Programming, Personality & Promotion In The New Normal

Everyone knows the world has changed in the past few weeks. Life has been disrupted, and there’s no timeline for returning to normal. The current crisis has had a lasting impact on everyone.

So now what? What’s our new normal?

In our webinar this week, Ken Benson (P1 Media Group), Dave “Chachi” Denes (Benztown) and I shared best practices and ideas for the current environment, provided guidance for the near-term, and offered our forecast for the long-term.

Here are some highlights from the webinar.

The New Normal: Programming

  • In contrast with recent surveys indicating listeners say they are listening to the radio more, early ratings results show AQH has declined significantly in most markets. Listeners are now forming new habits, which may or may not be similar to previous habits. The longer folks are at home, the more difficult it will be to re-attract them to our stations when society is more mobile.
  • Listening to AM/FM radio via streaming and smart speaker usage is higher. Programmers that have not converted to Total Line Reporting to consolidate over-the-air and online listening into one ratings number should do so immediately.
  • Stations should focus on connecting with listeners emotionally, providing an escape from anxiety, and renew efforts to reflect the local community.
  • In times of stress, listeners seek comfort. Consider adjusting the music mix to play fewer new songs and more popular library titles. This is a great time to become more nostalgic, familiar and comfortable.

The New Normal: Personality

  • Air talent plays a vital role at this time. Most shows should remain calm, generally upbeat, and positive. Don’t ignore the crisis, but find ways to relieve listener stress.
  • Personalities should continue to be themselves, with a few subtle adjustments. Some segments that were hilarious a month ago (like prank calls) may seem mean-spirited now. Be a little more sensitive with a little less edge.
    Keep your sense of humor. The #1 most desired trait listeners seek from radio personalities is someone that makes them laugh. That may be even more important now. But be tasteful. There’s plenty to have fun with, but it’s probably not a good idea to make jokes about the disease itself.
  • Personalities having a hard time finding content ideas should consider just being the show that listens to the listener. Many personalities are finding connections just by asking “How are you doing today?”

The New Normal: Promotion

  • It makes no sense to spend marketing or contesting budgets now. If it hasn’t already been taken out of the budget, save it for when life returns to normal. However, play games on the air. You don’t even need prizes! Just have fun.
  • Most stations report phone and text activity is virtually non-existent, but social media engagement remains strong. Use that leverage.
  • Create videos. Take listeners behind the scenes into your new normal. Some should consider starting a podcast now.
  • Plan now for the future. It seems a long way off, but this will end, and life will return to normal. Be ready to take advantage of it. Brainstorm ideas for being at the center of your city’s celebration when life resumes.

Forecast & Recommendations

  • From Tracy Johnson: Just when you thought the radio industry had no more room to cut, the COVID-19 event has made it necessary for more changes. This is a painful time for everyone in the radio business. Some stations will never recover. Some may simply go off the air. There are two major challenges ahead. One is re-attracting listeners to your radio station. The other is finding new sources of revenue because we can’t assume advertisers will automatically return anytime soon.
  • From Dave Denes: Radio is going to struggle well into 2021. Smart managers will apply the principles in the Stockdale Paradox by maintaining a balance of reality and optimism. This is the time great leadership steps up to keep their teams positive and inspired.
  • From Ken Benson: The world has changed as much as it did after 9/11. We need to step back and take a new look at the industry and realize there’s an opportunity for radio to shine. This is the time to pull together and make major differences in listener lives. This could be one of the most exciting and meaningful times in your station’s history.

The webinar is available to watch on-demand anytime for free here. It includes a 50-minute presentation, followed by 40 minutes of Q & A.


What Your Radio Station Or Show Should Do Now About COVID-19

Nothing like this has ever happened before. So there’s no model. No template. What should radio stations do now in response to the fast-moving worldwide disaster that impacts every single person in the world? What should your radio station do now about COVID-19?

There’s a lot of advice out there, from well-meaning experts recommending every station add a newscast every half-hour. Or passing on information from reliable sources. Both may be the right thing for your station. But maybe not. There’s no way one set of rules applies to all stations

I’ve published a new eBook Dealing With Tragedy and Emergencies with far more details. It’s available now for free to all stations. Download a copy here.

Get the book. Study it. Take inspiration from it. Apply the principles to your station tomorrow. It will help. But most programmers and air personalities probably are looking for immediate suggestions on how to respond immediately.

With that in mind, here are my recommendations to help your station find your own solutions for dealing with COVID-19.

How To Respond to COVID-19

Be Who You Are

We’ve never seen an emergency quite like coronavirus. And I know you’re already responding. But as the story develops, here are some things that might help.

If you’re a news station, be great in covering the story from all angles. But if news is not a reason for coming to your station or show, don’t suddenly try to be the news station. It’s not what you’re for. And the more you try to be a news station, the less relevant your station becomes. Listeners have a place to go for updates. However, that doesn’t mean to ignore the topic.

News Coverage

One thing is for sure: Every station should communicate with listeners based on their brand values. But that doesn’t mean every station should add a newscast. It doesn’t make sense for a lot of stations, especially music stations.

Whatever information you use, make sure it is accurate. Double-check the facts. The world is full of fake news and misinformation.

Here are 7 Ways To Avoid Misinformation During Coronavirus, according to Politifact.

  • Learn the basics of the disease.
  • Be wary of claims about the epidemic’s source.
  • Verify images and videos related to the epidemic.
  • Double-check case numbers, death tolls, and fatality rates.
  • Beware of attempts to downplay or amplify the threat of the disease.
  • Don’t share prevention or treatment methods without consulting official sources.

Be Local

You may not be the authority for breaking news, but you can tell local stories and relate how this is affecting your audience better than anyone. Find unique stories, then connect with stories. Watch how the TV networks do it. CNBC focuses on the financial aspect. ESPN is locked in on how it affects sports and athletes. CNN is round-the-clock full coverage of breaking news. Maybe your angle is simply finding positive stories and comforting listeners looking to get away from the anxiety and stress.

Plug into the local community and communicate the most topical and relevant issues that matter to listeners:

  • What schools are closed? Churches? Gatherings of over 250 people?
  • What businesses are closed or have instructed employees to work from home?
  • How are doctors and hospitals dealing with new patients?
  • Dig a little deeper to find stories of those most affected that we would not think of, such as vendors at public events or parking lot attendants. How about waiters and waitresses? Or people who can’t see their parents in the nursing home, leaving them lonely and isolated.

Adjust Personality

If you’re a fun, upbeat, positive air talent, be who you are. If you’re funny, be funny. Don’t joke about important, life-threatening facts. But find ways to show who you are. You may need to back off some aspects of your personality profile and accent other traits.

Contests, Games & Promotions

Some stations have suspended contests and promotions, which is probably a good idea, at least for now. But don’t stop delivering the reasons listeners come to you. Play games and have fun with listeners. You don’t even need prizes. Have fun with listeners. Remember, the biggest reason most turn on the radio is to be put in a better mood!

Stay Calm

Nobody wants to hear a hysterical, panicked broadcaster. There will be some emotional moments. Just be sure to collect yourself and avoid being emotional in the presentation.

Don’t Perform For Ratings

This is going to be a very difficult rating period unless you’re the news station in the market. I also believe Christian stations will do extremely well in this period. But for everyone else, radio listening overall is likely to be lower since there will be fewer cars on the road, and most listening takes place in cars. And, with many folks working from home, TSL is going to suffer on stations specializing in at work listening. The exception is news stations: Listening will be up. And with overall listening down, their shares will skyrocket. There’s not much you can do about this reality. However, you can be authentic, be yourself and connect with fans in deeper ways.

Find a Parade

This promotion concept is to find a movement or idea that is happening in the community and being a part of it. The same theory applies now. In fact, it’s time to double down on community involvement. Look for ways to make a difference in your city, community, and neighborhoods. And tell those stories to make a difference.

Do Something

Don’t just stand there. Do something. Be proactive. Your exact course of action is your own. Nobody can tell you exactly what is right for your station in your market. This story changes quickly. Stay on top of it and reflect your audience. If you’re not sure exactly what fits for your show or station, we’ve launched a special COVID-19 Show Prep site as part of my Personality Magnet Show Prep service. It’s packed with updates (daily), topics and ideas for all formats. Get a free one week trial here.


It’s certainly bad. No doubt about that. But it won’t last forever. Hang in there, take a deep breath and stay focused on how to become more meaningful parts of the audience’s life.


