Monday, May 08, 2006

Flip Side

-In my last post, I examined what I believe are potential factors in the revolving door phenomenon and lack of top-flight talent at radio stations...not just locally...but industry-wide. One reader took my thoughts as a an apology for shoddy management practices at KTRS. Not true. In fact, I started the column with a comment about KTRS's new morning show...and it's just-concluded morning effort, but was actually attempting to speak in more general terms about the industry and how developments in the last twenty years have piled up to mean there are less of what we would consider to be truly professional broadcasters with classical training and experience in the available work force.

This time, let's take a look at what factors might combine to produce poor station management. Having been in the programming work force of a radio station most of the last 35 years, this should be a cathartic exercise. I present the following in no particular order.

-Different Strokes

There's one basic truth about most radio stations that sets them up for problems. A sales person runs the place, and it's programming is what meets the public. In my day, people who came through the pipeline on the talent end of the business went through some sort of formal broadcast training. With me, it was a four-year Mass Comm degree at SIU. Most on-air and production people have at least some similar could be a vocational school, college, or junior college. Even newspaper people who wind up on the air have journalism school in their past. For the most part, on-air types still need to come into the business with some kind of MassComm/Speech/Journalism background to be taken seriously.

On the other hand, general managers tend to be sales people who have risen through the ranks, or made the jump from a sales manager position at another station, or in some cases another field altogether. Somehow owners think it's a good idea to bring in people with a successful sales track record in real estate, at auto dealerships, and you name it, to work for, and eventually run, radio stations. These people know sales, but have a limited understanding of the actual on-air product, and how to make it better. They have their opinions about it. But, they are likely flawed, simply because they are numbers people. Their careers have been about making bigger numbers....not better programs and radio formats.

As we all know, sales people tend to be agressive of personality, and impatient with anything perceived as underperformance. So, they attack management with an "It's broke, I need to fix it" mentality. This mindset, in my experience, tends to be at odds with the creative, and product-focused nature of the on-air staff, the Program Director, Production Director, News Director and anyone else close to the control room operation. The GMs, GSMs, and LSMs of the world often run roughshod over the would-be policies of the PD who may actually have a clue about how the station should sound. The "20-minute-per-hour inventory" policy, and "we can run an info-mercial there" thinking will always outweigh the PD's preference for 12 minutes and more music, or talk because there are numbers attached to it. In the long run, you might actually have a better, more profitable, station with the PD's strategy. But, sales people want the numbers, and want them now, seemingly without regard to what it takes to attract an audience. It's the Yin and Yang of radio...but unfortunately it's not that balanced.

-Pressure from Above

Corporate pressure to achieve a certain a profit margin. 'nuff said.

-Spend more to make more?

An off-shoot of the entry above is often station management's lack of understanding of how to promote. Managers are told to improve sales, and invariably ownership doesn't give them the tools, or budget, to do it. "Promotion and advertising aren't necessary, they say. We have a radio station. We are our own promotion." Ha!

Everyone outside the GM's office, sales and programming, grumble about this one all the time. You're asked to do a great job...get great ratings...but there's little, or no, outside promotion to help make that happen. The great irony is that they have a sales force out there trying to induce clients to sell products and services on their station. But, the station doesn't believe in advertising enough to do any of its own. Talent on the station is in effect "preaching to the choir" every day because there are no billboards, TV ads, program ads at The Muny or The Fox, or whatever, to help attract potential new listeners to the frequency. How can such basic marketing be lost on people in the ad business?

-Office Politics

As in many other industries, radio programming decisions are sometimes made based on who someone in the office likes, or dislikes. Radio people tend to be more into gossip, heresay and inuendo in off-the-air settings than anybody. Often, a GM's or PD's decision about an on-air person has as much to do with popularity around the office, as it does effectiveness in the studio. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!

-Poor Communication

There's a saying in radio...'We're in the communications why are we such poor communicators?" Communication between upper management and department heads...department heads and employees...employees and the public...tends to be as bad, or worse, in radio as it is anywhere. Somehow, radio people are taught to communicate...but not with one another. People at the botoom end of the totem pole often are victims of poorly communicated policies and ideas. We all know who usually pays for failed policy and misguided concepts. Certainly not the person reporting the company's malfunctions in the board room. He/she always has the opportunity to explain, and assess blame. Don't get it....never will.

Again, there likely are many more potential explanations for your favorite poorly-run station's failures. But these are a few that seemed obvious to me. Additions are welcome.

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