever she took a day off during that span.
Today, as America again suffers through an economic crisis, it would great if other local radio hosts resurrected Francene’s idea and helped alleviate the unemployment pain so many of their listeners are suffering through.
There’s a caveat, though. In the 10+ intervening years, most talk radio has turned hyper-conservative, which means many hosts wouldn’t want to emphasize joblessness, because it reflects negatively on the Liar-In-Chief they want to re-elect. Also, talk radio stations (especially those on AM) have driven away listeners under 65, meaning much of the audience is already out of the workforce.
Still, if properly executed, I believe the concept could still work, which is why, in Francene’s memory, I offer it as a free gift to hosts in any daypart who want to make a difference — and fill lots of airtime, too.
Postscript: After a six-and-a-half-year run in Louisville, Francene suddenly became very ill and died in January, 2010 (here’s the obituary I wrote). Her on-air successor didn’t continue the Help Wanted shows.