Playing Not To Lose Is Not Playing To Win

To win a game, players must have a strategy. Or be incredibly lucky. And relying on luck is not a reliable path to success. When a player chooses to play not to lose, it doesn’t work out. Today, radio stations are in that situation.

Investing resources on music flow is important. But a perfect music flow isn’t going to reverse the trend of listeners spending less time with radio.

Researching the music library ensures the right songs are on the radio and placing the most popular songs at the right spots in clocks is a solid programming tactic.  But is that creating more fans?

45 minutes of continuous music sounds like a competitive music position, but eventually, commercials come on. And those stop sets fall at the same time as every other station in the market. Yes, stop set placement is important. But is any music station winning the most music position against streamers and pure plays?

Promotion and contesting can cause rating respondents to take action. Promotion is important, but does a cue to call or tickets to a backstage meet and greet move the needle?

Avoiding needless talk is important, but shaving a few seconds from talk breaks or tightly controlling break length doesn’t make personalities more appealing.

None of these tactics impacts TSL. It makes programmers feel better because they’re doing something. But it’s a defensive strategy. Radio is playing not to lose.

Play To Win, Not To Lose

Here’s something that is happening almost for sure: Radio’s TSL is going down. And each station’s Time Spent Listening is going down, too. Yet broadcasters obsess about share gain or loss.

Programmers: Other stations are not the competition. That’s just playing The Ratings Game, hoping to lose less than a radio competitor. This internal focus is killing the industry.

Turn it around by aggressively competing to earn more attention.

That’s playing to win.

Here’s how to break the pattern of programming not to lose and start playing to win.

Talk Breaks

Stop worrying about coaching talent to shave 2 seconds of talk time or editing a few words out of a segment. I know one programmer that instructed personalities to edit phone calls to remove pauses and breaths.

A few seconds here and there add up. It’s important to maintain forward momentum, but shorter talk breaks are not a competitive advantage. Effective, personal breaks filled with personality and human connection should be the goal.

I’ve heard many 2 minute breaks that are 1:50 too long. And just as many 7 minute breaks that were too short. In creative, winning programming, the length of a break is secondary to effectiveness.


The most obvious sign a station is playing not to lose is repeating the same promotions and programming over and over.

Bringing back a successful idea is a good programming strategy, but simply doing the same things over and over results in a boring station. Listeners respond to fresh ideas. But many stations are in a creative rut. They segue from one group contest to the next, each sounding like the last. And each day of programming makes listeners feel they’re listening to a radio version of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Consistency is good. Predictable is not. Try new things. Experiment. Surprise and delight listeners with new ideas.

Clock Management

Programmers construct elaborate programming clocks, designed to minimize tune out by placing commercials at times dictated by PPM wisdom.

But so is everyone else. So when a listener tunes out to escape commercials, they run into more commercials. And each of those stop sets is endless because PPM analysis proves fewer long stop sets outperforms a balanced clock with fewer commercials.

That’s programming to a rating service. It may work in playing to win The Ratings Game, but it’s slowly making radio less competitive against the real dangers.

Dare to be different. Be less predictable. Try something new.

Strict Talk Policies

Programmers are hung up avoiding negatives. Management issues orders that certain topics are off-limits to avoid listener complaints. The list continues to grow because the public is hypersensitive about anything that doesn’t fit their worldview.

So programmers make rules when they should be coaching talent to creatively manage content that falls within guidelines that support brand values.

Radio has mastered managing details but misses the bigger picture: How does it sound and are we inspiring listeners?

Misapplying Research

Safe programmers focus on removing potential irritants. Research comes in and the management team scrambles to get rid of anything listeners dislike. That would mean there’s no reason to tune out. Remove the off-ramps and the car stays on the freeway, right?

Holding on to existing listeners longer is a good thing. But that’s playing not to lose. It’s not playing to win.

Simply removing negatives can leave a station in the Zone of Mediocrity. There are fewer reasons to tune out, but it also removes reasons to tune in. Many stations have polished the entertainment value from the air.

Obsess About Everything

Hand-wringing and hall-pacing communicates tension and fear. It makes everyone anxious. And that stifles creativity.

Relax and have fun, or at least act like you’re relaxed and having fun. This is the entertainment business and personalities can’t attract larger audiences if they’re worried about another station stealing shares. Or worried about the next round of layoffs.


Winning programmers create can’t-miss entertainment that leaps through the speakers and compels listeners to pay attention. That comes from personalities that attract and lead a passionate fan base.

Programming science is important, of course. But programming not to lose produces disposable stations. Radio is less important each day. We’re losing traction quarter-hour by quarter-hour.

Play to win. Take risks. Don’t be reckless, but be creative, bold and progressive. Try something different. It may not be perfect and may even run off a meter or two (shudder).

But it may save you from your path to extinction.


Music Flow and TSL

Lucky? Here Are 5 Ways to Make Your Luck

How To Build Clocks

Improve Music Research Results

The Real Competition

How Long Talk Breaks Should Be

It’s Time To Rethink Programming Clocks

Do You Polish Entertainment Out Of Your Show?


How to Survive Radio Job Dislocation

What a start to the year. Nearly everyone in the radio industry has either lost a job or knows someone who has. The Great Radio Purge came suddenly and cut deep. And there may be more to come. Major broadcast companies sometimes tend to play follow the leader. But one thing is for sure: Hundreds of good people are wondering what happens next.

Some will get out of the business. Others will fight back. Some will use it as motivation to advance their career. But this is certain:

This event requires action from every single person in radio.

Here’s what to do now.

For Everyone

Planning the future is always a good idea. Think about where you want to be and plot a course to get there.

Identify Goals. Taking the next offer (or any offer) is tempting. But make sure it fits your career goals. Where do you want to end up? Focus on moves that move you closer to that goal. Being downsized is a setback, not a career killer. However, a series of hops from job to job might be. When on the beach, you may not be able to be as selective, but try not to make decisions out of desperation. For those working and worried, develop a plan. Now!

Expand The Possibilities. Identifying goals often uncovers opportunities never considered. Some personalities and programmers think of themselves as a format specialist, but talented people can adapt. This may be just what you need for a major breakthrough. Similarly, smaller companies and markets could be a perfect fit. Or apply skills in new ways. Don’t limit your search to just radio. What else could you do?

Update Your Presentation. Getting a Gig is constantly marketing. How long has it been since the resume, cover letter and audio demo has been updated? It’s time to make it great.

Get Listed In The TJMG Talent Pool. The free service for personalities, programmers, producers and promotions managers is already connecting talent with radio stations. Everyone should be listed. Click here to join. Don’t wait until it’s urgent. Get in there now!

Be grateful. Many are afraid, anxious and worried. That’s natural. Find something to be grateful for each day and make it a priority to keep a strong, positive attitude even if everyone else is freaking out.

Victims of The Great Radio Purge

The biggest problem with mass layoffs is a flood of talent competing for fewer available positions. Realize that finding the next gig may take awhile.

Here are some things to do immediately:

Move Past The Pain. This is hard. It’s human nature to be angry and bitter. I would be, too. But that won’t help Get That Gig. Turn the page and don’t look back. Fill your day with positive thoughts looking forward to a better tomorrow. Don’t let negativity or disappointment affect how the industry and prospective employers view you. If it takes time to “get there”, fake it til you make it!

Network. Make contact with every colleague and contact as soon as possible. Reach out to everyone you know even if it’s not a close relationship. Be proactive. Don’t be shy or embarrassed. For tips on networking to Get That Gig, go here.

Watch the Get That Gig Webinar. This is a step by step tutorial on how to go after a job in radio. It’s free. Watch it on demand here.

Start New Projects. With time on your hands, increase skills. Launch a new podcast. Build a personal website for marketing your personal brand. Learn new skills.

Free (and Major) Discount Offers For Victims

We feel for you, because we’ve all been there before.

Tracy Johnson Media Group is offering free services for anyone currently on the beach.

Effective immediately:

Insiders Radio Network. Free for 90 days. This is one of the industry’s best resources, loaded with tutorials, seminars on demand and much more. We’ve never done this before and will likely never do it again.

Audience Magnet Course. I’m offering 60 days of my video training course for radio personalities free. This is a $997 value. 60 days should be enough to complete the course, if you work on it each day. At the end of 60 days, the free membership will expire. You can keep it active for a one-time payment of $199. The membership will be for life with access to all updates and new lessons with no additional charge ever.

