Take What You Learned in 2016 into the New Year

By Matt Cundill

We have a strange relationship with January. There are those who welcome it with a three day hangover, those who enter it with new found attitude and resolution, and those who flee it altogether and spend anywhere from a few days to a few weeks on a beach. January also offers little sunlight and is the coldest month. Conditions may vary, depending on where you live.

We can counterbalance our dysfunctional relationship with January by seizing the opportunity to truly set goals. Yes, I know, the fiscal year started in September, the budgets were approved back in June and the first quarter is in the books. The reality is that the kids were starting in new schools, your mind was consumed in fall ratings and two stations in your market rebranded the week before. January is ideal for planning and professional recalibration. You are likely coming off an extended break, had a chance (for better or worse) to reconnect with family and remember why you do what you do daily.  

Last January, I committed to trying something completely new to go alongside the other project that I started in 2015. The Sound Off Podcast is the podcast about broadcast, and every week it features a new guest who is willing to share their knowledge. Here are ten great takeaways from various episodes to consider as you confront 2017.

  1. Your age is the digital era means nothing. One of my most popular interviews this past year was a radio consultant who specializes in bringing digital strategies to radio stations. He allegedly retired from radio 9 years ago. There are a number of radio veterans past the age of Freedom 55 who have adapted to the radio and digital world better than many of the companies they left behind. Take the time to read their writings, and listen when they speak. There is an amazing amount of free education in their words.
  1. Fundamental change is about acknowledging the truth. In the words of Mark Ramsey regarding radio listening habits: “The average quarter hour rating will go down as it has over the years. The total amount of listening will go down as it has over the years. But radio because of its desperate need to reinforce its relevance to the advertisers will keep saying say ‘Yeah but we reach 90 percent of everybody’.  Yes, but you reach them less often all the time. We can keep that a secret from the advertisers if we want, but we better not keep it from each other.”
  1. Innovating is hard work. The catalyst to innovation is change, and you know how a lot of people feel about that. There was a moment at a radio conference last year where radio leaders struggled to name one thing their radio group had done that was innovative. Innovation is not something that a lot of radio companies are built to do. They are, however, equipped to do it. Great innovation comes from great collaborations and the tabling of ideas. Make sure you conduct brainstorming meetings in which your people feed comfortable and creative enough to say, “You know what would be wacky!?”
  1. Just do it. Is there something you have been thinking about doing but just have not started yet? The best way to do it is to tell somebody about it. In that moment, it becomes real and the idea is born. By not doing it, the idea is only a notion that could pass you by. My venture into podcasting started because I told the two guys that do podcasting best, Humble & Fred, that I was still thinking about it. You can imagine their reaction to that. My first episode came out about a month later.    
  1. How do you react in difficult situations? When the wild fires hit Fort MacMurray, I followed the journeys of Andrew Wilcox from Cruz 100.5 who fled the station and his home; and of Yukon Jack at 100.3 the Bear who took in a family that lost their home. Their actions speak volumes about the kind of people they are. When we are afflicted with a problem of any proportion, how you react defines the person you are.
  1. There are solutions for Millennial challenges. You are not alone in your particular battle. Millennials are not the problem. Sure, they received too many participation trophies, but that’s the fault of their Gen-X parents. For years, the younger generation would follow listen and adhere to the lessons from above. Now, survival in the digital world rests on one’s ability to understand and adapt to the “whys” of Millennial behaviour. For example, Entercom Seattle turned a challenge into an opportunity with MillennialLab.com and 107.7 The End.
  1. Forget what you know. Most of our beliefs are formed in the early years of our broadcast journey. We now live in the “Age of Acceleration” and your success will now be defined by your ability to change quickly. Take the time to read Thomas L. Friedman’s latest book, Thank You For Being Late. In it you will find out that every industry will undergo a reasonable amount of digital duress, requiring people to forget what they know in order to move forward. Consider that the biggest story of 2016 was the election of Donald Trump. He did it without the help of traditional mass media advertising and largely without the help of News/Talk radio. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is why the media woke up shocked by the election results. (It’s also the definition of insanity, by the way.)
  1. Life exists outside broadcasting. Some of the most successful industry people I know do not work in a media outlet. Look no further than operations like BlastTheRadio.com, Humble & Fred, Tom Leykis, Jeff Woods and the ToddCast Podcast. You may not be compensated the same way, and you will have to assume the roles formerly filled by sales, programming, online, production, traffic, accounting and janitorial services. However, you can still make great content and make money doing it.
  1. Creativity always trumps lack of budget. Do you want to know what had no budget? MuchMusic in its early days. Want to know how they solved it? By filling the void with creativity. Everything started out with a blank canvass. If you are challenged with no budget, spend time with an empty flip chart pad and a variety pack of colourful sharpies. The ideas are inside those pens.
  1. Hire a coach and/or find a mentor. A few years ago I started up a voiceover business and retained David Tyler (the voice of CTV National News) as a mentor and coach. Radio stations routinely ask me to create programming strategies and work with their morning shows. Talent asks me to critique their shows. You’ve heard people say that we are in a sharing economy. It applies to more than just Uber. The same applies to knowledge. Seek out those willing to share it. You’ll be surprised by who is willing to help and amazed at the outcomes to follow.
Matt Cundill

Matt Cundill works with radio groups on programming strategies and talent coaching. He started the weekly Sound Off Podcast last May and can be reached at (204) 414-5541.