Radio managed by remote control by Marty Forbes



By Marty Forbes

Marty’s Musings

August 6th, 2015


Radio managed by remote control….

I proudly worked with the finest ownership groups in Canadian radio over 4 decades.They were all great radio stations owned by great radio broadcast groups – plain and simple.From ‘day one’ in my career these companies hired the very best General Managers in the business that they could find and/or ‘develop’ in their systems.I learned ‘everything’ from these people – including my late Father who ran 630 CHED when it had a 55 share of listening in the Edmonton market in the 1970’s.Can you imagine that share today 🙂

A ‘great’ General Manager does many things to make a radio station highly successful.

He/She “manages by walking around” first and foremost.  Not just in the morning but throughout the day to touch everybody they possibly can regardless of shift or responsabilities.

He/She greeted people in the hallways – at their desks – at the coffee machine and asked about ‘their families’ – how’d junior do at his first hockey game? – how’d the daughter do in the dance competition? – how your folks health situation was – you know, the things that ‘weigh’ on somebody’s minds while they’re at the office doing their job or trying to inform/entertain an audience.

Find me a morning show – your highest paid employees generally – who doesn’t enjoy knowing the GM drove in to the station actually ‘listening’ to their show – popping his/her head in to the control room to say “great show guys” or “thanks for showing up to the station event last night!”

My bro Ger has done mornings for 35 plus years in Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary and I can assure you he still enjoys a pat on the back or a kick in the ass comment about his show.

OK maybe the kick part isn’t accurate but I can tell you that he still loves to learn and adjusts his show to what Management wants to hear with positive input to his show.

A great GM ‘manages’ the community.

Attending those ‘must attend’ functions.  Giving back to ‘key needs’ in the local market.  Putting a face to a name.  Getting out of the corner office and ‘learning’ what the hot spots are in the city.  Donating time or cash or both to various important causes – like children’s hospitals – somebodys wheelchair that was just stolen – chatting with parents, Doctors, Nurses, kids and grandparents that all need a little ‘love’ or support from their local radio station.

He/She worked on committees – like the United Way for example – where 35 or so ‘business leaders’ OR their extended family (spouses/kids) are part of important committees ‘building’ the city.

At those committee meetings ‘more than once’ I remember discussions by business leaders asking us which companies in town (locally or nationally owned)  ‘gave back’ to the City of Edmonton in which they were receiving ‘profits’ from their business.

More than once when somebody said a certain non locally based company informed us that they were not going to contribute to the United Way this year – the call went out to us with the message  – ‘and which of us are going to use THEIR services from now on?”

Sometimes those donations hit home hard – for example – The Bear once donated several ‘heart monitors’ to the neonatal section at the Royal Alec here in Edmonton.  At last count I believe THREE family members (or a friend/neighbor) had newborn children that used those monitors.

GM’s ‘meet and mingle’ with leaders of industry.

The General Manager attended NHL and CFL games – mingling with ‘customers’ in the concourse – listening to opinions about our various radio stations – our ‘performers’ – our ‘newsrooms’ – etc. etc. etc.

A General Manager works hand in hand with ownership centralized in another city to let them know what is “different” in this city and why a National roll out of a concept or idea just may need a little local ‘tweaking’ to make certain it worked in their own particular market.

And let me assure you Edmonton is different from Vancouver – from Calgary – from Toronto and from Halifax or Penticton.

Good companies listened and gave those General Managers the freedom to make those adjustments.

A Good General Manager ‘fights’ for his/her employees – his/her format – and his/her special needs in the budget so as not to simply take a carbon copy decision that is often made by an HR or Financial Department decision by these companies.

He/She is the cornerstone to everything that makes radio successful from a ‘local’ level.

He/She makes sure those ‘little things don’t become big things.’

The GM ‘shows up’ at events, remotes, and important functions.

He/She makes sure everybody is flying the station’s flag – monitoring activities in each and every department.  Looking good in station clothing.  Showing up at a remote or event to see that the street team was engaging with the listeners and not just playing Words with Friends on their smart phone.

He/She keeps up to all ‘trends’ in the business – like Social Media – and stays ‘active’ with a learning curve in all new technologies to make sure that his/her radio station cluster remains competitive in an ever changing field.

PS: “PLEASE” put a GM’s full contact information on your website and send a bounce back message email that shows that the message was received and will be responded to by ‘somebody’ within 3 days like other businesses do.  

Social Media is the greatest free Focus Group you could ever have – and many stations often just put a recent broadcast school grad in the ‘first point of contact’ with the listeners without knowing what good or bad things these listeners are saying about their station or personnel unless it’s something totally ‘offensive’ and they’re looking for some guidance.

Most good GM’s are actually ‘on’ Facebook or Twitter to see how it works and what their own employees are posting under their corporate banner.

