(By Tracy Johnson) With the number of managers, executives, and hosts we talk to on a daily basis, great questions pop up all the time from the people doing radio’s heavy lifting. And when that happens, we turn to the experts we know are going to give us the best advice possible. Tracy Johnson is president and CEO of the Tracy Johnson Media Group. We stockpiled your questions, shipped them off to Tracy, and he delivered the kind of information you’re going to want to print out and tape to your studio window.
Radio Ink: When market managers nows they have to make an on-air change, how should they start looking, confidentially?
Johnson: Ideally, management would have already identified options before the on-air change is a certainty. I once worked for a manager who had identified a replacement for every single person on the staff. It wasn’t to intimidate the team, but was simply good management, so they weren’t scrambling if an air personality left or a change was necessary.
The best solution is to nurture a deep bench internally. When a chang is necessary, talent is already in-house and ready to step up. This also fosters a consistent culture and can be highly motivating when opportunities for internal growth are a reality. If the station is part of a group, a “farm club” should be in place, with a formal training process
designed to recruit and develop talent in smaller markets. It’s amazing to me that more companies haven’t developed a training program, or at least a set of standards and guidelines to improve performance in
smaller markets while developing their next large-market stars. If they do this, when an opening comes up, potential replacements have already been identified, and the management team knows a great deal about those candidates.
And third, managers should constantly track potential talent at other stations, even developing relationships for potential opportunities. A group PD, consultant, or talent coach can be a huge benefit in such a situation. Managers should never be in a position of having to start from scratch when a major talent change is needed.
RI: If someone says something inappropriate on the air, and it’s
a host that gets great ratings but the community backlash is building, what should a GM do?
Johnson: Responding to sensitive comments on the air is subjective and can only be addressed on a case-by-case basis, but there
are some things stations should have in place that can help them make those decisions when problems arise.
Every station should have a clear and thorough understanding of the audience, taking into account community standards and station goals. With many of my clients, we build a detailed target-listener composite.
This profile is based on audience lifestyle, tastes, behavior, values, and point of view. Then we develop a show mission statement that acts as a guide for how our personalities fit into the listener composites’ lives. After that, we develop each personality’s character profile.
Together, these steps result in a fairly clear picture of what is appropriate and what is not. Talent develops an understanding of where the line of good taste is drawn. When problems arise, we can evaluate the community backlash based on whether the personality’s
comment was consistent with the strategy we developed. If it wasn’t, we can take corrective steps to apologize and respond appropriately.
If the comment is in line with the profile, a different response is in order. Perhaps the strategy needs to be adjusted, or it could be
that the response is a short-term negative but a long-term benefit. It all depends on the situation.
Listener complaints are not always, or even usually, a bad thing. Virtually every strong air personality that generates strong response causes complaints. The management challenge is determining if those
complaints are valid and merit corrective response or not.
RI: Is lame voicetracking ruining radio?
Johnson: Lame anything hurts radio. Voicetracking is a great tool that can make stations better. The biggest problem, though, is when voicetracking is used as an efficiency tool only (or mostly) to save costs and allow already overworked talent to add even more tasks to their job description.
I’m not at all against voicetracking, but am against bad radio or generic talent presentation. A seldom-discussed effect of voicetracking
is that talent is often disconnected from the listening environment. They’re not listening to the songs, paying attention to the
promos or production elements. The result is the station becomes a collection of somewhat disconnected parts. We lose some of the
warmth and intimacy that isn’t always measurable, but is felt. That has an impact on the listening experience. The bottom line is that
voicetracking is fine, as long as we use the technology as a tool to create better listener experiences.
RI: In your opinion, how many spots is too many on a music station?
Johnson: There will come a time that radio must re-evaluate the business model of selling blocks of time to advertisers to deliver a message to an audience that has been conditioned to tune out or ignore the message. That time may be near. Programmers are chasing ratings by clustering commercials in positions that “do the least damage,” often stacking far too many spots in a strategy to reduce the number of tuneout occasions. This is a strategy designed to compete with other radio stations, but the problem is that the advertising world, and entertainment options available, go far beyond our station-vs.-
station ratings battles.
Think about it this way: Radio has two customers, listeners and advertisers, and the goals of satisfying each audience are at conflict
in our current model. The larger question is how we can be more effective in attracting a larger audience that tunes in more often and for longer periods of time, then introduce them to offers they’re interested in from the other customer, advertisers.
That’s a long answer to a short question of how many spots is too many. But when you take into account the listener experience, and outside the competitive radio jockeying to gain an advantage against other stations, it’s a very different answer. Radio stations lose quarter-hours, attention, and opportunity whenever a listener tunes out,
or does not tune back in. That loss may be to another radio station, but it’s also to television, YouTube, video games, online streaming
services, podcasts, and dozens of other sources of entertainment. Airing fewer commercials than our radio competitor or playing
a 45-minute block of commercial-free music may (or may not) be effective against another radio station, but those tactics are no longer
a major benefit to listeners who evaluate their choices against satellite services that play no commercials on their music stations
or a streaming provider that plays no (or very few) commercials at all.
Tracy Johnson is the founder of the Tracy Johnson Media Group. He is a programming and promotion consultant and talent coach, and made the list of Radio Ink‘s list of the Best Program Directors in America. Reach out to Tracy at tracy@tjohnson