Air Check Coaching Services. We offer air check coaching and detailed feedback to develop an air check, audition tape and resume. Normal price is $499. Your price is $125.

To take advantage of any or all of these offers, send your name, situation and email address to

For Everyone Who Knows a Victim

I was terminated from a PD job in 1988. An hour later, my phone rang. It was Scott Shannon. He told me he had been following my career “since you were a Baby DJ in Lincoln, Nebraska.” Scott told me this would be a good thing  and offered his help. Decades later, that moment remains a career highlight.

Be that person for someone else.

Be compassionate. Reach out. Some folks are reluctant to reach out to you. It’s awkward, even though it’s not their fault. Put yourself in their place. An updated list of victims is available here and here. Know someone on the list? Offer support support to help them through a difficult time.


The frightening thing is that the circumstances that led to the Great Radio Purge are out of any victim’s control. It’s not because of poor performance or low ratings. The “dislocation” is downsizing, and radio isn’t the only industry affected.

It has happened to Blockbuster Video. Tower Records. Newspapers. Magazines. It’s happened to assembly lines, warehouses and hundreds of other job categories.

Radio is not immune from the reality of economics and efficiencies made possible through technology.

No, I do not think radio is the next Kodak. But anyone believing this is isolated and “now we’ve finally reached the bottom” is naive.

This is a major step toward nationalization/regionalization of radio programming. Most of it is economic. Some is applying their strongest creative skills more effectively. I understand it. Don’t count on those jobs coming back.

Here’s my best advice:

If you love what you do and are great at it, radio is a vibrant career. Just don’t depend on a company to protect or provide for the future.

To those hurting: I’m sorry. I feel for you. Please let me know how I can help.

Seminar on Demand: Get That Gig 

Get That Gig: Fix These 3 Common Air Check Demo Mistakes

Get That Gig: Network to Get Work

Constantly Marketing to Get That Gig

Get That Gig: Every Personality Needs a Website

Get That Gig eBook

Starting a Podcast Helps Get That Gig

Get That Gig: Start With A Great Resume’

How to Get That Gig: 16 Do’s and Don’ts To Get The Job You Want


Radio Personalities & Overnight Success

We are all impatient. We want what we want when we want it. It’s part of contemporary life. And when we have an idea, it goes on the air right away. And naturally, we expect immediate results. We want to catch lightning in bottle. Overnight success is attractive.

Broadcasters make this miscalculation all the time. A new morning show is hired, and the next ratings period is down. They want to know why, and immediately start questioning the strategy.

The next book shows little improvement. Or maybe it’s lower again. Now management questions if this was a mistake, and think about looking for the next overnight success.

Personalities feel the anxiety. They sense when confidence fades.

Personality radio takes time.

The Overnight Success Myth

Whether you’re Elvis Duran, Ryan Seacrest, Howard Stern or Bobby Bones, winning radio shows rarely produce overnight success stories.

Personalities become successful by forming relationships with listeners. It takes time to find a position, develop a “voice” and attract an audience.

Relationships take time, and winning broadcasters understand the process. Audiences fall in love with radio shows in stages. I call the process the Personality Success Path. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Randy Lane shared a research project by Jeffrey Hall, a researcher in communications at Kansas University. Hall conducted a study to measure how long it takes for a friendship to develop from first meeting to besties.

His findings show that:

It takes 94 hours to go from acquaintance to casual friends.

Best friend status takes place at around 219 hours.Serious friendship happens at about 164 hours.

Think about that. Then consider how much time listeners spend with a radio show each day.

They listen for very short periods, usually around 7 minutes per occasion. The average P1 contributes about 6 quarter hours of listening per week to a radio show.

At that rate, it takes 62 weeks for a P1 to become a casual friend. That’s more than a year.

To become a fan (Best Friend), would take 146 weeks. That’s nearly three years.

You Can’t Hurry Love

It’s possible to accelerate the process, but as the song goes, You Can’t Hurry Love.

When starting the Personality Success Path, I encourage talent to focus only on moving from the current stage to the next. The faster one can advance from Stage 1 (Introduction) to Stage 2 (Familiarity), the better. Growing into Stage 3 (Growth) is when real progress begins.

The sad thing is many personalities are stuck in Stage 1 or 2 for years or even decades.

That’s why it’s important to establish specific reasons to listen. The audience is first attracted to things you do. That’s why features are such a powerful tool for building a personality brand.

But they become fans because of who you are. Surrounding features with content that displays character traits through perspective, point of view and personal observations helps listeners connect with you.

Time Is Just One Factor

Yet performing a show and waiting isn’t a recipe for success. Just because a show has been on for years doesn’t mean they’ll advance through the 5 Stages of Growth.

There are many shows that have been on for years and are stuck in Stage 2. Listeners have heard of them, but don’t know anything about them or really care. They haven’t made an impact.

Great management teams are able to identify shows that need time to nurture an audience relationship and those that are doomed to Stage 1 or 2.

Patience with the right show is a virtue. If a show has potential, management’s role is to provide an environment that produces confidence. Help them stay the course through good times and bad (ratings period). Avoid over-reactions in both directions and stay off the emotional roller coaster.

Never Coast

But a frequent result of management exercising patience is ignoring problem areas. While it takes time for talent to develop, just waiting won’t cure problems.

Every show has growing pains and will fail to some degree.

Smart managers identify weaknesses quickly and are proactive to strengthen areas that need it.

Make adjustments, critique the results and study the most effective ideas. Evaluate the impact of tweaks, and build on positive adjustments while taking the next step forward.

This will accelerate the process as the building blocks of the show are forming a solid foundation.

Need help critiquing your show to find a strategy for growth? We can help with our air check coaching services.


Everyone wants overnight success. But it rarely happens.

Many stations start the process of building an amazing personality brand and make it through the first two stages of growth. Some are on the verge of their big breakthrough. Then, at the edge of great success, management loses patience. They pull the plug or change the show at just the wrong time. And the process starts over.

Building a successful personality brand takes courage, persistence and commitment.

If you’re a manager looking for help in knowing whether show has potential and how to get them to the top, let me know. I’d love to help.

If you’re an air talent looking for a breakthrough to find your voice and get on a Personality Success Path, check out my Audience Magnet Course. It has everything you need to succeed.

Just be prepared. Winning radio shows don’t happen as quickly as we would like or think they should. It won’t be an overnight success.


Lucky? No Such Thing. 5 Ways To Make Your Own Luck

Tracy Johnson’s Audience Magnet Video Course

Personality Success Path

The #1 Trait For Successful Talent: Work Ethic

Air Check Coaching Services

Personality Traits Every Radio Performer Needs to Develop

You Won’t Believe How Little Listeners Listen


New Way For Radio Talent to Be Discovered

One of the biggest issues for radio stations or broadcast companies today finding great talent. Everywhere I go, I hear the same thing:

There’s nobody out there. Where are all the personalities?

Yet, there’s more great talent than ever. Many are on the beach looking for an opportunity.

I talk to them every day. They can’t find the next gig.

That’s why we created a new service for radio: The Media Talent Pool.

It’s perfect for air talent, producers and program directors looking for that next gig.

Maybe you’re just graduating from school and looking for a big break or maybe you’re stuck in a station or market and you know you’re ready to move up but you can’t find the right thing. Or maybe you’ve been downsized and become discouraged with the options.

You need to be discovered. Since launching this fall, four radio pros have found their next gig. Every day, broadcasters are finding new prospects they can’t get through blind box ads and job postings.

The Talent Pool Is Free

The talent pool is a free service for the radio industry. It costs nothing to post a listing or be discovered by stations who have openings.

It’s easy to use. Just go to There’s a link to be listed, and another link for companies looking to find talent.

There’s also a collection of resources to help make a better impression when chasing down a gig, including a terrific Get That Gig webinar on demand. All are free. Click here for the free tools.

Some have asked whether a current employer might see their posting. Of course, there is that risk. The Talent Pool is open to all. However, if you wish to reduce that exposure, just let me know when you send materials and only clients of Tracy Johnson Media Group will see your listing. I can’t guarantee you will remain anonymous, but it will help.

Broadcasters Using the Pool

This collection of radio pros is a service to the radio industry to offer a way for talent to be discovered and for broadcasters to identify and recruit quality personalities, producers and programmers.

It’s easy to sort, scan and find qualified talent in one location.

Here’s a short video that explains how it works.

Let me know how you like the Talent Pool and how it can be better for your purposes.



Talk On The Radio: How Much Is Too Much?

