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 baseball’s World Series unfolds, all eyes are 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 attempt the finishing touches on a complete franchise turnaround that’s taken about four years.

But other than the talent Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer put together, what is it about the 2016 Cubs that has delivered such a memorable rise to become baseball’s best team? Look no further than the team’s field manager, Joe Maddon. In Spring Training, Maddon presented a whiteboard strategy for the season, and it’s 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, 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: Laying out the strategy to the staff breeds confidence and buy-in. When the team understands what is expected and what to expect, they can perform their role effectively.

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 his players around the field more than any other manager, including likely National League MVP Kris Bryant splitting time between 3B and OF.

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

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.

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, isn’t even a starter. He’s 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.

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.

We Are Our Own Little Planet, and

Rotate Around Same Goal

The Cubs bought into these dual 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 and principles.

Radio Greatness, Below The Circle

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

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Do Simple Better

Maddon wants his players to reduce the game to its essence. He goes out of his way to make it easy for his players 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.

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.

As ESPN explains it:

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 don’t see their faces,” he said.


The Cubs may win the series and break the curse, or they may fall short. Of course Maddon wants to win, but something tells me he’s more concerned about the process of building excellence. If the Indians find a way to win this series, the Cubs are loaded for then next 5-8 years.

It’s about creating a culture, setting a tone and allowing your team to do what they’re great at.

Isn’t it great?


Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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