Why Do Radio Stations Struggle To Hire New Sellers?


(By Laurie Kahn) For years, owners and operators of radio stations have told me how they struggle to find sellers. Not only do they have a hard time attracting new sellers, but often, when there is a bite and a new hire is made, they don’t stick around long. Ouch, how frustrating — and time-consuming and sometimes a financial loss too.

In this time of low unemployment, the lowest in five decades, it is hard to attract, hire, and retain sellers, and it isn’t going to get any easier. With Boomers retiring at a fast pace, and newer generations expected to have much shorter tenure in any job, you cannot continue to hire as you have in the past. The days of having a long list of prospects waiting for an opening at your station are gone.

With different goals, education, and skill sets, the younger generations want different things in a job than their parents and grandparents desired and accepted. Gone are the days of hiring a seller and offering a 90-day guarantee and then moving them onto 100% commission. Many of you in the radio industry have done a great job of extending those security periods to better attract, hire, and retain new sellers. Kudos to you. But we still need to see more changes to better compete in the hiring game.

I continue to hear from hiring managers that they “really need someone in media” to fill their sales jobs. I get it. It is much easier to hire someone who understands the business and can hit the streets running — they may even bring a book of business with them. No training needed, a manager can focus on other areas that need attention. Unfortunately, for those owner-operators in mid-size to smaller markets, it is mostly unrealistic.

There are several reasons why this is unrealistic. Firstly, many media companies have non-competes. It can be time-consuming and costly to buy-out contracts. And quite honestly, if they leave a competitor to join you, what are the odds that they leave you when another, better list is available? Trust me, all media companies, and companies in other industries, are researching and coming after any talented seller in town, so luring away a job jumper may mean a shorter tenure in the long run. Secondly, in some markets there just aren’t enough media outlets from which to steal. With a limited pool, it is harder to entice someone away. Thirdly, when you hire “job seekers,” they often will not last long — again, usually they will be looking for their next gig. They can easily be stolen just when they are starting to bill enough to cover their guarantee. You are much better off hiring from referrals or people you have identified, courted, and built a relationship with before they start working for you.

Several months ago, Radio Ink published one of my articles where I encouraged readers to “open their parameters” and look out of the box. Forget about hiring “only media sellers,” as it will take you much longer to fill open positions. If you don’t have time to train new sellers yourself, then invest in a training program — there are many available in radio, starting with the RAB, and many awesome sales trainers who offer programs to help an experienced seller learn the language of radio. If your excuse is to not hire anyone outside of media is that your managers don’t have time to train, you will eventually realize that the amount of time and money spent looking, along with accounts that aren’t getting attention, is costing you much more than hiring out of the box with an experienced seller, who may have great contacts in your community but just needs to learn how to sell radio. It can be done.

Below are some examples where I have seen great success with hiring outside of radio:

  • A town of approximately 30,000, the station’s first hire out of the box – a copier repair person. He knew everyone in town and brought in three new pieces of business in his first week. He is now a Director of Digital.
  • A town of closer to 70,000 hired a manager of a mall-based mattress store. He joined the station and quickly grew into the GM position.
  • A Regional Manager in the Northwest states that he doesn’t want to hire more “media sellers,” he wants people from different industries to bring different knowledge, contacts, and potential business to his team.
  • A manager of a car dealership who went under, landed at a radio station, and within months was the DOS.
  • A town of 19,000, hires someone from the Chamber of Commerce who has great contacts and can easily open doors at multiple businesses.

I can go on and on with proven stories of hiring outside of media. It does work. Those of you who are limiting yourselves to a smaller universe of prospective sellers will continue to find it challenging. It really is time to start opening parameters and to consider pursuing talented sellers in your community.

Laurie Kahn is the creator and founder of Media Staffing Network. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


  1. I’ve said it for decades…hire someone local who know people in the market. Make sure that they have enough income to support themselves until their list grows enough to support them. It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense.


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