A Culture of Creativity

Who knows one?

“(Steve) Jobs thought of himself as an artist, and he encouraged the design team to think of ourselves that way too. The goal was never to beat the competition, or to make a lot of money. It was to do the greatest thing possible, or even a little greater.” ~ Andy Hertzfeld, from STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson


I was thinking about the greatest radio stations I’ve heard.

They’ve had some common traits, starting with a pervasive culture of creativity inside the core group of talent we, as listeners, heard. And those on-air talents and behind-the-scene creatives were always supported by 1 or 2 “executives” who either shared and helped drive their vision or knew enough to protect it from interference.

It led me to wonder if someone can persuade one of the big consolidated companies to actively create the conditions that foster a culture of creativity in just one station, and test it, to see if it produces better results.

Here’s what I think it would take…

A great PD, someone focused and unafraid of looking stupid, someone unthreatened by strong talent, someone imaginative and bold with a passion for creating a legendary station beginning now. I’ve got suggestions, if you’re interested.

A great air staff, top to bottom — and yes, I think that means live talent in all dayparts, including overnights, and news talent that can write and command the stage and be memorable. So, anywhere from 10-12 full time air/news talents.

This is an experiment to see what can produce better results for listeners, remember? We already know what cutting back and voicetracking produces for listeners.

A brilliant, dedicated production talent whose sole responsibility is this one station so all his/her creativity can be focused.

A resourceful idea-machine as Promotions Director, whose sole job is brand image and cume-building. This station could offer its great ideas for co-sponsorship to clients but the goal would be increasing listening, not increasing revenue.

It’s still a small staff.

Today, it would need protection from the various executive levels above it within its company, which it why it would need to report directly to the top, the Bob Pittmans and Dan Masons.

One station in one large market run completely separate from all other stations owned by this company. Give the experiment 2 years, maybe 3 — and see what you get.

This isn’t a foreign idea. Pittman had such a group when he started MTV.

It’s not about mass production of cheap ideas that can be easily duplicated and syndicated. We’re not talking about creating the Model T.

We’re talking about creating the Tesla. We’re talking about creating WLS or KJR or CKLW — stations listeners still talk about when I’m in their markets. We’re talking about creating something great, irreplaceable, legendary…

For companies that earn billions in revenue now, this small experiment would be an asterisk on their balance sheet, less than they spend on the corporate jet they use, but what could it mean if it worked, if this station not only commanded PPM, but also led its market in revenue and profit?

We’ll never know what’s possible until we try…