“Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.”—John Wooden
In 2017, Mike Francesa, Terry Boers, and Terry Foster all retired after long runs as sports radio hosts in their respective markets—New York, Chicago, and Detroit. But hosts leave stations every day for myriad reasons. Money, family, jealousy, stress/pressure, health problems, substance abuse, and don’t forget poor ratings. This is what I am going to focus on in today’s column – how to be prepared for the next staff opening no matter where it may come from and why it happens.
First, assess the station’s current talent by making a three-deep depth chart for each of your shows. Assuming it’s a two-person show, you have three people listed under Host A and three people listed under Host B. Do that for every show. It may be easy to do, but more likely it’s a big challenge to go three deep on every show.
Once the depth chart has been completed, look at it critically. Are any of the 2nd or 3rd string hosts ready to be a full time host on the station? If the answer is no, the next question is if there are hosts on the depth chart that can be coached and air-checked to get them ready to be a full time host? No matter the answer, a good PD still needs to know who is out there. They could be hosts on a crosstown station or they could be hosting full-time in a smaller market. Put your ears out there. You will find hosts that you really like and who could fit your station.
Now make a list of these hosts. After you making the list, start making contact with all of the hosts on your wish list. I’m not saying to cold call them or send an email. You might with some. But better to “bump” into them somewhere on the road.
For example, is there a radio convention coming to their town? Great! Call them and set up a lunch or breakfast. Will a host on your wish list be at radio row for The Super Bowl, College Football Playoff Championship, SEC Media Days, or the Daytona 500? Even better. You can find them and even have a brief conversation at the end of their show. Introduce yourself, tell them you’re a fan of their work, and ask them what they’re doing when not working during the week. Create the relationship, and do it early. It’s like recruiting a star football or basketball player (insert Sean Miller joke here!). Get to them early, let them know that there is interest, and find out the best way to keep in touch.
During the “recruiting” conversation, there are important things you want to learn about the prospective host. First and most importantly, how entrenched are they in their current market? Does the host love living there? What’s their family situation? Is the host happy in their current show and daypart?
Next, find out what their career goals are. Do they want to do play by play? Be on TV? Become a football coach? I know the last one sounds ridiculous, but I worked with a host who is now an NFL Head Coach and another who left my former radio station for an assistant coaching position in college.
Finally, and perhaps most challenging, find out what motivates them. Do they want more money? Do they want to work a different daypart so they can spend more time with their kids? Do they want to be closer to where they grew up? Do they want a new and different challenge?
Once you know what they think of their current situation, what their career goals are, and what motivates them, you’ll have a good sense if they are a fit for your station and if they’d be willing to leave their current gig. After the initial meeting or conversation, make sure to stay in touch. Send a text or email when you see their name in the trades or see that they just had great ratings or did a crazy promotion. Let them know that you’re keeping tabs on them. They may feel like you’re giving them more attention than their own PD.
So start your depth chart today. If you haven’t started making a list of talent you want to hire get online and start listening. Hopefully the above blueprint will help your station be ready for your next opening before it happens.
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”—John Wooden