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Navigating Change

Change is scary and uncomfortable for most people.

It just is.

Humans like to know they are safe and secure. We want to know we have enough money for food and someplace hospitable to rest our head at night. So, when pink slips start flying like they did at KGO last week in San Francisco or organizations are merged and realigned like Corus Entertainment last week in Canada, fear takes hold. It’s instinctual.

But resisting change is actually more lethal for entertainment and information industries like radio (see: music industry, Blockbuster Video, newspapers). There is hope and opportunity in change. You just have to be willing to see it and seize it.

Yes, what happened in San Francisco to KGO is tragic. It was a juggernaut of a radio station that has slowly and systematically been starved of resources and been a victim of benign neglect. The dedicated staffers who were sent packing after years of pouring their heart into a product deserve better. They tried to find a small part of a corporate beast they could love and quickly realized the beast was indscriminate. But now they are free. Unschackled. No longer beholden to a dream of yesterday’s KGO. There is life after KGO right Gil Gross??

Gil Gross Facebook

Right Claudia Lamb?  (Article: KGO and the Death of Radio)

In Canada, a completely different scenario. Not one of downsizing and cost-cutting but of investing and growing. Eerily, employees feel similar. Corus just completed a $2.6B acquisition of Shaw Media and new corporate structures were unveiled. The questions came fast and furious; Why? Where’s this worked before? What’s it mean for me? How can this possibly work? When are they going to fire me? Don’t they know we’ve never done it this way before?

Fear. It’s contagious.

differentKeep in mind, change isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s just different. When companies change it often creates opportunities. New managers, new faces, new processes and procedures and fresh eyes on old problems. It doesn’t have to be scary. It should be exciting. Anytime you get to work for a leader who has bold vision and a sense of purpose and direction embrace it, champion it, and rejoice. The opposite is stagnation. The opposite is KGO.

It reminds me of a phrase I quickly learned while working at ESPN; “evolve or face extinction.” In the past week, we’ve seen this played out in both directions in dramatic fashion.

 

Be Better Than Bad TV News Banter

This happened Monday night on TV in Vancouver…

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credit: Brick Tamland

Female Anchor: Did you guys see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 60 Minutes last night?

Male Co-Anchors: No. Nah.

Female Anchor: (visibly shocked)

{Awkward silence}

Female Anchor: Well, anyway…

I know point out bad banter on TV is like pointing at rain drops in Seattle, but there are important takeaways for radio anchors and hosts hidden inside this gem.

Be Prepared. As someone who works in and talks about news for a living it is imperative you take time to watch/read/listen to the things that your listeners are talking about that day. Not only does it make you more credible and authentic, it allows you to develop an opinion about it, reflect interests of listeners back to them, and it reinforces you commitment you have for your job and the product to you co-workers. Your team needs to be able to trust that you’re up to speed and able to carry a conversation or, in this case, what would likely have amounted to a 15 second banter.

Never Kill A Bit. With due respect to Nancy Reagan – don’t say “no.” Saying ‘no” always kills the bit or the banter. It stops conversation cold. It makes everyone on set look bad. Even if you haven’t watched/read/or listened — find a way to say yes and keep the conversation going. “Boy, everybody is talking about it today. What did you take away from it?”

Don’t Assume. Before you make assumptions that a co-worker must been up to speed on a story or event, take a minute off air to ask, “Is it okay if I ask you about…”

The main idea here is work harder to put you and your co-workers in a position to win every minute of every show even if it’s 15 seconds of banter at the end of the show.

The Future of Radio is the Past

95459-004-7DEC0D53In the Golden Age of radio, the 1930’s and 1940’s, radio actors created theater of the mind. Each night a different character in a different radio drama from Sherlock Holmes to the Shadow. Foley artists brought the shows to life. Game shows were launched. And news was the backbone bone of a growing entertainment industry. It was new, exciting and fun. Ideas were being dreamed and hatched daily and the industry was evolving even through the war years.

