It is that time of year when everyone is fighting to be #1. The good news is that someone will be in the top spot. The bad news? Everyone else won’t be.
I’m not talking about the NBA playoffs where 12 multi-millionaires will try and hide their grief when they lose the playoffs and drive into the sunset in their custom cars. I’ll save any feelings of remorse for programmers when the down book hits their desks with an awful thud.
I programmed more than my share of great radio stations, and those of you familiar with my career know I was lucky to have more than my share of success, but I can say, without reservation, no other emotion can come close to the empty feeling of a down book.
Programming is weird science at best. Let’s face it…none of us really knows what we’re doing. It’s a complex crapshoot with the odds favoring the house. Although we all like to brag and pretend we know it all when the book goes up, the truth is, everyone breathes a sigh of relief when the numbers jump. With the possible exception of Steve Smith (who might actually know what he’s doing), can anyone say they haven’t experienced a down book?
Three Dog Night sang, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do,” and they were right. If you ever pull a “one” in the book, you will be the loneliest person in the station. It won’t last long because you’ll soon be out on the street, but for a brief, frozen moment in time, you’ll find depressing fascination in total isolation.
I speak from experience. I am the genius who tubed WAPP New York down to that magic number and managed to live to tell about it. (Actually, it was a 1.7, but when it starts with a “one,” it doesn’t really matter what comes after the decimal point.) I couldn’t find anyone who would look me in the eye. My secretary went home sick, the jocks came in just minutes before their airshifts, the sales staff holed up in the local bar and the general manager refused to take my calls. I phoned my girlfriend for solace. She left a message on the answering machine that she was moving out…she got a job at Z100 answering Scott Shannon’s request lines.
You’ll only get comfort (for a while) from record company promotion people. The good ones will call immediately to tell you not to believe Arbitron, that everyone they know listens to your station. They close by hitting you up for an add, hoping they’ll get one more shot before you get blown out.
So, what do you do when you tube it? Conventional wisdom tells you to straighten your back and find the silver lining in that otherwise dark cloud. As much as we curse Arbitron, we can be thankful for the tonnage of data the company provides. Look closely and find those demos that show promise. Bolster the air staff. They’re as scared as you and need you to be strong in the face of imminent danger. March into the general manager’s office and provide an instant game plan to turn the ratings around. Accept the responsibility and take it like a champion.
Of course, that’s all conversation. It’s the right thing to do…probably the most professional way to approach it…but it won’t matter.
As a veteran of many down books, I had the time and talent to develop a strategy to face the beast and breathe fire in its face. I call it, “The 10 Tenents of Tubing.”
#1: Blame it on a bad drop. Arbitron is famous for seeking out the exact households that hate your station. For this book, they managed to find them all. They have a personal vendetta to make sure you fail. Blame it on them.
#2: It’s all of those terrible sales promotions you had to run. If it weren’t for the clutter, you would have been in double-digits.
#3: Your competition out-spent you 10-to-one. If you had the budget they had, you would have gone up. Absolutely.
#4: Demand a trip to Beltsville to personally study the diaries. You’ve heard at least three other stations had diaries and those entries tainted the results of the entire sample. All you need is three days and you’ll have the whole book recalled. (If you’re lucky, by the time you return, the bad news will have blown over and you can slink back into your office and avoid the bullet to the brain.)
#5: It was the consultant’s fault. (My personal favorite.) Say this with a great degree of animosity and self-confidence. Blame everything on the consultant, from the music to the promotions to the format. But make sure you do this quickly. Rest assured the consultant will do the same to you. Strike quickly before you’re hamstrung.
#6: Tearfully blame it on your evil, twin personality. Explain that there are two people inside of you…the good one and the bad one. Unfortunately, the bad one took control at the start of the book, but promise it will never happen again.
#7: Don’t mention the book. Do, however, bring up the young thing the manager has been seeing on the sly. Explain that you would never share your knowledge with the GM’s spouse.
#8: Leave on an extended vacation, the thought being that if they can’t find you, they can’t fire you. If you take this action, clean your personal effects from your office. They might not find you, but they can find your replacement. Six of them are already sitting in the lobby.
#9: Immediately enter a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic. It doesn’t matter whether you need to, but it buys you at least 30 days, the company has to pay the bills and they can’t fire you until the treatment is complete.
#10: Quit. Be loud and be proud about it. Accept no blame or responsibility. Say the station is screwed up, the business sucks and you’re leaving to spend more time with your family. Then take the first job that is available.
If none of these work, you’re on your own. It is healthy, however, to remember we work in a business of intangibles. Much of our success depends on particulars out of our control. Don’t take too much credit when you’re doing well or you’ll get an equal amount of blame when it all goes to hell. Also, another book and another chance to succeed is only three months away.
It might be in your best interest to remember the old axiom: “There’s never a horse that couldn’t be rode and never a rider that couldn’t be throwed.” You aren’t a genius until you win the Nobel Prize.
Even with it, you’re going to be in trouble after a down book. Ask Jimmy Carter.