How to survive an air check with your Program Director

kowchmedia consultant Steve Kowch on how to do an air checkFrom where I sit On The Kowch, most people in radio don’t know how to survive an air check with the boss. They hate listening to themselves. They are super critical and spend too much time beating themselves up over their on air mistakes. The only thing they hate more than listening to themselves, is sitting in the program director’s office listening to their air check.

So there needs to be ground rules with the PD when it comes to that dreaded air check session. If you’re having a bad day chances are an air check session will only make it worse and be counter productive. Reschedule the session.

Hosts need time to come down from the emotional high of doing a show before attending an air check session

Make sure you have at least an hour to two hours separation between the end of your show and the start of an air check session with the PD. Some times it takes longer than that. PDs need to know their hosts in order to determine when is a good time or a bad time to do an air check. Pick the wrong time or force an air check on talent will only result in no good happening. Trust me, I have the scars to show for it.

The same goes for the PD. Sometimes the pressure of the job, complaints from the boss, the listeners or going into work after a fight with the kids or the spouse is not a good time to sit down and critique someone’s work. There’s always the chance you might take out your frustration or anger on the talent sitting in front of you. So, when in a foul mood, postpone the air check session to another day.

When hosts are defensive it can only lead to confrontation

Hosts need to understand that the purpose of an air check is to make you a better broadcaster. So you need to attend an air check session with the right attitude. Bite your tongue and take notes. This is a learning experience. Not a boxing match.

Depending on the performance caught on tape, it can be a great or brutal session. If the host is honest and can accept criticism, then it can be a learning experience that makes them a better broadcaster, news anchor or reporter.

The only way to survive an air check is to leave your ego outside the room 

There are a lot of big egos in radio. That is a good thing to generate self assurance to help make you a star. But sometimes, your ego can get in the way. That’s why you need to check your ego at the door. Listen to what the PD is saying with an open mind. Don’t become defensive. Listen, bite your tongue and take notes.

When doing an air check with talent, the PD must find a way of making it as positive as possible. Remember to praise the on air talent when you hear the good stuff during the air check. Explain to the talent why you think that it was good. Encourage them to do that more often.

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PDs need to teach talent, not scold them during an air check

When it comes to criticism, it needs to be positive criticism. You do this by explaining WHY it doesn’t sound good on air and HOW they can prevent repeating the problem.  Most hosts know they didn’t do what was expected of them. Let the audio speak for itself. Don’t beat them up. Make the point. Tell them not to do it again and move on.

It is human nature to only remember the bad stuff they hear during an air check session. It drowns out all the positive, reinforcement and praise. So it is important the PD makes sure the good stuff sticks in their head when they leave the air check session. That’s why it’s a good idea to end an air check session by repeating what you liked about their on air performance.

From where I sit On The Kowch, the air check session is a snap shot in time. And fate usually means the boss is only listening when you screw up and didn’t hear that great bit five minutes earlier. What is important for hosts to remember is that the PD will be listening for you to implement the changes on your NEXT show. It is crucial that you follow up on the PD’s suggestions on your next show. It’s the best way to prove that you have the right attitude and were paying attention to what the PD was saying during the air check session. It will also make you a better broadcaster.

Steve Kowch ran two of Canada’s largest newstalk radio stations in Montreal and Toronto for more than 14 years. He was National Director of NewsTalk Radio Programming for Astral Media. He was a professor at two of Toronto’s leading broadcast schools and is the author of   99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Making It BIG In Media   Today Steve is Canada’s leading media coach at kowchmedia helping emerging radio talent chase their dream to become great broadcasters.

Contact Steve at 647-521-6397 or email