130424112409-alan-freed-c1-mainIn the 1950’s and 1960’s Rock-n-Roll took hold of radio and shook it up. The DJs are still legendary today for having the guts to introduce listeners to music most decried as sinful, distasteful, and obscene. Not only did the great DJs of Rock-n-Roll find new artists and spin their records, many become concert promoters in their town bring big acts to cities across North America: Elvis, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and hundreds more. It was new, exciting and fun. Ideas were being dreamed and hatched daily and the industry was evolving.

stuart8In the 1970’s and 1980’s, FM radio exploded. Despite having been patented in1933, FM radio didn’t exceed AM listening until 1978. Many AM juggernauts had FM sister-stations that station owner’s didn’t want to mess with. So, they let employees who were interested play around with it. Budgets were non-existent, no one told them what they couldn’t do and they re-invigorated radio for another 35 years or more. It was new, exciting and fun. Ideas were being dreamed and hatched daily and the industry was evolving.

serial-podcastIn the 2010s, Podcasting is exploding. Some are great, some are horrific. Some are theater of the mind mysteries, while others are based in news, music discovery, current events or something else otherwise indescribable. These podcast hosts are their own promoters, appearing on each other’s shows, creating events, selling partnerships and evolving what is possible in the audio space. It is new, exciting and fun. Ideas are being dreamed and hatched daily and the industry is evolving.

The future of radio (spoiler: there will be a future of radio) is in our hands. By the 2020’s, it is paramount that the industry discovers what’s new, exciting and fun. We need ideas dreamed up and hatched daily in order for the industry to keep evolving.

Planning Ahead for the Sake of Spontaneity

If I were to tell you to drive from Seattle, Washington to Miami, Florida the first thing you’d probably do is tell me you’d rather fly. Fair enough. But, let’s pretend you’re driving.

What would you do? Make a list.

 

List

(Your list may not look like this, especially if you don’t enjoy beef jerky)

THE POINT?

The point is you don’t really just jump in a car and go. You plan for the things that are predictable.

Why do we do this?

Seattle to MiamiWe do this so when we’re driving along and we see a sign for “Biggest Ball of Twine” and want to stop, we can. But, when you’re done you need to know to get back on the highway instead of winding through back roads. That’s where planning comes into play. We also plan ahead in case we want to buy a cool souvenir. How do you know you can afford that stylish cowboy hat if you haven’t planned ahead?

Planning ahead allows for spontaneous moments on road trips… and radio shows.

USE THE FORCE (OR A CALENDAR)

Do not be the radio host who awakens on December 18th, realizes Star Wars is premiering, looks at his team and says, “What do you guys want to do with that today?”

That’s the attitude of someone who doesn’t respect his or her audience, but couches it in the spirit of spontaneity and authenticity.

Radio truth bomb: You can be spontaneous, authentic AND plan ahead.

HOW TO PLAN AHEAD

The key is to plan for moments and events you can, so you can focus your attention the day of your show on creatively tackling stories you couldn’t anticipate.

Here’s how:

Create a calendar and plot out holidays, big movie releases, local annual events, big sporting events, concerts, and anything else your audience is in to.

Brainstorm ideas with a group of folks a month or two ahead. This is everything from on-air bits, pieces of audio, liners, promos, parody songs, listener engagement to web content and social media plans.

Focus your list on the items you want to do.

Assign someone the task of doing each item.

Put deadlines on it.

Day of: roll it out.

This planning process gives you the freedom, time and opportunity to own it, edited it, be creative, and produce something great. Simultaneously, it gives you the confidence to be in the moment instead of thinking about what’s next and frees-up your creative brain to be spontaneous.

What You Need to Know About PDs

I’ve been asked a bunch of questions recently about why Program Directors (Brand Managers) do certain things, respond certain ways and what a PD might think about (x). PDs aren’t easy to pin down. So, I’ve come up with this handy list of 10 truths regarding PDs.

