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Tracy Johnson
How Talent and PD’s Can Learn to Celebrate Air Check Meetings
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In a perfect world, air talent would receive regular input, filled with constructive, positive comments. The PD would be supportive and upbeat. And upper management would act as a protective shield from complaints. In this make-believe world, talent could look forward to, and even celebrate, air check meetings.

But in the real world, everyone dreads critique sessions. Talent already knows the breaks that sucked. And they also know that the PD has a natural ability to find every one. To them, it’s like taking a drink out of the jug labeled “Spoiled Milk”.

Jimmy Kimmel explains what reviewing his performance is like:

I look back at every show I’ve ever done and cringe. My vision of hell is a bunch of monitors with my old shows running on them.

Is that the way air talent looks at meetings with programmers? Sadly, yes, in most cases.

There are many excellent methods of evaluating and training talent, but one guideline should be at the center of each: and that is the air check meeting. It shouldn’t be a painful experience. Some personalities even come to love air checks.

Evaluating a show shouldn’t be an exercise just to stroke an air personality’s ego, nor an excuse to be critical. Both are a waste of time. The only goal should be in the endless quest for excellence. If this is a genuine goal of all parties, reviews can be collaborative, productive and pleasant.

So what makes some sessions fun and productive and others about as much fun as a tax audit? Let’s examine the differences.

Celebrate Air Check Meetings

Every evaluation should be through the ears and experiences of the audience. Period.

Get rid of subjective feedback, and focus on growth. That takes the negative sentiment out of the meeting.

Conducting a review without being critical makes it possible to work with highly sensitive and defensive talent. To learn this skill, understand there are three purposes of an air check meeting:

Produce Improvement: 

While it’s sometimes necessary to talk about performance shortcomings and point out areas for improvement, a spirit of pursuing growth changes the dynamic. This is often because programmers (and often personalities) usually don’t appreciate the progress they’ve been making.  Improvement is hard to measure and even harder to acknowledge from one day to the next.

A great way to gain perspective on growth is archiving air checks of each air personality at least once a month. Over time, you can go back and compare how we sound now to any point in the past. It’s like taking snapshots at various times in the life cycle of their Personality Success Path. When they feel the improvement, you can keep the momentum rolling.

Air check problems re magnified because many (if not most) programmers are “fixers”. They want to find problems and remove them. It would be wonderful if we could quickly and easily identify an issue, discuss it and have the problem fixed in a day or two. But that’s not how it works when people are involved.

Growing as an air personality is like improving your golf game. You spend hours and hours in lessons, working on your technique on the driving range and making adjustments. When the skills become muscle memory, your game reaches the next level.

Coaching air talent is creating muscle memory for performance. And that takes patience.

Prevent Bad Habits: 

Sometimes talent slips into habits that are more annoying to the coach than the audience. An alert programmer hears these crutches and address them in air checks.  These small tweaks are fairly easy to fix, but need to be addressed before they become larger issues.

It could be a recurring phrase that creeps into the show. Be sure this is kept in perspective. Staying in regular contact produces a relationship that isn’t as confrontational.

Further Discussion: 

Air check meetings can initiate dialogue that leads to breakthrough growth and new ideas. With the proper inspiration, talent can explore new opportunities to apply their personality.

Bad Air Check Sessions

On the other hand, there are also bad reasons to schedule an air check session. Many times, programmers ignore issues until they just can’t take it any more. This usually leads to a contentious meeting.

Programmers: Analyze your feelings and emotions. Then, before your react in the heat of the moment, step back and ask yourself if you want the meeting because of:


Sometimes the programmer or talent coach just don’t like the show. I know, that sounds strange, but it’s more common than you think. When that happens, they often unfairly attack the personalities because they are in an authoritative position. This is always destructive and leads to contentious meetings.

As a manager, you should be as objective as possible. Figure out how to be a fan of the show, even if you have to fake it at first.


Everyone has a bad day, and if you’re in a bad mood, vent that negative energy elsewhere. Taking it out on the talent is the worst possible target. It’s better to find another outlet than sensitive air personalities.

If the coach is in a bad mood, reschedule the meeting!


When people try to demonstrate their intelligence or knowledge by offering harsh criticism, bad things happen. For some management types, challenging others makes them feel superior.

A good coach is self-confident and patient, but not egotistical.

George Martin: The Beatles PD

George Martin had one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. He was in charge of managing the Beatles. The extraordinary producer was a master of knowing how and when to let John, Paul, George and Ringo create without barriers.

george martin beatles

All the while, Martin was in the background doing more for their success than anyone knew, but he was smart enough to let them take all the credit. He was the consistent, steady hand and his fingerprints are all over the Fab Four’s success.

He helped the band get along personally and guided their decisions as they grew. Martin coached his personalities while putting aside differences to make their music and their band one of the greatest we’ve ever seen.

As a PD, try to be George Martin. Help personalities find their ultimate success.


Effective coaching isn’t about criticism. It’s teaching, encouraging and empowering talent to become great. Productive air check sessions will cause talent to crave more input. Talent places enormous emphasis on being shown that they are appreciated. Go into every air check meeting with this attitude, and everyone will start looking forward to them.

Air check sessions don’t have to suck. They should be something both talent and management looks forward to.

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