Listen to the inaugural “Radio Stuff” podcast with Deb Slater (@deb_slater and www.debslater.com) and me. This first podcast we listen to how different radio sources treated the Cleveland story about the three women found after years in captivity; WTAM, Fox News Radio, NPR, Rush Limbuagh, BBC, and Radio Australia. We also talk about Paula White who got drunk before her final Friday night shift at BBC Radio Stoke. We listen to News Talk 980 CJME (Regina, Canada) and host John Himpe’s thoughts on a would-be seriel killer allowed to watch Dexter. We listen to radio station imaging from 100.3 The Sound in LA and 99.3 The Vine in Wine Country. We talked to XL 1010 Jacksonville’s Chad Scott about a new sports radio chat on twitter #srchat, and we debate the decency of a Fresh N Easy commercial. There’s a lot here! Enjoy. Let us know what you like, what you want more of, and what you could do without. And please send contributions, tips, audio, insights to both of us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I do not condone Rush Limbaugh’s word choice and characterizations of Sandra Fluke. No woman deserves to be called a “slut” or ” prostitute” or any other derogatory phrase. I do not condone ex-WDAE morning guy Dan Sileo’s characterization of three African American NFL players as “monkeys.” Howard Cosell was fired nearly 30 years ago for pretty much the same thing. I also heard the “n” word un-bleeped on a syndicated show last week, which I do not condone.
So here are my questions…And answers.
Why is this happening? How is this happening? Who is to blame? Who is responsible? How does this impact radio? How should radio deal with it?
Talk radio is a tight rope walk. We ask talent to spend three hours a day entertaining, informing, dishing big opinions and driving conversations. We want hosts to “cut through the clutter,” “be passionate,” and “take risks,” while simultaneously protecting our company brands. This is hard to do and mistakes will happen. This is why companies provide a net in the form of board operators and producers. Talent need to rely on and respect these roles more — and the people in these positions need to speak up and take action when a talent crosses the line. Here is an idea; use the dump button…or tell the host they’ve gone too far. If you sit there and laugh with them like it’s a 1960s fraternity house, the content will likely degenerate. This isn’t the producer and board operators fault, but it is their responsibility along with the host.
What frustrates me is that radio is getting beat up as a dying industry everywhere I look and these outdated, racist, sexist, and irresponsible comments reinforce those claims and further suggest the medium is irrelevant and obsolete. The reality is radio has been and can continue to be a remarkable platform for lively debate and conversation about important issues and help to provide understanding. At its best talk radio is informative, entertaining, compelling, thought provoking, in-the-moment, interesting, fun and relevant. As an industry we provide the sound track to people’s life, we start conversations, we tell stories of triumph and tragedy to better understand the human condition, we care for and take care of our communities, and we create an invisible, powerful, connective tissue through the lives of our listeners which creates an amazing bond that has helped stations across the country in the past year alone raise millions and millions of dollars for good causes.
That being said, we are in a business that requires an understanding that things will get said that shouldn’t be said. Mistakes happen. This is talk radio. We will provoke at times and upset groups of people. As a PD it is my job to be calm in the middle of the storm. Programming decisions should never be made in the middle of a fire storm. It is our job (my job) to listen to the people complaining, listen to the actual audio of what was said, and then formulate my response. If lines were crossed –apologies should be made (as insincere as you may think he was, at least Rush did this). And then after everyone takes a deep breath, ask yourself a couple of questions; is this show representative of the kind of show you want on your station? Does it attract the audience you are targeting? Is the host chronically crossing the line ( your line, the FCC’s line, the community standards)? and if so, is the reward ( ratings and revenue) worth the risk? We are in the radio business and we need to make business decisions.
Finally, radio needs a shot in the arm and not another punch to the gut. Somehow, someway everyone who believes as strongly in this medium as I do needs to be actively promoting its awesomeness. 90+% of everyone (a totally made up stat) listens to radio. They are already believers in the medium, let’s remind them of it. Tell your friends why you love radio (#iloveradio) and I will do the same. Together we can rekindle people’s passion for absolutely free, wireless, instant information and entertainment available nationwide at the touch of a button…that is still legal to access while driving.
This Super Bowl week, I thought it would be appropriate to share some inspiration and insights that I learned from one of the great NFL coaches Herm Edwards. When I was at ESPN, Herm was invited to speak to a group of managers and I was lucky to be included.
“Our greatest obstacles in life are created by people who try to put limitations on us.” This is how coach Edwards started his speech. Simply put, don’t let others define what is possible for you. However, he stresses the importance of going about your life’s journey with integrity and vision. We are all leaders. People are watching and following our lead. It doesn’t mean you have to make a big speech or even be liked. A true leader, according to Edwards, lifts people’s vision and performance beyond their normal talent level. Do you help make people exceed their expected potential?
Another area coach Edwards touched on was “accountability.” He says you need to know and do your job. Take responsibility. Hold yourself and others at a high standard. Do the right thing on purpose. Your words and your actions should match up.
And finally some parting words from coach Edwards…
- Stay true to your vision. Do not let circumstances distract you.
- Trust those who work for you and with you – and sometimes that means taking a risk.
- Set an example – perform tasks that you would ask others to perform. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
- Stay humble. There were a lot of great things accomplished before you were born.
- Remember, you chose your profession. It didn’t choose you.
Radio managers, producers and talent show up and, for the most part, grind through each day. The stories change, but our process tends to remain the same. Too often things at a radio station are done or said without thinking of how it impacts the fans or clients, without considering the carefully crafted brand, and without a conscious awareness of the core values and unique attributes of the company, station or show. The very people who are responsible for embracing these concepts and working each day to reflect these defining characteristics often times don’t know what they are. It’s time to stop thinking of radio as a playground and become more strategic with what you do and why you do it.
