Coaching Talent

How to Train and Manage On-Air Superstars

Air personalities don’t need a boss. They need a radio talent coach that brings out their best by applying positive coaching techniques. and programmers need air talent to truly have a great radio station. I’ve never seen a great station without strong air personalities.

Talent is what makes your station come alive to listeners. And, it makes this business fun. If you want a career as a winning programmer, learn to love radio personalities. Even when they make you crazy, this business would be boring without them. From their talent fits that come from a child-like enthusiasm to the way they can’t wait to leave each day and not wait to get back the next, they make this business exciting. And that’s contagious for the audience.

In fact, without air personalities, you might as well go into another business. Getting the most from them requires unique management skills because they’re just not going to adapt to you.

Still, many times programmers find themselves managing highly sensitive personalities but don’t know how to cope. We want the benefits that come with great talent, but aren’t prepared to work with them. Managing talent takes time and energy. And it takes the resources that go beyond the PD’s office. In fact, the entire radio station should be actively involved in making talent feel welcome, valued and secure. If you don’t have the time, energy or expertise, problems will undoubtedly follow.

The PD/Talent Relationship

A healthy relationship with talent starts before they’re hired. Even in the recruiting process, make sure you’re very clear on what is expected. and make sure you know what they expect from you. Before working with talent, know what you want from them. Don’t expect inexperienced talent to carry your station. But if you have truly difference-making personalities, make sure they know you expect them to lead you to new heights.

Setting talent expectations early will insure that you’ll all be working toward the same goal. That sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how often they’re on different pages. When you have the same goals, show execution is easier and minor conflicts don’t become major.

Maybe your show has been there awhile, and you half never set repetitions. Don’t worry. it’s not too late. You can always reset by setting up a strategy session to get everyone on the same page. But you, the PD, have to take the initiative.

The responsibility to establish a productive relationship is on the PD. Go into it with the right attitude. That means you’ll need to examine yourself more than the talent. Most PD’s are “fixers”. We like to identify all the problems, then tinker with everything at once. But that drives talent crazy because it’s impossible to work on more than a few things at once. And the result is usually a severe lack of growth.

When introducing a new talent, go slowly. Becoming a winning show is building a relationship with the audience. It takes time. Just like raising a puppy, keep those personalities on a tighter leash at first.

Managing with a leash instead of a stick is productive and leads to great results. But it takes more time. Let the leash out slowly as they grow and their popularity increases. If they come on too strong at the beginning, it’s always harder to bring them back in later.

Then, help them set goals and stay on a success path by being objective in evaluation.

Then, work on the personal relationship. Early in their career, air talent learns they can’t trust management. They’ve been lied to, misled and basically screwed over. Not by you, of course. You wouldn’t do that (would you?). But it’s happened to all of them. To be effective, you have to build a relationship of trust. You’re not trying to beat them into a mold you have in mind. Your goal is to get the most out of their talent and abilities.

That’s one of the most important of the 8 must-have skills to be a talent coach.

Trust requires respect, and that can be hard. One of the best ways to

Fan…Cheerleader (must have skills)

Pile on The Praise

In many ways, managing talent is like training a puppy. Dog trainers will tell you that puppies respond to praise, affirmation and treats. And it’s the same with air talent. Pile on the praise. Psychologists tell us that it takes 9 compliments to offset just one criticism. And that’s for all human beings. Air talent is far more sensitive. Think about that. So don’t be stingy with positive reinforcement. When you give them positive feedback for things you want from them, they’ll keep doing it. And isn’t that what you want?

Being a fan is important, but it’s not enough just to be a fan. They have to know you’re a fan. And what do fans do? They cheer! When your personality is Catch them doing something good, even on their bad days. In fact, it could be even more important on a bad day. When Jeff & Jer had a bad break or bad day, I always tried to find something positive in their performance. I’d call the studio or pop in during a break, and say something like,

Hey, I haven’t had a chance to listen much this morning, but I heard (specific thing) at (time) and just loved what you did with it. How’s the rest of the morning going?

This way, they knew I was listening, and I still loved them, even though they knew it wasn’t a great day. Building that relationship is important. That’s how Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi felt about her coach. She says,

She knows just when to push me and when to back off, because sometimes I just needed a break.

When praising personalities, be sincere. That’s usually easy, if you’re really a fan. And be specific. General praise doesn’t help. They aren’t sure why you’re complimenting them. But most of all, make your praise unconditional. A common mistake PD’s make is qualifying positive comments by adding on a “but”. The Big But Syndrome is saying, “That was really good, but it could have been better if….” It does more damage than not praising them at all.

The Roller Coaster

Keeping a positive environment is important, but you also have to be objective and honest. Critique is important, but it should always be done in a productive, positive environment. Be objective in evaluating talent, and be honest in areas they can grow.

This will help keep them moving forward and also keeps personalities off the emotional roller coaster. Performing on the air every day is hard, and it’s emotionally draining. Talent tends to have high highs and low lows. And you, their coach, are the balancing influence that keeps them grounded.

Maintaining a consistent focus on pursuing excellence each day also keeps you from over-reacting to a bad ratings period. Your goals have nothing to do with ratings, but with creating great radio each day. As Coach John Wooden said,

I never worry about the results of the game. If we pay attention to the process in practice each day and prepare, the wins and losses will take are of themselves.

