Program directors who defend their radio brand well and keep on-air talents happy have a better chance of building a successful morning show and winning radio station.
A lesson learned from the PDs Club at Radiodays Europe 2012: successful program directors combine smart strategies and emotional intelligence. They invest time in long-term relationships with great talents and leading personalities. “Having the same morning guy for 30 years is unbeatable.”
- How to develop yourself as a radio program director
- How to focus on your radio programming strategy best practices
- How to guide your on-air staff while respecting their creative abilities
- How to discover authentic radio personalities that connect with audiences
- How to maintain a great relationship with your best radio talents
- How to create a successful morning show and coach deejays
- How to find inspiration for great radio show content
- How to use social media for radio show prep
“Research results are just numbers;
you’ve got to find the ideas”
Follow personal interest compass
Ina Tenz is program director of ffn, a Hot AC station in the German state of Niedersachsen, leading this “highly competitive market” for 7 years now. ENERGY Berlin was the station where she started in the 1990s as a presenter, but: “I felt that being a deejay wasn’t what I really wanted to do.” On-air promotion caught her interest, and in this function she worked on the imaging & branding of RTL Radio and ffn.
Move up in ranks
“I liked this strategic side of radio – how to find a format for your station, and fill that with creativity. Research results are just numbers; you’ve got to find the ideas.” After her on-air promotion stints, Ina Tenz was made responsible for programming entire stations. First at a smaller station, ENERGY Munich, second at ffn, to which she returned in 2002 to become assistant PD & PD. She’s at one radio station for over a decade now.
Job-hop to expand horizons
That used to be quite different. In her twenties, Tenz did a lot of intentional job-hopping. “Every second year I had a new job, just to collect experience.” Now she’s programming ffn for a decade already – realizing that “it’s more difficult to keep high ratings than to go to a station, repair everything, have success, and get out.” Her current challenge is maintaining the station’s leading position and further develop the brand.
Combine different work experiences
Virgin Radio France program director Jean Isnard has a long track record as well, starting at Skyrock in 1989. He worked at Fun Radio and Europe 1 before moving to London for MTV. Isnard co-created Feel Full Factory and sold this production company to his current employer, the media giant Lagardère. Isnard believes that “the future is a combination of Internet and radio”. In France, Virgin is a CHR with a daily reach of about 2 million people.
Think season to season
When it comes to his professional life, Jean Isnard doesn’t want to look too far ahead. “It’s like in fashion”, he explains. “I make a collection for a year, and if it’s a success – if we have more listeners – I’ll make another season. I don’t think in 2 or 3 years, because the world is changing every day.” To him, his job isn’t work in the first place: “If you see it as a career; if you do the job just for money, you’re crap.”
Start as music director
Ivan Antala‘s radio life began in 1997 at the alternative student station Radio Ragtime in Slovakia, which left the airwaves in 1999. The year after, he moved to the first privately owned, national station Rádio Expres. Antala worked as music director for 6 years, before he was appointed as the station’s program director in 2006. Rádio Expres (AC) is the country’s number 1, reaching 900.000 daily and 1.5 million weekly listeners.
Love the radio lifestyle
Just like his French colleague, Ivan Antala never thought of his job as building a career. “Actually I never thought about it as a job either. I’m doing it because I like it; I love it; I enjoy it. I’m successful because we have a great team and most of them perceive it the same way; they see it as their hobby. We are people who love what they do, that’s the biggest secret behind our success. The day that I start thinking about it as a career is probably the day that I think about quitting the radio and moving somewhere else.”
Build new radio brands
Patricio Sanchez Gimenez is the senior radio programmer of the PDs Club. He’s heading Europa FM in Spain, a CHR with 1.6 million listeners, and sees it as “the most interesting phenomenon in Spanish radio for the past 25 years.” After starting in the 1980s at stations in Barcelona and Cataluna, he began building Europa FM just 2 years ago from scratch. “It’s the biggest challenge in my professional life.”
Unite responsibility and passion
Sanchez Gimenez sees his work as PD partly as a job, and partly as a hobby. “Of course we have our responsibilities, but I fully agree with Ivan Antala about the passion. When I did radio in the morning, I did not go there thinking: I’m going to work. I’m passionate for what I do, I never have the feeling that I’m tired.” While they all seem to share the same drive; their average workday priorities are somewhat different.
