How Spinach Can Help Your Radio Career: VibeGrrl and the Hard Truths
June 10, 2014
When I was in Charlotte as PD, I had an employee who had a speech impediment, but I also had a full roster of talent -- too many jocks actually -- and had to cut the weakest link. So in a closed door meeting, I let him know, "You are the weakest link!"
Then he asked the question, "What can I do to improve?" I wasn't expecting that, and had nothing planned for it, so the only thing that came out of my mouth was, "Do you know that you have a speech impediment?"
It turned out he didn't.
I was surprised. In this man's entire life, not ONE person ever told him he pronounced his T's like D's, and here he sat in my office desperately clinging on to the hope of surviving. It's baffling that in his long enough resume, including time in major markets, nobody ever said a word.
YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH ... AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE
Here's what ended up happening...
Within a few passing weeks, the problem corrected itself. Simply by letting him know the truth, he could hear it in his own ears and begin working the muscles of the tongue and mouth to pronounce the hard T's and from there, he put that same work ethic into everything he did.
He went from weakest link to best part-timer, to Music Director, to being hired away as a PD.
Seeing how the truth healed, I wanted to go table to table at restaurants telling people about the spinach in their teeth, since the person sitting across from them wasn't going to do it.
Dom Theodore brought me to New York shortly after his launch of 92-3 NOW; his staff and music was already in place, but there were a few weekend spots left to fill, and one of the demos sitting in the pile of potentials was from a female named VibeGrrl, who was on air at WBLI on Long Island, and had recently worked for HOT 99-5 in DC.
What I heard in VibeGrrl's demo was first and foremost, her sense of humor, followed by an ability to tell a story, and a desire to deliver content in original and creative ways; and with that, I made my first hire in New York City.
HIRING LARA DUA: A Girl named VIBE!
If you've ever worked for me, you know that I demand your best; I expect to be impressed; and I will hold your feet to the fire until you deliver. If I had to say I was most like someone you've seen in a coaching role, it would be a cross between Abby Lee Miller on Dance Moms and Herb Brooks, the coach for the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team, and YES, I do believe in miracles!
So VibeGrrl and I began a process of airchecking once a month, which is plenty for part-time talent. I never forced air talent to aircheck. I always wanted them to understand the gains they would get from the process, therefore I left the session bookings up to them. (For the reader not in radio: Airchecking is when we listen back to an on-air talents' breaks from a previous show, with them in the room, for the purpose of growing their skills, losing bad habits, or amplifying great ones.)
VibeGrrl was surging forward quickly week to week, but then, suddenly, she plateaued, and our sessions became less and less. Without a notice, I began giving some of her shifts to other jocks, and it only took one time for her to see that on the weekend schedules to call me up and call me out.
So, here came that hard truth, and for this story, I reached out to VibeGrrl to have her give the words the way I gave them to her.
HARD TRUTHS FEEL LIKE BRICKS TO THE SHINS
"There are part-timers on this station who are working harder than you; who are growing. This is a business. We have to put our best people in the best spots."
Vibe told me her first response was "disbelief," not believing she was not as good as others on the team, and that she was "angry," feeling like the changes were not warranted, so she changed nothing at first. But as time went on, a small green leafy thing showed up when she looked into the mirror, and she started realizing that, at least in some cases, there were others working harder than she was.
Vibe recalled, "I know for me, I need regular coaching. I need constructive airchecks and encouragement, or I start to fall into a rut. I've always benefited most when touching base regularly to assure I was on track, and finding areas to improve upon. That kept me motivated and in the game. When I got out of that routine, I'd begin to get lazy or lost."
IS THAT SPINACH IN MY TEETH??
Another spot of green was showing up as she looked at her reflection, and she saw clearly, that, "Yes, others are improving while I am in a rut."
One morning, only a couple weeks later, I got a call from Dom Theodore who asked, "Have you been listening to Vibe this morning?" I had been listening and on this particular show, she was flawless, sounding less like a part-time talent and someone who should be doing this for a living.
From her perspective, Vibe recalls, "I began putting more work into prep and content, and instead of just knowing what I would talk about, getting detailed and disciplined on the execution, laying it out in advance, focusing on balance of content for each hour and for the whole shift; but then I brainstormed different ways to talk about the same thing four or five or six times per shift, but each time, making it a break that was different and could stand alone, never being settled with just giving information. I learned the difference between talking about local things that they may or may not care about, and instead sharing content of local things through stories that would interest them whether the event or item did or not."
Our midday talent had gotten pregnant and was going on maternity leave just as VibeGrrl's STAR was about to be noticed by more than just mine and Dom's ears. Vibe says it was when we called her to fill-in that she realized the trials, the tribulation and the work had truly produced a fruit, that made that time worthwhile, but there was something even greater coming.
WHO's THAT GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRLLLLLLLLLLLLLL?
WNOW had only posted #1 ratings in one daypart during the launch phase, and that was when Chunky, now morning host for WIRED in Philly, was the night jock. But now, we were years in and the station was, at best, treading water, but something MIRACULOUS happened.
During her time filling in, Lara Dua, aka VibeGrrl, had posted the station's first #1 ratings in any daypart since the launch -- this time, #1 in middays in New York City.
To quote Adam Sandler, "Not too shabby!"
I am ending this article with one of hundreds of daily and weekly cartoon strips that VibeGrrl writes and draws; and will also end by saying, a radio talent that has MORE talents than JUST being on-air, is one of the greatest offensive and defensive tools a radio station could ever hope to have in its stables.