“It is better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late.”—Branch Rickey
In sports radio, stations and their management are not trading players, but just as the GM of a professional sports team trades or releases a player, station management has to look at their broadcast lineup and project future performance using the information they have at their disposal.
It’s hard. Ratings are a certainly a factor, but they’re not the only factor. A sports station may have a newer show that isn’t performing to its potential yet, but the PD has faith in it and believes it will experience future growth. On the flipside, a station could have a top performing program that the PD knows is either getting stale or has reached its expiration date.
So let’s compare a sports radio station to some major professional sports teams. Who has waited too long to make changes? Which teams have made surprising moves because they felt their current roster couldn’t go further?
I’ll begin with the first question, and the team that immediately comes to mind is the LA Lakers. They have seriously underperformed the past few years because they tried to ride it out with Kobe Bryant and a group of older players around him. The future be damned! Now, the Lakers are 31-36, likely to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season, and praying LeBron James rescues them this offseason from the land of mediocrity.
The interesting team that I’ll use to answer the second question is the Seattle Seahawks. During this offseason, they traded Defensive End Michael Bennett and parted ways with Cornerback Richard Sherman and Tight End Jimmy Graham. They’re also contemplating moving on from All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. Last year, Seattle was 9-7 and produced a regular season win over the eventual Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. However, the franchise isn’t waiting until they get old and uncompetitive. They’re making moves to refresh the roster because they don’t believe last year’s team is good enough to win it all.
As uncomfortable as it can be sometimes, that’s what the great PD’s do. Any lineup change involving an established host or show will be met with initial negative reaction from the public. The reaction will especially gain steam on social media. The management team at the radio station must be in lock-step and fully confident in the changes they’re making. If there is any wavering in the process, they probably shouldn’t have made a move.
Take a look at the University of Tennessee football coaching search this past off-season. Tennessee was ready to hire Ohio State Defensive Coordinator and former College and NFL Head Coach Greg Schiano as its new Head Coach. When word leaked out, Volunteer nation went nuts. Schiano was accusedof being complicit in the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. “SCHIANO COVERED UP CHILD RAPE AT PENN STATE,” was painted on The Rock, a campus landmark. Soon enough, the decision to hire Schiano was reversed, and Athletic Director John Currie was sent packing shortly afterwards. Wow!
So how does a PD handle the immediate criticism that follows after making big changes? In my opinion, keep it short and sweet.
All that needs to be said publicly is something to the effect of “We feel like this is the best lineup for our radio station today and into the future.” Then make sure the new shows and hosts are working hard, being coached and put in position to succeed.
The lesson I want you to take away from this column is to not be afraid to make changes to your station as long as you think they are the right moves at the right time. Second guessing is part of the game, but when you make a critical decision, you have to be firm in your belief, trust your eyes and ears, and do everything in your power to help those involved who you think have the ability to lead your station to greater success.