Play to Win: Avoid Not-To-Lose Tactics

Play to Win: Avoid Not-To-Lose Tactics

by Tracy Johnson

To win any game, you have to have a strategy. And aggressively play to win the game. When you play not to lose, it usually doesn’t work out. There are positive things you can do. And there are things that don’t move you forward.

Here’s the thing:

It doesn’t matter how how much time you spend massaging the music log. But yes, investing resources on music flow are important.

It doesn’t matter how well tested your music library is, or that you’ve placed power songs at the right spots in your clocks. But yes, clock construction and song sequencing is important.

It doesn’t matter that you play 45 minutes of continuous music. Eventually you play commercials. Or that you play your stop sets at exactly the same time as every other station in the market. But yes, stop set placement is important.

It doesn’t matter how frequently you promote the “cue to call” tune in occasion. But yes, setting appointment tune ins are important.

It doesn’t matter how much cash you give away, or that you have a backstage meet and greet to offer winners. But yes, promotion is important.

It doesn’t matter that you shave a few seconds from the air talent’s talk breaks. But yes, efficiency in presentation is important. None of it really impacts your TSL.

Playing Not To Lose

Here’s something that is happening almost for sure: Your TSL is going down.

Every station’s time spent listening is declining. As a result, broadcasters obsess about the other stations share gains. But you’re not losing listening to other stations. That’s just playing the ratings service game, hoping to lose less than your radio competition. And it’s killing our industry.

We have other competitors for audience attention. They come in many forms. If you focus on your audience, you can find programming strategies to attract them and hold them longer. That’s playing to win.

Are You Playing Not To Lose?

Here are 8 symptoms that you may be programming your station not to lose:

Talk Breaks

You spend significant time trying to coach talent to shave 2 seconds of talk time. A few seconds here and there add up. It’s important to keep the personalities tight, but it strangles creativity.


If you keep doing the same things you’ve always done the way you’ve always done them, you’re either in a rut or playing not-to-lose. Consistency in programming is good, but predictable is not. Try new things. Experiment. Become great.

Clock Management

You may be playing spots at the times PPM programming wisdom suggests. But are you playing them at the same time as everyone else? Probably. Dare to be different. Be unpredictable. Try something new.

Strict Talk Policies

Some programmers get hung up on length of breaks, but put little time in directing the content of the breaks. Don’t be so focused on your rules that you miss the bigger picture: How does it actually sound?

Safe Programming

Rules are there for a reason, and it’s a good idea to have policies in place. Yet if you never break the rules, it’s pretty bland. The audience may not run off, but they’re not compelled to run TO you.

Too Much Research

Safe programmers focus on removing potential irritants. The theory is get rid of everything the audience dislikes. That would mean there’s no reason to tune out. Right? Wrong. Taking away all the negatives leaves you with a bland, boring station.

Obsess About Everything

Hand-wringing and hall-pacing communicates a sense of tension and fear internally. And that stifles creativity. You don’t have to be precise and perfect every moment every day. Relax and have fun. This is the entertainment business.


The only way to improve time spent listening is to create can’t-miss entertainment that leaps through the speakers and compels listeners to pay attention. That comes from personalities that that transcend programming tricks designed to manipulate meter carriers.

Programming science is important, of course. But programming disposable stations that will become self-fulfilling prophesies. We’re losing importance and significance by the day, quarter hour by quarter hour.

Take some risks. You don’t have to be reckless, but be creative, bold and progressive. Try something different. It may not be perfect. It may even run off a meter or two (shudder). But it may save you from your path to extinction.

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