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Panning for Radio Personality Gold

These shiny gems are more common than you’d think

That opinionated frequent caller could just be your next star DJ.

Credit: iStockphoto/Yuryart

Continuing our discussion from my Feb. 1 column, let’s recap: Radio brands have become increasingly difficult to establish, maintain and grow. While marketing was once part of our industry DNA, the necessary dollars and competency to launch campaigns is now the exception. So what’s left to drive sampling and grow an audience? Personalities.

As I promised, we’ll now explore a few thought-starters on where to locate, and how to grow, this rare species.

Go to School(s)

Standard practice has been for program directors to scour smaller markets for talent, and there’s no question that this remains a strong source for finding personalities. A common mistake, however, is to pinpoint someone of interest and jump right into a hire.

Instead, you should develop a one-on-one relationship with the candidate, so that over time you have the opportunity to follow his/her progress and, more importantly, discern whether or not this person can take direction and respond well to guidance.

This approach also enables a PD to discover how aggressively the personality wants the position. If someone doesn’t work hard to land a job with you, this inaction should make one wonder how hard he/she will work to succeed once in-house.

Another great source for talent is college. Hundreds of college radio stations participate in College Broadcasters Inc. activities, including the organization’s annual convention, which will be held this year from Oct. 31–Nov. 2 at the Hyatt Regency in San Antonio, Texas.

Yep, there are still plenty of enthusiastic 20-somethings who want a crack at being taught the ropes. Do you have room for interns who could do shows on one of your HD Radio channels this summer? Try out enough kids and you might just get lucky in finding a few who have the potential to become larger-than-life in your company.

Outside of searching for personalities by listening to over-the-air broadcast stations, the Web gives us thousands of pre-recorded shows and live non-broadcast streams. There are tons of podcasts to comb through online. Yes, amateurs abound; but there are also diamonds-in-the-rough to be found.

Many of these podcast hosts have never even considered pursuing broadcast radio. This enables them to approach being a personality differently, because they do not model themselves after someone they’ve heard on the air. Going through podcasts holds such potential for discovery that it’s more than a one-man job to search, find and develop relationships with potential picks.

Bonus: If you don’t have Stitcher on your phone, give it a shot; it’s a terrific podcast aggregator.

I’ve long been fascinated by the unusual places radio stations have found potential personalities. Rich “The Coach” Gilgallon was an opinionated bartender at a place frequented by radio guys after work.

After hearing this barkeep’s passion about local sports, the program director gave him a tryout as a part-time sportscaster for WMZQ(FM) in D.C. Rich then became a full-time host for WTEM(AM), one of the first all-sports stations in the nation. Rich currently does talk on NewsTalk920(AM) in Palm Springs, Calif.

Another shooting star is Anthony Cumia of the “Opie & Anthony Show.” He was working for an HVAC company on Long Island when he submitted a tape from his band to Opie, who was working at WBAB(FM).

Anthony became a regular on the show and then the team left for greener pastures in Boston. Of course, this duo is now on SiriusXM.

Finally, I have been told repeatedly that lawyers often make great radio personalities, but I’ve never put this one to the test. It is true, however, that attorneys often excel in being certain of their position on a particular subject. And trial lawyers? They’re darn good at keeping folks’ attention on an issue. These are all excellent traits for a personality.

When it comes to finding successful personalities, one thing is certain: It is always best to be proactive. I have worked in a few places that sank like cement because they had nobody “on deck” when a key personality split for another station.

An essential part of being a great program director is being an excellent listener. So listen carefully to what your own staff is telling you, and always keep an ear to the ground for talent. You owe it to yourself and to our industry.

Mark Lapidus is president of Lapidus Media. He can be reached at [email protected].