The Secret of Managing Controversy

| May 8, 2013

By Walter Sabo
Sabo Media
Chairman

mcallanbobNEW YORK — Bob McAllan is the CEO of Press Broadcasting. He put on the two most successful FM Talk stations in the world: New Jersey 101.5 — going into its 22 year — and WTKS-FM Real Radio 104.1 Orlando, launched 1994. Bob and GM John Dziuba made a strategic decision that enabled the station’s hosts to present the most controversial, often outrageous opinions with minimal fallout.

newjersey1015wtks125Their single decision gave management the freedom to sell advertising on the stations, defend the hosts and manage the talent in an environment void of fear. Bob and John decided that their STATIONS must never present an opinion or point of view.  Simultaneously they realized that to have winning stations, the hosts must have well prepared, very strong points of view on every single topic.

After consulting and operating the largest talk stations in the world, I believe the paragraph you just read sums up the programming infrastructure for success.

If a station takes a position on a topic and promotes that position, it cannot defend a host’s poor choice of words. If a host presents a terrible argument, slanders, makes jokes in bad taste on a topic, the station cannot defend him/her if the station’s position and the host’s position are known to be the same.

Stations that never present a point of view in promos or slogans have the freedom to defend all opinions, they have the ability to shield their hosts under the cloak of neutrality. Radio stations should be a neutral stage.

When a Press Broadcasting host aired controversial opinions on very hot topics, management sold commercials at HIGHER RATES. Press Broadcasting management knew that weeks of controversy would get attention, press, word of mouth and that high levels of reaction are to be embraced, valued and marked-up. There have been other managers who understood this. They include WRKO’s Dan Griffin and Brad Murray, WIOD’s Ronna Woulfe, every Howard Stern station manager, and WRBZ’s Brian Maloney. They never blinked. Bob McAllan took “never blinking” to whole new levels.

When Press talent was physically threatened, rather than take the loser way out and shut down hot talk shows, McAllan invested six figures to improve security.  When legal heat challenged his stations, he hired better lawyers. When advertisers threatened to pull campaigns, he said, let them… they will come back. And they did and he charged them more. That’s what an owner is supposed to do.

Today, New Jersey 101.5, thanks to gifted on-air talent and McAllan’s vision, is the highest grossing FM talk station in the world. Real Radio 104.1 is one of the few talk stations — maybe the only one — to survive and thrive after the loss of Howard Stern. Their long term success is because of fundamentals put in place by Press. The vital fundamentals are:

The station has no opinion or point of view. The hosts MUST have strong opinions and points of view.

If a station adopts a given point of view it runs the risk of history revealing that opinion to be just plain wrong. Then the station is tarnished for eternity.

The wise way to win is to polish a neutral stage featuring spectacular hosts who know how to make great radio. Then, when the hosts do THEIR JOBS and present strong opinions, the station is free to defend every word.

Hey McAllan, buy some FM stations and cause trouble!

tbugk

Walter Sabo is chairman of Sabo Media, a consultation firm that provides the latest on future trends to its clients. He can be emailed at Walter@sabomedia.com.  Meet Walter Sabo at Talkers New York 2013 on Thursday, June 6.

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Category: Advice