Today, I arrive in Atlanta, communing with 500 attendees at Don Anthony's 29th annual Morning Show Boot Camp – most of them air personalities on stations and in markets that run the gamut. So this post comes with a certain amount of danger because I may have to actually defend my words in front of people who will definitely have opinions. Or perhaps to their program directors.
Today's post was appropriately spurred by Mike Stern, our top-notch consultant who among other things, spends a lot of time with air talent in coaching and aircheck sessions. He came up with the idea of reading an article in Psychology Today: “6 Pieces of Bad Advice We Give Our Kids.”
Here's an example of how they drew it up:
What we tell our kids: Play to your strengths
What we should be telling them: Make mistakes and learn to fail.
You get the idea. So, with a little twist on the theme, it turned itself into a look at the way talent is often coached and trained in radio. And perhaps it underscores some of the things personalities are told that simply aren't constructive or additive to their careers – or to our radio brands.
Now here's an important caveat. This post assumes you as a programmer, manager, or owner truly value the power and skills of your on-air personalities. In an environment where every song ever recorded fits on a device that fits in your pocket, and anyone can build their perfect playlist, radio's air talent are often the difference-makers that set stations apart.
So here are our “6 Pieces Of Bad Advice We Give Our DJs.”
What we tell DJs: Limit your breaks to :30. Don't risk losing a listener.
What we should be telling them: Talk as long as you're more entertaining than the next song.
Now obviously, every station has its own tolerance for talk – especially those that play music. But when breaks are mandated to not exceed certain lengths, we may be missing out on great opportunities for personalities to truly shine. John Gehron talked about this extensively in his Conclave speech last week. He created the format – his airstaff worked around and within it to make WLS a special station. Not much has changed.
What we tell DJs: Don't talk about yourself.
What we should be telling them: Use relatable, interesting life experiences to create content and build your brand.
Not everyone can be Steve Dahl, Howard Stern, or Tom Barnard. But it's the stories and the authenticity that people remember the most. I am still amazed when I moderate focus groups how people recount hearing a DJ talk about a personal incident or encounter that has stuck with them – sometimes for decades. That's what feeds loyalty for personalities – a factor that Pandora and Spotify simply cannot match.
What we tell DJs: The ratings are inaccurate and are unreliable.
What we should be telling them: I'll show you how the ratings work, and how the measurement system impacts our station and your show.
We become better and more professional when we're armed with knowledge. And in the case of the ratings – whether you're in a diary or a PPM environment – understanding the inner-workings of the system only serves to make you wiser and craftier. Learning the tactics and the tricks can help a personality create more occasions, ensure that commercial stopsets and other interruptions time out properly, and that the very best stuff airs when the most ears are available. Rather than denigrating the ratings, working with talent to better understand them is a much better path.
What we tell DJs: Read the liner card just that way it's written.
What we should be telling them: Here are the basic facts – find creative and relatable ways to communicate to them with entertainment value.
It's a skill to take bullet points and turn them into a compelling, interesting promo. But that's what the best personalities learn to do. Encouraging them to use their own words, work in the key points, and do it in a way that doesn't sound the same every time is where the art comes into play. Your benefits and positions will sound more credible and they'll be more memorable.
What we tell DJs: We're not playing that song – it's a stiff.
What we should be telling them: We conduct music research that's a barometer to how our audience feels about songs. Here's how the system works, so you understand why we play and why we don't play songs.
Taking the voodoo out of research – whether it's for your music or perceptual studies – can take the fear and mystery out of the equation. When the airstaff has a basic understanding about the data that leads to strategic decisions or even why this song was added and why that one was dropped. Giving DJs a better sense for why certain calls are made also leads to them respecting your procedures and systems, rather than them thinking it's arbitrary or totally subjective.
What we say to DJs: We're doing it because corporate/the consultant/the new owners are making us do it.
What we should be telling them: We're doing it because our team worked together to carve out this strategy. Let's give it a chance to work.
As a programmer, you may disagree with an edict, mandate, or strong suggestion about the format, the music, a promotion, or anything else that comes down from above. But to the airstaff, you have to own that strategy, rather than enabling and fostering an us vs. them mindset. Fight your battles with the powers that be on your own time, rather than dragging the airstaff into it or urging them to side with you. Angrily carrying out orders doesn't strengthen your management credibility or make you look any more important in their eyes.
So that's our dirty half-dozen. I'm betting both programmers and air talent can think of a few we've left out. But hopefully, your main takeaway here is to rethink the messages, communiqués, and other signal managers send to their airstaffs.
Our personalities are the most important pieces in our strategic puzzles. They set our brands apart, and drive loyalty. How we nurture, coach, and manage them can truly move the needle and make the difference between success and being an also-ran.
Now, I'm off to hang out with a few hundred of them at MSBC.
Join me, along with iHeartMedia's Chris Peterson, Cox Media Group's Tim Clarke, Entercom's Kim Reis, and Amplifi Media's Steve Goldstein for “New Skills For Survival,” tomorrow at MSBC.
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