Why Even Try?


(By Mike McVay) Listening to multiple radio stations on a recent drive during the Independence Day long holiday weekend, it hit me between the eyes how many were airing fill-in talent or substitute shows. Be it local origination or network/syndication, that isn’t what they normally air at that time, programming schedules were turned upside down.

I understand the necessity to give talent a day off, or an alternate day in exchange for them working on a holiday, but it isn’t lost on me that the desire to satisfy an audience has waned. This is counterintuitive. It’s happening at a time when all legacy media is losing value to advertisers. It is a constant battle to keep the worth of commercial inventory at a high level.

You can’t take your audience for granted. The choices available to them are plentiful. The technology exists today for talent to voice-track, produce “Best Of” programming, or appear live from a remote location versus being in a studio. There are too many entertainment & information choices today to allow inferior programming to go to air. There is no excuse for presenting a product that is viewed as inferior to what is your regular programming.

This is especially true for News/Talk and Sports stations that “flip the switch” and take network programming this isn’t what normally airs at that time of day.

I can point to highly successful music programs that pre-record the night or day before a weekday holiday, to be able to present a fresh program that is specific to a day. There are talent that I coach on spoken word stations that I’ve witnessed take their remote gear with them on holidays to be able to deliver a live program during what would normally be a day off. Although voice-tracking has become an accepted substitute to being live, the talent still have to work hard to sound local and current with their content.  

We know that people seek and scan on weekends and holidays as they look for variety. A large majority of employees, 68%, acknowledged working on holidays in a recent survey of 2,300 workers in the United States and Canada by the online learning platform ELVTR.  Those people working on Independence Day, because it was a weekday, likely matched their habitual listening patterns only to find that what they were hearing wasn’t what they normally hear. Listening habits are then disrupted.

This column isn’t about avoiding special programming for the holidays. This is about those stations that maintain a regular format on a holiday weekend, who upset the programming schedule by sweeping music without talent, presenting not-ready-for-primetime talent, pulling the daily personalities and plugging in a network (mainly on sports and news/talk stations), and possibly dropping newscasts from morning drive on the holiday itself. Radio continues to degrade the listening experience. These self-inflicted wounds are difficult to recover from – if ever. 

Next holiday… do better. Otherwise, why even try?

Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]. Read Mike’s Radio Ink archives here.


  1. We “old schoolers” can remember many many Christmas day afternoons, driving to the station, producing a batch of commercials that have end air dates, New Year’s Day copy to be done, and production for special programming. I have personally been in a production studio on a snowy Christmas Eve working late, to get the production load done before going home. And yes, I was a PD/OM that took those weekend 6 hour gigs when my air staff had kids and I didn’t yet. THAT is what I’m talking about! A long weekend off? Blahahahah…yeah…I hear ya, Mike! Not many “old schoolers” left and it shows…

  2. I guess I don’t have to blab on how your observations are dead-on, Mike. A few years back in a major market the CEO said “I took off the talent at night because no one listens”.

    In reality, I suggest no one listened (partly) because of the lack of talent at night. That station used to be #1 -for years until an ownership change rocked that boat dropping it to #5 where its been for a long time. Radio has to realize that there’s competition out there-and get better. As Mike points out-just the opposite is the rule these days. Sad.

  3. A related observation: when is the last time a music formatted radio station control room answered a phone call?

    • We answer phones at our stations, but we are live at least 75% of the time. My morning guy was live July 4th morning. I tracked my PM Drive shift, but I tracked only a few hours before to keep everything current; weather, local events, etc. I see Mike’s point, and I can’t say I entirely disagree. We, as an industry, have fostered generations of talent (those few of us left) who see tracking as “get out of work free” card, and it just isn’t, or it shouldn’t be. When I started in Radio tracking was a thing, but the company I worked for wasn’t set up for it. In fact, we have only been able to voice track since 2016. When I began in ’97 we were live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Recent years have forced attrition on the Programming side, but we still try to put our on air product first. It’s just harder with fewer people. In my opinion, Mike’s point speaks to the industry’s need to cultivate talent. Not just anyone, but talent that understands what it means to serve your audience. That means you are there where they are, even if it’s their day off. Of course, that also means making those jobs appealing to a new generation. By appealing I mean pay. If you want to do something, but can’t make a living doing it, why even try? You feel me?


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