Recently, I was on the phone with a friend that lost his gig. I asked if he thought he might try to stay in radio.
“I don’t know if I could,” he told me.
“Why?” I asked.
His answer was unbelievable, heartbreaking, and sadly more than just a little familiar. My friend told me that he never had a PD. He was never asked to sit in for an aircheck. He never was given any direction on what he could do to make his show better.
The story frustrated me even more because this guy wasn’t a professional broadcaster. He had come from the print world.
Consider the level of arrogance or ineptitude required to think you can hire someone that isn’t a professional broadcaster and expect them to deliver a quality show everyday. I ask you to consider it and not “can you imagine,” because it is sadly a very common story in the radio world.
Let’s be honest, it’s insulting because no one would expect a radio host to sit down at a keyboard for the first time and crank out something on par with Peter Gammons or Spencer Hall. The same is true for talents already in the radio industry, but still making a big change.
I made the switch from rock radio to talk in 2012 and I might have had one meeting with a PD during my first three months on the air. Think about how crazy that is. It was an election year and we weren’t the only talk station in town. I was used to doing three four-minute breaks an hour, sandwiched between “Back in Black” and some other song you probably love but never want to hear again. My PD’s attitude was “Well, Demetri used to tell fart jokes. Surely he can handle interviewing John McCain.” For the record, John McCain didn’t seem very fond of me.
So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? What tools can you use to improve if management isn’t investing the time and effort to help you develop?
First, be honest and aggressive with your boss. Make sure he knows that you want guidance. Be direct. “Hey boss, I want you to listen to this break and tell me what you think” or “Can you listen to this hour and give me a few notes?”.
I spoke with a PD once that didn’t do airchecks because he thought it put too much pressure on his hosts. Even if they asked for them, he wouldn’t do airchecks. You’re not going to get what you want every time, but hopefully it forces your PD to ask himself if he’s doing everything he can to be successful. It also lets the PD know that you aren’t afraid of criticism and don’t need to be handled with kid gloves.
If your PD doesn’t give you the attention you feel like you need, another option is to ask your contacts in the industry to take a listen to your material. It never hurts to send a few samples to PD’s at radio stations that you respect. You might find someone that is interested in making the move from programming to consulting and would take you on as a passion project.
Hell, you don’t have to get expert advice. Maybe you can find someone in a similar situation to yours and serve as each other’s sounding board. Thoughts and suggestions about new ways of approaching a topic can be very helpful when you feel stuck and alone.
Are you listening to other shows? You should be doing that anyway. Start with your competition. What do they do well? Are they weak in one of your strongest areas? Your show should be a reaction to theirs, but knowing what differentiates you from the competition is important.
Next, expand your horizons. Do you weave a lot of pop culture and guy talk into your show? Download Dan Le Batard’s podcast or the Toucher and Rich podcast and hear how they do it. If you’re doing a no-nonsense show driven by strong opinions, study Colin Cowherd or Matt Jones. Listen to the best shows that fit a similar mold. Don’t become a copycat, but pay attention to why those shows are good.
Finally, we are all our own toughest critics. Force yourself to listen back to the show everyday. Even if you are just starting out in radio you can hear when you’re going in circles and when you let an interview go on too long.
These listening sessions don’t have to result in hard and fast rules or a show bible. Think of it like Giancarlo Stanton watching batting practice. You need to ask yourself, “where can I make little fixes instead of trying to find one big solution to a problem?”
Unfortunately, you’re probably going to get stuck in a bad situation at some point. There is always going to be a mom and pop station that takes on sports not realizing what a costly and hands on format it is. There will always be national companies that throw one local show on a mostly forgotten AM at the end of the hall.
Those can be wonderful learning experiences. Frustrating in the moment? Of course. But remember, just because your boss isn’t as hands on as you’d like doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get help and improve as a broadcaster.