How Your Listeners Can Kill You

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” – Herman Melville


What do Gibson Guitar, United Airlines, DHL, Hertz, and AutoZone have in common with many radio stations? They’re all companies that have employees working at odds with the company goals, according to a study by

The bottom line is that your switchboard is one of the front lines for listener contact, but those people usually aren’t well trained or well motivated.  They’re just punching the clock and putting it time each day, and that can result in an experience that’s different from what you might want.

We tend to think of the jocks and the only first line of contact, but every time anyone from your station touches a listener, it can be good or bad.

Have you read any online reviews lately?  Social media has increased this razors edge.  Try searching for “(your station) sucks” and you’ll see what I mean.

The challenge with those companies listed above and many radio station companies, it that we’ve been great at taking the “connectivity” out of our stations so we can get better “shareholder value.”  From the obvious like voice tracking to the more subtle like IVR phone trees when they call the station, we’re eliminating an important emotional connection.

What can you do to reverse this trend?

Frost Advisory #225 – Kumquats?  My Grandmother Grew Kumquats!

It’s funny.  We do it every day in real conversations with real people, but we often forget it on our stations.

There are two critical milestones in the development of a successful radio station; when some one tunes to your station for the first time, and when they become a fan.

Simply stated, the distance between those two points determines how quickly your station will grow.

Common ground is the rocket fuel that drives that connection.


In a format where the biggest barrier for growth is unfamiliar songs by unknown artists creating familiarity is crucial.  Listen to your station for thirty minutes and count the number of times a new listener would hear common ground.

Common ground is the difference between sitting silently for hours on an airplane next to a stranger, and meeting a new friend who’s starting a medical company in the very field that is my wife’s life long dream.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “The man who agrees with us that some important question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend.  He need not agree with us about the answer.”

My brilliant friend Tommy Kramer wraps that idea in childlike innocence…

“You like bubble game?  I like bubble gum, too.   Can we be friends?”

Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get

Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed – the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day – Frances Hesselbein

As The Dramatics once said, “You know some people, Are made of lies, To bring you down, And shame your name.”*

I’ve worked in places like that.  They have virtuous slogans on the wall, and preach about their “culture,” but only rarely does what they say match with what you see.

Managers try, often by spreading little slogans around the station.  But a quote hanging on the wall is more of an aspiration, not a core value.  We can aspire to have a strong corporate culture like Zappos or Chick-fil-A, but still act like your values are, “Beatings will continue until morale improves.”

What you do is more important that what you say.  In fact many organizations lose credibility on the culture front because they aren’t consistent with what they do and what they say.

It works against them.  People begin to distrust anything management says, and accept the real culture is what they see happening, not what management says.  Soon, they’re not paying any attention to what management says.

Whatcha See is Whatcha Get

So, who really cares?  Well, if you look at the best performing organizations around the country, there’s a direct parallel between a strong, well-understood culture and success.

Conversely, those with cultures and realities that don’t match, are the least successful.

More personally, people will stop believing what you say, and accept what you do as the true culture.

And you may not like that!

* The Dramatics, 1972

Creativity Remembered

“I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order. We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed, and the important things will not change if we keep our priorities in proper order.” – S. Truett Cathy

S. Truett Cathy died recently  Not the world’s most well-known name, but he founded, and grew into a billion dollar organization, the Chick-fil-A restaurants across America.

A few years back I read a book of his, and was inspired by his own inspirational way of working with his teams.  He was also a constant marketer and cheerleader for Chick-fil-A.

One memorable moment was when he was flying and the plane was delayed for some time.  He spoke with the captain, who gave him permission to pass out cards for free “Chikin” to everyone on board.  Changed the mood of the people on board and created brand memorability for everyone.

His Vice President of Marketing was at Momentum, and talked about the leadership style of the organization.  One of his main points was for leaders to see the value in their people.  Too often we see people as problems or something to be managed, but if you look for their value, your own perception of them will change.

What do you see when you look at those who report directly to you?

Do you see a tool to be used, or the value the person contributes to your organization?

The Faithful Tribe

“What tribes are, is a very simple concept that goes back 50 million years. It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas. And it’s something that people have wanted forever.” –  Seth Godin

And it turns out that tribes, not money, not factories, that can change our world, that can change politics, that can align large numbers of people. Not because you force them to do something against their will. But because they wanted to connect. – Seth Godin

Someone told me a joke recently, that God is a Chicago Cubs fan, but said to them, “Don’t do anything until I get back.” Well, I was at a Cubs game a few months ago, and at Wrigley I saw a good game, and supportive, screaming fans – the Cubs tribe.

No doubt the Cubs fans in Chicago, and elsewhere, support their team win or lose. They’re almost proud of their record of never giving up. When your fans are organized into a tribe, there’s no stopping you.

The same is true of your fans. They’ll be the first to be critical when you lose, and the first to defend you from others not in the tribe. Unfortunately most of us have forgotten the second part of the Seth Godin book – We need you to lead us. Without leadership the tribe wanders and becomes disjointed. Leadership means uniting them online and offline, giving them a story, and NOT trying to use them to buy something unrelated to the tribe or try.

It’s called community…and it’s in your future.

Tommy Kramer Tip #70 – What Great Radio Does Right  

It’s all too easy when you write as many tips as I do to dwell on seeming negatives or weaknesses. But that’s not the purpose of coaching. Yes, you want to shore up a weak foundation. But after that, the main job is to find what a talent does best and push those qualities into the spotlight.

Then there’s getting consistent – really consistent, where it’s impossible to have a bad day.

And the final level is “How high can we fly?” It’s all about what you can keep coming up with that’s fresh and new, and sets you apart from everyone else in a way that’s almost like waiting for the next new album your favorite band will come up with.

