Leadership By Committee ... No One's In Charge
June 21, 2016
A radio station is a community of people bound together because of the commonality of location. It's a group of people with varied backgrounds with one similar interest, radio. Just like any organized gathering, there is a ruling order and workers with assigned duties. A side effect of community is praise, gossip and jealousies. People like to see themselves in others, therefore in good times and bad, group thinking can be persuaded in either direction. The latter can become ugly like the Medieval Inquisition or the Salem witch trials.
Things Can Turn On You
The mood around a radio station or cluster is great when the ratings are up and money is rolling in. However, when dark days cometh with lower ratings and a downward spiral in profits, there is finger pointing and the community rallies for a change to turn things around. Suddenly some of the once-revered ruling order are now subject to ridicule. Does any of this sound familiar?
Anyone who has been in this business long enough has seen situations like this get out of control with the main boss of bosses panicking and deciding to let the workers rule the day; letting actual reason be damned. Suddenly it's change for change's sake and recovery becomes bogged down in previously failed programming theories.
Hopefully your situation is not anything like what this air personality recently lived through.
Jock: My GM thinks we should include the staff in all the PD's programming decisions. I should tell you that am not sure what has prompted this since the ratings have been up or flat over the last two years, but never down. I am in a two-book market and we are beating our direct competition. So I am not sure why this is happening.
Coach: It sounds to me as if the GM is giving into some kind of mob mentality. Also, it sounds like you might be one few friends the PD has. What do you think is going on?
Jock: The sales manager and the PD don't get along and she has been here longer than he has. Since the first day he got here three years ago she started trying to keep things the way she liked them, but honestly the people of this town weren't in to it and ratings-wise, things were not good. Plus, I am pretty sure she had something going on with the previous PD personally.
Coach: This is starting to sound like a soap opera, tell me whatever you can and maybe I can piece things together for you. What happened to the PD she was close to?
Jock: He programs at another station in town. This is not a very big market and we are only rated twice a year.
Coach: Sounds to me as if your old PD and your current sales manager are still close. He might be trying to get a competitive advantage by indirectly getting everyone at each other's throats. Why did he leave the station?
Jock: The owner, who is also the GM, would not give him more money. The sales manager has been trying to undercut our current PD since he walked through the door.
Coach: And as far as you can tell, the owner doesn't suspect the office disruption is coming from the Sales Manager?
Jock: Nope, she is the daughter of a friend of his.
Coach: So what has happened so far?
Jock: We had a staff meeting with the owner and PD, and the owner suggested the PD start using some of the staff ideas and that maybe we should bring back some of what the station used to do.
Coach: What do you think?
Jock: The only other place I have ever worked on the air was in college and this is the only station I have ever worked for. But I can tell this is nothing but a campaign to get rid of this PD because the Sales Manager cannot have her way and put on way too many commercials and remotes. This PD has worked a few places and has made our station sound way better. I listen to other stations on my iPhone app and they don't have swap shop shows on Saturday in the middays.
Coach: I forgot to ask, what's your format?
Jock: I guess you would call us an AC station, but with Top 40 too.
Coach: So the owner wants everyone in on programming the station?
Jock: Pretty much and my PD is not happy.
Coach: I can understand why, besides, programming by committee does not work. Look no further than baseball's Chicago Cubs of 1961 and '62. The owner P.K Wrigley instituted "The College of Coaches." Instead of a manager, from game to game eight coaches rotated as the head coach for the day. When Wrigley came up with the idea he said "Managers are expendable; I believe there should be relief managers just like relief pitchers." The result of this experiment was chaos and low morale among the players and the organization. The win-loss record for the '61 club was 64-90 and in '62, 59-103; in last place and six games behind the expansion team the Houston Colt .45s (Astros)
Personally, as a jock I experienced radio's version of the Caine Mutiny; the numbers came out and the GM called an emergency station meeting. Every employee, including the janitor, was allowed to voice an opinion on programming. This book was flat and not down. The previous two books were up. The morning guy and I were the most recent additions to the air staff and we voiced a show of support for what the job the PD was doing, but it fell on deaf ears. It was as if what we were speaking a foreign language. The morning guy and I looked at each other and realized the inmates were about to take over and to survive we had better act as if we were on board. I felt bad for the PD because this coup was partially to blame on the spoiled crew he had inherited. They fought changes, even though the station had been underperforming prior to this PD taking over. And to make matters worse, the GM allowed the malcontents a voice, and by doing so he legitimized their propaganda. As I look back I realize it was a ploy by the GM to get the PD to move on or quit. The PD was eventually fired and the committee thing went away when one of the malcontents was promoted to the programming position.
History Repeats Itself
Years later, I was a new PD coming into a situation with a group of underperforming air personalities who had been there for years. There was a lot of pushback and whining from a couple of full-timers about doing some things they did not understand. I could also see they had gathered some allies from sales and trouble was ahead; forget the fact I had been brought in to get the ratings up. My first two books were flat. The disgruntled were mounting an offensive and my intuition told me to keep a watch.
If You Wait Long Enough
To satisfy the GM and the complainers, I started having a series of "I am listening to you" meetings. In fact, I had scheduled one in my office on the day and time the new ratings were due out. It was a set-up on my part, I had seen enough indicators to know the numbers were going to be up. Right in the middle of the co-disgruntled complaining, I got the numbers and the ratings were substantially up. I wish you could have seen their faces, a mixture of happy and "damn, now we have to shut up and follow his lead." That was as close as I ever came to programming by committee.
Jock: I can see you have lived through this sort of thing before. What can I do to help the PD?
Coach: Be supportive and not combative if the owner has more of these Town Halltype staff meetings about programming. Privately, if you have not already done so, tell the PD how you feel about what is going on. To anyone you are close to around the station, in one-on-one situations, try and point out how good the station sounds. You don't want to stand out apart from the staff, but you want to quietly build a solid consensus of goodwill that hopefully will build towards a gathering of support for the PD.