Programming For Ourselves

As a consultant and life-long radio guy I’ve worked with lots of great and accomplished radio people during my broadcasting career.  Over the years I couldn’t help but notice how many of those successful radio people had lots of things in common. That’s why I wrote an eBook about it a few years ago. It’s also why I like bringing people I’ve worked with before on podcast episodes to talk about their process. I write and talk about those commonalities a lot because I think there’s value in studying the habits of successful people to see if emulating those habits might lead others to the same result. The challenge is of course that each situation is unique, as are individuals, so what works for one person might not work for another. Hence, why I always focus on things I’ve seen in the aggregate. On the other end of the spectrum though, there is one universal habit that I have NEVER seen lead anyone in radio to success, programming a show or a station for ourselves instead of the audience. Here are two specific scenarios where even good people can fall into that trap and a way to course correct each of them.

The person in the heart of the demo that LOVES the format. Most of us either start or quickly gravitate toward a format that we at least like. Some of us are even lucky enough to land in one that we love at a time when we’re still right in the center of that station’s core demographic. Anyone who’s been in that situation will tell you that it’s incredibly fun. There’s something exhilarating about not having to pretend like you like the music, wanting to go to station events instead of being forced to and legitimately enjoying the company of listeners so engaging and interacting with them is a blast instead of a beating. However, we all age out of demos eventually and at some point it will start to feel more like a job than a party. But, most importantly, when we’re in the strike zone we have to be careful not to assume that the majority of our audience likes all the same things we do. In my experience, most programmers and on-air talent in this scenario really struggle to grasp that concept and use personally being within the demo/format as an excuse to only talk about the things they want to talk about and play the songs they like while avoiding the ones they don’t. This is a HUGE mistake because radio people are anomalies and for the most part we’re vastly different than the average listener, even when they are our age and live a similar lifestyle. To course correct this, use that access to the audience to talk to LOTS of them about a WIDE range of things, build shows around engagement and let that engagement dictate the content selection and work social media like it’s equally as important as on-air, which it is.

The second very common scenario is the radio veteran who thinks they know more about what the audience wants than they do. This one is tough because experience is one of the most valuable things in any job, especially one as unique as radio. But, experience can also become dangerous if it isn’t paired with perspective. Radio has changed dramatically in just the past few years, as has the world around us. Sometimes within local markets, its easy to make the assumption that ‘things haven’t changed that much here’.  But, they absolutely have, even if it’s not that noticeable driving around. Pair that with stagnant salaries and the natural wear and tear of our industry and it’s easy to understand why many broadcast veterans are over doing remotes, soliciting calls into the studio (or even answering the ones that come in on their own), and taking part in the digital components that have been part of the job for years now like blogging on the station website, podcasting, creating video content and posting on social media. But, the trick for any veteran to course correct and realize that nobody knows their audience better than they do themselves is doing all those things listed above. Because the only way to stay up on our audience is to talk to them every day on their chosen platforms and most importantly, really listen to them.

What do you think? How did you learn to program for the audience instead of yourself or how have you passed that lesson along to others? Comment below or email me at

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