We've now witnessed the impossible - the lowly Tampa Bay Rays with a minimum salary budget for players now find themselves in the World Series. Deservedly so, there's been a great deal of attention aimed at their quirky manager, Joe Maddon.
Maddon started the season with a simple (?) philosophy he called "9=8," and bought shirts for his players to remind them of their goal. It translates to 9 players playing hard for 9 innings every game, which would make the Rays one of the 8 playoff teams in baseball. Of course, that's pretty much what ended up happening.
I saw Maddon the other night during one of his team's playoff games. With a gleam in his eye, he went through the math of "9=8". In order for the team to reach its goal, he said, it also meant his defense would have to find a way to win 9 more games than last year, as well as his offense doing the same.
Sound convoluted? Well, it is, but guess what? The Rays' players bought in, the fans love it (they wear "9=8" logoware, and while Maddon's philosophy is a little odd, it has become a rallying cry for the community). And having vanquished Red Sox Nation, they now find themselves at the big dance.
It is a reminder that great programmers aren't always conventional, but they need a vision - even if it doesn't always follow the tried-and-true. And they need to be able to communicate that vision to the entire staff, from the jocks to sales to traffic. Too often in radio, we gravitate toward the safe and proven, while the entire station isn't energized because they're executing the same mission year after year.
It also requires inspiration. Maddon didn't just come up with a message that his troops could embrace. He sold it through with conviction and a strength of belief. Too often, today's programmers are executing a paint-by-the-numbers strategy, or they're so busy overseeing multiple properties and job functions that they can no longer take the time and energy to develop a style and vision that the staff can buy into.
When I listen to Maddon, I think about mercurial PDs, and John Sebastian comes to mind. John had his own unique way of doing things, and while it often bucked convention, it was something that he was able to passionately communicate to the troops. It may have been unusual at times, but John's ability to sell it to the staff was part of what made him a great programmer.
What's your programming philosophy - especially during these trying times for radio, your community, and the country? How can you boil it down, Joe Maddon-style, to that 30-second "elevator pitch" that leaves no doubt in anyone's mind what your station is attempting to accomplish? How do you communicate it to a staff that is already feeling beaten up by the economy, fallen shares of stock, and shrinking 401(k)s?
Go Rays - and the vision that helped make them winners.