GMs: You Need To Know What The PDs Know – Pt. 1


(By Jon Quick) This article is meant for general managers who have a sales rather than programming background, or for general managers that think they know programming or who were programmers a century ago.*

* Both of whom might be very dangerous to work with. This also may be of value to young or veteran programmers who want to brush up on basic skills. Or this might be something to share with new announcers after they have learned to run the board and read the log. Too often their training ends there and they are let loose. In fact, this should come first. Anybody can learn the mechanics but let’s find out if he/she has what it takes to be a personality first. 

Ahem. Now let’s get this straight. No one is saying that general managers don’t know much about programming. There are exceptions.

This piece is for those general managers who are humble enough to want to learn about what a great programmer does all day to make those ratings soar and the revenue busting all the projections. These are usually the kinds of managers that leave their PDs alone and aren’t dictatorial about something they know little about. 

This piece is also for those general managers who want some help in making sure their PDs are doing what they are supposed to be doing, but they are not sure what that is. 

Another disclaimer: This is hardly meant to be a comprehensive guide to programming. Yet, it’s a collection of some of the things that often are not stressed enough in “basic training.” No matter what the format. Unless you’re automated or forced to take that “great” non-local progamming ordered by some corporate boss in a far away land. You know the guy. He’s never even been to your market. 

I call the following Q’s 6Ps (for Great Radio Brand Performance). 

They are:   |
1 Preparation.
2. Promotion now.

3. Performance.
4. Promotion again.
5. Platforms.
6. Profits. 

Success cannot be achieved without PD and talent involvement in each of the areas.

I know that if these guidelines are followed, you are going to have a much more compelling brand; one that is more successful for both listener and advertiser appeal.

Notice the word “brand.” Today, it is essential to think of radio as not only the station but as a brand; one that fully utilizes the 360-degree platform of options we have to distribute our content these days, including the station, but also Web and streaming, podcasts, social media, email blasts, and even things like severe weather and breaking news alerts to smart phone users. 

Realize that millennials may never use the station. More likely they will find us in other ways and listen on demand. What’s young? Older than it used to be. It’s a new world. And it is here. I know you’ve heard that before, but have you really graduated to running the radio “station of today?  

Let’s start with something that is still foreign to some. And you wonder why the ratings are down?

You can’t have a great show without great preparation. Some consultants say you should put in an hour of prep for every hour on-the-air. I don’t say that, especially for smaller markets where we all have to wear several hats. But doing less than adequate preparation is not good, and it shows on-the-air. It’s like being naked. Do as much prep as you need to do to produce a great show. You be the judge. Or the ratings will. 

In the major markets, many shows have the luxury of producers, although with the economics of the business, more and more have reduced the number of them and many large market personalities do what you do — produce their own shows. 

Hit The Target
We need to know who’s listening. Check your Nielsen report. It’s there in the audience composition section. Unranked market? Do your own survey. Team up with a school or college.

I’d bet you have access to some qualitative data on your audience; data that is perhaps normally used for sales purposes. But it can be just as valuable to give to on-air talent. Another source is to look at demographic information from the census. Or from your local Chamber of Commerce.

Also, just be aware of the hot issues around town. Talk to people. Listen to them. Get their concerns and interests. Ask them to submit ideas on your website or via email. Make them part of the team. 

Even if don’t have regular Nielsen measurement to find out specifics on audience composition and when they listen,  a simple and basic rule of thumb: Do your best stuff where the audience is the largest. Mornings, no doubt. Concentrate on getting people to listen. Then get them to listen longer. Build it through better programming. No brainer, right?

Not enough programmers strategically schedule their promos. Take a cue from the sales guys. Schedule promos as commercials are scheduled — where you get the most reach and frequency for the show or personality being promoted. 

Do more compelling teases. This is where many stations fail. I call it “the art of the compelling tease.” It’s a talent to develop that is as key as producing great programming. Realize you don’t have long to capture and keep a listener. Losing a listener is as easy as pushing a button.

Once that target is established, everything we do should be directed to that target, whether male, female, or both. Every record, every topic, every news story, every promo,  everything we do should be relevant to that target. It doesn’t go on the air unless it passes the target test. What age is your super hyper-target. 25? 35? 45? Find a picture of that person. Programmers and on-air people should hang it near the desk where they do prep. Put a headline on top, saying: DO THEY CARE?

Then, find out everything they are interested in. What websites they use? What TV shows and movies do they watch? What music do they download? Other items might be: health, family, kids, financial, where they go on vacation, where they live, what they drive, what they read, what sports they like, concerns and fears, etc., etc., etc. 

Topics Playlist
Compile a “playlist” that appeals to your target. It’s a “topics” playlist for spoken-word stations. You can’t imagine a music station without a music playlist, right? The list, of course, will continue to change and evolve every day. Don’t play things that you alone are interested in. Consider audience first. Does it matter to them? If so, go for it.

What’s your rotation? Decide how often you rotate your music or topic. In the case of News/Talk, there are those rare occasions where one topic might take up the whole show — if, for example, a major industry decides to leave the area, leaving hundreds jobless. There are times when a song will be played at least once a hour. 

Generally, though, you will work with a variety of topics each day. 

Understand, too, that it’s OK to repeat topics, bits, or benchmarks. (Much more on benchmarks coming right up.)

Realize your audience changes. If something works well in the 6 a.m. hour, it’s OK to repeat it in the 8 a.m. hour. It’s also OK to play back an excerpt of something that was great radio the day before. In fact, I encourage it. 

Remember, also, if there was a “magic moment” that happened earlier in the day on another show, play it again. Or work it into a promo. “In case you missed it this morning… etc.” It’s up to the various hosts to work together to share great pieces for this type of usage.  

Even News/Talk Could Benefit From A Music List
If you are spoken word, another way to relate to your target is through the style of your station production and imaging. We should be playing at least some of the music that was most important to our target during their younger “music radio” days — whether you play whole songs, or just excerpts. 

If we are on target to build more of the 45-something listener base, arguably it’s the Classic Hits of the era from about 1968 into the 80s. In the case of a small market, though, you have more freedom to go back further.

Our re-joiner music (after commercial breaks) and show themes should also feature some  of the same. Of course, we’re just talking about “snips” of these songs, generally 20 seconds or less. A more mature audience probably still listens to some music radio, but they now have a button or two on their car radio for Talk. So, give them a little spice as they graduate to spoken word — give them a touch of the music they love. 

Use music topically. Example: On a hot summer day, return from break with “Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly and the Family Stone. Or relate it to your topic. How many stations used The Beatles When I’m 64 on the day Paul McCartney really did turn 64?   

And, yes, use music in newscasts, where appropriate. Back to that hot summer day, open the news with “Summer in the City” by Lovin’ Spoonful. Or, on the first day of summer I heard a news station open news cold with a bit of Nat King Cole and “(Roll Out Those) Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.”

It’s amazing how this type of music usage can energize your content and, further, help you  relate  to that target. 

Let’s also not forget the use of “nat sound” on the radio. If you’re in Fargo and it’s the middle of January, you might start the news with the sound of a blizzard. Or someone shoveling stone. Or a car that won’t start. Or the sqeaky sound of rubber boots on snow.

That’s all for today and Part 1.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this story from Jon Quick tomorrow!

Jon Quick has programmed great radio stations for CBS and Emmis, among others. Today he consults many radio brands and owns a public relations and advertising agency. Jon can be reached at 317-432-0309 or [email protected] 


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