Make Your Studio A Superhero Zone

Audiences see more than what is on-camera and hear more than microphones pick up. Here is one experience in local TV news that taught me about an important but invisible principle.

The heritage station – we’ll call them Channel 7 — was ratings dominant with a full shelf of Emmys, but watching the newscast the chemistry felt stiff and cold. The anchors were respectable journalists but you did not feel an emotional bond with them as a viewer.

Behind the scenes, I discovered Channel 7 was a mean, dark place. The general manager was tyrannical and the atmosphere confrontational. Their meteorologist regularly watched a competing station’s sports on-set during the newscast because he enjoyed pissing off the sports anchor.

But flipping over to watch upstart competitor Channel 2 was fun. There was infectious laughter, anchors shared personal life details, revealed emotion in their expressions and tone and the mood was bright.

Visiting Channel 2, the off-camera vibe was collaborative. The staff was enthusiastic and heavily involved in the community. The general manager was a former camera operator who worked her way up and led through positive reinforcement. The drama factor on the team was low.

Both stations produced award-winning journalism with equal budgets and staff, but the Channel 2 team eventually hit #1 in Nielsen and has now dominated the former leader for years.

Emotions are transmitted and received more powerfully than words. What happens in your studio when the on-air light is off is still reaching the audience.

The good news is — for once —  you do not need more budget to dramatically improve programming. Just remember that your on-air team’s emotional state will evoke the same emotions from your audience.

We once helped a radio show overcome pervasive negativity by declaring the studio a “Superman zone.” The rule was that it was OK for the guys to express anxiety, anger or frustration, but they had to dump it in the hallway, like kryptonite.

Keeping the studio fun and positive, the show instantly became funnier, lighter and more fun. Whenever someone had a bad day, someone would shout, “Superman zone!” and the team quickly got back on track.

Consider declare a Superman/Wonder Woman zone in your on-air workspace. Here are some other tips that can improve the team atmosphere for broadcasters and podcasters.

  • No coaching during the show. Focus on what is coming up, not on what already happened. Hold a post-show meeting to discuss improvements.
  • Build the station around the talent. Like a racing car is built to suit a professional driver, customize engineering, promotions, processes and even studio temperature for your stars.
  • Limit exposure to fear-based management. Unfortunately, there are still executives that practice threats as motivation. Create buffers between your performers and these dinosaurs.
  • Dump the divas. Once upon a time, broadcasters endured talented but difficult people as a necessity. Today there are legions of talented, not-difficult folks to choose from.
  • Encourage authentic communication. Conflict can be healthy as long as it is done away from the on-air product, after the show and focused on improving the work.