1. PDs always hire the very best talent available. Unless they know and trust a lesser talented person. Or, someone is recommended by a trusted peer. Or, they pluck someone from obscurity. Or, they hire a local TV personality. Or, there is a gal who is local, available and under budget.

2. Hires are never made to save money and make budget. Except for when they are.

how-about-never-cartoon-credit-mankoff_custom-b05aa91cbe49bba79d2e41a00d7e0f32f10207963. PDs rarely answer their phone. This is because it’s either a listener complaint, a part-timer calling in sick, a programming note from the GM who was “listening in the shower this morning,” a sales guy with a “great” new sponsored feature he created, a syndicator pitching shows and pretending to be a pal, or an applicant who wants to make sure his demo arrive, but has nothing else to add to the conversation. Most just let it go to voice mail and sort through it later.

4. PDs will always answer the phone when you are in their office. Not sure why.

5. If a PD gives you a fist bump and says, “I loved the show yesterday.” They didn’t hear it.

6. If you ask a PD if they heard a certain segment, she might nod knowingly, but chances are she didn’t. Go ahead and send it to her if you want feedback.

7. The hardest part of a PDs job is finding time to listen attentively. (see #6)

8. PDs are completely autonomous. Except when the parent company, regional SVP, GM, Sales Manager, or top client disagrees.

9. PDs want you to win. If you’re successful, they’re successful.

10. PDs have a box/drawer full of CDs and cassettes that have never been listened to and never will be. Seems a shame. There’s very little logic as to why some people’s demo get put in the player and others get tossed in the box.

There are ten truths about PDs, what would you add?

Building a Championship Radio Team

headphonesRadio Station war stories are like badges of honor. I know a guy who slept on a mattress in the radio station conference room – they called it a studio apartment. Really. I worked for a radio station where the Program Director and consultant came to blows in the hallway. Cops were called, the PD was arrested and fired. If you have worked in radio very long, you’ve likely worked in less than ideal situations; broken chairs, headphones falling apart, all the lights burned out on the console, carpet ripped to shreds, and paint peeling from the wall. We tell ourselves it doesn’t matter, “the only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers.” But it does matter.

All of these big and little things influence the culture of the radio station. There is a reason BBC Broadcasting House, NPR and ESPN invest so heavily in the space, technology, ascetics, and people they have working for them. It’s because culture matters.

PETE CARROLL LOMBARDI 2It’s how Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, against all odds and all the critics, was able to take a rag-tag group of guys that nobody wanted and make them a Super Bowl championship team.

“I just wanted to see what would happen if you really took care of people, really looked after them. You helped them be the best than can be in whole different way than had been happening in the NFL. As we go through this process we count on a different relationship with our players by respecting them and helping them in every way we can we can ask them to do everything to the hilt; effort, time, off-season, workouts, rehab, everything. People don’t realize these guys have given great effort and given their heart and soul to it.”

What if radio stations behaved this way? Instead of treating employees like interchangeable parts in a machine, what if we treated them like unique, talent individuals? Imagine how different you would feel if your employer respected you and helped you in every way possible. You might even give your heart and soul.

And Carroll means every way possible. The Seahawks have dietitians, psychologists, yoga masters, spiritual leaders, personal trainers, counselors, life coaches, family assistants, travel pros, the greatest amenities an athlete could want and more. Most radio stations have an HR lady and a vending machine.

What happened in Seattle was intentional and Coach Carroll admits it didn’t just happen overnight, “The biggest turn in the philosophy was to make it clear to the players that we are here to support them and make them the best they can possible be. And make it clear to them that we’re going to do whatever it takes to allow them to have all that they deserve. That has come a long way to get to that point.” Carroll adds that the guys like being around, they feel good about it, and they’re trying to be the best they can be to stick with it because it’s a good place to be.

