Here’s How To Fix Your Radio Station With Zero-Based Programming

Here’s How To Fix Your Radio Station With Zero-Based Programming

by Tracy Johnson

It happens to every radio station, and chances are, yours is no exception. Every now and then, every programmer should step back and re-evaluate everything on the air. In detail. With fresh eyes. With zero based programming, you can fix any problem.

It’s a critical step in the process of managing a brand. Over time, we all get a little sloppy. A little fat. You know how it happens, right? You start clean and tight. Then you add a weekend promotion, and a few extra promos are scheduled. Sales needs an appearance, and you compromise. Need a new breaker or music bed? They find their way on the air. Songs pile up in the recurrent category.

The morning show adds some produced elements and they become a fixture. A new feature comes on the air and we like it. But it’s added to what’s already on. Nothing comes off.

Software developers call it feature creep. The original purpose of the program is compromised because of small features added. Many of these features take you away from the original purpose. At home, you call it a jam-packed attic filled with junk!

How to Zero Base Programming

Zero based programming is one of the healthiest and most liberating things you can do for your station. It’s part of the quarterly ratings tune up we recommend. It puts every single element under a microscope.

To start, adjust your mindset. Assume that your station doesn’t exist. You’re launching a brand new station in the market, building it from scratch. In the process, we have to justify every decision, starting with the brand’s position.

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Then, listen intently to every single thing on your radio station. If you were new, would it be on your station? What makes it a good fit? How does it add to the brand values in your target audience persona?

Get rid of anything that doesn’t support your position, image or core value proposition. Force yourself to defend the value of every single thing on the air.

Be prepared to ask a lot of questions.

The Hard Questions

Why is it on? Can you remember the original reason it was put on the air? If not, get it off.

How long have we been doing it this way? Maybe it’s valid but just needs a facelift.

Has it become stale? Many elements become institutionalized. They don’t work, but we keep them around because they’re comfortable.

What makes me believe that it is or isn’t a benefit to listeners? Justify previous decisions.

Do listeners care? Really? Truly?

If it went away forever, what would they miss about it? If they wouldn’t miss it, you have your answer. Take it off.

Is this element promoted well? Why not? If you aren’t willing to promote it, why is it on?

This will force you to defend ideas, theories and philosophies. Sometimes we spend so much time defending past decisions we can’t see the future. The market doesn’t care about your past. Listeners only care about what is happening now, and where it’s heading.

Zero Based Programming Questions

Zero-based programming is common in other industries.

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Disney re-evaluates everything at their theme parks when introducing a new feature. Something comes in, so something else has to go. It forces them to think through every attraction, every detail.

As you embark on zero based programming, do so with your long-term strategy in mind. Work with decision makers in upper management to get clarity on:

  1. The vision for our brand.
  2. Brand values that support that vision.
  3. Objective analysis of where we are now-really!
  4. Identify the real barriers to success. What things can we control, and what can’t we control?
  5. What are the goals (short-term and long-term)? These should not be ratings-based goals. That’s too volatile, and unpredictable.
  6. Do we have commitment to do everything it takes to achieve our goals?

Then go after it with enthusiasm and passion. Bring your team together and have fun attacking the station’s position in the market.


Zero based programming is a healthy process. Doing it twice a year is a great check up.

Strip it down. Then build it back up. You won’t believe how much better you sound.

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