Dying On The Vine
July 17, 2012
You can be assured that tonight no one at happy hour will bring up the great four-song-sweep at 4. On the other hand, if you're highly fortunate, someone in the festive gathering might comment on a morning show feature (assuming it was good enough to be remembered). Credit Thomas Reed with saying, "They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge."
He might easily have been referring to the vapid and seemingly endless radio-speak heard daily coast-to-coast, crossing all format boundaries. There is no stage where actors are less rehearsed than radio. This is because our culture has never completely embraced a comparison between theater or stage acting and radio entertaining. Somewhere from a long time ago, radio talent came from a position that said, "If I'm to be really spontaneous, I can't possibly be scripted or too prepared. That just isn't me. If they make me do show preparation and follow a sequence-map, I can't be as natural or engaging."
And so we find talent from Talk radio to Top 40 who haven't the slightest clue as to how to build habit and become well known for their show's attributes. Much of this condition can't be blamed on the talent, but instead on the absence of creating and sustaining a coaching culture.
In all too many discussions with radio leadership we inevitably hear, "Of course we believe in talent development and stress it to our programming leadership." Yet when pressed to define a system or committed plan to coach-up air talent at all skill levels and tenure, few can articulate just exactly what they do in their clusters and companies. If you're looking for the way to the top, you probably won't find it in the promotion department or music software. Those areas of a station's identity are either effective or they're not, regardless of format. But if the main course of entertainment and content is served lukewarm, you're haunted with mediocrity on the voyage of the damned.
Take a look at your talk talent or music hosting. Are they coached weekly? Do they have a template for show management? Have they ever used a sequence map for content budgeting and clock management? Are they graded through a mutually conducive system whereby they actually participate in scoring their show?
(Oh, if you think this discussion is somehow confined to remedial talent, mid-sized markets or smaller independent companies, you've missed the point.)
Premise: There are three types of talent in all of radio regardless of scope -- the gifted, the creative, and everyone else. The greatest improvement will come from the best talent in the most progressive companies in PPM markets where the ethereal case for PPM remains under study. In PPM, for example, day-by-day "persons" value changes. It's the daily in-tab, not the weekly in-tab, that matters. Meter count and location touch on variables beyond our control. So, under the premise of "control what you can," if you really want to narrow the odds, talent coaching and content improvement are the obvious place to concentrate today for the foreseeable tomorrow.
There is no "short" way. The easiest things are always hard; the road is always mined. Finding and managing a leader who can coach is the most important area for improvement in your programming ranks. And the best definition of coaching goes as follows: Convincing someone to do something they may not want to do, so they can become something they've always wanted to be. All the world is a stage ... and most of us are terribly unrehearsed.