Tag Archives: radio stations

Radio Needs Second-Order Thinking

Tuesdays With Coleman

First-order thinking is considering the immediate impact of the decisions we make.

Second-order thinking is considering all the potential consequences of the decisions we make.

The radio industry often uses first-order thinking, but not second-order thinking.

When we think we’re solving a problem, we unintentionally create another.

More than once in my career, and certainly in the last few years, a station has changed format and lived to regret it.

Not because they didn’t get reasonable ratings. It was because their flip caused a reaction in the marketplace that ultimately screwed them.

They didn’t think of the second order.

Second-Order Thinking

Example #1:

You’ve got a Hot Adult Contemporary (Hot AC) station in a market that is underperforming, while there is only one Country station. So, you flip your Hot AC station to Country.

First-order thinking: The competition’s Country station leads the market in revenue. If our group flips the Hot AC to Country, and take even a third of their ratings and revenue, we’ll be doing better than we are now as a Hot AC.

Second-order thinking: If we change the format and attack the competition, they may adjust one or two of their stations to attack a station in our cluster. Perhaps the station that accounts for most of our ratings and revenue.

It’s applicable to more than format flips.

Example #2:

You’re responsible for a Classic Rock station with no direct competitor. Since you have no direct competitor, you can broaden the scope to appeal to more people—so you start adding sounds, like Classic Hits.

First-order thinking:  If we add Classic Hits to the Classic Rock recipe, we’ll add more fans to our rock station.

Second-order thinking: If we add Classic Hits to our Classic Rock recipe, we may alienate some of our Classic Rock fans and lessen passion with both camps. Plus, the competition may notice we now sound a bit softer and wimpier and see an opportunity to attack us with a straight-ahead, focused rock station.

See the dangers of only thinking in the first-order? It really is like a chess match, thinking steps ahead.

Second Order Thinking

We’re fortunate to have many clients who invest in research and advertising. Those radio stations that don’t have a complete map of their market may fall victim to first-order thinking.

Example #3:

You oversee an Urban station and your group has the format all to yourselves in the market.

First-order thinking: We’re all alone in this format. We don’t need to advertise.

Second-order thinking: If we don’t invest in our product and advertise, the station’s brand images will wither away. The decline in ratings and revenue will outweigh the cost savings of not investing in the product.

As author Howard Marks explains in his book, The Most Important Thing, “First-level thinking is simplistic and superficial, and just about everyone can do it. Second-level thinking is deep, complex and convoluted.”

Although it takes a lot of work, second-order thinking (and third, fourth and so on) is well worth the time.

Second-order thinking now means avoiding problems later.

And you won’t have to call them “unforeseen problems.”

Lessons For Radio From The Golden State Warriors

Tuesdays With Coleman

Do you manage talent? How about high-profile, high-ego talent? Although you likely don’t work in the sports world, you may find some pretty valuable lessons to be learned from a basketball coach.

I can’t tell you I’m not a biased Golden State Warriors fan. I’m totally biased. That being said, I’m no bandwagon fan, having grown up in the Bay Area. I attended my first Dubs game (well before anyone called them the Dubs) in the late 70s against Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Like every other lifelong Warriors fan, I suffered for a very long time. In the 31 years between Al Attles’ departure in 1983 and Steve Kerr’s hiring in 2014, the Warriors went through 14 head coaches with a combined record of 1,168-1,426, a 45% winning percentage.

In four years, Steve Kerr has compiled a winning percentage of over 80%. There’s certainly something to be said for the massive amounts of talent compiled for him to work with, including All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. Surely there’s an argument to be made that a number of other coaches could have also won a substantial percentage of games with such a stacked roster.

So, this isn’t a lesson in compiling talent. It’s a lesson in keeping them content and performing at their best level.

Back in April, Jon Coleman wrote about the effect of research and analytics in professional sports. Kerr was an early embracer of research, with ESPN noting that Kerr “has proved willing to make adjustments based on feedback from the Warriors’ analysts.”

So, embracing research has been part of the Warriors’ success. However, that doesn’t adequately take into account the human component. A program director may also choose to embrace radio perceptual research or show enthusiasm about implementing the results of an online music test.

If the team around the program director can’t execute properly or stay in sync, the station can fall short of expectations—just as sports teams do regardless of research or level of talent.

In February, the Warriors were starting to show the scars of the regular season. The team went 3-3 over the span of six games and were getting off to a slow start each night. Kerr was afraid his message wasn’t cutting through. So, what did he do?

He let his players coach a game.

Three players had a turn with the clipboard. They were in charge of motivating themselves. They were in charge of making substitutions.

The Warriors won by 46.

Just as a team stacked with the Warriors’ level of talent should win lots of games, the Warriors should have won the game that night against a poor Phoenix Suns team.

It’s an example of one of many tactics Kerr pulls out of his tool belt to engage his talent. Tricks like these lead to what sports website Real GM recently referred to as an “unusually harmonious locker room.”

How about that magical third quarter? Through Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by 133 points in the third quarter in these playoffs alone.  Is the team doing something incredible at halftime?

Actually, yes.

The New York Times studied the third quarter phenomenon and discovered the Warriors coaching staff:

  1. Begins preparing for halftime when the game begins by identifying specific plays to review;
  2. Runs back and forth to the locker room to have clips assembled on a computer;
  3. Projects the clips on a screen while Kerr runs through them, one by one.

Ok, that’s not so revolutionary. It’s what Kerr does after he gives his take.

He wants to know what every coach has noticed. Then, he asks the players what they have noticed.

Zaza Pachulia has played for nine head coaches in the N.B.A. and says he’s never been part of a more democratic locker room.

