Whether you manage the programming of one or more radio stations you have the challenge of finding and keeping talent to meet your company's goals. A statement once made by renowned business speaker Don Beveridge certainly rings true "If the only time you look for people is when you need people, you will always have substandard people."
One of my mentors over the years was the late Jay Cook who I worked for at Gannett Radio. Jay was at one time the GM of KIIS-FM in Los Angeles and later President of Gannett Radio. He observed that successful personalities have common attributes. They are intelligent. They work hard. And they have delicate egos.
So, let's talk about recruiting. You should never stop looking for people, even if you're fully staffed. Jay Cook liked to turn to the best-run stations, which have talented personalities. The market size isn't important. Medium markets have traditionally fed the major markets with future air talent. It's the smaller medium or very small markets that have a different situation regarding where to find talent.
Listen to airchecks constantly, not just when a jock leaves. True talent is hard to find when you are under the gun to find a replacement. The best time to start searching is when you don't need them. Practicing what I learned from Jay Cook, I've always keep a file of on-air talent and programmers on hand for positions that may open up at client stations.
Know who the good operators are. Study the successful breeders of good talent. Good GMs keep attracting good PDs. Good PDs attract good personalities and good ratings. This "good" progression is not accidental. Get friendly with existing talent and network with other PDs. Over the years, WPLJ PD Scott Shannon would get calls from radio people looking for talent. They figured he knew where the talent was. Conversely, talent would also contact him as well.
Some personalities' egos are more delicate than others. They have to be motivated. But the downside is also the upside. If they didn't have that kind of intensity, they might not be as good as they are. I will always remember Jay Cook saying, their delicate egos are "a blessing."
Top rated personality stations have an unbreakable rule even if it's never stated publically. That is to let their talent develop. More performers have been ruined by hard-line PDs who arrest the development of budding personalities. A PD or high personality performer picks a role model. It's the Program Director whose job it is to help personalities develop.
All top personalities set goals even though they may approach their goals in different ways. A certain amount of maturity is needed. They tend to look at what they do for a living as a trade, like for example a cabinetmaker. They want to get better and better.
PDs should care about everybody who goes on the air at the station. The PD is responsible for taking care of details and letting talent be talent. Cook always thought programmers have to love the job to do it well. The best PDs want to help personalities do the job as best they can while putting their own egos aside.
Make sure that your staff has the resources. How hard has it been for you when you haven't had them? Insure flexibility and compromise that is acceptable to both parties. When Cook was at KIIS-FM, former morning man Rick Dees didn't like sliders on his board. He liked rotary pots. So Gannett built a studio for Dees complete with a board to his liking. Cook believed it was important to ascertain their needs and create the environment in which they'll thrive.
Rules are often inflexible. One of Cook's credos was to evaluate how important the personality's contribution is and then proceed accordingly. Frequently GMs and even Program Directors do not take the time necessary to understand their talent.
Establish a chain of command, enforce it and respect it. The owner, GM, or sales manager should never call a jock on the hotline to complain about something the jock said on the air. (This also applies to the spouse of the owner or manager.) The complaint should be taken to the PD. Without a chain of command the jock doesn't know who to listen to.
The PD can objectively analyze the situation and determine whether or not to talk to the jock about it. The PD should serve as a buffer between his staff and station management. When a PD talks to talent, the objective should not be to punish the jock but to solve the problem. Good PDs always ask them selves what they are trying to accomplish before every staff meeting and conversation with their jocks.
Hire a good PD and show your respect for them by letting them do their job. You won't find and keep such a PD if what you really want is to program the station yourself and have a puppet to communicate your latest inspiration to your troops. Your airstaff won't respect a PD who is just a political butt-kisser.
Help your talent grow by creating a good environment and take away the small stuff. Let them concentrate on being performers. Keep the job fresh; people do tend to fall into ruts. Provide growth opportunities for your top performers. It doesn't necessarily have to be in management. Always make the time to train and coach; our industry is constantly changing.
Radio Consulting Services specializes in programming advice to radio stations in multiple formats.
Jon Holiday of Radio Consulting Services was a top programming executive at Jones Radio Networks for 15 years, providing radio consulting since 1998. In addition to overseeing the programming for the Jones 24/7 formats; he also supervised the production and promotions departments.
Prior to that, Holiday programmed and/or was on-air at Boston, Miami, Denver, Tampa, Providence and Hartford. He was PD of one of the 25 Highest Rated AC/Hot AC Stations in the nation according to industry publication Radio & Records.