Several years ago I was on the road and having beer and chilidogs with a General Manager, who was one of the all time great GM’s. At one point she got a philosophic look and asked “So, you work with all of these amazing stations. What do the truly extraordinary, the ridiculously successful stations all have in common?”
WOW. What a great question. How would you answer it? I kind of had to think and then I started laying out some stuff I’d seen over the years.
1. They’re a team. They would voluntarily hang out with each other and do when they’re not at work.
2. They have fun. They know that this is supposed to be a fun job and when you walk in the door…BOOM…you can feel it.
3. There’s longevity. You’ll see people on the staff who have been there 30 years.
4. They are so tapped into the community that it would be hard to unwind, unravel, extricate or otherwise unplug them from the lives and lifestyle of the audience.
5. When you listen to them, they don’t even have to ID the market: you can “hear” it in everything they do.
6. They will call an audible and change the game plan on a moment’s notice.
She was nodding along and seemingly agreeing and when I wrapped up with “And they always have a great receptionist” her eyes got wide and she said “Oh my God, you are so right.”
And at least in that regard, I am. Think about it. Have you ever worked at a station that didn’t have a superstar person up front? These game-changers, these intangible employees are often right in the heart of the demo, are usually true fans of the product, they meet more listeners than all of the other staff combined, and they literally establish the vibe when you walk in the door.
KUBE in Seattle for years had Laurie who was possibly the nicest, sweetest young woman you could ever meet. I’d run into label people and mention her and they would just stop and give some kind of “She’s a star!” reply. If you called KUBE more than twice, by the third time she knew your voice and by the fourth time would want to know how your ski trip with your wife had been. Not surprisingly she volunteered at the Space Needle on weekends answering questions (with a smile) for stupid tourists. She was just so freaking nice.
And then there was Jenny Murphey. For about a six year period KSFM in Sacramento had evolved beyond being a radio station. It was a behemoth. A monster that rolled over everything in its path. And it was because the staff had created a nuclear reaction of links that resulted in FUN.
I had a friend who was trained to smile when she talked on the air because the audience can hear it. Fun/Happy businesses are that way, and we’ve all seen or experienced them. Those places you go into where it appears that the employees are on mood elevators and are having more fun at work than should be allowed by law.
KSFM was that way. You would regularly hear that when you were out on the streets: “You guys are having way too much fun. I wish I worked there.”
And it all started when you walked in the door. Jenny might throw something at you. She might hurl herself over the desk and demand a hug on the spot. She might break into a rendition of Coolio complete with dancing. You. Just. Never. Knew.
She was extraordinary and key fissionable material to the critical mass that was KSFM, because she loved the station. She and her wing woman Michele the Sales Asst. went to every promotion and event. She hit every club gig. Every Friday afternoon was a houseparty at the GSM’s house and she was the first to arrive and the last to leave. She would spend time in the chat room greeting the listeners. As a fan of the station she had an encyclopedic knowledge of the music and everything the station was doing so there wasn’t a listener question she couldn’t answer.
But most importantly she was fun. I called in one time and it was noisy in the lobby and she paused and I heard her yell “Everyone, SHUT THE FUCK UP. Paige is on the phone.” That was Jenny and if you were familiar with KSFM from the early 90’s to 2000, then you know what an amazing station that was.
And like any Jenga game, after about five or six years, one element, one person was removed from the equation and the whole structure was never the same. It didn’t collapse or fail, it just wasn’t the same.
I spend a 150 days a year, on the road, visiting client stations and there will be clusters like Summit in Birmingham or Newcap in Toronto with fantastic people up front…and you can feel it throughout the building.
And then I’ll be at other stations where it’s generally acknowledged that the person at the desk in the lobby sucks. We are always looking for great air talent and shedding the ones who aren’t to our standards. We should be doing the same thing with the receptionists.
Jenny Murphey, Receptionist Extraodinaire, front row and center helping with KSFM Spring Jam.