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Rob Wagman “Does Your Programming Engage or Is It Just Flirting?”

As a man who was engaged three different times to three different women, I might have an unusual advantage to knowledge that a ring, no matter if it costs three times your monthly salary, or whether it was her family’s diamond that only needed some metal to complete the look; doesn’t necessarily constitute true engagement, and often can be extremely deceptive.

The difference for me with fiancée number three was that when I daydreamed about my future, I always saw her in the picture, and the thought of her NOT being there created extreme anxiety and sadness in my heart.  In the end, and hard to admit, even now, is that for the other two, even with a ring, I just wasn’t fully committed.

There is a similar thing happening with your listeners.  Yes, they are there, and sometimes Nielsen even gets it right and catches a bunch of them in the act of listening to you, or by memory, they recall that they’ve done so, and suddenly, you have ratings.

However, the greatest report card you can look at, in terms of the answer to the question in the title of this article, is not an increase of cume in the latest Nielsen ratings, but instead a year over year increase to your Pledge Drive, and if you don’t do those because you’re a commercial station, then look at your yearly drives with Tom and Veldo, David Harms, Lee Geysbeek or Todd Chatman and Paul Jacobs.

Did they do better this year than last?  If so, we’re getting somewhere.


Have you noticed that the stations that once touted the slogan, “Safe For The Whole Family,” have dropped that slogan altogether, or have dramatically decreased the use of that in their positioner?
The same people who were running to put that identifier on as many stations as possible fifteen years ago, are now, even faster, encouraging their stations to lose it entirely.

There is a quote that says, “When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.”  The issue stations are beginning to discover about their slogan is not that it doesn’t have impact, but that it is made up of empty words, and makes a statement that can’t be quantified, or even proven.

If we took a poll of children at school, we could find that PB&J sandwiches were the most widely packed sandwich in children’s lunch boxes.  And with that information we might then believe that most children eat PB&J over bologna and other choices, and we could even surmise that PB&J’s are the favorite among kids.  Once we know this info, we could get that company that puts the peanut butter and the jelly together in the same jar to come to schools and make free lunches for the kids and make them the happiest kids ever.

Except for one thing.  Peanut allergies. 

Like the poll at the public school, it isn’t the information that is wrong, it is all the things assumed after the initial piece of information that aren’t accurate.   While PB&J’s may very well be the #1 sandwich put into kids lunchboxes, that doesn’t mean anything about the appetite of the children, and with a couple of follow up questions, we could have found out that PB&J, while the most fed sandwich wasn’t the one they’d most like to have, so if they said they liked Turkey best, in the follow up we could ask then if it’s their favorite, why aren’t they eating turkey right now?   We’d find out that the parents never asked, but if they had…


Had the CCM format asked listeners to list the Top 3 reasons they listened, it is possible, that before we utilized the word “safe” in our identifiers that the audience would have never thought to bring it up.  Once we use it as our slogan, and hit them with it time and time again, all of a sudden it becomes a point of recall and they will mention it in one on ones or perceptual studies.

But, a station being “safe,” is a quality that allows our audiences to listen passively and not actively, because they can put the station on in the background and not worry about anyone getting offended by anything.

But a station that is built for non-offense is also built to be used like a person consumes water in America; pretty much without thinking about it.

In recent perceptual studies conducted by three separate companies concerning listener and donor behavior, it became clear that passive attributes like “Safe,” get trumped quickly by attributes created by stations that are active.  Listeners reveal that among the top things that are important to them, 1) them being a better person, because of the station’s influence in their lives 2) their families being more connected, because of the station’s influence in their lives 3) being in a better mood, because of the station’s influence in their lives 4) Authenticity and Transparency, which can only be revealed when someone has chosen to listen repeatedly.  5) Introducing them to other worthy ministries and charities who do good work in other countries and/or right here at home, ESPECIALLY if it is to the betterment of children.


If we’re a ministry representing Jesus, our Lord, but then troubles come as His Word declares it will, but because of our brand, “SAFE,” we are unable to share of wars, or rumors of wars, or school shootings, or the darkness of society, then safe really means avoidance, or act like it’s not happening, which falls under the umbrella of not truthful.

When we use “Safe,” as part of our brand, we really mean “nice,” as to say your experience here will be sugary sweet, but Jesus, our bold leader, while full of compassion for the outsider, was not that way when he talked with those who claimed to be of the spiritual or religious elite.  Calling someone a snake is certainly not “nice,” and our Savior yelled it to a bunch of them at once, “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS!”  And another time, he flipped over tables and called them a bunch of thieves.

