This article by Paul Kaye was first published on Puget Sound Radio July 28th, 2015
Working with talent could be the single most important part of a programmer’s job. In a world where our competitors can duplicate our music, counter-program our stop sets, defend against our marketing claims and more, talent remains one of the few areas that gives our stations a unique point of difference. What separates a good station from a great station nowadays is what goes between the songs; the experience surrounding the music really counts. Great talent enhances locality, creates bonds, captures imaginations, provokes emotions and supplies the much needed heartbeat to our brand.
Sadly, we hear from talent that managers don’t devote enough time to talent. Airchecks are the first thing that get moved or cancelled in the ever demanding schedule of a PD. Worse, when PD’s do spend time with talent, it’s often not as effective as it should or could be. Working with talent can be daunting and overwhelming for programmers, and it can be intimidating and deflating for talent. It’s not uncommon for talent to fear airchecking and for programmers to just avoid it.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll explore airchecking through the eyes of talent. Air talent from the US, Canada, UK and Middle-East talk candidly about their airchecking experiences — the good, the bad and the downright ugly. The talent comes from a mix of major and medium sized markets in all formats. Some of the talent are well respected morning show hosts and some are exceptionally gifted music personalities. It’s an eclectic – and successful — group, and their firsthand insights are invaluable.
Our talent panel had all had experiences with both good and bad coaches. Our hope is that through this series you’ll hear what talent need and don’t need from their coaches. Throughout, we’ll also share some thoughts on how to make the time spent with talent more effective. With that in mind, we’re now ready to start our journey to find out the good, the bad and the ugly of airchecking.
We started by asking our talent panel: Why does talent often dislike airchecks?
“I had one PD gave me some terrible comments about how much he hated my voice and that I should get out of radio…I almost quit!”
“We’re confident and insecure at the same time! Outgoing enough to be on the radio, but sensitive to criticism as we’re putting ourselves out there every day.”
“When you aircheck in big groups including PDs and a consultant, maybe an MD… that makes you feel a bit exposed. It’s like standing naked in front of a room of people and asking them to tell you what you need work on.”
The quote that always resonates with me is, “They forget what you say to them. They forget what you do with them. But they never forget how you made them feel” The job of a coach is ultimately to make talent feel safe. The thought of receiving feedback, especially negative feedback, can create stress and elicit the same biological responses as a threat to your safety.
It is your job as the coach to reduce that feeling. The coach needs to create a safe and positive environment. Some talent hate airchecks because they have been mismanaged in the past. They have been made to feel inadequate and inferior. There is nothing you can do to change the past, but coaches have to be aware of it. Before you start coaching talent, ask questions about their past experiences both positive and negative. Learn how the talent likes to receive feedback and what they don’t like. Each coaching relationship should be tailored to the coachee. As the coach, you don’t ever get to make it about you and how you want to work, it’s about them and how they want to work.
“I dreaded airchecks when I was working with people I did not respect. It is so important to feel you can learn from your coach, and if you can’t there is genuine dread that they will make you worse, not better.”
“Often, because there’s no partnership, there’s a feeling of them and us.”
“One way or another it’s going to be a clash of personalities. There are instances of ‘You can’t teach me anything,’ ‘You’re in my way,’ ‘I’m sorry, what morning show did you do?’ Trust is a huge issue.”
Once you have established a safe and positive environment to coach the talent, your next responsibility is to foster a relationship built on trust. What steps can you take to build trust during your aircheck sessions?
- Be honest. Always tell the truth. Don’t lie. Never try and hide what you’re feeling. Share all relevant information. There has to be complete honesty amongst you and the talent. Both of you have to trust whatever the other says without hesitation.
- Look to make your relationship mutually beneficial. If you have a self-serving agenda, that will cast a doubt on your trustworthiness. Upfront, both parties need to be clear on what they want to get out of the coaching relationship, what are each other’s goals and wants. You need to genuinely care about the people you’re working with. You’re in this together!
- Start by asking a lot of questions. Asking questions is always better than making assumptions and judgment.
- Pause after asking questions. Create a sense of space for the coachee to actually answer your question.
- Give the talent your undivided attention. Your whole focus should be on them. They need to become the centre of your universe. This makes them feel important and that you care. These feelings help build trust.
- Show them understanding. Acknowledging their point of view and their feelings is an important part of the process. You don’t have to agree but you do need to let them know you have actually heard what they have to say.
- Listen and consider the ideas of other’s with an open mind. The job of the coach is not to have the answers but to ask the questions that help the talent discover the answers.
“The Talent who hate airchecks are probably used to having someone aircheck them to death…just waiting for the wrong.”
It wasn’t uncommon to hear from our panel of talent that people dreaded airchecks because PD’s used them as an opportunity to focus on a never ending list of ‘what went wrong.’ An important coaching technique is positive reinforcement. First you identify the right behaviors in their performance and then reward them with positive feedback. Positive reinforcement of good behaviors encourages talent to exhibit these behaviors as the rule, not the exception. You are far more likely to see growth if you focus on talent’s potential rather than their shortcomings. When working with talent look for positives and make a big deal out of them. Research has shown that a healthy relationship has a 4:1 ratio of positives to negatives. When working with talent try and keep a healthy ratio of positives to negatives. But, praise for the sake of praise is ineffective. You need to be specific. There is no space for being vague. Help the talent understand exactly what they did well so that they can remember it and repeat it.
Next time, as we continue our journey through the good, the bad and the ugly of Airchecking, we ask “What makes for a great aircheck?” and offer some useful tips to making your airchecks more effective.
About Paul Kaye
Born in England, Paul got his first PD role in the early 2000s, making him the youngest programmer in the UK at the time. After nearly a decade programming in the UK Paul moved to Canada in 2012 to work for Newcap. Paul spends his days looking after stations in the CHR, Hot-AC and Classic Hits formats and also holds the role of National Talent Development Director for the company. A role that sees him working with morning shows, on air talent, and programmers across the country to improve performance.
Paul is now VP, Music Brands & In House TV Production for Rogers
Paul can be reached at [email protected]