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Tim McDermott “2021 – It’s Time To Kill The Sacred Cow”

Every organization has at least one. The sacred cow. That thing that has been around for years. That thing that no one talks about because — you know – it’s not ever going to change. It’s that thing that limits your organization from growth potential.  But oh – to slay that thing.  It may cost you.


I remember years ago when I was new to my job as General Manager.  The station where I worked was passionate about music but also had a very popular conservative talk show on the air every early afternoon.  When I came on board, the station was in the process of launching a major billboard campaign to make people aware of the ministry. After a lot of hard work, we launched the campaign.  To our delight our ratings doubled that very week! But along with that major spike, this conservative talk show saw growth in its ratings.  Wisely, they marketed their growth on a CCM station all across the country.  I learned from some great radio consultants a major entry point for new listeners is right after lunch – which is when this program was on the air so the spike for them made sense.  However, to us, it didn’t reflect the best of who we were.  But I was a new GM.  This program was established. What do you do?


As a GM, you build trust – step by step with your leaders and with your board.  If you haven’t earned that trust, then don’t take any big steps.   Instead take small steps until you begin to earn trust. 


The most important bond and most influential connection in a ministry is between the Board Chair and the GM.  I know in theory the Board is not supposed to get involved in programming decisions. The Board is about vision, mission and policies and is “hands off” when it comes to programming. Unfortunately, that’s not reality – especially for the new guy or gal at the helm – or a decision that involves the “sacred cow.”  That’s why I decided the first step was to talk to the Board Chair. To my surprise, he agreed we needed to make this change.  The next step was to run it by a few of our more outspoken board members at a committee meeting.  We did and one of the board members said he was glad someone was bringing this up, because he thought it was considered something untouchable.


So we made the change. 


I wish to tell you this was the end and everyone celebrated this courageous decision and we all lived happily ever after. But unfortunately, the talk show host wasn’t happy and unleashed his listeners at me even mentioning me on the air.  I got hundreds of angry letters and phone calls.  One person even tracked down my personal phone number and called me to tell

me I was a “tool of Satan” for making this change.


As a board and leadership we stayed the course. Every letter was answered. Every phone call got a personal response.  After the change our ratings went up even higher and the ministry continued to grow.  The talk show host later called to apologize.  And I started a line of tool products. No, not really.


I am saying this to tell you slaying the sacred cow isn’t easy. But in your heart you know it is best for the ministry.  It may be a programming decision.  It may be a station tradition that needs to go away. It may be an event that no one comes to. It may be a person who is negatively impacting the ministry and you don’t want to have a difficult conversation.


Make 2021 the year to deal with that difficult area. I can’t promise it will be easy, but I can promise your ministry will be better. 


Tim McDermott has been in broadcasting for 40 years at leadership positions at large and small radio stations. You can reach him at tim@timmcdermottconsulting.com or visit his website at timmcdermottconsulting.com

3 thoughts on “Tim McDermott “2021 – It’s Time To Kill The Sacred Cow”

  • Tim,

    Data Science is a powerful tool for identifying sacred cows and quantifying the benefits of their removal.

    Whan a large radio network was planning a major format change, Data Science was used to provide leaders with the data and information to:

    1. Design the new format to increase its ministry impact, and

    2. Forecast the audience increase from eliminating the sacred cows.

    Market leaders like Disney, Costco, Southwest Airlines, Netflix, and K-LOVE, use Data Science to grow and prosper.

    Tim bless you for having the courage to make the necessary change to eliminate the sacred cow!


  • Making changes can be a tough decision when eliminating popular programming. It is good that your Board and staff supported your decision. Good changes bring growth like pruning rose brushes. Although, it is usually best to do it slowly as not to stampede the herd.


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