It is a fundamental shift in how you treat people and motivate them to work for you. But I’m here to tell you I’ve seen this work in big and small ways. I’ve been at radio stations that have moved buildings to brand new studios and seen employees’ attitudes and dispositions flip overnight. One day they’re sitting in a chair with a spring popping out of the seat and only three working wheels and the next they’re in a broadcasting palace. That means something. They feel invested in, taken care of, and respected. I’ve also seen the impact of a few new chairs, a couple cans of paint, and frank conversations with what the staff needs to have in order to be successful. It works. It really works.

It’s time for radio to start treating employees in such a way that it is clear that the radio station wants them to have all they deserve and is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Try it with small things first – like free coffee, an employee lunch, or paint a common wall red — and watch the culture of radio station shift before your eyes.

And the #1 Radio Story of 2013 is…

top 5Here it is. The Top 5 Larry Gifford Media blog posts of 2013. No surprise that new and social media resonated with readers. Readers were riveted by the poor judgment of colleagues in Atlanta and a little scared and confused by the ratings hit Talk Radio formats took in 2013. But, nothing captured the hearts and minds of radio folk more than the sudden death of radio’s Kidd Kraddick.

Rode Rec25. Five Apps All Radio People Should UseI realized the other day how much time, energy and money I’ve saved thanks to online, iPad and phone apps. I have more apps than I need, but some seem especially useful for radio work. So, from one radio guy to you — here are five apps that you may never have heard of that just may change your life or at least make you more productive and effective.

Nate Riggs4. How Radio Can Better Embrace Social Media A post from 2011 that still resonates today. “Don’t try to do everything all at once. Pick one thing that you’re going to do 110% and get really good at. If it’s a Facebook page invest your time and energy in building a community around that Facebook page and engaging in that community. I think it’s a perfect complement to radio, because radio is traditionally a push medium; we listen to radio.” – Nate Riggs

steve3. A Journey Into “Instant Unemployment” and How to Avoid It Three Atlanta talk hosts are fired following a poorly planned and executed “comedy” bit. The reality of the situation is, regardless of ratings or talent, most radio hosts walk up to and around the “line” everyday. They are the stunt actors of radio willing to dive off the top of a building, walk through fire, or wreck a motorcycle to get a laugh, to get some ink, and to increase ratings. And we love them for it. From time to time, they’re going to cross the line. It’s going to happen. PDs need to be there more of than time than not. Truth is some will lose their job (See: Dan Sileo) and some won’t (See: Rush Limbaugh).

rush-pubshot2. The Free Fall of Talk Radio

Talk stations are tumbling in the ratings and no one knows why, though there are many theories.

It’s political fatigue. It’s too repetitive. It’s too depressing. It’s too angry. It’s too boring. It’s humorless. It’s predictable. It’s not entertaining. It’s all commercials.

Former radio star, now internet radio sensation Tom Leykis chimes in, “Talk radio went from Rush Limbaugh’s bells, whistles, jingles and parody songs and everything to a line up of people reading bill numbers.” He went on, “It’s devoid of humor, entertainment value or mirth. These are not radio personalities.”

He wonders aloud if anyone in the radio business getting the message?

KiddKraddick1. Kidd Kraddick’s Last Selfless Acts

There’s really no way Kidd could have understood the impact he’s had on so many people and the radio industry in general. He even made an impact to radio friends around the world. The reaction on Twitter, Facebook, and coverage in news has been overwhelming. One listener credits Kidd for “restoring his faith and belief in FM radio.”

And I too have found myself caught up in it. I didn’t know Kidd, but I’ve respected him from afar and have never heard anyone say a bad thing about him. No one. Which, in this ego-fueled industry, isn’t just rare – it’s an anomaly. It’s the exception to the rule.

To honor Kidd’s legacy, I have extracted some of the rules of life and radio he’s left behind. These rules come directly from words and phrases used by his family of colleagues and listeners.

If you missed the rest of the countdown you can catch up on blog posts #25-16 of the year here, and #15 to #6 here.

Thanks for making 2013 so great. I raise my glass to you and wish you  a bright, ratings-filled, drama-free 2014!

Here’s a link to the Radio Stuff Podcast New Year’s Special which counts down the most listened to episodes of the year.