Some aircheck sessions are like dental surgery: Painful and dreadful. Sometimes it seems that outdoor stores like REI should have an entire department selling gear for surviving the aircheck. Air personalities and programmers would both stock up! yet other sessions are like therapy: Insightful and helpful. Both programmers and air personalities are responsible for surviving the aircheck.

I’ve been thinking about this after sessions with three clients in different situations:

Show #1 is seeking its next “gear”. They’re ready to level up and are desperate for feedback. Our sessions often last well over an hour. They want to identify every opportunity to continue their success path. They have an unselfish For The Show mentality that produces exhilarating, productive meetings that feels like a party with friends.

Show #2 comes to the weekly session with a list of “reasons” for weaker-than-expected performance and excuses for not acting on ideas we have discussed. The session is mostly addressing problems, complaints, and barriers. The show is improving its execution but is making little progress toward a bigger goal because they are hung up on talk segment limitations and format restrictions. Ratings are improving, but the meetings are clinical and about as exciting as a visit to the dentist.

Show #3 is a talented group that is enjoying rating success, but their growth is fueled by favorable meter distribution. Since the rating gods are smiling at them, there’s no sense of urgency. Our sessions are positive but frustrating. It feels like Groundhog Day as we review the same concepts over and over.

Surviving The Aircheck

Aircheck sessions are one of the most difficult parts of the job for any program director or talent coach. Every show is different because people are different and a different approach is required for every situation.

The problem is that evaluation is (or should be) an objective fundamental ingredient for growth, but on-air performance is personal.  That’s hard for programmers to understand.

Picture this: You’ve just finished an important meeting and are feeling pretty good about your performance. You nailed it and everyone loved some of the points you made. Then you enter another meeting to review the meeting with the boss. How would that feel?

That’s what the dreaded aircheck session is like for personalities, reviewing the work they just finished. It’s an integral part of life in the personality radio business, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like being back at school, waiting for homework to be graded.

The key question is how can we turn this experience around so every session is productive and inspiring?

What An Aircheck Is For

An aircheck is a quality control measure to review portions of a show and pinpoint areas for growth. It should not be to catch the personalities screwing up, though that’s how many of them feel. After all, most programmers find it easier to identify problems than celebrate progress. We’re just wired to be fixers.

But personalities put their heart and soul into their show, and criticism often feels personal, even if it’s not intended to be.

Here are some tips for programmers and coaches for surviving the aircheck:

Evaluate Less: Most problems occur when personalities feel their work is being judged, so do that less frequently. An effective coaching strategy is to schedule intense, objective, evaluation sessions, but do it infrequently (quarterly?). Review the show’s current status with an emphasis on areas for improvement. When everyone agrees on the goals, focus regular coaching sessions on achievement rather than evaluation. That changes the relationship from “caught you” to “helping you”. This is the approach I’m using to try and inspire Show #3.

Focus On Growth: Once a goal is identified, coaching should be positive and encouraging. Personalities crave feedback from those they feel are helping them succeed. Aircheck sessions are fun when the focus highlights something good and imagines how it could be even better. Show #1 is in this space, and it’s fantastic.

Self-Discovery: Use airchecks for talent to identify ways to improve performance and uncover opportunities to grow. Reviewing audio should be collaborative, not punitive. This is the prescription for Show #2 as I try to get them involved in the creative application of their performance.

Personality Responsibility: Attitude

Management (and the talent coach) is responsible for setting a productive environment for growth, but air personalities share the burden by approaching the relationship with the proper attitude.

Everyone wants the same thing: A wildly successful radio show that wins fans and cashes bonus checks. Nobody is trying to cause you to fail! But that seems hard for some to understand or accept.

Personalities can be prepared for surviving the aircheck by separating self-worth from work. This is a crucial skill. Your real-life personality is related to, but not the same as, your on-air character. The show is a product performed by you, the individual. It is not an attack on you as a person, though it may seem that way. And yes, I know that’s not hard to understand, but it can be hard to accept.

Think of the show as a diamond being polished. Each aircheck session is a tool to make you shine brighter.


Airchecks are like a fitness regimen for radio performance. No one becomes a world-class athlete without regular workouts. But if you’re practicing the wrong things, you’ll never reach your goal.

Aircheck sessions aren’t a trial, tax audit, or report card, though sometimes it feels like it. They should be a tool to mold your performance and inspire success. When it’s done right, there’s nothing like it. I was recently meeting with a show that’s been successful for a long time. We had a couple of days of meetings and they had planned to take the following day off to have a three-day weekend. The host of the show was so excited about the ideas we brainstormed, he couldn’t wait to get on the air. He said,

I kind of want to cancel our day off so we can start playing with this new toy on the air tomorrow.

That’s what an aircheck session should be like.

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