Obviously It Wasn't Obvious
August 11, 2015
A veteran broadcaster, which is code for professional radio transient, has a lot of intangibles in the area of insight. For example, one of the best lessons I ever learned was how to capitalize or minimize ratings results. I learned it when I was a personality working for a PD who always seemed a step ahead. Regardless of whether the ratings were up or down, the GM seemed to be the #1 cheerleader for programming.
The PD communicated well with the air staff, but stayed to himself and never outwardly appeared close to any of personalities. However, one night the transmitter overheated and we went off the air in the middle of my Friday night 7p shift; engineering didn't get things rectified until 1:40a. It just so happened the PD dropped by his office during the transmitter meltdown and I got to watch how he operated behind the scenes. He stood by while I was talking to the engineer on the phone and was getting all sorts of excuses on why he couldn't get out to the transmitter until the morning. The PD could overhear the engineer give the lame excuse of the lack of listeners after midnight and that it could wait.
The PD took the phone from my hand and pretty much handed the engineer his proverbial lunch. I heard word combinations which would have made a sailor blush. By the time he was finished, the engineer and his assistant set an Indy 500 speed record getting out to the transmitter site. Meanwhile, the PD invited me to his office and he let down his guard and let me see another side of him.
He held our air staff meetings in his office, but at night it seemed a little more like a shrine of accomplishments and memories. Like a museum curator, he told me some of his history with various artists and celebrities. Before I knew it we were having a conversation about all sorts of things and he was listening to me and not in a one-on-one air check critique sort of way. Eventually he opened a drawer and out came wine and a few other recreational items. That is when he gave me one of the keys to his success: Always have the station positioned for a community publicity-related event to coincide with the release of the ratings -- making sure of TV coverage and the GM getting kudos from business and civic leaders. He told me it made no difference whether it was in the beginning of a campaign, the final planning stages, or the actual festivity itself. I sat there and sponged it up. It made sense; keep the motion in a highly visible way so as to either be in a position to prove why your station is kicking ass or for the GM to wonder what is going on with the ratings methodology considering the status of the station in the eyes of the listeners.
We talked until the overnight jock knocked on the door and came in to join the fun. Unfortunately the radio insight stopped and he never let down his guard around me again. Over the years, I added a few other twists to his wisdoms surrounding ratings releases. I also came up with my "One night the door is open" theory; metaphorically speaking, keep trying to turn the knob on a locked door and one night it will open.
I always encourage air personalities aspiring to other jobs to pay attention because lessons happen every day, sometimes taking shape in the oddest ways. For example, here is a great case of "You're kidding, Right?"
Coach: What are you doing?
PD: I'm headed home, it was a long day. Man, I got some bad news today.
PD: I got written up for having poor managerial skills.
Coach: But your ratings have been really good for a while now; there has to be more. Where is this coming from?
PD: It is being stirred up by the Community Relations Director and one of the jocks.
Coach: I don't get it.
PD: Well, she has been here for 12 years and the jock just likes to complain all the time; nothing is ever right for him.
Coach: Is this the first time you have been written up?
PD: No, over five years this is the third time. I was told that I don't contribute enough to marketing meetings.
Coach: What is the community person doing in those meetings?
PD: She used to be the promotions person and sales still likes her in on things because they feel she is necessary.
Coach: Okay, and what is the deal with the jock?
PD: He hates change. Every time I have him make some adjustments, he gets upset.
Coach: I must be missing something.
PD: I know it sounds crazy, and oh I forgot to tell you, two weeks ago I got memo from the GM on what a great job I was doing with programming. Now he gives me this.
Coach: This whole thing is weird; did you forget to tell me anything else?
PD: They gave me a new contract four weeks ago.
Coach: They did?
PD: But I haven't signed it yet. I just don't know … maybe they are going to fire me.
Coach: I'm still working on you not signing your contract yet. Is there a problem?
PD: I've been busy and I was going to get around to it. You think I should sign it and hand it in tomorrow?
Coach: I think your timing is lousy. I do not understand why you did not sign your contract and give it back as soon as possible. Honestly, this managerial thing might be the GM just irritated with you.
PD: You think so?
Coach: You are a good PD and as smart as you are, I can't believe you can't see this. My friend, not signing is like saying that you might be looking to leave.
PD: I guess this write-up has me not thinking clearly. They are supposed to discuss their plans concerning this written complaint.
Coach: Let me see if I understand,; they are going to discuss what they are going to do to you? This is like telling a man, we are going to flog you and we want you in the meeting to find out how we are going to do it. This whole thing makes no sense; you should have signed the contract four weeks ago. Like I said, the GM is upset about the contract. I really don't think you are going to lose your job. But please sign the contract and have it ready if he asks you about it.
PD: Will do and I will call you after this 10 o'clock meeting to let you know if I still have a job.
The Next Morning…
PD: Good news, they just gave me performance criteria guideline. I'm not fired, and I just have to follow it. It is like a get out of jail card.
Coach: Good, now sign the contract and apologize for taking so long. Meanwhile, try and make peace with this community relations person and as far as the jock's concerned, get his butt in line and start looking for a replacement.
Learn From Everything
This programmer is a really good PD, but as you can see, even he is still learning. There are a lot of things which appear minor and even trivial, like actually signing a contract, even though the boss knows you are going to. Those trivial things are just as important and should not be overlooked. You can learn from every interaction, none of us know everything. In fact I have learned almost as much from bad experiences as I have good ones.