Finding the right combination of talk content on a music station is a non-scientific task. Break length and music count are issues nearly every programmer wrestles with from time to time.

Yet, it’s one of the most important decisions to be made.

One of the first questions from virtually every client is:

How much music should the morning show play?

This is almost always followed by:

How long should breaks be?

There’s no standard answer to these questions. That’s like asking how long a song should be, or the ideal length of a movie. Or how many pages should be in the book?

The real answer: It depends! And there are many factors to consider. But I’ll provide a guideline after discussing the variables.

Break Length Variables

When working with talent, knowing when to tighten or loosen the leash to allow them to run free is difficult.

It is true, however, that air talent on music stations must earn the right to more talk. This privilege is not a bonus granted by the PD or GM. It’s an invitation from the audience, and is earned over time. When content becomes more of an attraction that music, increase the talk and reduce the music. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Here are 6 factors to help you figure out the right mix for your station.

Don’t Obsess About Talk Break Length

First, understand that the length of the break isn’t nearly as important as the pace of the break. Forward momentum is key to listener retention.

In sports, Major League Baseball has obsessed over shortening games. Baseball officials are applying pressure on teams, umpires and players to “speed up” the games.

The emphasis is on the wrong syllable.

Taking all of the “downtime” out of baseball shortens the average game time by 7-8 minutes. In a three hour game, does 7-8 minutes matter?

This isn’t really about length. It’s about the pace, momentum and energy of the game.

Making the game more exciting should be the goal. In radio, we often do the same thing. We’re worried about length, when our emphasis should be on the listener experience. When content is engaging and moving forward, longer breaks are more tolerable. But as soon as it slows, we enter the danger zone. In this regard, length is irrelevant.

Tight And Short Are Not The Same Thing

There’s a big difference between executing a tight performance and length of talk in a break.

Being tight is eliminating needless words and streamlining focus. Don’t tighten a break in order to shorten it. Tighten it to improve the pace of the break, provide focus and make it easier to understand.

Shorter is simply, well, shorter. And shorter isn’t always better.

In other words:

Tight and short are not the same.

For programmers coaching talent, this is important. Choose words very carefully. A comment like, “I love this because it was short” is deflating, with misplaced emphasis on an aspect that carries limited impact. It’s stifling to creative personalities.

Compare that to a comment like,

I love that break because it was tight. It was focused. It moved forward.

Audience’s aren’t screaming for shorter talk segments. They are excited for content that inspires them.

But every programmer wants guidelines. The right answer for you depends on the strength of your show.

Here’s a starting point.

6 Tips on Break Length

The most important consideration for how much talk is the right amount of talk is the stage your brand is in with your audience in the Personality Success Path.

Stage 1: Introduction

New show,  or shows in a new market, on a new station, or on a station that’s just changed format, play more music! Use the popularity of the songs as an introduction to personality.

Try for 10-12 songs per hour. If that’s not possible because of commercial load or information features, think about editing songs to increase the music count.

On the air, focus mostly on the basics. Sell the position, the station and introduce a few key features.

Inject personality into every element by ize-ing each talk opportunity. That’s adding relatable content that helps you localize, energize, supersize and personalize material. The more a personality is able to connect with the basics, the faster she will gain traction through this stage.

Get more details on how to do it in my seminar on demand My Solo Show Can Beat Your Team Show.

Stage 2: Familiarity

As a show becomes more familiar, increase talk break length incrementally.

If the station is establishing a music image, or is in a tight, direct format battle with a strong competitor, don’t let a competitor gain an advantage because of too much talk. Still, as familiarity increases, likability will follow. And audience tolerance increases.

Usually 8 songs an hour is required to gain a meaningful music advantage.

This may vary depending on the station’s history and presence in the market, but if quantity of music is a meaningful position, make sure the show is competitive.

Stage 3: Growth

As personalities grow into Stage 3, they become part of listener habits. Take advantage of this growing strength. In this stage, talent is gaining momentum and could experience rapid growth if managed properly.

If ratings are equal to the station’s overall share, it may be an opportunity to take a leadership position by relaxing restrictions more, particularly if research indicates positive perceptual momentum.

Gradually remove songs over time, increasing personality content. This is the best time to increase the number of breaks in the clock, but keep the talk break length fairly consistent. Drop one song at a time, gradually reducing music count.

Be sure to monitor ratings response and research the audience for perceptual changes in the show/station.

Stage 4: Like

As the show outperforms the station, it’s clear that the audience really likes the personalities. Now is the time to evolve toward less music/more personality aggressively.

Be careful to avoid doing it suddenly, but move quickly. By giving listeners more of what they tune in for, the ratings snowball will likely continue.

Relaxing the music count to as few as 4 songs could be appropriate here. That’s one tune per quarter-hour, which is enough to maintain a music presence.

Stage 5: Love

As the audience truly falls in love with the personalities, go all the way. You have potential for media domination. There’s no point in playing fewer than four songs an hour. Drop them all.

If preference and ratings are significantly above the station (20-25%), drop the music entirely.

It doesn’t make sense to play less than four songs an hour. That’s not enough to hold a music listener and it gets in the way of those coming for personalities.

This is the time to transition and become a personality-driven talk show.

Get Details on the 5 Stages of Growth With My Personality Success Path Here

Adjusting Break Length

When making any programming change, do so gradually. Small changes are less shocking as a large change. Removing one song at a time insures a smoother transition for talent and the audience.

I mentioned editing songs a couple of times. This is an effective method of increasing personality while maintaining song count. If you can remove 45 seconds from each song, you save 7.5 minutes every 10 songs! That’s huge. Add personality and still play the same number of songs? Yes, please. If the songs are edited properly, it won’t be noticed. For details on how to do it right, go here.

Regardless of song count, maintain a high personality presence and use each opportunity in the format clock. Use song intros to relate to listeners. Talk into and out of stop sets. A frequent presence on the show adds more time for listeners to get to know the talent. And familiarity always comes before falling in love.

That’s part of Romancing The Listener.


At the end of the day, the perfect break length depends on many variables. But this rule of thumb should guide all decisions:

Each break should be as long as it needs to be and no longer. And it should be as short as it can be, but no shorter.

Finally, don’t overthink it.

Seth Godin nails it:

“Too long.” You’re going to hear that more and more often. The movie, the book, the meeting, the memo…few people will tell you that they ran short. Shorter, though, doesn’t mean less responsibility, less insight or less power. It means less fluff and less hiding.

When in doubt, leave it out. When a friend sends you a video on YouTube, what’s the first thing you look at? How long is it? Do I have time for this? Is it worth my time? Listeners ask themselves the same question about radio shows.

Is it worth their time? It is if it’s tight. And tighter execution almost always results in shorter breaks.

Do More Music Morning Shows Work?

Tracy Johnson’s Audience Magnet Blueprint eBook (free)

The Science Behind Why Listeners Reject Talk

Radio Personality Success Path: The Five Stages of Growth

Tracy Johnson’s Audience Magnet Course


5 Stages Of Personality Growth

In 30-plus years of training, managing and coaching radio personalities, there are three key things that have never changed. And will never change. It’s my 3 Secrets of Becoming an On-Air Superstar. And yes, I’ll reveal the secrets below. But today, I want to focus on a single, most fundamental secret.

It’s Secret #1: The 5 Stages of your Personality Success Path.

You will turn up the volume on your personality brand when you earn the freedom to go deeper with your audience. There’s not a single personality reading this that doesn’t want that freedom. But you have to earn it, and it happens step by step through 5 Stages.

The 5 Stages of Personality Growth

There are 5 stages in the life cycle of every great personality. Everyone on the air goes through Stage 1, but not everyone makes it to Stage 5.

Introduction is when you’re brand new. They don’t even know your name, or really even care. In this stage, your goal should be to show that you love the same things they do.

Familiarity is when they may recognize your name but they don’t know anything about you yet. This is a critical phase…it’s still not the right time to talk about yourself that much…but you may want to introduce a feature here

Growth. This is when it gets exciting. They’re starting to know you and like the things you do on the air. They like the station better when you’re on. This is when you start promoting those features aggressively.

Like. The like phase is when you can introduce more personal stories into the show. They’re starting to recognize your character traits and know whey they like it when you’re on.

Love. And this is the ultimate goal. In this stage, it’s more about who you are than what you do. They choose the station because of you. This is where you want to be.