“The biggest issue is how to be present,
yet not to interfere”
Schedule morning show meetings
“The most important scheduled meeting is the morning show conference”, ffn program director Ina Tenz says. The station is built around radio personality Frank Schulte a.k.a. Morgenmän Franky (morning man Franky). From every station department, someone attends the morning show meeting at 10.00 AM. “We’re discussing what we’re going to do through the day, and which strategic things we want to change.”
Discuss execution of ideas
The second part of the morning show meeting is for its core team only. They evaluate today’s show, as well as plan the next one. “Not just what we’ll do, but also how we’re going to do it. Our morning host is becoming a father, which is a very interesting topic for our listeners. There are a million ways to communicate it, and we try to find the best one.” Tenz always attends the morning show meeting – if not physically, then on the phone.
Guard station brand values
Apart from the all-important morning show, Ina Tenz is closely involved in almost all other aspects of the ffn-brand as well. On a weekly basis, she does have separate meetings with the music, promotion and sales departments of the radio station. “We try to really protect our brand. Of course we want to earn money, but it has to be the ffn-tonality”, the program director explains.
Be a team member
Her French colleague Jean Isnard (photo) knows that program directors are often involved in organizing things, such as music, production, and the morning show. He thinks that as a PD, you need to leave your office now and then to talk to people, also outside the formal meetings. “It’s a feeling of being part of the team. You can’t just sit in your office, waiting to get the big ideas. It never happens.”
Guide, but give freedom
For Rádio Expres program director Ivan Antala “the biggest issue is how to be present, yet not to interfere”. He realizes that his people want to be creative themselves. “You have to give them room and just direct the whole process; not necessarily be with them all the time. It’s where you have to find the right balance.” His morning team has a daily meeting with their producer, to discuss the show and generate new ideas.
Avoid looking over shoulders
“I’m not present there all week”, Ivan Antala (photo) says, explaining that “we have learned from experience that it is better if people don’t feel that they are supervised.” Patricio Sanchez Gimenez agrees to that, but in his opinion especially young people need some guidance now and then. He is also closely involved in the music selection. “I use the advice from a consultancy company, but in the end I take the decisions myself”, the Europa FM PD says.
Make team changes wisely
Especially regarding your breakfast show, finding the right talent for your radio station is key. In ffn’s market Niedersachsen, Morgenmän Franky is on the air for 3 decades now, and number 1. “He’s very well known and very much liked”, according to Ina Tenz. She values the current team spirit in the morning show – knowing that to add new people to an existing team is sometimes a case of trial and error.
Find audience-connecting radio talents
When ffn was looking for a new morning show colleague, they tried a singer who was well known from the talent show Deutschland sucht den Superstar a.k.a. DSDS (based on Idols) where he became number 2. However, TV fame is no guarantee for radio success, especially not in this case: “It totally failed because he didn’t came from that part of Germany, he didn’t connect with people, and he wasn’t a good radio guy”, Tenz admits.
Create great time spirit
Eventually ffn replaced the DSDS-star by a radio personality. Not only does he have (probably mandatory) radio passion and experience, he’s also very much liked by the breakfast team since day one. It goes to show that assembling radio personalities that form a great team is key for every successful morning show: “The chemistry between these guys just works, and we see our trackings take off now.”
“When you find a guy who likes to be in the streets,
that’s very good”
Put entertaining characters upfront
Ivan Antala is using a very basic yet mostly accurate standard for selecting on-air talents. “If people are entertaining when you go out with them for a beer, they’ll manage to entertain the listeners, and vice versa.” Then, being really open: “We had a morning team which results were great, but when you had a beer with a least one of them, they would actually be totally boring. Eventually we replaced them.”
Look for audience-friendly talents
Jean Isnard’s advice is to “find someone who wants to be loved by many people” as lead character of your breakfast show. In September 2011, Virgin Radio contracted Cyril Hanouna to become their new radio star. He came from RTL, the number 1 radio station in France, where he did a lunch program. From daytime, he now moved to the early shift, for his Virgin Radio show Hanouna Le Matin (Hanouna In The Morning).