Leadership is everything. 

The Military got it right a thousand years ago making sure that the Five Star General leads – and that all thinking flows throughout the complete ranks from top to ground level.

Some of the best GM’s I’ve worked with came from the ‘content’ side of the business – and with them totally in charge the Sales Department often knew they had a great product to sell.

They were also ‘mentors’ to up and coming Program Directors or Sales Managers who want to eventually make it to the corner office.

My entire dream about radio started as a 14 year old watching my Dad work.  I didn’t want to just catch him – I wanted to beat him and it drove me until the day he died in 1981 when I changed my focus to making sure my ‘daughters, wife, and family’ were proud of my achievements in the radio business.

When I ‘almost’ retired from radio almost 7 years ago I sent a note – or an email – to every single former General Manager that I worked with during my career that I could find to send a personal ‘thank you’ to them for their sage guidance and advice that they provided to me during my time in radio.

I learned something from each and every one of them – sometimes what ‘not’ to do – but I simply would not have enjoyed the various successes I enjoyed in my career without them regardless of market size.

Most of the good stuff was actually learned ‘in the minors.’

An empty GM’s office speaks volumes.

For all the complaints and comments I’ve read over the past few years about what is “wrong” with radio I can safely say that about 99% of those problems could be fixed very quickly with a simple move by the corporate giants…….if they would just put “leadership back in the corner offices” and let these people run their radio stations with local knowledge and national support.

My favourite comment from friends/peers is “why do you still work so hard now Marty?”

I’m not working.

I still get invitations to all the best things in town – suites at football and hockey games; great seats at world class concerts (thanks record rep pals); conferences in the mountains, and great conventions and conferences around town.

I do believe it’s because I worked my ass off to make Edmonton a better place to live by utilizing the power of the radio stations that I was so blessed to run.

It’s a whole new ‘centralized media world!’

Look – I understand what has changed in the business – and yes it’s easy to sit back and criticize the business now but very simply – having a radio station with an empty corner office has a ‘huge’effect on how successful the business is for each and every employee, and owner.

No leadership – no results.

Or as another highly respected radio General Manager said to me last week…

…”maybe we’re the dinosaurs?

God I hope not.


About the blogger:   I was fortunate to have been in Management of radio stations for 38 of my 40 years in the business – Lethbridge, Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton.  Upon retirement in 2009 I was honored by being inducted in to the WAB Hall of Fame.  In 2012 I was bestowed with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for community Service.  

Since retiring I have proudly been part of organizations who have raised over $22 million dollars for charities across Canada.



  1. Good Read Marty!
    I also appreciate the fact when talking about management you refer to He/She, but I have to admit throughout my years I have never worked for a woman manager, be it as an MD, PD or General Manager, which started me thinking. It would be interesting to focus in on woman in management jobs within the industry who have made a name for themselves, such as those in station management. I for one as a psr fan would love to hear from the guys in the biz, as well as the gals and their comments. My question being, why such a low percentage of women in radio/tv station GM positions. And please, this is not to be taken offensively by anyone. This is a forum and lets talk about it

  2. Thanks Brian. I always hesitate to use names – good or bad – in case I either offend or forget somebody. It took a long time for women to break through in radio but I have worked with some amazing female managers in virtually every department and their success directly tied in to the GM’s success.

    There is a dual standard in most businesses. If a guy is tough he’s one thing…if a female is tough they use another word. BTW the top rated radio station in Canada is run by a female. CHFI.

    “If they act traditionally female, they’re going to be criticized for not being confident,” “But the comments are even more severe if people think they’re engaging in behaviors that are inappropriate for their sex. They’ll use (terms like) ‘witch’ or ‘bitch,’ and this is a way to put them in their place. It denies their ability, denies their effort, and denigrates them. It’s a brand that keeps women down in the workplace.”

  3. @ Brian … Good Lord, stations won’t even let women host the morning show! They are always relegated to the role of giggling, gossip-mongering “side chick”. (CBC excepted, of course)

  4. Marty, you hit the nail on the head. No doubt it can be operationally efficient to centralize some station functions but many organizations have gone way too far. The principle thing most stations have going for themselves these days is the fact that they are “local” and to be successful must truly serve their community and become an active and involved community citizen. That is impossible without a local leader in the corner office. Unfortunately in many cases corner offices are occupied, but the resident shows no leadership whatsoever and simply implements the directives of the central office which understands little, if anything, about the local community.

  5. Marty, I really enjoyed your thoughts on GM’s… your take on the job is right on. I came to the job of GM/GSM from the sales (dark) side but did have programming experience early in my time in Radio which gave me a good perspective on that side of the business. I always strove to lead by example in the community to establish our radio stations as a “Sustaining Resource” for the community resulting in our stations being the first choice by listeners and clients…


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