Frost Advisory #226 – Here, Kid, Try A Cigarette!

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In just a few weeks many Christian music radio stations across the country will be turning their format upside down and going all-Christmas.

E-gads! What’s with that?

for King & Country will give way to Nat King Cole, Plumb is swapped for Bing, and Michael W. Smith is replaced by, well, Michael W. Smith.

And we all understand why. To attract more listeners.

Or, to put it another way, for our stations to be more accepted.

Acceptance is a powerful idea. It’s often the basis for our friendships, the groups we hang out with, and even the church we go to.

The opposite is also true. Lack of acceptance is often what divides political parties, causes people to go to court, and fractures families and friendships.

Andy Stanley recently shared the idea that acceptance lowers resistance. It is the groups that accept you that often have the greatest influence, whether your college fraternity, your Harley rider’s club, or your small group at church.

Notice the sequence – acceptance happens before influence. You probably didn’t have your first cigarette alone, Andy Stanley observes. It was being with friends, those that accepted you, that lowered your resistance and allowed their ideas or behaviors a foot in the door. Every parent instinctively knows this to be true, which is why we’re so concerned about who our kids hang around with.

So if acceptance leads to influence (positive or negative), and Christian music stations exist to have greater influence, then it seems to me that figuring out how to build acceptance into your station would be a pretty important deal.

No One Wants To Grow Up To Be A Sergeant

When a soldier looks up on the battlefield he will not see his first sergeant, sergeant major, company commander, battalion commander …. he won’t even see his platoon sergeant! He WILL see HIS sergeant …. the squad leader, crew chief, team leader, tank commander …. and this NCO will principally provide the leadership, advice, counsel, and firm and reassuring direction on that battlefield. – Gen. Paul F. Gorman (US Army)

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Funny, when I was a kid and would play war with my neighborhood friends, they all wanted to be the leader. Most thought of themselves as captains, majors, or even generals. If you were thinking about joining the military, you were probably thinking of yourself as an officer, not a sergeant.

When we relate ourselves to military leaders, it’s always to generals, never about sergeants.  I was different.  Gunnery Sergeant Frank Mason taught me the value of the non-comms who run the military.

When you hire people, look for tomorrows leaders, someone with promotability. But remember, hiring only future officers leads to a station full of Ensigns, young leaders looking at the promotion ladder, and not their present situation.

But sergeants really like being sergeants. They know the secret, that it’s the non-commissioned officers who make the military work. Orders without someone who can execute brilliantly aren’t going to get you anywhere.

You probably know the “officers” at your station, but who are the “sergeants?” Who really makes things happen on that tactical level?   If you look closely, they may be the ones that people tend to follow naturally.  Make sure those people understand how important they are, and that you respect them even though they may not want to grow into an officer.

How Into Yourself Are You?

Don’t surround yourself with yourself.” – The group Yes, from the song “I’ve seen all good people.”

If you’re familiar with the group Yes, you probably hadn’t thought of them being philosophical, but like many musicians, sometimes they just can’t help it.

When you hire someone to work with, do you hire someone that clicks with you, that is like you?  Or do you hire someone who is a little different, who compliments you?  Most people unconsciously choose someone like themselves.  What most people need is rarely another of themselves, it’s someone who is strong where they’re weak.

Otherwise you run the danger of the movie Multiplicity, where a man duplicated himself to get more done, but every copy was just a little dumber, just a little stranger.  It didn’t wind up working out at all.

I guess I’m suggesting that you fight the natural impulse, to like and hire someone like yourself.  Instead, do an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, and find someone who will balance you…even if a little.  A great example is what Steve Jobs did when he hired Tim Cook as his COO.  Time will tell, and we all miss Job’s creative way of doing things, but Cook has been doing well in his own way.  He’s not trying to be Jobs, he’s trying to be himself.

A friend moves on

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

There are people you meet in your career who leave a mark.  Sometimes good, sometimes not so good.  One of those people for me was Kevin Metheny.

When I first met Kevin we were competing with each other, me at KING in Seattle, and Kevin at KJR.  It was a magnificent battle, and one of those radio stories where people were in combat all the time and yet friends too.  He was this kid in a t-shirt and overalls who practiced a mean variety of guerrilla warfare.  That’s probably what I remember the most.

Kevin moved on from there, and followed a career of creativity, no matter how controversial it got.  He was a focused, strategic person who wasn’t afraid to take a few bullets to win the battle. In a lot of ways most people will never understand, he blazed a new trail wherever he went.  He was not afraid to jump off the cliff and flap his wings.

I remember sitting with him at a restaurant in Jacksonville, talking about the “old days,” when he looked at me and said, ‘How would you like to go through the rest of your career knowing you were “Pig vomit’ from the Howard Stern movie Private Parts.”  That eclipsed all of what he did with so many stations in his career, with a batting average much better than many in the majors.

I’m  not letting you know all this because he was a friend, but because he was a strategic and creative mind at the same time.  You know how I feel about creativity, we’re lacking in it as we focus on incremental improvements from where we are.  He died of a heart attack last Saturday at the age of 60.  Surely it was due to putting so much of his heart into his work.  But what a ride it was, covering so many major markets and and so many innovations.  If you ever said to Kevin, “I don’t think you can do that,” you had to be prepared to get out of the way as he plowed ahead through any obstacle.

You might not know it, but we’ll all miss that goofy kid from Seattle, and the energy and focus he brought to radio.

How Many Shades Of Blue?

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

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As they often do, Fast Company provided a moment of insight and inspiration for me. It’s a story about naming a brand based on the color they use – especially the legion that use the color blue.

According to them, “If you are able to distinguish Facebook-sapphire from IBM-azure, then you are either incredibly observant or around these particular shades so often that they’ve seeped into subconscious associations.”

