Ask Anyone On The ‘Street’ Team: Mental Health Matters


(By John Shomby) A few weeks back, Elmo from Sesame Street did something simple that unexpectedly created a heartfelt dialogue around the world. You probably saw his post on “X” (I still call it Twitter, frankly): “Elmo is just checking in. How is everybody doing?”

Normally, these questions come and go in regular conversation but not on this day. This was THE Elmo asking how we were doing! 17,000-plus replied with a variety of comments and answers, most of which were very personal and concerning, yet therapeutic. Other Sesame Street residents, seeing the replies, weighed in. Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Bert all said they were there for us.

The entire event underscored the ongoing mental health issue we have in our country right now. Just look at the replies to the post.

Living in Nashville, I have the privilege of attending lots of special musical events – especially an abundance of songwriter rounds. I cannot remember the last one I attended where a songwriter did not refer to some bout with depression or anxiety at some time in their life.

That conversation is growing in radio, too. I’ve seen, more times than ever, air personalities and programmers taking “mental health breaks” from their jobs. We can push the blame on the pandemic but, I believe, that just brought this issue out into the open. It’s been there for longer than that. 

How important really is that number one song? How crucial really is it to make that monthly revenue projection? How vital are those ratings for your station or cluster? We are paying the price for our ambitions. Yes, we should have them but if Elmo taught us anything with his post, folks have a lot more on their minds than just their job performance.

The radio manager’s job is getting more complicated as it is, but this issue sends it to a whole new level. The well-being of the staff should take precedence over any other management responsibility. Without a mentally healthy staff, everything else won’t matter.

This week, Country Radio Seminar is recognizing the issue by scheduling a keynote speech by a very well-known mental health advocate. A very positive step in the right direction for our industry. The NAB, Morning Show Boot Camp, and Fred Jacobs’ Techsurvey have also addressed mental health. Let’s hope that all this helps continue to influence broadcast companies and individual stations.

On the station level right now, we need to be practicing the three “R”’s – Recognition, Reaction, and Response.

Recognition: Checking in with your staff, periodically. As simple as a “check-in” as Elmo did. If it’s sincere, you’ll get a sincere response. This is where you get a good education as to the overall temperature of your staff. In most cases, they just want to know that you’re there for them.

Reaction: Schedule one-on-one meetings that encourage two-way constructive feedback, active listening on your part, and, if necessary, respectful disagreement. This is where you find out what’s needed to help each individual staff member. 

Response: Create systems, programs, and events that foster a positive work environment based on what you’ve learned from the earlier two phases. It could be flexible work hour options, specific wellness programs to promote their physical and mental well-being, or connections with outside resources.

The bottom line is not the programs or the systems as much as the heart AND soul behind them. All you have to do is care.

So, what was Elmo’s response to all the reactions to his post? See it here.

Simple, yet very effective. That’s all it takes. Good luck.

Based in Nashville, TN, John Shomby is the owner and CEO of Country’s Radio Coach. He is focused on coaching and mentoring artists, radio programmers, and on-air talent to help them grow and develop inside the radio station and the industry. Reach John at [email protected] and 757-323-1460. Read John’s Radio Ink archives here.


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