Has your radio station got a Marty?
I’ve been thinking of the things I’ll miss when I leave Virgin Radio at the end of this month.
I’ll miss working for such a clearly-defined global brand as Virgin. The brand is managed very well by Virgin Enterprises, who have, by and large, retained the rock’n’roll brand attitude and healthy disregard for authority, while doing so with strict internal guidelines and careful development. Clever trick if you can do it.
I’ll miss the people I work with, and the can-do attitude that permeates the station. Becoming the 12th best small company to work with also exposed our biggest positive - an overwhelming feel that we as a team look out for each other and care for each other. As I said to another radio group last year as they tried unsuccessfully to offer me a job, when you leave your job at Virgin Radio, you also leave your friends.
But I think the main thing I’ll miss out on is the close contact that all of us have at the station with our listeners. Encouraged by the fact that staff are clearly marked as such on the website (incidentally, all sharing identical moderation functions), our listeners regularly get in touch with us, and sometimes forge some interesting personal relationships.
Twenty floors up an anonymous 1920s art-deco office building a few blocks south of Madison Square Gardens on Manhattan Island, there is a small, airless, windowless office. On the walls, professional certificates share space with a battery-operated animatronic singing fish, and humorous cartoons and pictures. Paper covers the desk; nick-naks cover most available surfaces. On one side is a old-ish computer - the flat screen flanked by two speakers.
This is the office of an accountant who’s well known by the Virgin Radio staff as “Marty from New York”.
“Howyadoin, James,” he’ll regularly write. He discovered how to hack our schedule system a few years ago (clue: see that ‘day=4′ in the URL?) to reveal future and past schedules for the station. He watches the schedule like a hawk. “Are you sure Ben’s doing that slot in two weeks?” he’ll ask. “Only that Leona has posted that she’s doing it on her own website.” “Is the webcam working? It’s returning a black screen for me…” He’s normally entirely correct.
These emails, probably every couple of weeks, contain everything from scans of interesting articles from the New York Post about digital and HD radio, to inconsistencies on our network of websites, or heartfelt thanks for our web coverage of some part of our programming.
In fact, almost everyone is regularly emailed by Marty. New presenters are congratulated on joining the station within half an hour of opening the microphone for their first link. Recently, presenter Leona Graham celebrated a significant anniversary - her sixth year, I think - at the station. Who’d noticed? Marty had spotted it and emailed her.
He sends presenters gifts - normally, unashamedly crap hats, or shirts, or small plastic smiley faces that he’s discovered in local thrift shops. On biannual trips to the UK, he comes and sees the presenters he’s spoken to: regularly visiting late at night or shudderingly early in the morning. And a large amount of people have returned the favour.
Over a cream soda in a hot cafe next door to his office a few years ago, he told me and a colleague that he still doesn’t really know why he likes Virgin Radio so much. I’d wager it’s not so good at reporting problems on the D line, nor the Yankees latest defeat. Even though he can’t remember how he first found us, he’s full of admiration for the station; talking about us (just like the Best Companies research) as one big happy family.
He runs some Yahoo mailing lists for some of the presenters - unofficial, of course - and occasionally mails when there’s something to make us aware of. He nurtures these communities, organising get-togethers and demanding answers to questions they want answered. He tells his friends about Virgin too. When we started producing podcasts, he bought an iPod to enjoy more of our content on his commute, via bus, from the suburbs - or to his trips to his local theatre where he acts in his spare time. He changes his workday depending on our programme schedule - coming in very early to catch new presenters; staying very late to speak to others.
In Marty, we have a good and enthusiastic ambassador for the station. Naturally, there is only one Marty; but lots of mini-Martys - and many features (both live and under development) on our website should make this even easier for others.
I’ve been privileged to be able to be close enough to our listeners to be able to help channel their enthusiasm. I hope I won’t miss it too much.