Performing In the 5 Stages

You have to know where you stand in the relationship with your audience, and perform accordingly. Personalities don’t become popular all at once. They grow popular over time. It’s a process that can be accelerated. But it cannot be rushed.

You can’t start out at Stage 5. And if you perform show like you’re in Stage 4 or 5 when you’re in stage 1 or 2, you lose!

One reason personalities fail is they don’t understand where they are in their success path. They think they’re in the love stage because they’ve been on a long time, but they’re really just in Stage 2 because they have never had an impact.

Your behavior must be based on how your audience sees you. Not how you would LIKE to be seen. If you come on too strong in Stage 1 or 2, you’ll run the audience off. They will hate you, and think you’re self absorbed.

Similarly, if you’re in Stage 4 or 5, but the PD is making you play too much music, you’re also preventing the audience from rewarding you.

Earning Your Freedom

And that’s the issue, isn’t it? You want to earn freedom on the air, but you probably think this is impossible because the PD puts up barriers.It seems like a chicken or the egg thing. You feel like you can’t reach the next stage because you don’t aren’t allowed time to perform,

You have to earn that freedom. And here’s the good news. You earn it from listeners. They demand more of you. And it starts by being great in every break now.

I know that at some stations, management just wants you there to play the commercials, execute the format and not get in the way. They don’t support personality. And they won’t get what I’m talking about here. Maybe you’ve tried to do some different things and been yelled at. They told you to just stick to the basics. I get it. It’s a balance.

But don’t let those barriers become an obstacle to growth. As you impact listeners, your power will grow. You’ll become a primary reason for tune-in.

This is what makes management afraid of you, by the way. They are afraid of losing you. Because when you become a meaningful personality that leads an audience fan base, you have power.

I know it can be frustrating to want to do more than you’re permitted. Every great personality wants to do more than they’re allowed. It’s universal. Personalities with 5-minute limits think they need 7. Those with a 3 minute window think they’d be better with 5. And those that only have 30 seconds know for a fact they’d be great if they had 3 minutes. Maybe you can’t control your break length. But you can control what goes into your breaks.

You Gotta Prepare

So prepare a great break-every break-based on the opportunity you’re provided. Now here’s the ironic part. The smaller the canvas on which you paint, the longer it takes to prepare. Seriously.

Ronald Reagan was asked to deliver a speech for charity. Before accepting, he asked how long the speech would be, because he wasn’t sure he had time. “What difference does it make how long?”, he was asked. “Well, he said…if you want me to talk for an hour, I’m ready to go now. But if it’s just 10 minutes, I need a couple of weeks to prepare.”

You may not be able to do everything you want to do, but you will learn to stretch the boundaries. And when you do, the canvas becomes larger, unlocking more creativity.

But here’s the thing: If you try and do it all at once, yeah, you’re going to get in trouble. And not only that, you won’t be able to do it well. Remember that this is a process.

You have to do it in synch with the 5 stages of growth.

How To Earn It

As you find your character voice and start growing through the five stages of growth, you’ll be amazed at the response from the audience…and your boss.

I once worked with a personality that was on in a time of day where ALL we wanted was the music to stand out. And the DJ’s job was to just make it sound good.

But he never gave up. He kept learning. He made the station better by projecting personality into every single segment while pointing listeners to the music and the station. He did it while doing what I wanted.

It wasn’t long before we realized that this guy was an great audience magnet. The better he got, the more freedom he earned. And the greater the bond with the audience. Soon, we moved him to afternoons. Then to mornings.That DJ?

He’s Dave Smiley. And he’s killing it with a 6-person morning show at WZPL in Indianapolis…#1 in the market for more than a decade.

You may not be able to do everything you want right now, but as you grow through the five stages, you will stretch the canvas. And when you do, you’ll unlock creativity you never knew you had.

Secrets 2 and 3

The other two secrets? #2 is that you have to know who you are and find your personal character voice. This is how your audience will get to know you so they can fall in love with you.

And the third secret is you absolutely must stop thinking of yourself as a radio announcer and become a storyteller that has a radio show. Mastering this skill will change everything.

I’ll write about those secrets later. But for now, focus on your Personality Success Path. That’s where your journey to becoming an on-air superstar begins.

Get More Details

I’m going into detail on all three secrets in my new, free webinar The Audience Magnet Blueprint. You can get access here.

And if you come to the webinar, I’ll give you a free copy of the Audience Magnet Blueprint eBook and a downloadable infographic of the 5 Stages of Personality Growth, with a lot more depth and information on how to behave in each stage.

This can be life-changing for radio personalities. It’s the difference between being stuck in a DJ or announcer job and getting on a career path to being a wildly successful personality. Don’t you owe it to yourself to get on that Personality Success Path and unlock you potential?


11 Building Blocks To Develop a Personality Brand

A strong personal brand is one of the most important things radio personalities must develop, but it takes a considerable amount of time, attention and effort. Just because you have a radio show doesn’t mean your personality brand will grow merely because you’re being heard.

This goes for all personalities on all shows, including solo performers and team shows.

Building a personal brand is like building a business.The first step is to identify a target audience, discover the best marketing methods, and relentlessly work to deliver personality brand values that will appeal to the audience.

This is a key to advance through the 5 Stages of Personality Success.

Building Blocks of a Personal Brand

A strong personality brand makes it much easier to connect with listeners, not to mention clients, advertisers and online followers. All are important audiences for an air personality that depends on developing multiple verticals of  promotion and revenue.

But to get to the point where your brand can pay off, you must start with a solid foundation. This requires thought and careful planning.

Here are the things you’ll need to have in place as you work to develop your personal brand

Focal Point

Personalities working to build a personal brand typically want to be known as specialists in some area. One of the steps when creating your personal brand profile is to identify the one thing or two things that define what you want to be known for.

If you haven’t done this yet, do it now! It’s a fundamental step in building a personal brand. If you don’t know what your primary appeal is, you’ll have a hard time getting past Stage 1 (Introduction) or Stage 2 (Familiarity) in the Personality Success Path.

An Elevator Pitch

You’ve probably heard the term “elevator pitch”, meaning that if you’re riding with someone in an elevator, sell your pitch before the elevator reaches their floor and they step off. That leaves about 30 seconds to show how your brand matters.

Can you condense your brand down into a short pitch that’s clear and gets the point across?

The same brief statement can be utilized throughout social channels and online bios to help followers and potential listeners best understand who you are and what you bring to the table.

Make a list of things that make you valuable, and don’t be afraid to go into great detail. Once you have the information down, start trimming, and keep trimming until you get it down to a strong, impacting statement.

The Bert Show is one of the best positioned and clearly branded shows in the world. Their elevator pitch is tight and can be delivered in seconds:

 Real. Funny. 

Expanding on those two key words: The Bert Show is a cast of three main characters that relate to young adults living a young, active life through observation, humor and personal stories.

This will be an important tool in your personal brand toolbox.


Your unique selling proposition (USP) goes hand in hand with the elevator pitch. This is what sets your personality apart from others. If there are 2,000 other entertainers (and there are far more than that) offering the same basic proposition, why should someone choose you?

Why should your audience pay attention to you at the expense of all others? Not just other air talent, but other personalities competing for their entertainment attention.

What unique value do you offer that they can’t find with anyone else?

Your USP should be a succinct, single-sentence statement of who you are, your greatest strength, and the major benefit your audience will derive from it.

Perhaps your area of expertise is exploring, solving or just discussing relationship issues. Or maybe it’s that one single feature that is a true can’t miss moment on your show each hour, such as Prank Phone Calls or Second Date Update.

This is a critical component for branding. You’ll use this to craft your pitch, and it will be prevalent in virtually all of your marketing messages and outreach.

A Clearly Defined Target

Defining personality traits is only part of the journey. Building a brand is useless unless you’re targeting the right people. Most personalities have never thought about their audience in enough depth to demonstrate their personality in a way that becomes meaningful to the target.

You have to define your audience so that all content you create (on-air and off) is relevant, gets attention and turns into revenue opportunities (and ratings).

When you know who you are for, and who you are NOT for, it gives you clarity in purpose. Without a target, you’re just throwing darts, hoping for the best.

When you know your audience, you can:

  • Create valuable content specific to their interests
  • Find brand advocates who will embrace your message and help spread it for you
  • Identify the best ways to engage your audience
  • Know where to find them

Defining an audience takes time and research, but without a clearly defined audience, you’ll never grow your brand. A great place to start is building a composite listener profile, as explained in the webinar on demand Know Your Audience.