Imagine if Jesus worked at one of these stations.  He’d be called into the office, and told, “Jesus, your outbursts, and your anger, that’s not a good fit here, we are safe for the whole family.  One more of these, and I’m sorry we’re going to have to let you go.”

There is a common theme to the Top 5 listener responses above, that theme is “engagement,” and to be engaged with someone you have to spend “quality time” with them to decide that you want to come back for more, and maybe even a lifetime.


If your station is making your listener a better person, transforming their families, encouraging growth in their walk of faith through offering real hope and truths, even ones that sting a little bit, then you’re on the road to the recipe that will ultimately be the difference when it comes to listener and donor giving.

Gone will be the days of increased ratings and decreased donor giving, as many are still experiencing, and scratching their heads and wondering why it is.  “If I’m higher in the ratings, why is my giving down?”

It is simple, if you’ve attracted a brood of many that have come to be safe where they are in life, then you haven’t offered the next step of personal growth through the truth, which is the part that changes everything. 

My first fiancée and I were engaged when I was too young to be a good anything, but thank you Lord, as it was her mother that led me to Jesus.  My second fiancée was someone I met when I thought I had it all figured out, and as I aged, I knew that I was supposed to be married, so why not.

But my third fiancée was a woman full of faith, who unlike the two before and many that never got that title wasn’t putting up with my games and selfishness and hypocrisies and held me accountable to my own word, and as much as I hated it, before long, I was becoming a better person, and I liked me better, and her authenticity and transparency allowed me to trust her, and I was drawn to come back and want to never leave.

Since 1991, Rob Wagman has been known first by his faith, and then by his skills in the secular side of this Industry, and now is known by his versatility, having succeeded in both radio and records in multiple formats from Christian Contemporary, Rock, Alternative, Top 40, Rhythm, Urban and Hot AC, in various roles from On Air to Programming to Marketing and Promotions.

Wagman has worked in all of the Top 3 markets, LA, NYC and Chicago, and returned to LA in 2012 as his entry way into CCM, in PM Drive at KFSH, 95.9 The Fish before becoming the Network PD for WAY-FM.

In 2013, Wagman launched Straight Path Media + Entertainment, a consulting firm which hyper focuses on talent and each station’s greatest need for growth, supplying a la cart programming services for branding, from music strategies, promotional and marketing think tank brain storming, promo and imaging creative, talent coaching and airchecking. Wagman presently coaches 27 air talents, consults 13 stations plus 4 clusters.

Contact Rob Wagman at StraightPathMandE@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Rob Wagman “Does Your Programming Engage or Is It Just Flirting?”

  • This article brings up a lot of great points. In recent staff discussions, we’ve talked about our local newscasts…especially with the unfortunate rise in violence and drug use in our little city. The point was that perhaps we shouldn’t air news or make edits as not to “offend” those who want to be “safe”. One particular statement you made about avoidance – how not talking about the dark and scary things happening in the world would be avoidance and wouldn’t be truthful – really stuck out to me. Very well said. Even in our on-air content, we’ve broached hard subjects that we as humans all experience in life. And the hope that can be found in the midst of those troubles. And it is definitely showing in our listenership and giving.

  • Engaging the audience means to be open, honest, and truthful in all matters. The slogan doesn’t really matter that much as long as you are filling the airwaves with salt and light. Slogans, promotions, ratings, money and whatever come and go, but the audience will never forget that day when your voice — your message made a difference in their life. We never know who is on the other side of the mic and what their need might be.

    To engage the audience means to engage their need at their weakest, most frightening moment. God has given us an excellent platform to reach hurting people. Sure people want to laugh and singing along with the songs but the most important message you can offer is for them to know you care. It is hard to laugh when a parent has lost their child in an accident, or a person coming home at the end of the day with a pink slip in their hand.. Or, a person that has just gotten news from their doctor they probably won’t live to see their child graduate from high school.

    Our audiences are made up of many people facing many problems in their life. They need hope. They need answers, and they need a radio station that will be an anchor when the next storm takes them by surprise. Its like Rick Warren recently said, “You are either coming out of trouble, headed into trouble, or recovering from trouble.” Trouble seems to be everywhere today. Let’s engage the audience with something that really matters — hope — love — and an understanding soul they can lean on in that moment when life seems so unfair. Be sensitive to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. You might get fired but God can give you a promotion elsewhere.

  • I’m glad you agree with me on this. 😁


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