No need to reinvent the wheel… but don’t be the dinosaur

Educators In the News

I started my career as an account executive. I helped create effective commercials and advertising schedules for clients. It will always be one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. Since then, I have always been the person in the room who looks up at the television during commercials and back down to my second screen when the show returns. Many years ago, one of the ads that caught my eye was a caveman chiseling a huge boulder into a wheel. The company promoted how important it was to have your great idea or inventions secured by an official patent. The creation of the wheel is synonymous with inventors because it represents a product that was created and is still used today.

We even use a phrase based on that historic achievement: “… no need to reinvent the wheel.” Over the past few years, I no longer use this phrase and I think we all should remove it from our lexicon. I believe it creates a mindset that will not allow our stations to provide a culture that is attractive to new graduates, and a product that can compete for decades to come.

First, let’s get on the same page. Cambridge University Press defines the phrase “to reinvent the wheel” as: “to waste time learning how to do something when it is already known how to do it.” I consider this a very accurate definition. We don’t want new employees wasting their time on systems we have already created. As industry leaders, we have accumulated an immense amount of knowledge and life experience over the years, which in turn, has helped created the blueprint our employees follow. We are leaders in our companies because we know how to do the job of broadcasting.

Before we pat ourselves on the back for past achievements, we would all agree we have many challenges confronting us. Replacing retiring engineers, finding account executives, developing digital revenue streams, securing journalists that seemingly make the jump from college to markets much bigger than our own, and the list continues. Add on the continued impact of COVID-19 on advertising revenue, newsrooms, and community wellbeing. Today’s broadcasters have challenges.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel, but all broadcasters need to be improving it. The most successful businesses in the world today took a product or service and made it better. They did not invent the product, but they improved it. In doing so, they made the original version obsolete. An ice box turned into a refrigerator. FedEx and UPS improved on the United States Postal Service. The list goes on and on, but what about local broadcasters? Did Sirius Radio or Spotify/Pandora make radio an Ice Box? Has YouTube TV and Netflix made local television USPS?


Rather than place our entire industry upon our shoulders, we all need to look for ways to improve the wheel in our markets. We must continue to evolve. One of the best ways we can improve our product is investing in employees and students who have a passion for broadcasting. We know this, but do our current company policies and procedures run against that goal?

We need to invest in new talent and forge relationships with local educators. We must eliminate the gap between what is happening in our buildings and what is happening in the classroom. We need to be mindful of our training and onboarding process. While all training revolves around getting new employees up to speed as quickly as possible, broadcasters must also create a process that allows for curiosity and self-expression. We need to allow the voice of our newest employee to be heard. Let’s not extinguish the burning desire of a new employee to be a broadcaster to fit an organization’s outdated culture.

Are you improving the wheel?

The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association continues to invest in students and young professionals through programs created by membership that will help create a better wheel. But ideas and investment will fall flat if members do not support these initiatives. The annual Student Seminar and student awards are a shining example of furthering outreach. Without support, these programs will not grow. Was your station present last year?

No defining moment has been bigger than COVID-19 on shinning the light on the need to eliminate the phrase “no need to reinvent the wheel.” Our entire industry is operating differently. Out of necessity, broadcasters in television have allowed on-air staff, producers, directors, and sales to all work from home. Radio stations have turned other workspaces into makeshift studios, while some have worked from home. These changes will change how our business operates in the future.

While I encourage improving the wheel, some organizations may need to do a little more chiseling to improve their wheel. Broadcasters must realize that greatest way to improve the wheel is by creating a culture that attracts new job candidates and enriches current employees. When a full-time employee leaves, have you ever thought about creating two part-time jobs for college students? You just created two prospects for a future full-time position. Be creative and think outside the box.

Broadcasters need to rediscover how to use a chisel. Nobody wants to become a dinosaur.

Don Vesely is the General Manager of WMTV-TV in Madison and a member of the WBA Education Committee.