I wonder if that’s true with radio? We all want to think we are differentiated enough to have our own color of blue, but is it true? If we showed generic logos in our color and typeface, would they know us? Better yet, if we ran three air checks with the station name edited out, back-to-back with four from other stations, would we be differentiated enough to be recognized?

Here’s what I would say is the probable answer, “Your fans would, but it would be a struggle for everyone else. Your fans, your tribe, are the ones with the emotional connection, while everyone else is using you more as a utility. We’re not as different as we think to the more casual listener.

But differentiation actually isn’t the topic of this posting. It’s the common rallying cry that radio is a cume business, and success is proportional to the size of your cume. That may be true if your mass appeal, as the large cume is the boat in which your fans float in, but not so much if you’re not country, CHR, AC or talk. But sometime those stations are so mass appeal they get their success from being everyone’s number two station more than from a tribe.

Isn’t the key here to make sure the tribe is a larger one, so you have enough people to make a difference, but being distinctive enough so your tribe feel “special?” Otherwise you might be like smooth jazz, where the tribe was passionate enough to “vote” the station to success with a diary, but not large enough to sustain itself commercially in a PPM world.

There’s nothing wrong with having a large cume unless you’re sacrificing tribal distinction to get It. In the end it comes down your fans, who give you the preponderance of your listening. They want to feel special and they want to feel included.

Tommy Kramer Tip #71 – Radio Tourette Syndrome

Thoroughness – a valuable quality in almost every job – is actually not the best thing for radio. Trying to do every thing every time is almost a disease. Let’s call it Radio Tourette Syndrome.

For example, the giving of three surrounding cities’ temperatures, then “and in downtown Candyland, it’s 82” to close the weather forecast. As a listener, I only care about MY area. You’d be better off with one satellite city mention, then the main one. Rotate the surrounding cities one at a time, and you get rid of the “laundry list” thing that other stations do. It doesn’t take long for the listener to at least subconsciously notice that you’re not still rattling out more numbers.

It’s the same with everything, really…

Giving the Artist and Title every time gets old. We’re friends and entertainers, not musicologists.

Giving every possible facet of a contest every time you talk about it just makes you sound like either (1) you can’t shut up, or (2) someone is holding a gun to your head making you do it.

Oh, and that ‘deejay thing’ of purposely “hitting the post” (talking right up to the start of the vocal) every time just makes people want to duct tape your mouth shut after a while. (And it makes Pandora look really good.)

The real point is that trying to be too “thorough” is the enemy of editing. What you gain in Information you lose in Momentum. Take that thought and run with it in every phase of your station possible.

What’s The Role Of Your Talent

Dana Perrino (Fox News) in an interview with a U.S. Navy SEAL discussing all the countries he had been sent to:
“Did you have to learn several languages?”
“No, ma’am, we don’t go there to talk.”

Recently I heard that some in radio management said the music was all that counted on a station, that a the talent didn’t add much value.  In fact that the concept of “personality” radio was old school, and in modern times it was about having good DJ’s.  I really didn’t know what to say.

You certainly can’t turn good DJ’s into personalities, and maybe that was at the root of it.  You have to know the principles of personality in order to be one.  However, a blanket statement about personality being old school fade me to think, “That means the pilot of an airplane doesn’t matter, just the airplane.”

I consider the right personalities a “force multiplier,” another of those military terms I tend to use.  According to wikipedia, force multiplication, in military usage, refers to an attribute or a combination of attributes which make a given force more effective than that same force would be without it. How cool that you can have this kind of forcer multiplier at your station.

All it takes is a strategy of understanding what kind of talent and why. You can’t take the “good DJ” route and then wonder why you’re not building an ongoing relationship with your listeners. It takes strategic intent to hire or develop talent that can build the relationship. It’s more difficult than the typical approach, because, in my experience, the best talents are also the most quirky.  That’s a nice way of saying high maintenance.

That high maintenance is worth it when you’re in competition as much as we all are.  While a good DJ might be able to keep people from tuning out, a force multiplier talent is magnetic, drawing people to him or her.  They’re the elite special forces of the radio airwaves.  Strong willed, independent, unique and maybe even a little egotistical.

I don’t know about you, but if I were trouble I’d rather hear a Seal is coming to rescue me.

Turning Passion On It’s Head Continued

Instead of, “do what you love,” perhaps the more effective mantra for the entrepreneur, the linchpin and maker of change might be, “love what you do.”

If we can fall in love with serving people, creating value, solving problems, building valuable connections and doing work that matters, it makes it far more likely we’re going to do important work.” – Seth Godin

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I guess this is the non-musical version of, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

I run into so many people who aren’t happy in their jobs.  The explanations run from wishing they didn’t have to deal with other people to a boss who makes their life miserable (or just doesn’t know what he or she is doing) to some version of “the people I work with are idiots.”  Only rarely do they realize that their happiness lies inside them, not outside them.  No one else can make you happy, only you can.

An important part of that is loving what you do.  Again, it’s what’s inside that counts, not what’s outside.  We might feel like we’re being oppressed or miserable, but it’s under our own control.  An uncomfortable conclusion, but you can always leave, and pursue what you love.

It’s especially troubling when the person is a part of leadership.  When leadership is unhappy and feels like everything is bad, it trickles down into everyone else.  They’re looking for their happiness from someone else, and it’s not going to happen.  It’s important to understand that leadership is supposed to provide inspiration and happiness to their people.  Leadership should help people grow their passion, not kill it.  Yeah, sometimes that sucks, but it’s the job you’ve chosen to handle.

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

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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 brandchannel.com.

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.

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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?”