The Three Envelopes

A lesson in the inevitable

Years ago, when I programmed KIMN in Denver, my then boss, Steve Keeney, used to have me prepare a list of potential replacements for every programming job, including my own.

It was a good exercise, on many levels, and led me to develop a Hot File of talent, programmers, and marketing aces, which I update and maintain to this day. In fact, one of the services I provide most is connecting talent — programming, on-air, research, and marketing — with station opening, because over the years, I’ve developed a reputation for doing it quickly and well.

The exercise also forced me to consider my own replacement.

I remember a friend in the industry telling me an aprocryphal story the day I became a Program Director for the first time. You may have heard it as well:

Seems a PD was “retiring” and as he welcomed the new, incoming PD into his office, he gave her 3 sealed and numbered envelopes. “Use these in order when things get really tough; they’ll help you meet the storms program directors inevitably face.”

Sure enough, 3 months later, ratings arrived and they were awful, so she opened up the first envelope. It said, “Blame your predecessor.” She did, and it worked. She was given more time to produce her own results.

Next book, the news was still bad, and she was really feeling the heat, so she opened the second envelope, and it said simply, “Change the Morning Show.” She told her GM the Morning Show talent was too weak to win, so he let her hire a new one, and bought herself a full year.

But, even after a year, ratings were horrible, and she was desperate for something to telll her GM, so she opened the third envelope. It said, “Prepare 3 envelopes.”


If you’re a programmer, or a GM these days, you already know how insecure your job is, no matter how long you’ve been with your company.

We are all seen as expendable, and while that is clearly a short-sighted view, you and I aren’t really in control of what those further up the food chain think. And we are probably the targets in envelopes #1 and #2.

So, what can you to prepare yourself for that inevitable day?

  1. Build your own Hot File. It will extend your personal network of contacts, and expand your circle of support.
  2. Save money. Live on less than you earn, and have 9-12 months salary in liquid assets so you have the rarest of gifts when you’re fired: Time.
  3. Make yourself grow. Learn some new skill every year, even if it doesn’t seem that applicable to your current job. It could be video editing, or classes in Psychology, or a Masters in Marketing — but don’t remain static.
  4. Fight complacency. Invite a consultant, or other programmers you respect, to monitor your station and provide a critique. Open yourself to the possibility that your baby may be ugly.
  5. Learn yoga, or meditation, or any other form of active stress relief now, before you’re desperate and panicked. Make it a habit, and it will be there when you need it.
  6. Treat those who need your help now with grace and kindness. They wouldn’t be calling, and sending demos, if they weren’t in need. Someday, you will also be in need, and you will realize how much a returned phone call, an encouraging word, means when you’re on the beach.

We have wonderful jobs, even in this era of consolidated radio, because we get paid to touch people’s hearts every day, to make a real, positive impact on millions of lives daily.

Appreciation, and a sense of gratitude, are always appropriate, but if you prepare now, you’ll be able to survive the storms that are inevitable in every radio life.