‘Your Baby Is Ugly’


(By John Shomby) Recently, I was hired to do a complete station analysis for one of the properties in a particular cluster by that station’s Program Director. A good sign because this person may be recognizing how close he may be to his product and that he needs that outside perspective.

If you’re a manager or a PD, you know this drill. A specific amount of days and daypart listening followed by a meeting to discuss what was heard and what recommendations will be made.

As I was going through the exercise with this particular program director, I noticed, through his body language, that he was very uncomfortable with what he was hearing – almost to the point of sadness. I had to stop my presentation and find out what was on his mind. He was severely (and I mean SEVERELY) disappointed in himself for missing some of the things I had been talking about. He was literally blaming himself for his station’s shortcomings.

At that moment, I was reliving various times in my former life as a programmer. How defensive I would get when someone was critical about our station. How disappointed I would be that I wasn’t smart enough to know all the answers. After all, I was the PD. If we needed a consultant to come in, then I, obviously, was not good enough to get the job done.

Then, I was very fortunate to have a very astute and caring boss tell me that it’s not my fault. None of it is my fault AND none of it is anyone’s fault. He assured me that market conditions can change. With added responsibilities, priorities can get rearranged. No matter what the issue, there’s really no one to “blame.” He suggested that I look at outside help as a collaboration not an indictment on my programming knowledge or expertise.

My outlook on getting to the right answers for our station changed after that. Two of my closest relationships in this business wound up being consultants with whom I worked. I know this is easier said than done but it’s something that both programmers and managers should learn because outside help, at some point, becomes essential for the growth of your station/group.

How can a PD and/or Market Manager approach outside help receptively? Here are some thoughts:

  • Focus on Improvement: Look at outside help as an opportunity to improve the station, not a critique.              
  • Collaboration, not Takeover: View it as total collaboration. Bringing in a different perspective, not someone taking over.
  • Be Specific: Clearly define areas where you need help. Is it audience engagement, content creation, or digital strategy?   The outside help is working for YOU. Give them the information they need to get the answers YOU need.
  • Open-Ended Questions: Ask for suggestions and ideas, not specific solutions. This fosters creativity and avoids being defensive.
  • Listen Actively: Pay close attention to the suggestions and ask clarifying questions. Don’t accept what you hear as THE answer. If you have doubts, express them.
  • Consider Feasibility: Evaluate the suggestions based on their merit, budget, and fit with the station’s vision. Discuss within your department, get a consensus and get moving.
  • Transparency: If an idea isn’t implemented, explain why in a respectful manner. So many times, I failed to let my outside help know what we used and what we didn’t. A good consultant will understand and appreciate your honesty.

Other Forms of “Outside Help”

  • Industry Networking: Attend conferences, workshops, and connect with other PDs/Managers. Share challenges and learn from their experiences. You’d be surprised how many “I’m in the same boat” comments you’ll get.
  • PD Exchange: Connect with other PD’s you’re close to and offer an analysis “exchange”. You listen to their station and offer your thoughts and vice versa.
  • Listener Feedback: Actively seek feedback from listeners through surveys, call-ins or listener groups.

In this era of radio’s challenges, the more you look outside, the more perspective you’ll gain and the results will bear that out.

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.


  1. I’ve been on both sides of that fence, John. Some consultants want to run the station, putting the PD in the “assistant” position. Uncomfortable to say the least. Your points are well-taken, but just like a meal at Ruth’s Chris -it’s all about the presentation. The best do what they’re paid to do. Consult. Be a sounding board for the PD to verify or deny their decisions. I’ve worked with great people who took my suggestions and improved on them with remarkable results. I’ve worked with those who shot my suggestions down, affecting the whole station operation. John, today most PDs are treated as an extension of the “VPP” or whatever corporate title they’re given. Titles and duties, if not spelled out -can be disastrous. Smart people like you can calm the consultant waters like none others can.


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