Do PD’s Ever Become GM’s?

How Do You Know When You Have A Great Program Director?

Great question from an intern who wondered why more PD’s don’t become GM’s.  Aside from sales experience it got me to thinking:  what does make a great PD?  As an OM, consultant and group PD I’ve worked with a lot of programmers.  But I never really pinpointed what separates the superstars from the rest.  So I relayed this story:

Last fall, I asked a country PD when (artist/song) was going for #1?  (in country, they call this “number one push week”).  He knew instantly.  Then I asked him who was (station’s) #1 client?  He did not know.  I asked him what they were running for processing.  He knew down to the model number on the compeller.  I asked him what their streaming numbers were, he didn’t know (but knew what they were running to process the stream … pretty cool).

This week I asked another PD when (artist/song) was going for #1?  He wasn’t sure but had a guess.  Then I asked him who was (station’s) #1 client.  He knew it was (client) and that (client) was a close second.  I asked him about processing.  He knew it was Orban and they had a custom setting, but didn’t know more.  Streaming?  He not only knew the monthly number, but heavy days, hours and how many clients could not run on the stream.

Which PD is going to attract the attention of upper management?

There is nothing wrong with knowing every detail of your corner of the industry.  But if you want to get promoted, you have to let everyone know you are more than the music director who is minding the store or the morning guy who got promoted to PD.  You need to have a grasp of the big picture and prove to everyone that you understand the business.



You Are Such A Tease

Great radio is about the tease.

Keep ’em listening one extra quarter hour a day, and you’re an all-star.   This is why we teach the art of the tease to all young radio talent right out of the box.

When I was a young DJ at WABK in Augusta Maine, I would tease like “a full weekend forecast is up in less than 10 minutes.”  When I got better, I might say “a full weekend forecast that is going to make your travel plans tough is on it’s way in 10 minutes.”  By the time I had been doing it for 20 years, I might say, “Stop all weekend preparation right now!  I’ve got a new forecast that is going to shake everything up, and that is just 10 short minutes away.”

Back in the 80’s and 90’s – that was teasing.  What would happen today even after I read my best tease?  Everyone would jump on their phones and click the weather app.

In the era of instant information, we cannot tease something the listener already has at their fingertips.  This is not an easy concept for radio people who’ve been doing it a while to grasp.  We were brought-up on weather, weather, weather … then more weather.

You can still talk about the weather effecting people’s lives – but teasing a forecast is irrelevant.  Most of the time I hear talent just needing throwaway content and they use the weather as that.  Some will even source a research project that says weather is the most important thing on the radio station.

Yes it is … when it is happening and you are stuck in the middle of it.

  • Would we tease the score of a HUGE game?
  • Would we tease all the Oscar Winners next?
  • Would we tease that a hostage situation is underway in an airport and we’ll have details in 10 minutes?

Not at all, unless you want to send people to their phones.

What can we tease?  OUR EXCLUSIVE CONTENT.

  • I sat down with Kelsea Ballerini before the show and she told me about the one thing she takes on tour with her to make it feel like home.  I’ll have that in 10 minutes on ______.
  • We polled 1000 (station) listeners to find out who you think will win the Grammy for best album of the year.  The results of our local poll in 10 minutes on ______________.
  • I just got off the phone with (name) from (place) who is about to announce a major expansion.  I’ll tell you in 10 minutes how it will effect your ride home.

If it’s not easily found on the internet – it can be yours.  Make it tease worthy!  Think Casey Kasem or Bob Kingsley on their countdown shows.  Watch TMZ or Extra.  They are masters at teasing their OWN content.

Teasing will be easy, if you are a well prepped air-talent.


The Voice Knows

If you’ve been doing what you do long enough and are a student of your profession, you probably have a little voice inside that seems to pipe-up at the most in opportune times.

Like when a group decision is rolling down the tracks.  You know:  Everyone’s on-board … this is a huge move … it makes so much sense.  Yet there is that little voice in your head that urges caution or even screams NO.