Hire outgoing radio personalities
The fact that he’s an extraverted person helps a lot with the promotion of the show. “In France we have a presidential election this year, so we’ve made Cyril Hanouna president of the morning.” With a campaign bus they drove through France, visiting one city each day for public appearances – like going to schools, telling jokes to kids. “When you find a guy who likes to be in the streets, that’s very good”.
Coach on-air radio talents
The entire PDs Club agrees that coaching your talents and personalities is essential. Europa FM program director Sanchez Gimenez (photo) makes it his mission to devote much time to speak with the radio station’s on-air staff. “I talk to them in my office and when I ask them: how are you doing? Are you enjoying what you’re doing? They say: yeah, everything’s okay, but I don’t make enough money”, he jokes.
Keep top personalities happy
“Morning show hosts are often extreme personalities. At least, ours is”, ffn-PD Ina Tenz reveals. “Of course he wants money as well, all the time” (laughs). One of the best ways to establish continuity in the program schedule of your station is to maintain a good relation with your radio personalities by helping them when they have a problem. “Whenever he’s in trouble, we try to be there and find solutions.”
Build long-term talent relationships
It’s evident that working with high-profile talents can be challenging. “We have lots of discussions with him, but we know what he’s worth. We try to accept him the way he is”, she says about ffn Morgenmän Franky (photo). As a program director, she makes an effort to build a partnership with the morning host, based on trust and loyalty. “It’s good for our station. Having the same morning guy for 30 years is unbeatable.”
Develop in-house radio personalities
But sometimes, change leads a good morning show to an even better one. Rádio Expres program director Ivan Antala recalls: “In 2006, we had a guy working at our promotion department. He used to be a deejay in the past, but not at that time. Then we took another guy, one of his friends, who was a sound producer. We thought that they had great chemistry together, so we asked them: what about doing one show a week?”
Listen around for talents
The two friends made so much progress that they became the new morning hosts of Slovakia’s number 1 station. Since September 2011, they present the breakfast show Hemendex. “The guys who five years ago were not supposed to be deejays in the radio. Just because we felt that they had more potential than what they were doing and the chemistry was working great between them”, Rádio Expres program director Ivan Antala says.
There was also room for a couple of questions. Someone in the audience asked Ina Tenz:
What do you think is the biggest challenge that’s facing our business and your individual station?
“It’s all about the brand. We really have to meet our listener”, she answers, explaining that while ffn is a music station, content and personalities are making the difference. “That’s why we invest so much creativity and talks in how to be better than the rest and how to be very much entertaining. How to put our stationality in everything we do: in the jingles; the way that the deejays sound; the stunts that we do. We manage to be wanted by our listener because they identify with our program.”
“We try to defend every important wall”
Defend key brand values
Ina Tenz compares her radio station with a city, surrounded by walls. “In the center is our brand ffn, and we try to defend every important wall.” The strongest walls for ffn are music, promotions, local content and the morning show with a popular host. “Then Virgin Radio could come, or ENERGY, or Coca-Cola Radio, but they won’t be able to deliver that.”
My question for the panel of program directors was:
Where do you find inspiration outside your radio stations?
Listen to street conversations
Virgin Radio PD Jean Isnard feels that for the best ideas “you need to go out on the streets” to be in touch with your audience. He adds that social media are a great shortcut to directly connect to fans and followers online. Minutes after you put a question out, you’ll get responses that could be useful show prep. “Don’t be afraid to put something on Facebook. Just try something. You can then see if you put it on the air or not.”
Echo current audience buzz
His German colleague Ina Tenz explains that she does a similar thing at ffn. The difference is that they brainstorm internally – having sessions with a mastermind group of staff members. (Z100 does this as well, with their off-campus days by the way – as written in the article Big Picture = Better Production.) “We have old people and young people, with a totally different focus of interest. Some are family fathers and some are party girls. We try to find the buzz, you know; what people are talking about.”
Leverage social media power
Social media play an important role for ffn as well. “We have a studio dog; a part of the morning show team is a big dog with a long coat. His name is Bizkit (photo) and he’s got a Facebook account with 32.000 followers right now.” Tenz says that ffn-listeners love it: “It’s funny how many responses we get when we drop in an idea or a thought there. It’s a fun way for us to find out that social media really work out for the day-to-day business.”
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