Airchecking on-air talent is still hands down the best way to improve their performance, regardless of whether we’re working with rookies or experienced radio veterans. No matter how good we get at self-coaching, which is important, there are simply some things we aren’t going to hear until others point them out to us. Yet, the average on-air personality hasn’t been airchecked in over six months. Why? The answer is simple. Most people don’t like aircheck sessions because they’re typically not fun for anyone involved and so they get labeled as ‘not worth the time’. It’s a lot of prep work for the programmer or consultant conducting the meeting that has to go through tons of audio and for the talent themselves it’s not generally enjoyable to be critiqued by your boss or in front of them, even if it’s lumped in with a lot of positive feedback (which it usually should be). However, if conducted properly, there’s no reason aircheck sessions can’t be fun. Here are a few tips on how to make weekly aircheck sessions more bearable for everyone.
Have a strategy. First and foremost, whoever is conducting the sessions has to have a goal for what they’re trying to accomplish through the airchecks, both short and long term. That goal could be as simple as improving on some of the basics (voice, delivery, how long and where to talk) or some of the higher-level stuff (perfecting the off-air show prep process, turning on-air content into digital content, crafting teases/hooks/outs and how to use each, etc).
Keep them brief. We’re all likely wearing multiple hats and have a long daily to-do-list to get to so let’s make sure we value each other’s time. Weekly aircheck sessions should be as short as fifteen minutes and no longer than thirty minutes once we get our routine set. If we can plan for thirty minutes and commit to never going longer than that, we’ll be much more likely to stick to airchecking weekly rather than monthly or quarterly. It also sets a good precedent for valuing the listener’s time and never talking longer than our content warrants on-air.
Keep them positive. Start by praising a handful of things the talent are doing well before going into the things they need to work on. But, be careful to not reinforce bad habits by bragging on things they’re not doing well just to find something positive to say. Search for the things they’re good at and if you find yourself struggling to dig up anything at all that’s not a good sign. I’ve coached a LOT of talent over the years and it’s pretty rare that there’s not ANYTHING to pat them on the back for, even if it’s off-air responsibilities like digital, production or showprepping.
Listen to audio if necessary. I play show audio in about fifty percent of the aircheck sessions I conduct and I always base the decision on whether it’s helpful or harmful. That might mean playing good audio to point out a positive I was planning on mentioning or playing audio that went south to reinforce a ‘thing to work on’ (talked past the out, derailed and went off topic, missed an engagement opportunity, didn’t pay-off a tease, etc).
Keep them forward focused. Part of the reason I don’t always play audio, and only play a lot of audio on a quarterly deep dive, is that show audio is by nature backward focused (because it’s from a show they did anywhere from earlier that day up to several days ago). It’s MUCH more effective if the bulk of the meeting is forward focused talking about content, contests, benchmarks or features they’re going to do the following day, later in the week or even farther in the future. This also reinforces planning in advance because as I’ve said before most successful shows have a minimum of 80% of their show already planned when they walk into the studio each day.
Spark creativity. I end most airchecks with a brainstorming session where I throw out a handful of topics for them to consider, but I always make it clear that they don’t HAVE to do them, and I encourage tweaking them anyway necessary to fit their market. This process helps to get their wheels turning and encourages them to come to the aircheck meetings with a few ideas of their own. Periodically, I also like to demo a game or contest I’m suggesting by playing it live (via Zoom or in the room during market visits) to demonstrate how well it will work on-air if performed properly.
Reward progress. No matter how fun we make them, at their core, aircheck sessions are mini performance reviews. If an employee responds well to direction and coaching, follows directives and puts in the effort necessary to act on and execute ideas that come out of airchecks, then we have to reward that. Preferably that reward is monetary and tied to compensation or bonuses, but it could also be other things of value to the air talent (paid time off or traded perks they wouldn’t normally receive). The flip side of that however, is that for the system to work we have to also punish employees who regularly don’t complete assignments or work to implement any of the coaching and direction.
Which leads me to my final point. Yes, there are going to be some aircheck sessions that HAVE to be turned into disciplinary meetings because talent aren’t following clear directives they’ve been given and they’ve agreed to. Those airchecks are unlikely to be fun for anyone and, while we can still try to keep the same structure, it’s doubtful any creativity will be sparked in those meetings because people tend to shut off after being called out. However, if we’re managing our talent properly, those rough meetings should be few and far between.
What do you think? What creative things have you done to make aircheck sessions fun? Comment below or email me at Andy@RadioStationConsultant.com.
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