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Posted by Alan Burns on February 28, 2009 at 13:01:49:

2008 was one of the toughest economies in our working lifetimes, and everyone expects 2009 to be even grimmer. My radio career has now spanned four recessions and counting; along the way I have learned a few things I thought I would share with you about how to manage and program in poor economic times. Here are some thoughts about you, your brain, your organization and your audience.

Four words are key:Attitude ... Focus ... Creativity ... Service


Here's one thing that doesn't change with the economy: Your attitude determines your results. Attitudes and expectations are self-fulfilling. You need to keep yourself positive and upbeat -- not only for your own mental health, but because the staff will be keying off of the vibes you exude.

Celebrate any and every piece of good news, whether it's a small ratings increase, a new client or a client success story, a community event that helped someone ... even an e-mailed compliment from a listener. There will be both positives and negatives lying around; you'll see whichever one you decide to focus on. If you can remember to start each day by thinking about the things you are grateful for, you're on your way to a positive attitude.

Don't forget to thank those who help you get your job done and/or keep your job. A little appreciation goes a long way, especially with people who have been asked to do more --often for, or with, less.

If you're a programmer who hasn't made friends with sales yet, do that now. You and they need each other more than ever.

One last point on attitude: It's hard to be upbeat and positive if you are physically worn out, so protect your energy. Get sleep, exercise, eat well and think positive thoughts.


Concentration of force is one of the greatest keys to success, and the fewer resources you have to work with - whether it's time, money or people -- the more you need to use them smartly. Doing 10 things weakly won't be as effective as doing one thing strongly.

Don't try to get everything done; instead, figure out what things that are within your control will make the biggest differences in results for the least effort.

Now is a great time to sit down with your boss to review goals and priorities.


Those priorities need to include creativity.

Lack of marketing and promotional dollars is one of radio's most powerful motivators of creativity. Remember that more listeners are motivated by creative entertainment than by playing contests. Make a list of radio clich?s and see how many of them you can avoid. Does your station or your promotion have a storyline (that is, is it a story?), or just a collection of informational or instructional promos? How many ways can you come up with to get the audience to react to you? To admire you? To get free local television coverage?

Creativity takes time, something you are probably short of right now. Make creative sessions must-do priorities so that they'll get done. Also, see "attitude" above. You need to be in a positive, playful frame of mind in order to be creative.

Creativity isn't just a programming word, by the way. All great business solutions are the result of creative thinking.


In difficult times, it's a reasonable generalization to say that your audience wants to escape, to be soothed by music radio; the Talk radio audience wants to be able to vent, be informed, and learn tips for coping. You need to know what they want, and make sure you're giving it to them constantly.

In music radio, keep the station upbeat and positive and be humorous when possible (don't force it). In tough times, both new and old music work well ... new is fresh, distracting novelty, and old is nostalgia for better days.

In sales, clients appreciate help and reassurance. The more client contact, the better.

Strategic and Tactical Considerations

In addition to the four keys above, there are some strategic and tactical issues in down economies. Here are a couple of examples:

Strategically, you should avoid trying to change basic images of your station without having any external support. Better to focus on and showcase your strengths. On the other hand, if you do have enough resources to go on the offensive, it's a great time -- the other party is less likely to be able to defend aggressively.

Tactically, exploit better ... run those winner promos longer, and start the pre-sells earlier. Use your listeners as marketing ambassadors, motivate your database, and maybe beef up that internship program to get some help around the place.

A Final Word

Finally, a four-letter word that helps with attitude, creativity and entertainment: PLAY.

Make sure you and your staff still have fun, one way or another. Playfulness helps you and everyone else enjoy their jobs and keeps them positive, puts you in a better frame of mind for creativity, and helps the audience enjoy your station more.

Sure, it's a tough time -- but you're tougher. Just remember to be positive, focused, creative and service your audience/clients. That's not so different from what's important in the easier times; it's just more vital now.


Alan Burns
Alan Burns' unique experience includes major-market programming, research and on-air work, plus involvement with a variety of formats and winning organizations. Burns has provided programming and marketing research and/or advice to Top 40, AC, AOR, Country, Beautiful Music, and News/Talk stations in over 100 markets. Most notably Alan has consulted Z100 in New York, KIIS in Los Angeles, WWMX in Baltimore and KHMX Houston, which he helped format and launch.
Prior to founding Alan Burns & Associates in 1985, Alan spent five-and-one-half years as Program Director of ABC's WRQX (Q107), helping that station grow from a 2 share of the market to become Washington's dominant contemporary music station. During his tenure, Q107 achieved record rates and revenues, scored the highest 12+ share ever for an ABC-owned FM, and in 1983 became America's highest-rated major-market Top 40 station.

Alan came to Q107 from WLS/Chicago; prior to WLS he served as radio client consultant with Frank N. Magid Associates and held programming, research and on-air positions in Chicago, Denver and his native Alabama, where he received a Masters Degree in Communication Research.

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