I think I finally figured out why.

Because real students of their profession or field notice slight nuances or subtle hints that more casual observers do not.  I have a mechanic like that – and he is GREAT!  Always picks-up something when he hears an engine purr.

The hardest time to hear that little voice is when the decision makes so much sense that is seems obvious.  Radio format adjustments can be like this.  All the evidence in the world points in one direction.  Everyone else – even you, sees it.  Yet that little voice won’t go away.  Had that happen years ago when my group was racing to fill a format hole after fielding a market study – we might not have killed a station.  I can read research with the best of them and was a good solider.  But that damn voice kept saying “no.”

How do you bring it up in the face of expensive research and an afternoon’s worth of analysis?   After keeping my mouth shut and watching projects bomb, I finally got to a point in my career where I decided to speak-up.  How was it received?

“A hunch?  Strategy is not built on a hunches!  What can you back it up with?”

There is where the voice abandons you … because it’s just that:  a hunch.  If I had the facts we wouldn’t have to pay for all of this expensive research.

I backed down … but the hunch was real and the format tweak bombed.  I wish I had put my hunch on record!

My guess is that we see and hear things that a research project which is always being pulled in a certain direction cannot.

Twice in my career, I let those who write my paycheck, hire a talent who used to be a big deal to revitalize a morning show.  Both times the management knew of the talent – and in one case how he used to kick our butts.  And … he was affordable!

Or course he was … because he was no longer relevant.  But the research said the audience loved him.  Every verbatim in the study had good things to say about him.  He was the most missed talent in the market.  This was a home run!

What the research could not predict was how him returning to this smaller market was a career defeat.  He was never his old-self – and why would be he be?  That was 12 years ago!

But I knew it.

How?  Who wouldn’t feel that way after playing in the bigs, with boats, money and a sports car.  The dude was driving a used Honda Civic when he came for an interview.  I saw someone defeated and knew he could not make listeners feel good about themselves in this case.  It was never intentional on-air, and most people could not put their finger on it.  Yet that voice told me … and it was true.  Next study fielded 18 painful months later painted him as washed-up.

Today I have the ability to talk with my peers and colleagues and have no problem just saying “trust me on this.”

Too bad it takes so long for people to give you that consideration.


Time is Money

Why do bad sales people act as if I owe them time to hear their product pitches?

I’ve had a rep dying to make a group-wide pitch to our company, though which I would be the point person.  However, with spring promotions, market visits and 2 concerts being produced:  I do not have any time available for a visit.

After 10 days of constant pestering, I finally told this rep that when everything for spring was in place:  I would have time.  She was insistent that this was urgent and she need to get to me now.

I finally told her all I had left was my personal time, which I would be willing to re-allocate if that was this important.  She insisted it was and threw out a web-presentation time/date outside of my normal working hours.  I agreed, but told her I value my personal time at $50 an hour.  I then asked her if this would take more than an hour so I knew how to prepare he bill.

She was dumfounded.  She said they don’t pay us to attend webinars.  I was fine with that, I told her to get back to me after the spring when I could squeeze out some company time to get this company-wide pitch.

No more pestering.  I think I made it clear anyone who is managing several projects at once must master time-management in order to succeed.  It wasn’t until I put a monetary value on the pitch, that she saw where I was going.

By the way:  Had she offered me the $50 to take the meeting, I would have taken it and been intrigued.  I would have to assume this WAS a must-see pitch if she was willing to put her money where her mouth is.

Jump ahead a year, it was nothing of interest to our company.

The Sum Of All Your Parts

It took a long time for me to understand what this marketing axiom really means – but once I got it, my ability to analyze and grow a brand jumped:

A Brand Is The Sum Of All It’s Parts

Duh …

But … “All of it’s parts” means the good and the bad … and some of those bad parts may be necessary to achieve the good stuff.

