How To Build A Great Radio Team

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Kurt Luchs is the Market Manager for NRG Media in Wausau-Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He’s also been chosen as one of Radio Ink’s Best Managers for 2017 and will be featured in the October 9 issue of Radio Ink Magazine. Luchs is responsible for four NRG FMs in his cluster: WHTQ (Top 40), WYTE (Contemporary Country), WBCV (Variety Hits), and WGLX (Classic Rock), and he leads about 30 NRG employees. During the nomination process, here’s what one of those employees said about him, and it’s what every manager hopes for.

“Kurt Luchs refuses to slow down. His commitment to his community and his employees shows in his drive to succeed in every facet he applies himself. Kurt encourages innovation through empowerment. He stands by his own instincts and the instincts of those who work beside him. His sense of humor can take the sting out of a tough day and his propensity to share what he knows is steadfast. I’ve been in radio for 20 years and at this particular group for over 13, and I can say that I’ve never worked with a more knowledgeable and sincere manager. We are very pleased (and “Luchy”) to have Kurt Luchs at the helm.”

Here’s our extended interview with one of radio’s best managers, NRG Media’s Kurt Luchs.

Radio Ink: How did you get into the radio business?
Kurt Luchs: Before I got into radio I had already had a whole career as a writer, editor, and manager in publishing. Writing for the Onion and other humor outlets helped me to land several TV comedy writing jobs (for Politically Incorrect and the Late Late Show), which led to my first radio gig writing for the Complete Sheet in 2000, which led to a staff writing position with the prep service American Comedy Network that same year. By 2002 I was running ACN, my first radio management job, and was able to lead the team there in a turnaround. That caused NRG Media to headhunt me to salvage Waitt Radio Networks, one of their properties at the time, though it didn’t fit their business model. I turned that around too, enabling them to sell it at a profit, but that essentially meant I had worked myself out of a job. I spent the next five years managing local radio markets and in one case a regional radio company, eventually working my way back to NRG, now armed with experience to run one of their clusters, which I wasn’t really qualified to do in my first go-round with them. I’ve been General Manager of their Wausau-Stevens Point, Wisconsin operation since May 2013.

Radio Ink: How have you been able to achieve the success you have so far in radio?
Kurt Luchs: Understanding that no matter what anyone tells you, every situation is a turnaround situation. And everything comes down to building the team. You can be a good manager, which is rare enough, or a good leader, which is rarer still, but without good people you will never achieve anything. So the first task is always assessing the team and then making the necessary changes. Often that involves moving people around or promoting and empowering them. Or it may require moving some of them out and starting over. This is the agonizingly slow part, because good people are uncommon and not usually lining up in droves to work in radio. At the same time you have to be changing the culture from a losing to a winning mentality, with not much more to go on than a vision at the early stages. You have to find a way to generate hope and then fulfill that hope. Just caring is the best overall strategy because if a team is downtrodden it will be so unexpected and welcome. That is the beginning of a healthy change.

Radio Ink: Who mentored you, and what did they do to help you succeed?
Kurt Luchs: Edie Hilliard was my mentor at American Comedy Network. She was smart and passionate about the industry and very demanding. She also empowered me to run ACN the way I saw fit. Every time I have managed to turn something around, it was because the bosses allowed me to do it my way. Every time I was micro-managed or stifled, it backfired. I never stayed at jobs like that for long. During both of my tenures with NRG Media, my boss COO Chuck DuCoty has been my most important mentor in radio. He loves the business, he knows every aspect of it so his counsel is always valuable, and he has a novel idea: hire good people and then let them do their jobs, with full corporate support. He has a similar relationship with our President/CEO Mary Quass, the visionary leader of our company. Come to think of it, I have spent a lot of time in radio working at woman-led firms, and I’m all the happier for it. This is a company where everybody has a chance to rise.

Kurt Luchs and his NRG Wisconsin team.

Radio Ink: What do you expect from the people you manage?
Kurt Luchs: Their best. Dedication and passion, for starters. If you don’t really care, why are you here? Willingness to change and to embrace change, because it’s coming whether you embrace it or not. Here in the Wausau-Stevens Point NRG cluster we’ve managed to retain or attract an incredible team of people who love what they do and whose enthusiasm is infectious. There is a lot of laughter here every day, and we never view that as a waste of time. Again, if you’re not having fun, why are you here? Part of the fun is trying many new things and having some of them work out. We’ve managed to get into digital sales in a big way, because NRG made a significant investment in this area at the corporate level. How often does that happen? Thanks to making better use of all the talents available on the team, we recently started doing video production, still photography, and social media management for our clients — all things we never did before this year. And corporate has backed our plays in each of these areas. We have real freedom to experiment and take reasonable risks.

Radio Ink: When do you know you have a great employee who has the potential to become a manager?
Kurt Luchs: Responsibility and attention to detail are always a good sign. Total honesty, always. Intellectual curiosity, asking questions and coming up with creative answers are also promising indicators. Caring about the needs of the customer and the listener, as well as the team and the company, and being willing to put those things first shows maturity regardless of chronological age. Confronting problems head on instead of avoiding them or trying to hide them. Not surprisingly, these are the chief characteristics of our leadership team: Business Manager Laura Treul, Operations Manager Tony Waitekus, and Director of Sales Aleese Fielder. The simple fact is that whatever success we have had in this market is due largely to them and the teams that they lead by example. New managers emerge naturally from an environment like that.

Radio Ink: What is the number one challenge you face every day as a manager, and how are you overcoming it?
Kurt Luchs: Recruiting is my number one job and also my number one challenge. The hard truth is that the world is not overflowing with exceptional people automatically longing to work in a legacy medium like ours. Those of us who know it and love it are well aware that radio remains a remarkably strong and vibrant industry more than a century after its birth. Yet that is not always the face that radio presents to potential job seekers. From the top down at NRG we aspire to be a destination company — the kind of workplace where people want to spend a big part of their career. Whether I’m hiring for programming or administrative or sales positions, my first task is make sure this cluster has an attractive culture where people feel they can make a difference and achieve their goals while having fun. Salespeople are always the toughest hires because good ones are so exceptional in any industry, not just radio. To find such candidates we will look anywhere and everywhere and use every tool at our disposal. The recruitment ads we run on our own stations reflect the destination company angle. We also use Media Staffing Network to source potential hires, and they have been very helpful. And again, I am fortunate to have the best DOS I’ve ever seen, Aleese Fielder. Every candidate has to make it past her and also past the entire sales team. I never impose a hire on them. Decisions must be unanimous. It isn’t foolproof but it does weed out a lot of bad or mediocre candidates. We make fewer hires than most sales teams and they tend to stick. We knew we were on the right track when some folks who used to work here came back, having heard of the positive changes.

Radio Ink: Tell us what your biggest/most proud moment at the station or cluster was over the past 12 months.
Kurt Luchs: NRG Media challenged each of its markets to meet a set of “stretch” revenue goals for 2016. This team jumped at the challenge and made it over every hurdle. Those goals really were a stretch and they achieved every one of them with some fancy footwork and teamwork involving sales, programming, and everybody pulling together. It was a great bonding experience, with bonuses for everyone at the end of it. I think that’s when our new team identity became fully realized.

Radio Ink: What does it take to be a strong and successful manager in radio today?
Kurt Luchs: A good company above you and a good team around you. I could add a bunch of verbiage and nonsense but that is the essence of it right there.

Reach out to Kurt to congratulate him on being one of Radio’s Best Managers Kurt Luchs kluchs@nrgmedia.com. And CLICK HERE to subscribe to this issue in time to have it downloaded to your favorite device.

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