Beals: In world of Internet, caution is crucial

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Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 3:21 pm, Wed May 21, 2014.

There’s an old saying in the radio business meant to teach new disc jockeys and talk-show hosts while serving as a reminder for the grizzled veterans:

“The microphone is always on.”

It’s actually more of a warning than a saying.

Before and after shows, and during commercial breaks, the producer typically turns off the microphones inside the radio studio. This allows the jocks, hosts and guests to relax, catch their breath and get ready for the next program segment. Of course, these breaks also provide an opportunity for discussion, joking around and off-the-record comments.

That’s where that old cautionary saying comes in.

Sometimes you might think the microphone is off, but it’s really on. Such an assumption can lead to a devastating error if you drop a four-letter word, expose a secret or utter some nasty piece of gossip.

What does this mean for you if you never plan to venture near a radio studio?

Well, in our hyper-connected, socially engaged world of 2014, we are always near a metaphorical “microphone.” Old-time radio cautions have some application with the Internet.

In the broadcasting business, they call it a “hot mic,” short for “hot microphone.” Other names include “open mic,” “stuck mic” or simply “microphone gaffe.”

Countless politicians, business executives, celebrities and radio personalities have been burned by the hot mic. Careers have been destroyed and political candidacies abruptly ended because someone said something stupid or hurtful when they assumed nobody was listening.

I have been hosting live radio shows for 10 years and like to think I’m pretty careful, but I’ve experienced the hot mic — only once, and it wasn’t too bad, but I was still embarrassed. You’ve got to be careful. If you ever find yourself in a radio studio, say only things that won’t get you in trouble if they accidentally go out over the airwaves for millions to hear.

It’s the same with social media. If you think about it, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and all the other social media platforms are like a radio studio. At any moment, you have the power to push a few buttons and instantly make your message available for millions of people.

If your message is particularly controversial or humiliating, it might even go viral! God forbid.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not advocating a muted career of excessive caution. On the contrary, today’s noisy world requires us to be out in the discussion arena. We need to express ourselves, constantly communicating, sharing ideas and building our brands.

It’s better to risk a hot-microphone moment than to stay away from the microphone altogether. Just practice some discretion.

Before you say or write something, ask yourself if you would still communicate it if millions were listening to you on the radio or watching you on television. Essentially, they are. Social media can be even more powerful than the traditional broadcast media. People are always listening, always watching, so remember ...

The “microphone” is always on.

Jeff Beals is an Omaha author and speaker who can be reached at

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