  • Fast-food’s Good Parts:  It’s cheap and fast
  • Fast Food’s Bad Parts:  It sucks

If it was good – it would have to be more expensive and/or take longer to prepare.

A friend of mine who worked at a large discount store for years told me that sometimes minutes before the doors opened a manager would be frantically running around the store messing up displays – sometimes even throwing snow boots & hats on the floor.


His brand was CHEAP.  The messier the display, the better deal the public assumed they were getting.  They had some items that were exclusive to them.  How did they price them (as a super-discoutner)?  It didn’t matter.  Just throw those coats or swim suits or sneakers on a giant table and their customers would attack them – never even looking at the price.

In radio, we are terrible offenders.  We spend a lot of $$ on research.  Most research only identifies bad parts of the brand (repetition, morning show is chatty, weekend specialty show is weird).  I took over an alternative station once that had a weird “locals only” Sunday night show.  It tanked in the ratings (I mean really tanked … sometime zeroed out).  So we yanked it.  What we didn’t realize, was that just having that unorthodox “weird” show in a non critical depart fed the radio stations brand as a true alternative.  Even people who didn’t listen were upset when we yanked it.

Every Top 40 station has been through this.  A researcher will convince the General Manager that the problem is repetition – and that researcher will have some ugly Power-Point slide to prove it.  But what happens at Top 40 when you start playing the hits less frequent … you sink.

  • Crappy food makes it cheap and fast.
  • Piles of snow-boots makes it almost flea market style cheap.
  • Repetition means we only play the hits.

Having realized this, I sometimes use the negative image in a playful way when marketing the brand.

Caller:  Hey! I heard you pay (hit song) 3 times today.

DJ:  3 times … you mean you missed the 4 other times?

The rush to eliminate negative is one of the key mistakes marketers make.  In every inherent brand strength, there is a weakness.  Deal with it.

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Storm Troopers and Death Stars

Enjoyed the new Star Wars – Couple of thoughts:
(1) 7 episodes in … and those storm trooper outfits don’t deflect gunfire, don’t protect from poison gas, and have got to slow one down in the hot desert or knee-deep snow … and planets of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away seem to be abundant in both. Time for a new-look dark-side?
(2) Note to manufacturer of death star like things: On future models, please omit the small opening – that only an amateur shooter can hit – that will take down the whole dang gadget. After rigorous testing in the field for decades, a fatal flaw has been documented in several of your evil things and noted on social media – garnering your product with a measly two-star rating. A recall – at least – is in order. Those death star looking things are like Windows on your PC – every update looks bigger, but crashes harder from some minor intrusion by an amateur.

OH WOW vs OH S***

After Christmas and well into first quarter, expect to hear songs you don’t normally hear on the radio.  We usually program them as “oh-wow” songs.  With inventory low, many stations will need anywhere from 1-3 more songs an hour until late February or March.


Then, all of a sudden:   “Oh-Wow” turns to “Oh-S***!

Wanna quickly know the “filler” songs on the station in your market with the lazy PD?  Just listen to the end of the hour.  PD’s with no first quarter strategy throw them at the end of the hour with a GTL (Go To Point In Log to Synch Time).  There are two stations in Chicago who do this every year.  I get a kick out of flipping over at the end of the hour and naming the filler songs (which disappear in Feb).

Hearing two or three of them in a row kills the “oh-wow” factor and poorly positions the radio station’s music image.

Instead of just dumping the filler songs, take a look inside your Selector or Music Master and see where the hour is getting off track.  If your first break usually ends at :25, but with low spots you are done by :21, consider putting a filler at the bottom of the hour with an extra GTL.  Have the GTL set to :29 or :30 and put the filler in front of it.  This will allow your system to use it if needed to stay on track – or skip it if spots or content is sufficient.

Then put the 2nd filler song at the end of the hour using the same set-up GTL at :58 or :59 just after that song.

If you are using more than 2 fillers and hour, then a clock adjustments are necessary.  Two fillers is already stretching your image thin, going further could damage it.