Thirst For Learning

To remain relevant, maintain the attitude of a constant learner, no matter how much experience and success you gain.

Tune in, listen, and stay up-to-date with industry trends.

If you fail to stay relevant, people will stop paying attention to you.

It never hurts to learn new things, develop new skills, and expand your knowledge. Here are three things every personality should do:

  1. Go to Don Anthony’s Morning Show Boot Camp.
  2. Listen to and learn from other shows.
  3. Become an Insider and get constantly updated advice and training.

A Strategy For Promotion

Promotion is nearly as important as content. Develop a strategy for how to make your brand famous. It doesn’t need to be as robust as a marketing strategy for a major brand, but it’s still a good idea to create a documented marketing plan you can follow.

This should include (but isn’t limited to):

  • Website development, creative and management
  • Social media deployment and posting schedule. Which platforms? How often?
  • Content marketing strategy: Promoting a blog, podcasts, audio on demand.
  • Video strategy for expanding your brand online and via social media
  • SEO and link building strategy with tactics to improve visibility;
  • Community engagement strategy for local sites and potential marketing partners.

To start, conduct a personal brand audit. There’s a ton of online information about you already, since you’re a public figure. But you should be managing the results when your name is searched. Find out what’s out there now. Then start a plan to manage and change it.

This isn’t a one-time exercise. Schedule routine reviews of your personal brand to monitor how you appear on the web ad social media.

Your Own Website

Every personality needs a website to manage their brand. Maybe your company won’t allow you to promote it, but build it anyway. When you change stations or markets, what happens to your online profile? If you’ve managed it yourself, nothing. But if it’s completely in the hands of others (your station or company), you start over when you move.

On the site, show off your expertise and work you’ve done. A branded website is another source of content that will show up at the top of the search results when people search information about you, especially if it’s populated with great content.

Try to use a lot of video on your personal site. It’s a great way to rank higher and get more attention.

Having a website helps keep control of search results and brand images rather than allowing third-party sites to shape your online image.

A Story

The strongest personal brands are carried by a story. When we build personality brand profiles for clients, the personality receives a thorough profile, plus a synopsis that defines who they are. This can easily turn into a story that  helps define the brand.

Think about some of the most well-known personal brands like Kim Kardashian, Mark Cuban, Beyonce,  Warren Buffet, or Tom Brady.

In every case, their stories are well known and narratives add tremendous weight to their personality brand, ultimately defining how we see them.

If you specialize in more than one area or have a series of things you’re passionate about, a narrative becomes even more important.

A Consistent Look

Brands often use style guides to maintain consistency in their logos, fonts, and colors. Your style guide may even include a dress code to manage how you appear in public.

Consider develop a personal brand logo that will translate to many uses and sizes. Create it in specific colors that define your brand. Maybe your station won’t allow you to use it now. That’s okay. You can use it on your own website and personal social media sites.

Everything you do contributes to a personal brand. Create a personal style guide similar to what the brands use. This way you have a consistent representation of your personal brand.

This should include the way you dress, carry yourself, behave with others, and even write and respond to emails.

Competitive Awareness

Personal brand building isn’t a popularity contest, but it does pay to know where you stand in the crowd.

Occasionally, you should collect some of the key metrics around your brand so you can pivot and act accordingly. If you enter Air Personality (Your Market), do you rate? How about Top Talent (Market)? Radio hosts (Market)? Funny Personalities (Market)? Who shows up with positive attributes?

Don’t copy others, but it’s worth studying why they may be succeeding in some ways. A competitive evaluation provides insight to take ideas and do it 10 times better.

Publicity Photos

It’s great if the station pays for your photo session. But if they don’t, do it yourself. It’s not that expensive.  Photos are one of the three promotional items every personality needs.

Take pictures that represent the personality you’re trying to portray, and use those images across social channels and websites. And, pick the one that best represents your character traits to use in small printed photos that can be handed out at appearances and events. Be sure to leave room on the photo to personalize an autograph (don’t do a pre-printed signature).

Get a bunch of different poses with various changes of clothing. This gives you more ways to represent your personality.

Publicity photos help you be more easily recognizable. The more the audience can feel they know you, the better chance they’ll consider you a friend.

As your appearance changes (and, yes, you do age), update the head shots and publicity photos.


A personal brand is how the world sees you. That’s why it’s important to actively manage and polish the brand.

Invest in these 11 elements to enhance your career. Be proactive. It works!

Greatest Trait of Winning Air Personalities

9 Reasons I Love Air Personalities

5 Stages of Personality Growth

Build a 5 Star Personality Brand Seminar on Demand

eBook: Build a 5-Star Personality Brand

What To Look For in a Superstar Radio Talent

eBook: How To Become an On-Air Superstar


How To Get Much-Needed Air Check Coaching

Radio station management: You’re on notice. It’s time to get help for air talent. The vast majority of radio personalities are not getting the time, attention or coaching they want and need.

Fortunately, there’s something you can do about it.

Management should realize that personalities are their single most important investment. Nothing has a more valuable return for dollars spent.

Pew Research is a trusted research firms. According to Pew, radio personalities are a primary driver of listener satisfaction. They report that 67% (that’s two out of three) respondents say air talent is important to them.

As if that’s not enough, 64% of the survey’s respondents indicate they would follow their favorite personality to another station!

This is dramatic research data. But Pew isn’t alone. There’s more evidence of the value of talent.

High profile personalities top the list of reasons for top of mind awareness (TOMA) and recall. Great talent always rates higher than the station format, contests or music preferences. More listeners will talk about a favorite personality than can identify the style of music a station plays.

But there’s a problem.

The Problem

Maybe you saw the Jacobs Media research that shows how few air personalities are critiqued or coached.

Very few personalities are coached at all. Many report that it’s been over a year since their last air check session. Some even say they have never been air checked by their supervisor.

Once you recover from the initial shock, you probably have a most logical question: “Why?”.

I get it. Air checking talent takes time, which is a precious commodity for programmers and managers today. I recently spoke with the VP of Programming for a group of 12 stations. All 12 stations report directly to him for all things programming. He had just finished preparing 7 (yes, SEVEN) music logs for the following day. This was just before he started his four hour afternoon drive show (performed live) on the rock station. It’s not a small market, either. It’s a Top 50 market.

Who has time? Even if there were enough hours in the day for a meeting, air check sessions aren’t productive without preparation and planning.

If the value of personality to radio brands is higher than ever, and you’re at risk for losing nearly two thirds of the audience if talent leaves, shouldn’t you invest in that resource?

Yet this critically important thing becomes a task that takes a back seat to the urgent.

The Solution

That’s why Tracy Johnson Media Group now offers an  air check talent coaching service. It’s for personalities who aren’t getting feedback, programmers who want a second set of ears and managers that don’t have the time or expertise to coach talent.

We offer direct, one-on-one coaching for personalities through air check critique.

The process is simple:

  • Schedule a session online
  • Upload an air check
  • Get personal feedback in a one-hour session

You can book a session with any of the TJMG consultants and talent coaches, including Andy Meadows, Mike Shepard or me.

Management is welcome (and encouraged) to attend he session.


Developing talent is more than a good idea for when you have time. It’s a critical part of your station’s success and the industry’s future. That’s why we’re here to help.

Try it out. Schedule a coaching session with one of our consultants. Get details here:


The Face of Your Radio Brand

I’ve been saying it for awhile now, and it’s time to say it again. Air personalities are the future of radio. And it’s high time to make them the face of your brand. In the past, radio was able to compete for four main positions in the lives of an audience:
  1. Music
  2. Information
  3. Promotion
  4. Personality
That’s all changed, and I think you know it. Radio is fast losing the position of being the “go to” media for music. Information is transmitted in seconds via mobile devices. By the time you hear it on the radio, you probably already got a notification on your phone or from Twitter. And promotion is more challenging than ever in a world. How can you out-promote a $1 billion lottery prize? All of those things still have a place on commercial radio. I’m just making the case that we can no longer win the position for those things. But there’s one advantage that remains and will sustain into the future: Personality. And that’s where brands should be investing their future.

