How To Sound Great, Even When On Vaca...
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Tracy Johnson
How To Sound Great, Even When On Vacation
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I used to have a running joke with my air personalities, that the better they got on the air, the less vacation they received, because we couldn’t afford for them to be gone! It’s actually true, but with some creativity, you can still sound great, even when talent is on vacation.

In fact, many times your show will sound better when you’re gone. What? How can that be? Ratings data shows that when recorded Best Of shows air, listenership declines. Doesn’t it? Yes, if it’s obvious that you’re running recordings.

It’s always a challenge to program radio shows when holiday time rolls around. If it’s a multi-cast show, should everyone take the time off or is it better to take time off individually? In other words, would it be better to just take the hit over a shorter period than have the show be “off” for an extended time?

How should radio program for vacations or days off?

There are no perfect solutions. Every situation is different. And different is always a short-term negative. But there are ways to mitigate the damage and maintain a consistent sounding station through the disruption.

Basic Rules For Vacation Programming

Here are some best practices for making the show sound great when you’re off.

Don’t Displace Other Personalities

First, do not replace the show with talent from another time slot. That only screws with two dayparts. Moving the afternoon show to fill in for the morning team disrupts listener patterns, places the afternoon talent in an unfamiliar environment and weakens the afternoon time slot with a part-timer. You lose twice!

Avoid Mix and Match

If you mix personalities from your own station the audience is confused and it usually sounds terrible, at least for a few days. They don’t have a rhythm, timing is off and they try too hard. It’s almost always a bad idea.

Be Careful With External Solutions

Bringing in talent from outside the station rarely gives you a boost. Listeners don’t “get” it because there’s no context. No matter how good the fill-in show is, it’s different. And different is always a short-term tune-out.

An exception would be if the personality coming in is a high-profile talent that attracts a broader audience. That could have some benefit. For example, a major local athlete filling in as a co-host on a sports talk show for a short time could be a successful fill-in.

Best Of Or Keep It Live?

So the decision is whether to play a Best Of show or keep it live with an incomplete ensemble?

Ratings analysis indicates that live shows rate higher than recorded or “Best Of” shows. So the temptation is to strive to be live as much as possible.

It’s also true that when the talent changes, ratings are lower. So it seems that no matter what you do, something is compromised. What’s a programmer to do?

Program For Vacations With Ratings In Mind

There is a psychological bias against reruns. So don’t tell them the show is on vacation or that it’s recorded. What’s the point calling attention to a replay by calling it Best Of? I can’t remember seeing a rerun on TV that announces, “The program you’re about to watch was originally aired last November.”. They just play it.

If airing your best moments, the audience will love hearing the segments again. It may not perform as well as the live show, but it’s proven that keeping the personalities consistent is the best option.

There are ways to program recorded breaks from past shows that don’t advertise it’s a repeat. With clever intros and produced elements, most of your audience will never realize the show isn’t live.

By the way, if you’re airing Best Of in a metered market, be sure to use .wav files. Nielsen isn’t able to capture listening to mp3 files.

Multi-Cast Shows & Vacation Schedules

Some stations with multi-personality shows want to maintain a live presence in some form, From a ratings perspective, this is a good solution. Each personality takes separate vacations, with the remaining personalities carrying on.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that the entire vacation season could be disrupted without the show being all together. When one piece is missing, the show is off a bit. This can be mitigated if the remaining live cast plays some Best Of material each day.

The biggest challenge is when a primary host is missing, and the remaining personalities lack those key skills. That’s one instance where it definitely makes sense to consider Best Of or, as a last resort, bringing in a substitute personality.

Vacation Options

With that in mind, and since consistency matters, here are some thoughts that can help you plan the vacation schedule:

Be Live If Possible

If you can have a live presence, at least for the service elements, it can help Best Of be topical and current. Make sure that live personality is a familiar voice. If you normally carry news or entertainment reports, these elements can provide an immediacy that helps. Surrounding these elements with evergreen Best Of material will give the show a local, topical feel.

Tease & Promote

Build teases into your planning. Personalities can record a short promo or tease to run in advance of the break, just as you would when there. This also helps keep you topical.

Platooning Vacation Schedules

If taking vacations in platoons, there’s nothing wrong with shorter breaks and more music. Make adjustments when the show isn’t at full speed.

If the remaining cast players are similar in strengths (all responders, all generators or all instigators), it may be better to offer a hybrid show. The live personalities could deliver some live content, but part of the show would be replays.

If one cast member is missing, it’s okay to replay old breaks that include the missing cast member while they are gone. This keeps a presence, and removes some of the pressure to perform when not at full strength.

Be In the Moment

Maintain momentum! If you mention that (name) is out, don’t make it a big deal. That’s like advertising that the show isn’t “normal” and invites listeners to seek other options.

That means you must edit! Edit replayed content to insure its free of dated references (times, dates, events, etc.). Also edit to make it sound better than it did in the first airing! Done right, a Best Of show is better than the original.

Fresh Breaks

Some shows actually record new breaks for vacation. With some planning, you can even add listener calls by soliciting for response to topics on social media and calling them to contribute comments. This adds a tremendous production load to your vacation schedule, but it can be done.


Enjoy your time off, but take steps to make sure the audience continues to enjoy it, too!

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