Many radio program directors who have embraced research are overseeing stations with strong developed brands and are experiencing substantial ratings success. Those who manage high profile talent may consider looking to Kerr for ideas for getting the most out of them.

Sharing the research, getting buy-in on the plan, and collaborating. Talking with instead of talking to.

That approach just may accelerate your results (and lower your blood pressure).


What Radio Stations And Diets Have In Common

Tuesdays With Coleman

About a month ago, I started on one of those “two shakes a day” diets.

Wait, I’m not supposed to call it a diet. About a month ago, I started on one of the two shakes a day LIFESTYLES.

Isagenix Diet Shake

I’m only slightly embarrassed to say I needed something to get me started toward a healthier way of living.

So I’m on the plan. Shake for breakfast, shake for lunch. Modest dinner, mainly protein, and healthy snacks along the way. You know what? The pounds and inches that I picked up in the radio station kitchen (who brings all those free donuts?) are starting to fall off.

I’d like to maintain this LIFESTYLE as long as I can.

The process gets me thinking… besides eating the donuts in the kitchen, what other bad habits might I have picked up at the radio station, and how can we “shake” them?

Radio programmers generally do a great job of keeping good habits. But like diets, it’s easy to lose your way. Here are some ways radio stations fall “off the diet”:


At our presentation at the Worldwide Radio Summit, Outside Thinking: Flip The Script On How You Think About Your Radio Station, we demonstrated how delivering too many messages at once inhibits any of them from breaking through. Check out this guy I ran into at an amusement park.

Outside Thinking Too Many Messages

He’s wearing a radio station t-shirt featuring their name, call letters, an extra frequency, slogan, morning show and workday positioning. Whew! That t-shirt could lose a few pounds.


You’re utilizing music research as part of your radio station’s strategy. “The Plan” says 00s Rhythmic Pop music not only doesn’t add potential audience, it is incongruent with your brand and the fans of your most appealing music don’t like it. “Yeah, but that song tested really well!”

Doesn’t mean you should play it.

This also applies to adding titles in between library music tests. “It’s only a few songs”. The next thing you know, your library is bloated with titles you shouldn’t be playing.

Put down the cookies.

Trust the music research and stick with your strategy.


Your listeners are the lifeblood of your radio station. They often provide the most valuable feedback you can hear, giving you the opportunity to do more of the best things and cut out things they don’t like. Get out of the office and talk to them. You’ll even burn a few calories in the process.


You’ve done a market research study, you’re clear on the strategy, but who is in charge of delivering your radio station’s message day in and day out? Your air talent.

By regularly airchecking your jocks, you can create powerful buy-in from your team and ensure the plan is executed properly.

Just as a personal trainer is charged with keeping me disciplined and sticking to a workout schedule to stay fit, a program director is charged with keeping air talent disciplined and on message.

The bad habits of radio stations really aren’t that different from the bad habits of a diet.

Unfocused messaging? Kind of like bouncing from diet to diet. “You know, I tried that one for a little while but it didn’t work”. Why didn’t it work? Because it was the wrong diet (message) or because you didn’t give the diet (message) a long enough chance to be effective?

Not following the music research? That’s like straying from the diet here and there. “Hey, a little ice cream won’t hurt me.” “I can cheat with a few slices of pizza.” When you have a plan, whether to better your radio station or change your life, you have to remain focused and disciplined.

Maintaining focus and discipline will be the only way I continue to be successful with my new lifestyle.

And it’s also the only way you’ll continue to be successful with your radio station.


Three Ways Radio Stations Misunderstand Their Listeners

Tuesdays With Coleman

Last Friday, May 4th, Coleman Insights delivered a presentation to the Worldwide Radio Summit in Hollywood called “Outside Thinking: Flip The Script On How You Think About Your Radio Station”.

During the session, Coleman Insights President Warren Kurtzman and Executive Vice Presidents/Senior Consultants John Boyne and Sam Milkman explained how radio station programmers can fall into the trap of Inside Thinking—a boardroom mindset, as opposed to thinking like a listener.

Outside Thinking Worldwide Radio Summit

Coleman Insights’ Sam Milkman and John Boyne at Worldwide Radio Summit

Soon, we’ll be sharing the entire presentation so you can discover how successful radio stations utilize the principles of Outside Thinking to build powerful brands with consistently impressive ratings. In the meantime, we’ll share three ways radio station programmers misunderstand their listeners. This misunderstanding, rooted in Inside Thinking, causes radio stations to over-focus on things like short-term tactics. It encourages programmers to make knee-jerk decisions by not being patient. By recognizing these three misconceptions, radio stations can recalibrate their focus and think like a listener.


We’d love to think our listeners know the names of all our personalities. We picture them playing every contest and attending all our big station events.


Like other entertainment options in your listeners’ lives, radio plays a role—but it is likely not the most important role. Listeners generally don’t engage in a deep, well thought out process of choosing a station.


Surely if we tweak our clocks and go from one to two 80s songs per hour, all our listeners will know and we’ll get credit for it.


Listeners not only don’t notice the little things we do, they often don’t notice the big things. You’ve heard listeners call your station by the wrong name or dial position. They’ve thought your morning show was on the competitor. Because listeners aren’t paying close attention, changing an image takes a great deal of time and patience. Clock changes, like in the example above, aren’t enough. You have to tell the listener about the change, repeat with regularity, and stick with it.


By using carefully placed tactics, contents and clock changes, listeners can be made to listen at specific times.


Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, listeners wake up at the same time every morning. They get their coffee at the same time, shower at the same time and commute at the same time. They also generally listen to radio stations at the same time. Your station needs to be a part of their lives and habits. This is much more realistic than trying to manipulate them to listen at times that may not be possible for them.

There’s lots more to share regarding how you can use Outside Thinking to flip the script on how you think about your radio station.

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