Radio Personalities As Face Of The Brand

Establishing your talent as the face of the brand is risky, and probably scares you a little. First, they must be truly strong personalities that command an audience’s attention. Promoting average talent or DJs that don’t move the needle won’t get you anywhere. By the way, if you are lacking that high profile talent, we should talk. You probably need a talent coach. So let’s assume you have a great personality or show, but you’re still reluctant to invest the future of your company on air talent. After all, what if they leave at the end of their contract? What would happen if you create a superstar talent only to have them take the audience across the street? And doesn’t it put you at a disadvantage when negotiating that next contract? Those are considerations, for sure. But don’t let that fear hold you back. It doesn’t stop the Patriots from promoting Tom Brady, the Phillies promoting Bryce Harper, the Lakers promoting LeBron or a movie studio promoting Tom Hanks. They’re stars, and they attract audiences. Building your brand on talent is much greater opportunity than risk.

5 Ways To Promote Personalities

Here are 4 ways to build a radio station by making personalities the face of the brand.
  1. Start by making personalities the spokesperson(s) for your brand. Use them to position other elements, including programming features, positioning elements and contests.
  2. Promos should be built around unique, non-duplicated content and the stars that create it. Radio stations can’t be the place for Justin Bieber, but can be the place for your morning show.
  3. Develop more high profile features performed by interesting personalities. That’s the fastest way to become familiar and move through the Personality Success Path.
  4. Build a social media presence around the talent, rather than forcing them to fit into the station’s social pages. Wouldn’t you be more likely to follow Game of Thrones on social media than HBO? Listeners are much more apt to be fans of air talent than a “faceless” brand.
  5. Make radio talent more important on your website. It’s amazing how so many stations have more information about artists and songs they have no stake in than in stars they do.


Stations that prioritize, and even promote personalities above the station connect with audiences more deeply than if they were to promote their programming attributes like “More Music Workdays”. The job of radio personality isn’t nearly as prestigious as it once was, or should be. It has the dubious honor of being the 7th Worst Job In America. And that needs to change. The bottom line is that we need stars on the radio. Broadcasters should not be afraid of them. We need to find them, nurture them, embrace them and promote them. It’s the one resource that can drive our future.

The Science of Show Prep

None of you got into radio or come to this site for a science lesson. But like it or note, radio performers can learn a lot from behavioral scientists especially when it comes to preparing content. The science of show prep can help you find a path to great success on the air.

Think about this:

Why does one painting become worth millions while another seemingly similar work sell for pennies on a garage sale?

What is the difference between a best-selling novel and one the author can’t give away to friends and family?

Why does one pop song rise to #1 while another with a great hook never cuts through?

What causes some online videos to go viral while millions of others are seen by only a few dozen?

When you arrive at answers, and while still thinking outside the box, apply it to radio.

Now ask yourself:

Why do some topics take off on the air, igniting strong response and word of mouth, but others do not? Every personality has had that feeling of disappointment when a can’t miss break ends up flat.

Yet other times, the simplest “so what” segments you never thought would resonate ignite.

In other words, what makes content work…or not? And how can you improve the “hit rate” of what is produced on your show?

The Science Of Show Prep

Behavioral scientists tell us that creating great content is not simply a matter of quality. The idea that the “best” art rises to the top and reaches the most people doesn’t explain it. It’s more than that.

 Jim Davies, a professor at Carleton University and director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory conduct a series of tests, resulting in his Theory of Compellingness.

Read all about it in his book: Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One with the Universe.

Davies answers questions such as:

  • Why do some things pass under the radar of our attention, but other things capture our interest?
  • Why do some religions catch on and others fade away?
  • What makes a story, a movie, or a book riveting?
  • Why do some people keep watching the news even though it makes them anxious?

For example, in a study about speed dating, people were asked about the type of partners they found attractive. Results showed answers before the exercise had no correlation with what they actually found attractive in person.

Davies explains:

We are beginning to understand just how much the brain makes our decisions for us: we are rewarded with a rush of pleasure when we detect patterns, as the brain thinks we’ve discovered something significant; the mind urges us to linger on the news channel or rubberneck an accident in case it might pick up important survival information; it even pushes us to pick up People magazine in order to find out about changes in the social structure.

That’s a clue into how listeners respond to radio shows.

Finding A Story In Topics

So how can you apply the science of show prep on a radio show each day? Mostly, it’s a matter of applying creative solutions to appeal to listeners on a personal, emotional level.

That’s the art of creating compelling content by finding stories inside topics. This may cause you to move beyond your comfort zone, but that can be a good thing. Many personalities get into a rut. This exercise will help shake you out of a routine that may have become ordinary to the audience.

Behind all of these concepts is a preparation technique I call TESOP: It’s an acronym for Topic, Execution, Story, Observation, Performance. It’s explained in detail here.

Whether the source of content comes from Harvesting Your Life or a show prep service, anything can turn into content if you mine it properly.

Here are some typical ways to convert ordinary into extraordinary.


Create contrast to add drama in a storyline by putting a personality in an awkward or unexpected situation. Then exaggerate the story to bring out the suspense.

For example, a cast member with Claustrophobia is locked in a coffin for the entire show. Or someone with fear of heights goes bungee jumping. These stunts makes sense when there’s a story attached.

Resolve a Conflict or Dilemma

Some of the best relationship features work because each episode sets up a conflict that builds tension. Then the tension is resolved.

Set it up with a “what should I/they do” situation, and explore it.

This is the simple formula behind the success of may situation comedies on TV. A storyline is introduced and developed, conflict is raised to an extreme, then is resolved. You can do the same on the radio.

Seek The Extreme

Ordinary phone topics become storylines when the personality is on a quest or mission. Many clients organic these topics with a concept called the Book of Records.

Instead of an ordinary phone topic like “What did you eat when you were depressed?”, turn it into a quest to find “the most anyone listening has ever eaten in a depressed sitting”.

Just turning up the volume on it by going for the extreme (the most, youngest, oldest, farthest, etc.), a new layer of interest emerges.

Top 10 Lists

While using lists on the air is usually an example of lazy, uninspired show prep, there’s nothing wrong with turning unique content into a list. 

It’s a great way to compile a shareable, social media worthy segment. Start with an ordinary phone topic, such as “What excuses did you use to get out of Jury Duty?”. Then dramatize it by coming up with the show’s “Top 10 Excuses To Get You Out of Jury Duty.”

Make It a Game

Games are fun to play on the air, and add TSL by capitalizing on the play along factor. Some segments lend themselves to becoming a game.

At KLOVE, one of Skip & Amy’s most recognized features is a silly game they play on Fridays. Amy plays a musical instrument, and plays it poorly. She plays a familiar song, and listeners have to guess what it is. They call it Name That Toot. Isn’t that more interesting than a recurring segment that references her musical abilities?

 Add A Guest

Sometimes guests are weak on the air. In fact, that’s the case most of the time. But on occasion, the right guest can turn excite a storyline.

With a panel of experts, your show should have a choice of resources that fit various situations and topics. Or, use the feature Ask Me Anything. This is a terrific way to create something interesting out of nothing.


These ideas all apply art to the science of show prep, but understanding that science is a key part of the equation. Keeping both in balance can be an important key to your personal success formula.


Casting a Radio Show: Why 3 Is The Perfect Number

Casting a radio show is hard. Managers and programmers invest a lot of time and energy into finding the perfect mix of personalities to attract fans and deliver ratings. While there’s no single formula that works every time, I’ve found a cast of three personalities is the ideal balance.

Three is the right number for many things. There were Three Bears, Three Little Pigs, etc. It’s usually the number of verses in a lot of popular songs. The Beatles sang She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah. Try it with two or four “yeahs”. It just doesn’t work. Pay attention and you’ll discover the Rule of 3 everywhere.

But three is also the perfect number of voices when casting a radio show.

Casting A Radio Show: Why 3 is Just Right

Many stations wishing to increase personality see the value of a team show. Pairing a couple of personalities can add interest. But a powerful dynamic comes into play when a third voice is introduced.

It takes shows to areas that a duo just can’t get to. But when a fourth or fifth personality is added, it can be much harder for listeners to figure out what’s going on. It gets confusing for the audience.

This isn’t to suggest that a duo can’t win, or that more than three is a mistake. Not at all. But three is usually the magic number.

Applying The Concept In 3D

You’re probably thinking about stations that have built shows around the concept of Radio in 3D: Dick, Dork and Dear. They try to find personalities that fit those three character types. This approach works!

Dick: This personality type is an antagonist, sometimes cynical or sarcastic. The “dick” seems to always say things that cause a strong reaction with the other cast members and with the audience. He or she is outspoken, bold and often referenced as the one who “says the things I’m thinking but am afraid to say it”.

