A listener complains that you talk too much and should play more music. The comment lingers in the back of your mind. You launch a topic on the air, the phones light up, so you extend the topic for two more segments than planned. The sales manager reports that a client’s wife thinks you were out of line with a comment this morning and you think maybe you should dial back the opinion. A social media post wonders if your signature feature is real stories or staged, so you question how you’re performing it. At a tire store appearance, the three people who stop for free hot dogs casually mention they play along with a secondary feature your PD doesn’t think is a hit. You instantly decide the PD is wrong because there’s evidence listeners love it. A personality in another market says they don’t “get” your show, pointing out “sloppy” execution based on hearing one segment. Regardless of the source, direct feedback always comes from a loud voice that resonates and sticks with personalities because performing on the air is personal. Criticism stings. Praise feels great. It’s human nature. But most direct feedback is meaningless. If you act on it, it’s dangerous. You have to learn to tune out comments and only listen to the voices that matter.

Voices That Matter Case Study #1

Several years ago, a morning show told me listeners were bored with their signature feature because the show had been doing it every morning at the same time for 7 years. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Me: Why do you think listeners don’t like it anymore?

Show: They tell us all the time. They ask why we do it so much.

Me: Who asks you this?

Show: Listeners. You know, when we are hosting events and sometimes emails.

Me: Anyone else? Who specifically?

Show: Our friends bring it up sometimes. They keep asking if we get tired of it.

Me: Are you tired of it?

Show: Yeah, we’re tired of it. we’ve been doing it forever. We need to mix it up and find something new.

Me:What do you think is the best solution.

Show: Well, maybe should rest it for awhile and then bring it back. Or instead of doing it every day, how about once a week?

Smart programming strategies blend art and science. Art is subjective, anecdotal, and subject to emotional reactions, while science is grounded in facts, data, and evidence. Before changing the feature based on feelings, we checked the data:

Ratings: For eight consecutive rating periods, this two-part relationship feature generated the two highest-rated quarter-hours on the entire station. Nothing else was close.

Research 1: Fortunately, this station had not yet slashed the research budget, so we asked perceptual questions about the morning show prior to an auditorium music test. The feature performed by this show was rated higher than the preference for the personalities on the show!

Research 2: The music test research was impressive, but to get more data from a larger sample, we conducted online perceptual research. The feature verified that this feature is the primary driver of the show’s success.

Changing that feature would have been devastating had we not taken another step to listen to voices that matter. Instead of taking it off, we programmed it more.

Case Study #2

This show was gathering great momentum on the air. Ratings had not yet reflected it, but the “ear test” verified that they were on a roll. The three personalities were well-cast with clear roles. We had a Dick, Dork, and Dear. They complemented one another well, there was a dynamic friction in segments, and audience response had been terrific.

Then one morning, a female cohost with an edgy character lit up the morning with a strong comment about single moms. The conversation that followed was outstanding, so the show extended it to Facebook. You can probably guess how that turned out. The haters felt invited and a handful of negative comments snowballed into a storm of activity.

The conversation was full of energy and opinion, with the show’s edgy personality in the midst of it.  just felt louder than the positives. There were only a handful of truly negative comments about the personality, and dozens of people praising her in agreement.

But the voices criticizing the show were loud. The program director freaked out and the station manager ordered the show to walk it back because one of the top account executives said a client was bothered by it, too. The show went from being on top of the world to losing confidence a few hours later.

This type of reaction is what shows should strive for: a community of listeners interacting on a topic that attracts non-listeners to a passionate discussion based on something a personality said on the air! This creates Top-of-Mind Awareness. Instead, the show learned to avoid making controversial statements, which would relegate them to the Zone Of Mediocrity.

Fortunately, we fixed it. Before going on the air, each personality developed a detailed Character Brand Profile. We reviewed the segment and social media comments through the personality’s character traits. The management team realized she had performed consistently with her profile. The alert level was reduced, and order was restored. The crisis was averted, but it was a close call.

Case Study #3

This rock station has a new morning show with a strong point of view. Their growing fan base rallies around the show’s two main personalities. The cume is still relatively small (but increasing), but fan passion is high. As the show attracts more attention, some new listeners are shocked and understandably outraged. We want the show to attract new fans, but not at the expense of the loyal base that loves them.

One day, a “listener” complained to several advertisers that they would not do business with anyone who supports that “disgusting” show. Three advertisers contacted their Account Executive. The Market Manager, fearing they may lose a client, ordered changes. Based on the advertiser feedback, he gave them a list of certain topics that were off-limits. Then he told the show to apologize on the air and write a letter to the advertisers.

The show was angry and confused. Their success was based on pushing the limits and occasionally tiptoeing “over the line” but that line appeared to be changing. Before taking action, we asked the advertisers for a copy of the complaints. The PD and manager then called the offended listener. Here’s what we learned:

Emails: Each complaint was identical and sent to the advertiser through a form on their website. Each complaint was general and non-specific, referencing “bad taste, offensive language, and crude conversations that you should be ashamed to be associated with.”

The “Listener”: When contacted, she admitted she doesn’t listen to the show. In fact, she has only heard the show once, when she borrowed her boyfriend’s car. He is a fan and thinks they’re hilarious. He repeats some of the things they say, and she doesn’t think they should be allowed on the air. She claimed she is trying to “clean up our community” by being proactive.

The station met with each advertiser and explained the situation, which satisfied the clients. Then, the station retracted the restrictions on the personalities. In the end, they understood this was a normal part of the show’s growth process. Taking the time to investigate the source and respond to the complaint prevented a mistake that could have been catastrophic.

Who Are Voices That Matter?

You might be wondering whom to listen to. Here’s a guide:

Strategic Research:  Strategic projects (perceptual research) should be a guide to a successful plan.

Tactical Research: Online surveys and focus groups can be a measure of how well you’re executing the plan. Also: If you can’t conduct a perceptual study, these more affordable projects can help, but be careful to avoid making strategy decisions based on tactical data.

Character Profiles: A great profile for each personality establishes boundaries and prevents mistakes. Every personality should have one. For details on how to build your own, go here.

Consultant/Coach: Get an outside perspective to help you see the forest for the trees. I can recommend someone if you need another voice!

Conclusion

Negative voices are loud. Comments from advertisers, relatives, social media posts, listeners attending events, and callers may indicate a problem but usually are not voices that matter. Complaints are almost always in the single digits. A few outraged calls or texts feel like a lot, but with a cume of 100,000, that’s .01 percent.

Programmers and managers must have a clear vision of the station strategy and maintain their perspective when executing a plan. A large part of that is supporting air personalities so they are fearless and confident but not reckless.

Be strong. Stay focused. Complaints are actually a good thing. It’s a sign that listeners were provoked to take action. Filter the noise, and only listen to the voices that matter.

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