Drift. It’s the number one concern of every parent enjoying the ocean surf and sand with their little ones.
If you have ever been brave enough to venture into the ocean, you’ve undoubtedly felt it. Even in calm seas, you can be swimming and before long, you are quite a long way down the shore from where you entered the water. You didn’t swim that way, and you never really feel like you are moving. Imperceptibly, the current moves you to a point on the beach where you don’t recognize any of the strangers faces staring back at you.
Drift happens in your radio station each day, too both at a station level and with each individual air talent.
When your station isn’t sounding as tight, as bright, and as focused as it could be, chances are it has drifted off the plumb line of what you believe to be 100% first class. And for each station, the place it drifts to is different. Your station might drift toward sounding a little too slow. It might drift toward sounding a bit too Christian-ese or cluttered with promotional messages that aren’t focused. It might be a bit too sales-oriented, or it might sound like it starts and stops all the time, etc.
This happens with every on-air talent, too. When your on-air work suffers from drift, over time you can become a little too chatty, or your board work is not quite as tight, or you are a bit too quick to settle for the low-hanging content that isn’t particularly unique or compelling.
Just like the ocean swimmer who is oblivious to the fact that the current is moving him down the beach, if the drift at your station or on your show remains unchecked, it’s not long before things sound way off course, but no one is quite sure how you got there.
A ship’s captain doesn’t just point the bow of his vessel in the general direction of his destination at the beginning of a trans-ocean journey, but is constantly reviewing his position and direction so that he’s always on course. The number 1 tactic to keep drift on your station or show to a minimum is to maintain a consistent awareness that it is possible, and to be diligently on the lookout for it.
Get someone else to listen for an hour: Connect with a PD or talent in another market, and have them listen to your station for a couple of hours, and get a critique on what they notice. All of us involved in “making the sausage” at a station can be so close to the execution of it, it can be difficult to listen critically… but an outside set of ears can. Another programming person can hear things that are a challenge for you to hear, and can give great perspective on what is working, and what is not.
Understand what your station’s typical drift is: While drifts can change over time, my experience has been that a station or show typically tends toward the same drift point. What is your drift point? Too cluttered? Too slow? Too church-y? By instinct, sharp PD’s know what their drift point is, because it is typically the thing (or things) they are most keenly aware of when they are really focused on fine tuning the programming of the radio station. Knowing what to be most on guard for is important to making sure you are safeguarding against it.
Be mindful of the external forces that can create it: Almost every element that can cause a station to drift are actually positive things that are typically allowed to have a little too much influence on the momentum of the station. Budget is behind, so the sales team is looking for extra opportunities to generate revenue. As the PD, you want to be a team player so you create some sponsorships, and before you know it… the station is sounding pretty cluttered. The morning show does a break where a listener shares a sad story and the phone rings in the studio several times, and soon the show is telling too many sad stories, because (based on the phone action) listeners “love” it. A email shows up from a listener suggesting a daily Scripture reading, and pretty soon it is happening every hour. None of those things are bad, but having some self created barriers in place to safeguard against the sound of the station veering into “too much of a good thing” will help keep your station on course.
If you are wondering what your station’s natural drift point is, whether or not your station is experiencing some drift, or you know that you are “way off course” and not sure how to get back on track, I would love the talk with you about that.
Matt Stockman is 38-year veteran to radio as an air talent and program director, including time at WBDX/Chattanooga, Spirit FM/Lynchburg, 101.1 The One/Nashville, WMIT/Asheville, a missionary assignment serving Christian radio stations in Europe, KCMS/Seattle, and K-LOVE. He is currently Brand Director for Pillar Media (WAWZ/STAR 99.1 – NJ/NY, WAKW/STAR 93.3 – Cincinnati) and is a frequent contributor to efforts that raise the standard of excellence in Christian broadcasting. Reach out to Matt HERE.