Take the Chicago Cubs 8-Step Plan to Radio Greatness

Take the Chicago Cubs 8-Step Plan to Radio Greatness

by Tracy Johnson

Sometimes it’s useful to look to other industries to find examples that can point us to radio greatness.

As the 2016 World Series unfolded, all eyes were on the Chicago Cubs’ remarkable season, with close scrutiny on their mission to end the famous “Curse of the Goat”.

It’s a great story, and an even better success story to watch the team put the finishing touch on a complete franchise turnaround that took four years to build. The dramatic ending in Game 7 was a classic.

But other than the talent Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer put together, what was it about the 2016 Cubs that delivered such a memorable rise to become baseball’s best team?

It started the team’s field manager, Joe Maddon. In Spring Training, Maddon presented a whiteboard strategy for the season, showing his team how they would be successful. Before they could achieve, they have to believe.

Maddon’s message to the team is filled with lessons for radio stations.

ESPN Magazine covered Maddon’s address to the team in April. Here’s what he put on the board:


And here’s what the Cubs plan means for your 8 Step Plan to Radio Greatness

Embrace the Target

Maddon didn’t wait to develop the strategy (or the message) until the night before Spring Training. He planned in advance, first formulating his message in December, after the Cubs had acquired three new, veteran players. The team was loaded, and Maddon wanted to acknowledge the expectation:

Everybody is talking about the pressure and the expectations, that we were the team to beat, and I thought, ‘Well, we better embrace our position rather than run away from it.’

Maddon acknowledged the reality, and shared it with his team. He encouraged them to accept and relish their status as a target for opponents.

By embracing this season’s mission, he actually relieved some pressure on another level. He shifted their focus away from the pressure of overcoming the pain of not winning the series since 1908:

With all due respect to our faithful fans, I will not get caught up in that 1908 stuff. I wasn’t here for all the years of pain, and neither were any of my players or coaches. It’s a big enough target as it is. This is about now, not then.

Apply it to radio greatness: Laying out the strategy to the staff breeds confidence and buy-in. It also helps everyone focus on common goals. When the team understands what is expected and what to expect, they can perform their role effectively. This is particularly critical for multi-personality radio shows.

Set Aside Personal Agendas

The trademark of Maddon’s teams is that his players must be flexible, placing the team goals above their individual objectives. Maddon moves players around the field more than any other manager, including National League all star Kris Bryant, who split time between 3B and OF.

It’s interesting and fun for the players, and actually raises the profile of each player. Winning championships has a way of doing that.

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Apply it to radio: I’ve never known a successful, top-rated radio personality on a bad radio station, nor have I experienced a truly legendary radio station without great talent. Greatness takes both, and talent that puts the value of a strong station brand ahead of their own ego is far ahead. On a team show, it’s necessary to have a For The Show mentality.

Do Your Job

This follows closely with #2. Maddon says:

Your position may change, or you might be called on to start when you’ve been sitting on the bench for a week.

One of their best players, 23-year old Jose Baez, wasn’t even a starter in 2016. He was a utility player, rotating through many positions. And he won the NLCS MVP award.  Maddon says Baez is a game changer.

Apply it to radio: When each individual accepts their role with a great attitude, each player makes the organization stronger. Radio managers should never overlook or under-estimate the value of every member of the staff. Great moments on the air can be inspired by anyone.

Accept Imperfection

Maddon says:

I don’t want anyone to ever go [on the field] afraid to make a physical mistake because that will lead to a mental mistake.

Mistakes happen. Errors are inevitable. But we have to embrace the imprecations and failures. Playing it safe (avoiding mistakes) usually leads to mediocrity.

Apply it to radio: Michael J. Fox once said that “I can never be perfect but I can strive for excellence. Perfection is in God’s hands”. He’s right. You’re not going to have a perfect radio station, but you can have a great one. Personalities should accept that, and managers should coach talent that way as well.

We Are Our Own Little Planet. We Rotate Around The Same Goal

The Cubs bought into these two related concepts from the start. Maddon again:

We have this remarkable blend of experience and youth.The older guys watch out for the younger guys. They can be hard on them when they do something wrong, but they’re the first ones out of the dugout when they do something right.

Apply it to radio: A single goal with each individual truly accepting it as their own goal, solves a lot of problems. Great radio stations are often a feeling more than a collection of rules. Managers should be strong on guidelines and principles, but flexible on rules. That’s part of the concept of managing talent by Treating Them Like Dogs.

Radio Greatness, Below The Circle

Take a look at the diagram again. Below the circle, the manager laid out two of his other tenets:

Do Simple Better

Maddon wants players to reduce the game to the simplest essence. He goes out of his way to make it easy to react and have fun.

Players who thinks too much become tense and performance suffers. If you had Kris Bryant, wouldn’t you want him to do what comes naturally?

Apply it to radio: Like baseball, radio should be fun. We got into it because it wasn’t real work. When managers create an environment that’s a happy, exciting place, the team’s players respond. Yeah, it’s hard work, but at the heart of radio performance is a group of personalities just wanting to have a good time.

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The Process Is Fearless

There are four short definitions underneath the header to explain The Process:

  • It lacks emotions.
  • It’s the moment.
  • It’s the mental anchor.
  • It simplifies the task.

In other words: Don’t think. Play.

ESPN explains:

On Aug. 10, the Cubs were holding a 2-0 lead over the Angels in the top of the eighth inning when rookie reliever C.J. Edwards was called on to face the heart of the order — Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Andrelton Simmons — with runners on second and third. He struck out Trout and got Pujols and Simmons to ground out. Asked after the Cubs’ 3-1 victory whether he was worried about facing Trout and Pujols in that situation, Edwards simplified to concentrate on making the right pitch. “I just pulled my hat down more so I didn’t see their faces,” he said.


The Cubs won the series to break the curse. Of course Maddon was proud and savored the win, but something tells me was more concerned about the process of building excellence in 2016 and beyond.

If the Indians had found a way to win that series, the Cubs would still be in a position to win for years to come. And they’d have come back to work the next spring – and every spring – to continue the process.

Winning in baseball and in radio is about creating a culture, setting a tone and allowing the team to do what they’re great at.

Isn’t it great?

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