This is one of my favorite times of the year – March Madness and the spring book- yes, these are the tests that separate the winners from the wannabes, the pros from the pikers, and the champs from the chumps, whether it’s in radio or college hoops.
And for those of us who compete in the former “sport,” we’re on a constant mission to make ourselves smarter, to become better leaders, and to unlock the keys that will motivate our players – that is, our airstaff. I may not have actually programmed a radio station in many moons, but as a consultant, I get to study hundreds of PDs – their styles, their techniques, and their tricks. I see the brilliant, the banal, and everything in between.
As regular readers of this blog know perhaps too well, I often take inspiration from the sports world. (Yes, I’m probably a frustrated Sports Radio programamer at heart.) I love to learn from the best: John Wooden, Pat Riley, Chuck Daly, and all the other legends who excelled at motivating their troops to achieve greatness on the hardwood.
These days, I’m mesmerized by another coach – a 65 year-old guy who doesn’t make headlines and isn’t in the same category as iconic college coaches like Jim Boeheim, Coach K, Tom Izzo, and
Not your household NCAA big name mentor and strategist, right?
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Beilein’s the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, and has quietly held that post for a decade. No national titles yet, but he’s come close. And now he’s coming off back-to-back Big 10 championships, heading into the NCAA Tourney. I’m not making predictions, and history shows that filling out your bracket based on this post would be a catastrophic mistake. For all I know, for Michigan, it could come to a crashing end in the first round.
But that’s not the point. Beilein has methodically put together a resume of success based on a values system that is worthy of any high-achieving programmer. The more I think about Beilein, and what he’s accomplished, the more I believe he’s a person whose approach is worthy of emulation.
Here are the six things Beilein has brought to Michigan’s basketball program that apply directly to any of you holding jock meetings, making out weekend schedules, or working on your promotion calendars.
1. He studied his history
When Beilein came to Michigan, he didn’t start installing his “system” as so many coaches (and programmers) do. Instead, he read the Bible – in this case, that was legendary Michigan head football coach Bo Schembechler’s biography.
Why? Acording to Detroit Free Press columunist Shawn Windsor, Beilein “wanted to immerse himself in the University of Michigan culture. He also wanted to learn.”
We all can think of coaches – and P.D.s – who have truly made the rounds. Some have what I call “alphabet soup resumes,” having programmed in more than a dozen markets – and counting. But wherever you go, it’s important to understand and respect your brand – and what it means to fans.
Radio stations, like college teams, have a history, a story, a narrative. If you take the time to learn those lessons, you become a more effective leader.
2. He’s never stopped learning
Known as an offensive specialist, Beilein went out and hired a defensive expert last summer, Luke Yakich.
Beilein realized that while he had developed considerable skills after decades of coaching, his game had “holes.’ Hiring to his weakness – defense – provided a grizzled coach with the ability to learn new skills.
As he explained to Yakich, “I need to teach defense.” That self-awareness and the desire to continue sharpening his skills has helped put Beilein in a strong position this spring.
And so it is with programmers. Some are great with talent, others are music scheduling wizards, and a few excel at street promotions. But none possesses all these skills. Learning “new tricks” – or hiring staffers who can bring them to the station is a key to winning over the long haul.
3. He has built a foundation based on core values
In the Michigan locker room are five words on display that sum up what’s important to Beilein’s team ethos:
Passion. Integrity. Unity. Appreciation. Diligence.
And if you ask Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman from this year’s team, or Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Nik Stauskas from past Wolverine units what the team’s principles are all about – they know.
How many announcers, DJs, shows, and hosts can say the same about their PDs and their stations? There’s a lot to be said for carving your beliefs on the studio walls for all the world to see.
By the way, this is something that public radio has done brilliantly for decades. Thanks to PRPD (Public Radio Program Directors association), every programmer in the system knows those core values – the core values that have guided stations in markets from D.C. to Des Moines.
4. He underpromises and overdelivers
One of the reasons Beilein has flown under the radar is that his teams are almost always modestly ranked at the beginning of the year. While Michigan is an elite program, expectations are always high. But even the most ardent fans aren’t usually thinking national championship during the summer months in Ann Arbor.
Beilein’s signature rolled up sleeves is a sign of how he methodically delivers the goods. There’s no brag in this guy or lofty promises or even stated expectations – other than to get better.
Unlike so many programmers who have staked their reputations on making outrageous, bold, and bombastic claims, Beilein’s style of underpromising and consistently overdelivering just works.
5. He wins when it matters
No “summer book” wins for Beilein. He consistently puts it together in February and March, when it’s all on the line. Reading the rhythm of a season – or a rating period – is something the smartest coaches and programmers understand.
Getting wins and ratings when it really matters is the sign of a great team, a great station, and of course, brilliant leadership.
6. He runs a clean program
Michigan and Beilein have not attracted the elite, star players. Like those Apollo 13 astronauts, he has had to cobble together teams with the available parts on hand.
At a time when NCAA teams are in the spotlight for recruriting violations and sleazy rule-breaking, Beilein is committed to running a squeaky clean shop – and that actually takes pressure off the team. As freshman Jordan Poole told the Free Press, “We’ve got a coach who is obviously super clean….We don’t have to worry about things like that.”
The Atheltic’s Brendan Quinn reports how new assistant coaches are first instructed to read and review the existing rules as well as the new ones, and then write them out and email them to Beilein.
That process guarantees that if a coach commit a rules violation, the responsibility is solely on him.
You might consider this a bit draconian, but in an environment where lawyers are always in the midst, there have to be guidelines and standards.
Perhaps radio programmers aren’t in that same type of crosshairs, especially as the FCC turns its attention to other issues. But I can tell you that as program director for the old ABC, the rules handed down by our intrepid legal department were numerous, tough, but also clear.
It came down to the criteria for adding songs, the value of lunches we received from the labels, as well as other perks. At the time, many of us felt those regulations were onerous, but in retrospect, you always knew what you could and could not do. And that clarity was refreshing, as Jordan Poole reminds us.
So, good luck with your brackets, watch out for those “Cinderella teams,” and do your best to look busy in your cubicle or office when March Madness tips off with a vengeance next week.
And while the action will be focused on that fast-paced 5-on-5 slammin’ jammin’ action on the court, some of the best performances will be taking place on the sidelines as leaders like Beilein go through their paces.
I’ll be taking copious notes.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.