Radio and The Art Of Sucking

Radio and The Art Of Sucking

by Tracy Johnson

I’ve been struggling with some hard concepts for awhile. It’s about the process of becoming a great personality or great radio station. And I’ve come to a conclusion. Great radio brands are created only when a broadcaster first embraces and excels in the art of sucking.

Part of the satisfaction of being a talent coach to radio personalities is the joy when talent discovers how their gifts can be applied to achieve excellence. But the journey is hard. And many give up before they find their way. Or they stall because of frustration when they fall short of their own expectations. Or the expectation of others.

It’s okay to suck. In fact, the art of sucking is a necessary part of the journey from learning to mastery.

Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek once said,
If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough…and that’s a big mistake.

Everyone tends to think that knowledge + experience = expertise. Knowing how something is done doesn’t produce the ability to do that thing. That’s not how it works.

I can study how to throw a baseball for decades. But understanding everything there is to know about it doesn’t mean I can perform it well enough to be a major league pitcher.

It’s one thing to have information and training. It’s another to become proficient in the art.

Becoming A Black Belt

Martial arts students learn everything they need to become a Black Belt in a relatively short time. But that doesn’t make them a Black Belt. That takes time, discipline, and a commitment to the craft. Only a few reach the top.

And in the process, there is a lot of sucking. It takes hundreds of hours to learn the skills, and thousands more to become a Black Belt.

Becoming a Black Belt in personality radio is hard. And it’s frustrating. There are no shortcuts. It’s going to suck for a while because anything worthwhile stretches beyond your comfort zone.

Stick with the process and it will pay off. As Winston Churchill said:

Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

In the beginning, it’s going to suck. Because you suck at first. Stay with it. It’ll get better and you’ll suck less. Keep doing it and eventually, you’ll suck so little, you’ll be good.

Everything that becomes great starts from a place of sucking.

The Art Of Sucking and Permission To Fail

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

  • Those unwilling to golf badly at first will never be a great golfer.
  • Great writers write poorly at first.
  • If you are not willing to cook badly at first, you are never going to be a great chef.
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Every successful person that ever lived has failed. Most fail more often than average folks. But they never stop pursuing the goal.

And that’s the difference. They push through the sucking.

The key: Fail fast and fail big. Study the performance to figure out why it failed. Then fix it.

Or as Tom Peters once described the key to success:

Reward Spectacular Failure. Punish Mediocre Success.

Rewards go to those who reach for something spectacular. Anyone can achieve mediocrity by polishing average skills. But that will result in being at the high end of average. And the marketplace doesn’t reward average.

Without the courage to fail…to push through the process…you will settle for average. And that will not be rewarded.

Don’t Be Reckless

Of course, that isn’t a license to justify poor or sloppy performance. Sucking is not a goal. It’s nothing to celebrate. This is about the pursuit of becoming extraordinary and understanding how greatness happens.

Start with a strategy and a mentor to hold you accountable. Someone that tells the truth.

DeDe McGuire of the syndicated DeDe In The Morning has a mentor that helped her push through the art of sucking. She talks about the process of learning to become a great host.

It was hard, and Geo (K104/Dallas Program Director George Cook) was relentless. We’d listen to audio together. We’d listen to part of a break that took 15 seconds to make a point. He challenged me to rephrase it and figure out how to say it in 7. It was hard. So I got it to 7 seconds. Then he told me to figure out how to do it in 5. It wasn’t about the length of the break. It was about mastering the art of brevity. We did this over and over and over until it became a habit. This discipline made the whole show more entertaining.

DeDe had the knowledge and knew how important it was to be focused, clear and efficient. But she wasn’t a Black Belt. She needed help to apply it to her personality.

Take The Shot

Not everyone reaches the top. The ones that make it put in the effort.

Ryan Seacrest is highly talented, but his greatest asset is his work ethic. Read more about it here.

Great performers are fearless. That doesn’t mean being fearless. It means taking on challenges and overcoming that fear. It means taking chances to bravely seek mastery of your craft.

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Wayne Gretzky is the greatest hockey player ever. He once said:

100% of the shots you don’t take won’t go into the net.

Take the shot. You’re going to miss it. You’re going to suck at first. That’s okay. Study the process and shoot again. You’ll get it.

Becoming A Great Personality

What do you need to reach your potential? Start with knowledge. Do you know how to master personality radio? If not, get some help.

Here are two resources to start:

1. The Audience Magnet Course is a thorough, 60-lesson online video course that teaches you how to be a great personality.

2. Insiders Radio Network is filled with tutorials, training, and resources on every aspect of personality radio.

3. Personality Magnet is curated daily show prep that helps your find unique content each day.

If you have no mentor, use our Air Check Coaching service. Book a session, or series of sessions. We can help.


It’s a great time to be a personality that leads a loyal community of fans. It’s a terrible time to be an announcer.

As baseball Hall of Fame member Duke Snider once said:

Swing hard every time…just in case you happen to hit the ball.

And the next time someone says, “You suck”, celebrate it. Maybe you’re on the path to success.


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