A year ago, the NBA released its core values and unique attributes. They are as follows:
NBA CORE VALUES
Regardless of age, sex, and race – fans agree that these four things are what attract them to the NBA.
- Intensity of Competition
- Power of Teamwork
- Respect for History & Tradition
NBA UNIQUE ATTRIBUTES
These are the qualities that make the NBA so special and differentiate it from other pro sports
- Exhilarating – from the pace of the game to the in-arena experience
- Progressive – the innovations, social responsibility of the players, teams and league, and willingness to evolve
- Inclusive – NBA fans and players are from all cultures and walks of life and the NBA celebrates culture
- Charismatic – the NBA has the most recognizable and magnetic personalities in all of sports
All of these values and attributes apply to a radio station too. Whether on the air, preparing for a live remote, throwing a party or in a pitch to a client, you should bring passion, compete with intensity, use teamwork to maximize effectiveness, and have respect for traditions and history. You should be exhilarating, progressive, inclusive and charismatic in your presentation and approach. Doing these things reflects a general fan perspective of your product and will allow you to engage more fully with our customers and clients.
However, I would recommend you and your team (whether managers or show units) create your own core values and unique attributes. Doing this exercise gets everyone on your team on the same page; it focuses your daily efforts and gives you a way to judge your content (ie. Is what you’re planning to do or say in congress with your core values and unique attributes?)
What are the four things that attract fans and / or clients to your station or show? Are you doing enough of these things? You do what you do to attract listeners and clients, so why not give them more of what they want?
What are the unique qualities that make your station or show so special and different from other stations or shows? How can you better capitalize on these points of differentiation?
If you haven’t thought about these things, you cannot know your product or brand well enough to maximize results.
I know the job of a radio management team is hard, but I contend many stations and broadcast groups have lost their way. For the most part, discussions are focused on increasing ratings, meeting and exceeding revenue goals, increasing operating income, cutting expenses, and keeping tabs on increasingly shrinking budgets. Far too infrequently the questions managers ask of each other revolve around the quality and excellence of the product, how our fans and clients will be better served, or how decisions impact the employees of the radio station. I contend radio is thinking too much with a calculator and too little with a soul or about the souls who work so hard. What if there was a way to strike a better balance?
In the new book “Soul of Leadership,” Deepak Chopra challenges leaders to relinquish control, power, and authority and focus on unfolding the potential for greatness in all you serve. He suggests the four most important qualities that people want in their leaders are trust, hope, compassion, and stability. Based on my experience, it’s hard to contend with his analysis.
L = Look and Listen
E = Emotional Bonding
A = Awareness
D = Doing
E = Empowerment
R = Responsibility
S = Synchronicity
Chopra also cautions, “As a great leader you must also avoid 3 toxic A’s: authoritarianism, anger, and aloofness.”
Maybe Deepak isn’t your cup of tea. That’s okay.
Here’s the point:
Ratings and revenue discussions can’t be ignored by radio management, but having been in many of these meetings, I believe often times high-level execs are too concerned with managing away problems and covering their hide than actually leading the station. Managers are quick cut people, projects and budgets to bring the station into profitability instead of inspiring, engaging, and empowering the staff they’ve assembled.
Lesson #1: Read the ethics policy at your company. If you don’t know what it is or wonder if you’ve signed one – ask your boss or HR department.
Talent at operations like NBC, CNN, ESPN, and others are required to read and sign acknowledgement of the companies ethic’s policies. My experience is that most talent sign without reading. It’s critical to know what can land you in trouble with your company. In this case, and knowing what a smart guy he is, I believe that it is likely Keith was very aware of the policies, but disregarded them intentionally, not to be a rebel, but because his personal convictions and passions trump all. This is not the first time Keith’s ego has landed him in hot water. The shame in all of this is Olbermann could have a signed a waiver disclosing the contributions to G.E. in advance and wouldn’t have gotten in trouble.
Lesson #2: All talent are replaceable
In a blink of an eye a company will yank a talent off air, if they aren’t in line with the brand or if their ethics are publicly called into questions. We see this all the time in radio. ESPN Radio has done this in several markets where top ranked talent were not renewed based on brand management and not ratings. Think before you act and always ask yourself, “Am I willing to lose my job over this?” If the answer is yes, then all bets are off.
Lesson #3: The more popular you become, the more people try to tear you down.
Keith Olbermann is a polarizing and popular host. His detractors are far more outspoken than his supporters and, because of that, people are always looking for ways to humiliate, embarrass, and punish him. In this case, Politico.com was first to uncover the campaign contributions and Olbermann, wisely, confirmed the report.
Lesson #4: Own your actions.
The real honorable part of this story is that Keith didn’t try to hide or lie about what he did. When confronted, he went on the record and confirmed the report. He is keeping a low profile and letting others debate if the punishment fits the crime. By doing this, he’s become a more sympathetic character. There are petitions flying around the internet to get him back on the air and his cohorts at MSNBC are coming to his defense.
Two interesting side notes to this story…
1. In the wake of the mid-term election, where the democrats were slaughtered, everyone is talking about left-leaning MSNBC.
2. By announcing these violations against NBC News Department’s ethics policies, NBC has inadvertently characterize Olbermann as a journalist and “newsman” in direct conflict with my opinion of him as a commentator and entertainer. I always thought of Olbermann as more of a Walter Winchell not a Walter Cronkite.