The Coaches Of Programming


(By Mike McVay) This past Tuesday, I was the guest on a worldwide webinar with well-known Talent Coach Tracy Johnson, in regard to how PDs should approach coaching talent.

I’ve done a number of these sessions over the last couple years, but this one was unique in that Tracy and I have both been On-Air, Program Directors, Market Managers and are Consultants whose services include coaching talent. We’ve both had major talent working with us during our time as PDs and continue to do so as consultants.

The conversation, for the most part, went like this:

Johnson: How important is it for PDs to coach their talent?
McVay: Talent are very important, and every station that isn’t a music machine, needs a Radio Star. If you want your station to be successful, then you have to help your talent to be successful.

Johnson: What are some of the biggest mistakes programmers and managers make with talent?
McVay: There are several:
1) Thinking that they’re better than the talent.
2) Defining parameters with negatives.
3) Not giving a reason “why” they want the talent to do something special.
4) Failure to make the talent a priority when they work with them.

Johnson: Aside from a shortage of time, why are personalities under-coached today?
McVay: Too many PDs are “King/Queen DJ’s and not true PD’s.” Some are afraid of the talent. Some fail to be a filter and they share directly criticism that comes from people who’ve never done the job before. At the risk of getting some programmers into trouble, you don’t need to share every complaint that comes from the Market Manager. Share the one’s that directly impact their performance, and advertiser or the ratings.

Johnson: What is the difference between coaching and managing?
McVay: It’s a Push Versus a Pull situation. Managing is the Push …directing, guiding and hoping (Tug Boat Captain). Coaching is encouraging, listening and understanding. It’s collaborative. It’s a Pull versus a push. It’s like, before it was called a “Coaching Session” it was a “Critique Session.” Being critiqued is negative.

Johnson: What are the most essential skills a coach needs to successfully get the most from talent?
McVay: In my opinion, they are:
1) Knowledge – Understand ratings, what makes some talent great and others not, and learn from that.
2) Experience – Don’t practice on a superstar. Training wheels. Learn from experience. I was blessed at 25 to be a PD at a Top-40 station in Los Angeles. The air-staff were all more seasoned than me. They taught me how to be a good programmer.
3) Great Communication Skills – Be clear. Be precise. Explain properly and fully.
4)Great Listening Skills – Make the talent a priority. Hear what they’re saying. Pay attention.
5) A Global Perspective – A worldly view is helpful.
6) Patience – I learned patience from my parents. You have to give people time to make changes.
7) Hesitate to say NO. There’s always time to say no. Can I accomplish what the talent wants, and satisfy what I want, without damaging the product? If not, then NO is the answer.

Johnson: Agree or disagree….Few great coaches were great “players” and why is that?
McVay: Well … in my case, it was about the money. If I was a great morning talent, I would have preferred to stay on-the-air, be a great talent and be paid greatly. In my case, I was a good talent, and had good ratings where I did mornings, but I wasn’t #1. Top-3, yes, but not #1. It just turned out that I could make more money as a Program Director. I agree that few great players become great coaches … but I think a part of it is also how they apply themselves. Great players are mono-focused on their performance. It’s the same way with great talent. There are exceptions, but they’re few.

Johnson: How can broadcasters develop or acquire these skills?
McVay: A programmer who allows his ego to be bigger than the stations, and larger than the personalities, will never be truly successful. I’ve always tried to think about the audience. Everything is for the audience. Hire talent who want to entertain, who think about the audience 24/7, and who will do almost anything to win. Some of what we’re talking about can be learned, but some of it is in a person’s DNA. The education part is reading everything you can get your hands on. The trades, management books, YouTube videos of Ted Talks, follow media’s thought leaders & innovators on social media, cruise through Clubhouse and look for rooms to visit and learn.

Johnson: How can programmers avoid “familiarity bias”, which skews their perception of the performance of a personality based on their personal feelings about them (good or bad) on and off the air?
McVay: That’s a tough one. I’ve worked with talent I like and it becomes easy to like everything they do. Same with working with talent I disliked and it’s too easy to dislike everything they do. My stance has been that all that matters is the ratings. If the talents rating performance is poor, you have to be objective and work with them to improve their performance. If the talent’s ratings are great, you have to be objective and help them get the tools they need to succeed. I can tolerate a lot of “stuff” to be number one. If that means that I am a mercenary, then so be it.

Johnson: A key part of working with talent is building toward a goal…what are examples of effective goals a coach/PD could set?
McVay: It depends on what you want to accomplish. I love the Kenneth Blanchard book “The One Minute Manager.” The three aspects are One Minute Reprimand, One Minute Praising and One Minute Goal Setting. I don’t believe that any talent wakes-up in the morning with an objective to ruin the PDs day that day.

Johnson: What is your recipe of success for working with talent?
McVay: I always start with trying to understand who they are, what they stand for, what they believe the shows objectives & goals are. What do they think they do well and what do they think they could do better? You have to trust the talent and they have to trust you. Respect is a two-way street that’s important, too.

I’ll ask who they grew up listening to on the radio, and how did that influence them in their style and performance. What jobs did they have that they loved and what jobs did they have that they didn’t love … and WHY for both. You have to know who the talent is, and what they want to do, before you can start offering suggestions.

Then I look for what they do well and explain why I think it’s what they do well … followed by what I think they could do better and why I feel that way. I look for stories, examples, parables, and audio-visual tools, to help me explain what needs to be explained.

You can hear the entire interview by visiting Tracy Johnson Media Group at

Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]


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