In all industries on the job experience is incredibly important. There’s only so much we can learn in books or as an outside observer. To really learn any profession, nothing is more powerful than on the job training. But, with how unique radio is, requiring a very specific set of skills that don’t really transfer well to or from other industries, working experience is particularly important. However, years of experience in a rapidly changing and low-paying form of the entertainment industry (at least on the averages) can leave any long-term radio professional jaded, battle-scarred and somewhat stuck in their ways. After all, when anyone has done a task literally thousands of times it’s very hard to look at it from a different perspective with a fresh set of eyes. For that reason, in recent years I’ve found that pairing experienced radio veterans with talented and intelligent newcomers can be a very powerful and winning combination both on the air and in the building. But, it’s an incredibly delicate balance that has to be managed properly in order to be successful.
First off, there will be tension. The newcomers will walk in with a ton of creative ideas they’re raring to try only to be told by the experienced employees why none of them will work or how they’re more than welcome to try all those things but they won’t be participating because they’re past that point in their career. On the flip side the newbies tend to look at many of the ideas from experienced employees as lame and outdated. The mistake many managers make in this scenario is that they default to the seniority of the experienced employee and end up essentially allowing them to fully train the newbie on everything, making them a less seasoned carbon copy of the other employee who’s picked up all their good and bad habits while also losing their valuable fresh perspective. The better way to manage around that tension is to play mediator. Allow both sides to have a voice and weigh in but they also both have to embrace a best idea wins philosophy and truly not care where the great idea came from. Then as we identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of them, play to those strengths and minimize the damage done by the weaknesses. When it’s working everyone will be learning from each other.
This dynamic plays out very clearly in brainstorming sessions when stations are trying to figure out what adjustments they should make going forward. This tends to happen whether we’re making major format changes or just trying to decide what promotions, contests and features to keep as is, revise or drop in the next year. In these planning meetings it’s a good idea to have at least one or two people who are new to the industry. But, they’ll clam up real quickly if every time they throw out a suggestion they get a litany of responses about how we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work, especially because that can have a chain-reaction where all the radio veterans begin to pile on. To combat this the person running the meeting should politely say something like this ‘well things have changed dramatically since then so let’s not be so quick to assume that this won’t work.’ Conversely a meeting where newcomers outweigh the experienced might need something said about how we can use modern technology and tools to enhance ideas that have worked well in the past.
To be clear, especially on air, the veteran and newbie combo is, of course, not the only one that will work. Having two or more seasoned professionals working together on a show is a formula that’s proven itself countless times. But, in my experience most of the true success stories within that scenario tend to find some way to incorporate that outside of radio, newcomer perspective and use it to better inform their daily programming decisions both on-air and digitally. Typically, that comes from interns, friends and family and/or by crowdsourcing ideas from listeners. Right now I’m coaching a little bit of both, shows where everyone involved has twenty plus years of experience and a couple of shows where we’ve successfully paired a radio veteran with a newbie. As always, the role I play has to adjust accordingly to fit the situation and their individual personality types. But, both are a fun challenge and I’m very proud of the growth of everyone I’ve coached this year. Every week I’m surprised by someone’s creativity and willingness to take the initiative to crack the mic and make great radio, crank out some unique digital content or get out into the community and get to know their audience.
Overall, the truth is that regardless of how long any of us have been doing this, none of us have all the answers. So, the best approach is always to establish a top-down culture of being open to trying new things, constantly learning from the successes and failures of everyone around us and recognizing that we’re all in this together win or lose.
What do you think? What challenges have you faced when pairing veterans and newbies and do you have any success stories from doing so? Comment below or email me at Andy@RadioStationConsultant.com.
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