Managing Air Talent: Catch Them Doing Something Good

Managing Air Talent: Catch Them Doing Something Good

by Tracy Johnson

There’s no real mystery to managing air talent. Whether they’re easy to get along with or very difficult air personalities, the recipe is the same. Just catch them doing something good, and reward them for it. Simple, right? If you now nothing else about coaching talent, just do that, and you’re ahead of the game.

It works. They want to make you happy. Life is easier when the boss is pleased. So show them what it takes to make you happier.

Everyone loves it when the boss tells them how great they are. And when you consistently praise them for the things you’d like repeated, they’ll keep doing it. It’s simple!

Managing Talent Is Like Training a Puppy

For years, psychologists have told us that positive reinforcement works. It makes for well-adjusted children and it also works with puppies. You get far better results with sugar than a stick.

It may be easier to dwell on negatives, the things that are wrong. We want to correct that behavior. We want to fix things. That’s particularly true when a morning show has an “off” day.

But focusing on the negative produces shy, withdrawn personalities who are afraid of you.

Why Positive Feedback Works

One of the reasons positive feedback is so effective is that most personalities are already insecure. They’re hard on themselves. Most are more critical of their performance than you are.

Positive reinforcement helps them stay positive on and off the air. And when they’re feeling good about themselves, you can hear the confidence on the air. That’s a major part of coaching. Coaching is all about bringing out their best.  It’s showing them how to improve. How to become the best they can be.

Snowboarder Alex Deibold won an Olympic bronze medal in snowboarding even though he was a huge underdog. He said that his coaches’ belief in him — even when he wasn’t having a good run — was the key to his success.

They pull me aside and say, ‘Come on, you know how to do this. Everything else will fall into place. And that gets me in the right mindset.

Catch Them Doing Something Good

Even in the worst break possible, you can almost always find something positive to build on. But your praise must be sincere. If It’s token praise or gratuitous compliments, you’ll lose credibility.

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Make sure the praise is specific and connect it to things you’ve been working on. For example:

I loved that break at 7:25 when you slowed your pace to let the hook set in. That was powerful.

That was the best hook I’ve heard in two weeks…You really had me when you got into the topic about Sesame Street.

The response to our contest went up by 75% immediately after you sold the promotion at 4:28. Remember what you did? It was magic.

I love how you connected your personality to the station brand. Wow.

But Don’t Make It All Praise And No Work

When praising them, keep working toward current performance goals. You don’t want them to get the idea they’re perfect and everything is okay.

Once you’ve gone over their positive behavior and handed out the rewards, leave it there. Then re-define the show’s current goals. This is the perfect time to go over their current path:

Let’s talk about a couple of ways to apply the 80/20 tease into tomorrow’s show.

I know you’ve been working on preparing deeper to find the story inside your topics…how’s that coming?

What are you planning tomorrow that we can work on together?

Man, you should hear how sloppy (competitor) is getting into their stop sets. This morning, they went in four minutes late. By the time they went into spots, we were already out and into the next content break. You nailed it. How’s the rest of your clock management coming along?

This keeps them motivated, alert and learning in a positive environment.

Try This Experiment

Make a commitment that for two weeks, you’ll modifying your management approach in two simple ways:

Give Them A Break

When they have a bad show-and everyone has a bad show-find something good about it. Certainly you should address the weak show. Don’t sweep it under the rug as if it never happened. But acknowledge it, and move on.

Note: This is assuming a bad show is not a daily thing. That’s a different problem!

You might also like:  Working With Talented People

When I was programming, I always felt that if each personality has one sub-par show per week, one better-than-average show per week, and three average or better shows, you win. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to avoid bad days. Just don’t over-react to the occasional weak performances.

Accentuate The Positive

Find one or two things every day that make you happy, and tell them. This is how you catch them in the act of doing something good. It needs to be specific, and sincere. If it also happens to be something you’ve been working on together, even better.

When you listen for and reward that good behavior, two things will happen: You’ll be happier and more positive and the talent will stop cowering in the corner when you walk into the studio!


Puppies that are rewarded for positive behavior grow into confident, faithful and well-behaved adult dogs. And air talent that is raised in a positive environment become powerful performers.

Celebrate good performance, but reward progress and effort. Like a puppy that learns to behave when they get treats, air personalities will keep doing those things you like! That leads to great sounding radio shows and higher ratings. And isn’t that the ultimate goal for coaching talent?


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