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QUESTION: One of my biggest problems in improving our air sound is the student announcers I have to use. Our station is part of the communications department, and I have to use students on the air. I try to instill the same professional attitude in them I do with my staff announcers, but they don't always have the maturity to accept that. What can I do?


I recommend seizing control from the very first contact you have with each student. They don't have maturity; you do (or should have). Maturity, of course, is nothing more than the ability to bluff people less mature than you. They don't realize how dependent you are on them. Cultivate a reputation among them as a "tough guy," the one person in your department they don't want to cross.

Let's say, for example, that you have a problem with students always showing up for their air shifts. (Feel free to substitute the problem that applies to your situation.) You might start with a drill sergeant-type speech designed to frighten them into submission:


Today is your first day working for KXXX. Notice I said 'working.' I did not say 'playing' or 'screwing around' or 'killing time.'

"In most other parts of this university, if you don't try very hard then the only person who loses is you. If you don't study your chemistry textbooks and you get a lousy grade, it doesn't hurt the chemistry department. You simply are not very important to the chemistry department.

"But if I allow you to open a microphone at this radio station and you do a lousy job, you'll look like an idiot to all your friends and, much more importantly, this station will sound lousy. One of the things I am going to teach you here is that a radio station is a public trust. It is not run for the amusement of the employees or students; it is run for the benefit of our listeners.

"You have two jobs here: Learning how to work at a radio station, and serving our listeners. If you're not doing at least one of those things at all times, I will throw you out of this station.

"I am going to teach you how to be a broadcaster. And your first lesson is this:

"Radio is challenging. Radio is fun. And radio is a responsibility. If you want the chance to be on this radio station, I have to be able to depend upon you 100%.

"This means if you get to play disc jockey and learn to run the equipment and impress all your friends, you have to show up for every air shift. On-time and prepared. Even when you were up all night studying for a test of engaging in other, less studious activities. Even when you're upset because you had a fight with your girlfriend of boyfriends or when you're hung over or when you have the sniffles.

"If you miss an air shift and you're not in the hospital, I will take the air shift away from you and give it to somebody who wants it more than you do."

If students do on-air work for class credit - and if you can convince the department to let you do this - tell them they'll lose a grade for each missed shift.

At the same time, you should be rewarding the more highly motivated ones with increased responsibilities, titles and opportunities.

Hey, motivating students to act professionally still is going to be tough. But being a good manager means doing whatever is necessary to motivate your staff to perform to peak of the abilities.

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