When you’re focused on the process of creating great radio, you’ll avoid two major mistakes many PDs make.

One is allowing excuses in performance. How many times have you heard a personality say something like,

Aw, that’s not typical. It was a bad hour. You got me on a bad day. That’s not how we usually sound.

That’s a typical air talent excuse. it’s a defense mechanism. Yes, everyone has bad days. But as their coach, your job is to help them avoid more bad days in the future. So remain objective, focused on the process of producing magic on the air every single day.

The second major mistake PD’s make is ignoring or disregarding problems on the show because you’re too close to the show. Familiarity bias often clouds judgement and causes us to overlook problems.

Coaching Talent With Air Checks

Look, everybody hates air check sessions. Everyone! You hate it, but talent hates it even more. And there are many reasons for it. Still, reviewing performance is important and using air checks is a valuable tool. Just don’t make it a bad experience. Everyone need an air check.

With the same spirit of positivity, make sure meetings are short, structured and focused. Most air check sessions can be conducted in a fraction of the time of most meetings. In fact, you can get more done in a five-minute air check than in a two hour marathon.

In fact, work toward a goal of celebrating air check meetings. I’ve actually had clients beg me to stay longer and review more air checks with them. They find it inspiring, and makes them excited to come back on the air the next day. Why? Because we keep it positive and fun by working on their strengths. We never beat them up for mistakes.

Coaching with air checks requires preparation. You expect talent to be prepared to go on the air, and your air check sessions are your “show”. SO do your homework. That will keep the meetings focused and much more productive. And, when you prioritize making each meeting interesting and fun, you’ll have a much better response. To insure this, check out my eBook Air Check Sessions That Don’t Suck. You’l find a variety of useful techniques to get more from each meeting.

By the way, if you can inspire your personalities to constantly be seeking excellence, they’ll want to air check themselves. Some personalities do this every day, and they’re usually harder on themselves than you would ever be. This introduces an interesting dynamic, as you’ll find yourself in a position of encouraging them and bringing them up more than critiquing them.

Multi-Personality Shows

Coaching shows with several personalities is quite different than working with solo performers. In addition to the individual performance, there re interpersonal issues to deal with. Chemistry is important on a show, and it has to be managed. The first and most important advice is to never let the individuals on the show work against one another. There may be good reasons for individual meetings on occasion, but never let the show work against each other. There should be one team, with each playing their unique role.

This can happen on shows that were forced together. Those arranged-marriage shows can work, but there are more speed bumps along the way. If you have a show like this, plan to invest more time managing roles and helping the show become comfortable with one another. It’s hard. You cn do it, but there are challenges.

Coaching Through Change

The only sure thing in life is that there will be changes. Personalities will come and go. Competition changes and the industry evolves. Listeners find new favorite stations and there are always adjustments to be made.

And personalities grow, requiring different input from their coach. As air talent grows through the five stages of talent development, your style must be updated. For instance, as they evolve from the Growth Stage to the Like and Love Stages, talent should be exposing more personal stories. That’s a very different coaching technique than training new personalities on the basics.

It’s important to recognize those changes, and adjust because regardless of the cause, managing through changes takes special management skills. It’s easier if you have built a strong foundation with the talent, but making yourself available and being clear, direct and honest goes a long way.


Are you building relationships with those most responsible for building loyalty in your brand? Do you communicate clearly and positively? Do you know how to direct them without being seen as their enemy?

Start by learning how to conduct productive air check meetings with radio talent. With a positive approach and following the guidelines, you’ll discover why many air personalities actually look forward to critiques with Tracy Johnson Media Group!


Additional Resources:

Articles & Links

Air Check Methods & Guidelines Click Here>>>

Coaching & Casting Multi-Personality Shows Click Here>>>

8 Must-Have Skills To Coach Talent: Click Here>>>

10 Reasons to Treat Them Like Dogs: Click Here>>>

4 Coaching Tips to Help Talent With Personal Stories: Click Here>>>

Coaching Technique: Catch Them Doing Something Good: Click Here>>>

How to Avoid Familiarity Bias when Coaching talent: Click Here>>>

Talent Coaching Tips From Kristi Yamaguchi: Click Here>>>

Coaching Talent: Setting Expectations: Click Here>>>

Coaching Talent When Team Chemistry Is a Problem: Click Here>>>

Programmers: Fix Yourself. Then The Show: Click Here>>>

How To Coach Talent Through Changes: Click Here>>>

Coaching Talent: Overcoming Talent’s Excuses: Click Here>>>


Michael Steele

Michael Steele
Program Director,

I’ve been learning from Tracy Johnson for 25 years. From music scheduling to programming to talent coaching to managing your radio stations digital assets, there is NO ONE better. I always come away a better programmer with a better brand.

Peter Harrison

Peter Harrison
Air Personality, C100

After 25 years in radio I can honestly say that we’ve experienced the most personal growth on our morning show in the past 3 years. It’s no coincidence that we’ve been working with Tracy for the past 3 years.

Jeff Elliott

Jeff Elliott
Air Personality, KYXY
San Diego

Morning Radio Revisited should be required reading for anyone doing personality radio-and anyone who wants to.