Also – treat the FILLER category like a REAL CATEGORY.  Use separation, style and rotation rules.  You would not want a ballad filler to follow a ballad regular song.  Just be sure to put the filler category last in your schedule order so it doesn’t get precedence over a real category.

Hopefully you can find enough songs so they don’t repeat too often (especially January).  You might also consider recycling the FILLER category.  I don’t usually go there as over-night plays keep the category moving … but every format is different.

Also … be careful about letting the talent (usually weekend P/T’mers) from pointing out how we never play these songs.  Position fillers as a positive

Here’s one of the all time greats from Bob Segar …


Here’s a song we haven’t played in a long time from Bob Segar …

You never win by letting the audience peek behind the “programming curtain.”


Relevant Beats Hip

A friend is GM of a group and was telling me that his flagship station just wasn’t sounding hip enough – and he was stressed that this veteran staff wouldn’t be able to “hip-it up.”

Being as blunt as only a good friend can be … I told him he’d be better off being relevant than hip.

“You mean … we sound irrelevant?”

I didn’t meant that … exactly.  But I listened for 3 hours and heard nothing their new competitor couldn’t do.  In 3 hours:

  • Neither station had any local content (outside of weather)
  • Neither station had a position statement anyone cares about
  • Neither station had talent saying anything I hadn’t already seen on Twitter

I read back his position statement (#1 For Today’s New Hit Country) and asked him what exactly that meant.  He laughed because he saw my point.  Then we read the other guy’s position (New Country).  Again … so what?

This is the friend that years ago told me that I’d never get ahead unless I wandered outside of my comfort zone – and he was correct:  so we can be that kind of honest with each other.

The worst offenders of the irrelevant radio plague are the large market, public stations that use canned content and imaging.  The voice-trackers don’t even say the name of the station anymore.

One of my early mentors, Charles Giddens, said it best:

You can only say you’re good for so long … eventually you have to actually be good

I would sub “good” for “relevant” today –

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Don’t Shoot The Messenger

This week at the CMA Awards, Chris Stapleton was the talk of Nashville .. and the most “Googled” name of the evening.  He didn’t just come out of nowhere to win Male Vocalist of the Year.  He’s actually been around for years writing, singing small clubs and releasing music without much commercial success.

He’s an artist.  Artists love artists.  Award shows are driven by artists.

In this case it’s an awards show and other than a few lost bets, the world goes on.  That’s not always the case when art distorts a brand.

Florida with a southern accentWhen I moved to Tallahassee Florida in the 1990’s, I found it to be a charming southern town that was the capitol of Florida … but felt more like Georgia or Alabama.  Their slogan to attract visitors who otherwise might only be in Florida for beaches or theme parks was “Florida With A Southern Accent.”  I though it was a clever use of the word accent, using the definition of the word that meant “to give prominence.”

When tourism slowed down in the 90’s, the CVB decided they needed something new, fresh and clever.  They hired an ad agency that saw the area as friendly, comfortable and with a sense of familiar.  Their campaign featured a picture of an old shoe and a slug line (which I cannot remember) inferring that sometimes what is familiar and the most comfortable is the best.  You know, nothing feels better than wearing a comfortable pair of shoes.

The agency loved it.  The CVB bought into it.  It bombed.

In the exciting world of tourism, who wants to be though of a comfort food or a comfy old shoe?  You can get that at home.

Nobody at the top fought the agency, despite concerns from others who just couldn’t see this beautiful, colorful southern city of rolling hills, historic plantations and a historic downtown capitol district … as a shoe.

We fight the same fight in media.  Someone comes up with a clever, “out of the box” idea and we all get excited.  The discipline comes in asking a sample of the intended audience to decipher the message and then respect their opinion (not writing them off as ignorant).

For media outlets, sometimes we do not get the chance.  Outside agencies control the creative and use as the messenger.

Don’t shoot the messenger …


Traffic and Weather Together on the 10’s … That is why this is my favorite radio station.