Here’s what great radio does. It gives you what you expect, but with surprises built in. It’s consistent, but not predictable. In every market, there are a couple of stations that get this, and they rule the roost. A bad book can’t bring them down, their Promotions never fail, and the listener always has a sense of “I wonder what they’ll do next?”

That can be your station. If you don’t have one, get a great Consultant; not just someone off a list, but someone who’s helped other stations that you admire reach a very high level of performance. If you have the money, hire a Talent Coach. It’s easy to think you don’t really need one, but name a major league baseball team without a batting coach. (Or ask Tom Brady or Peyton Manning about their quarterback coaches.) With a good coach – not someone who controls your job, but a real coach – you’ll find that the process is so dear and so revealing that you don’t want to go it alone.

Then work every single time the mic opens to welcome in the person who’s just hearing you for the first time, and to sound natural, like a friend talking to a friend, instead of making ‘announcements’ and ‘presentations’. THAT’S what great radio does right.

Time Won’t Let Me

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” – Kurt Vonnegut

One of my friends sent me a link to the new Starbucks video, probably because everyone knows I’m a Starbucks fan, and partially because it is so good.  It’s the long version of the TV spot you may have seen, called “Meet Me At Starbucks.”

I loved it.  And then I hated it.

I loved it because it was a brilliant idea.  It didn’t mention anything close to coffee at any time but sent a clear message about the “specialness” of a visit to Starbucks.  It was the epitome of smart, “talkable”  marketing.

Then I hated it because it was such simple creativity, born from a great idea.  These “coffee people” are being more creative than most of the radio people I know.  We’re so focused on the small picture, what we need to accomplish immediately, that we overlook the bigger picture of what we’re all about.  And we have much more creative ability!

Part of the challenge is an industry trend away from creativity in favor of “efficiency.”  Also the fact that so many of us are busier than ever, with little time for anything more.  Another is the unfortunate fact that we’ve been refocused on this week that we forget there is a next year.

I’m doing everything I can to add “margin” to the lives of the creative people.  I know we have the horsepower and creativity to overcome the much quoted challenges we have, as long as we use it.  But we’re being overworked and micro-managed to the point creativity is living in the land of the unicorn.

If you’re in a position to do so, meaning management who cares, do what you can to bring back creativity to radio.  We’re not going to grow as an industry as long as we’re whipping people to the max.  Please join me in creating enough room for the creative people to create.  it can make a huge difference to our future.

Frost Advisory #224 – Beware of Common Sense

It is not common sense to warn someone about using common sense.  But that, my friends, is the very point.

Successful principles of business, leadership, programming, or ministry aren’t common.  They are the exception.  Otherwise, all businesses would be successful, there would be no leadership challenges, churches would be full every week, all radio stations would have high ratings and we’d all have dated the sexiest girl in school.  (Sorry, just threw in sex to keep you interested.)There are 11,000 business books published each year.  I looked it up.  If these principles were merely common sense there would not be the demand for these lessons learned.

At first glance successful principles can seem out of whack or counter-intuitive.

Leading is really about serving.

The more you try to impress someone, the less they will like you.

The more you learn, the less you know. The more you learn about something, the more your horizons broaden and you see the limits of your own understanding.

Hundreds of general managers and program directors around the planet read these Frost Advisories each week, I’m told.  Today you will likely face a decision about your radio station where it would make sense to use common sense.  Before you react, consider:

“We are quick to jump to conclusions because we give too much weight to the information that is right in front of us, while failing to consider the information that’s just offstage.   It’s called ‘the spotlight effect.’   The spotlight only lights one spot.  Everything outside it is obscured.  When we begin to shift the spotlight from side to side the situation starts to look very different.   And that, in essence, is the core difficulty in decision making.   What’s in the spotlight will rarely be everything we need to make a good decision, but we won’t always remember to shift the light.   Sometimes, in fact, we’ll forget there’s a spotlight at all, dwelling so long in the tiny circle of light that we forget there’s a broader landscape beyond it.” – Chip and Dan Heath, “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work”

Managing Process Is Not Leading People

“You manage things, you lead people.  We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership. It might help if we ran the MBAs out of Washington. – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, USN

Every day, otherwise smart people confuse leadership with management.  By enforcing rules, giving orders or correcting the way things happen, they think they’re leading.  Leadership is about influencing people, getting things done through them.   Take a look at this comparison from the Clemmer Group:

Management Leadership
Systems, processes, and technology People — context and culture
Goals, standards, and measurements Preferred future, principles, and purpose
Control Commitment
Strategic planning Strategic opportunism
A way of doing A way of being
Directing Serving
Responding and reacting Initiating and originating
Continuous improvement of what is Innovative breakthroughs to what could be

If this were the reality of management vs. leadership, how much time are you putting into leadership?

Tommy Kramer Tip #69 – Pandering

I hear a lot of pandering to the audience lately.

Here are a couple of examples:

“Here’s the forecast for your Tuesday…” (It’s not “my” Tuesday. It doesn’t belong to anyone. Remember, the Weather app on my iPhone can give me the weather, and has a map of what’s going on right above my house.)

This one came from a morning show – a bumper that said “Call your show now…” (It’s not MY show. And if it were, I’d want that sidekick fired that still thinks “That’s what SHE said” is funny.)

There are lots of others, each more tedious than the next. There’s a word for this. It’s obsequious. It means “fawning” – slathering someone with phony-baloney praise. (Street meaning: kissing butt.)

Just be real. No one believes this horse hockey. Take it off your station now.

If you want to have a conversation with an adult, treat ’em like an adult.

If you want to have a conversation with a teenager, treat ’em like an adult.