Be Careful What You Wish For, It Just Might Not Come True

It’s painfully apparent that there are many programmers on the beach right now in the radio industry.

I’ve been flooded with e-mails from new “consultancy” groups….and after doing some homework, it’s not really a group at all, for the most part. It’s a stand alone former PD looking for their next gig, trying to stay afloat by working out of their home and sending mass e-mails out to any and all stations on a list they’ve purchased somewhere.

I don’t blame them for wanting to make a buck. I would most likely do the same thing, and someday, I may. But, if you’re one of the station managers that are tossing the idea back and forth about whether to bring a consultant into your cluster or market to boost your numbers, be aware that there are a few good men (and women) out there…..and then, there are others that will talk the talk but are far from being able to walk the walk.

Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, especially in Top 40 radio, it was typical for a consultant to take blueprint A from a station that was successful in one market and apply it as blueprint B in another, and be somewhat successful. Although I think stations sound more alike now than they did back then, it was concentrated more back then. There were a select few that made a shitload of money consulting some of the best stations in the country- and jocks that moved from one station to another sometimes found the transition extremely easy because the playbook was identical to the last station they worked for. Billboard here, liner card here, telex bit here……pound the calls on the quarter hour, watch your QH maintenance, some consultants even requested (and got) station management to buy identical equipment to streamline their blueprint, even if the two stations weren’t owned by the same company.

With internet radio, satellite radio, and other media stealing the thunder of what used to be radio’s number one draw (breaking new music), it’s harder today than ever before to consult stations, particularly if you’re taking one from one format to another or trying to revive a station on life support. While it’s true that the deregulation of radio made much of what we hear up and down the dial “cookie cutter” today in almost every city, that’s because you most likely have the same ownership and a worn out, out of touch, outdated on-air structure and sound that won’t be any different until there’s an acceptance that different isn’t always such a bad thing. That’s a tough pill for corporate radio to swallow sometimes.

What I’m saying is consultants, for the most part, are people that have had some success in other markets or are names that you’re familiar with nationally. Just like, say, Tony LaRussa, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals……they may have won a World Series title before, but if your consultant isn’t really “hands on”…..visiting your market, meeting those that live and work in it, getting to know the lay of the land, as it were…..they probably won’t be too successful. Listening to your internet stream, taking your playlist and tweaking it, and charging you a ton of money to do that may be money you’re throwing out the window.

If your consultant is as good as they say they are, they won’t take a penny from you in advance, other than expenses to visit your station, meet your air talent, get to know your market, and sit and COLLECTIVELY plan with your current PD or MD the game plan. They should be willing, in fact insistent, that your PD or MD be involved in the process. Any consultant that doesn’t offer you that will most likely do a minimal amount of work for a maximum amount of dollars- and seriously, in this day and age…..with radio being as fluctuent as it is…..nobody can guarantee you an outcome that will be 100 percent positive.

One thing is still true when it cmes to consultancy in radio programming. You really DO get what you pay for. Just don’t pay them in advance.