Flashback to 1995: I was the new program director at Star 98.7, which was the also-ran AC in Los Angeles behind KOST and KBIG. Female singer-songwriters like Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, and Melissa Etheridge were flourishing at that time. So we made the decision to switch to the Modern AC format.
We also noticed that no radio station was entertaining listeners stuck in their cars on the freeways of Southern California in the afternoon. We considered the possibility of differentiating ourselves with a personality benchmark in afternoon drive to take advantage of the marathon Los Angeles rush hours.
I hired Rick Stacy, who was one of the most creative air talents around. And the first week was a disaster! Rick was rusty from being off the air programming for a couple of years and nervous about being on the air in LA. He was talking faster than the voiceover disclaimers on commercials. We were bombed with complaints to shut this guy up and play music.
I was thinking, "What the hell have I done. I just signed this guy to a guaranteed two-year contract for a few hundred thousand dollars! I'm toast if I go to Viacom and tell them we have to pay this guy off and hire someone else." Plus, Rick was sensitive, like most creative people. I knew that if I hit him with all the things that were wrong with the show he could get worse.
I had just attended an Esther Hicks seminar (inspirational and metaphysical teacher) that focused on the idea that "Whatever you put your attention on expands." I decided to find something Rick was doing well and focus on that. By looking at what is possible, two strengths emerged. He sounded good interacting with the reporter from Metro Traffic, Leah Brandon, and with callers. Rick was also skilled at creating comedy skits and parodies.
The show turned around, the complaints turned to compliments, and the ratings soared to the highest numbers ever achieved on that station before or since.
I learned three lessons from that experience:
1. You don't have to hammer away at correcting all the negatives. By identifying what is possible and focusing on strengths, the negatives organically disappear.
2. Talent trumps fit. Rick sounded more of a fit for Top 40 than AC. He was engaging and creative and so his style didn't matter.
3. Personality-driven shows can work in afternoons in the right marketing scenario.
When you think something is impossible and it'll never work, it won't. When you put your attention on what is possible, big things can happen.
Randy Lane is the president and founder of the Randy Lane Company which offers talent development and personal branding for media personalities.
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