Dork: The dork is a nerd, or someone who just doesn’t fit in conventionally. They are usually charming in their own way, but just “weird” enough to create friction between the players. The dork embraces and exaggerates their inner nerd qualities to add more dimension to the ensemble.

Dear: The third piece of the puzzle adds heart and soul to the show. He or she is warm, empathetic, sensitive and the one most listeners would say “would be a good friend”.

Imagine a show with just two of those three personality types. Isn’t it clear how three personalities can play off one another in many more ways than two?


But there is another way the Rule of 3 applies to casting a radio show. Every human being tends to fall into a classification as a generator, reactor or instigator. Three character roles. Imagine that.

Generator: They’re usually the driver of the show, able to start a topic and set a tone for a break. Put a yellow pad in front of a generator and they’ll fill it with ideas in just a few minutes. They don’t always follow through on those ideas, but they can sure get them started.

Responder: Put that same yellow pad in front of a responder, and three hours later it’ll be filled with doodles. They have been provided nothing to cause a reaction. But throw an idea, thought, topic or phrase their way and they light up with an instant response.

Instigator: An instigator is like an audio sniper, lying in the weeds for a great line to advance a break to places it would never get to without them. They are the rocket fuel that stirs things up and brings out more character and personality in the Generator and Responder.

Of course, human beings are not one dimensional. It’s certainly possible for each of us to demonstrate traits of all three categories. But everyone is naturally stronger in one of the three. It’s like being right handed or left handed. It doesn’t mean you never use your other hand.

A great radio show needs all three. Put two generators on the show, and it’s going to be chaos. You’ll hear a ton of talking over one another and nobody paying attention to what is being said. But two responders on a show results in nothing happening because there’s no stimulus that causes a response. And don’t even think about trying two instigators. That’s the radio equivalent of filling a room with explosives, matches, gasoline and a toddler and hoping for the best. Boom!

What If There Are More Than 3 On The Show?

Some managers reading this are probably thinking, “Wait a minute. We have 5 voices on our show. Tracy’s saying we can trim the budget.”. Not quite.

If a show has more than three personalities on the air, the rule of three still applies to each segment. It’s up to the show’s host to manage the traffic.

The two main personalities should always be featured (host, co-host), with one additional (a third) personality involved as appropriate. But when a new personality enters the conversation, another should fade away. That applies to listeners participating as callers, too. When the caller comes on, they’re effectively a cohost.

When everyone has an open microphone, chaos and confusion soon follow, and that will cause tune out.


Of course, there are many ways to win. Stations can (and do) succeed with solo shows, duos and casts much larger than three. But I’ve found that, as in many areas, three is the magic number.

In my seminar Casting A Radio Show, I go into much more detail on all of these topics and much more. You’ll learn the best ways to build a show, manage the personalities and put your station in the best possible position to succeed quickly.



The Biggest Cause of Listener Tune Out Is Confusion!

As human beings, we all respond to simplicity, clarity and familiarity. When we can’t understand what’s happening, we run for cover. Confusion is stressful, and we avoid stress. This has profound implications for radio shows.

Personalities and programmers agonize over cracking the ratings code, constantly seeking to find a magic formula that launches their station to new heights. The quest usually includes endless tweaking of clocks, adjusting format execution and building in hooks designed to keep the audience listening longer.

But the key to ratings success isn’t quite so complicated. There are six things that cause listener tune out. Eliminate or reduce tune out, and ratings go up. And the most common reason listeners tune out is confusion. And that comes from three sources.

3 Ways to Reduce Listener Confusion

The problem with confusion is that most broadcasters don’t realize the content is confusing.

First, they don’t listen nearly as much as we think they do. Recent studies show the average length of tune in has dropped to 7-8 minutes per occasion.

But even declining TSL isn’t the biggest contributing factor.  Listeners aren’t paying nearly as much attention as we would like. Listening to the radio is mostly a background experience. They’re usually actively engaged in many other foreground activities that take up more of their attention.

And they constantly button-punch. They jump from one station to another. Many times, they don’t even know what station they’re listening to.

When visiting clients, I usually Uber to and from stations. Recently, on a 30 minute drive from the airport to a meeting, the driver had my client’s morning show on. After about 20 minutes, I asked what station she was listening to. She gave me the wrong answer. I asked about my client’s morning show (the one she was listening to) and she said,

yeah, they’re okay but I don’t listen to them much. I like this show a lot better.

Okay! The listener was confused. Now you may not think that’s a big deal because it’s a PPM market and if the driver had a meter, they’d get credit. But here’s the problem. When listeners can’t recall the station, the chance of getting them back for additional occasions is greatly reduced.

That’s why it’s so important to reduce confusion. Here are three ways to do it.

Reset The Scene

Since the audience constantly tunes in and out, reset the scene as often as possible. You can’t possibly do this too much. It doesn’t have to be a long reset, but it has to be clear.

That’s why television shows often begin a new episode with highlights from earlier shows. It reminds viewers of what has happened in the story so the viewer isn’t confused. Television does it, and that’s a foreground medium.

Mojo in the Morning has been a market leader in Detroit for decades. His show is well constructed and easy to understand. It’s loaded with benchmarks and features that help with recall.

Mojo realizes that reducing listener confusion is a primary key to TSL. He understands the importance of resetting topics in each break so listeners can follow what’s happening on the air. He says:

You cannot rehash enough what you are doing at a particular time. As tedious as it sounds, it’s important to consistently re-explain your regular benchmarks. Re-explain who the characters are. It’s especially important to re-introduce characters and benchmarks after summer and vacations for new cume as well as for those who may not have heard the show for awhile.

Manage The Microphones

Another common cause of tune out is when voices compete for attention on the air. Listeners have a hard time sorting out who’s talking, especially when personalities talk over one another.

In the studio, it doesn’t feel like a big deal, but it’s a very different environment than listening to the radio. In the studio, we can see one another. Secondary and tertiary voices enter the conversation and it’s easy to follow because we can see it.

When the conversation starts to get animated, we can sort out who is talking because we have eye contact. But listeners are blind. They can’t see you. It’s an entirely different experience.

So when personalities talk on top of one another or an unfamiliar voice enters the segment,  the audience is confused. And when they’re confused, they tune out.

That’s why it’s important for the show’s host to manage the on-air traffic flow.

At KISW/Seattle, BJ and Migs have an eight person cast. Shea manages the show’s flow by applying the Rule of 3 to reduce the potential of audience confusion. Shea says:


If you’re on a show with a large cast of characters, try it. And remember that when listeners are on the air, they become part of the cast. So introduce them.

Many personalities have been trained to go cold into phone calls, editing directly to the listener’s first comment. That saves a couple of seconds but the audience is confused. Who is this person? Why are they on the air? Where did they come from?

Unfamiliar Voices

We like what we know. That’s a universal truth. It’s why we go to the same coffee shops, take the same route to and from work and listen to the same songs. Familiar is comfortable. Unfamiliar is stressful.

This is true with radio personalities, too. Believe me, your audience is not nearly as familiar with air talent as we give them credit for. And that goes for the main personalities that have been on for years as well as secondary and tertiary voices.

Whether it’s a big or small crew, be sure to name tag the show often. This is easy to do, but we overlook it way too much. It’s repetitive and tedious. It’s also critically important.

I work with a show that has five characters, all males. Their personalities vary but it’s very hard for listeners to sort the voices. Even with name-tagging, it’s hard to keep track of who’s who especially with the three guys that aren’t primary names on the show brand.

So in addition to following the Rule of 3, we’re working on identifying roles and personality traits in dialogue.

In a meeting, they asked how long we needed to go out of our way to introduce each character. The answer: It never stops. Ever. For one thing, we must constantly introduce new listeners to the show. For another, 50% of existing listeners tune in for less than 2.5 minutes per day. They know little about you. Introducing personalities and character traits never ends.


Confusion is a real thing, and it happens far more frequently than you think. It’s the #1 reason for listener tune out. It adds stress to the listening experience.

When there’s too much stress, buttons are pushed. And when buttons are pushed, TSL is lost. And the great danger today is that distracted listeners are less likely to remember to come back.

These are just three common causes for confusion. There are others, but fix these first. It’s a fundamental key to winning the ratings battle.



Why I Love Air Personalities: And Why You Should, Too

Man, I love air personalities. Working with air talent is one of the most rewarding and exciting things I’ve ever done, and I have had the privilege to meet and work with some of the most amazing personalities in the world. And most of them are among the most interesting people you could possibly meet.

As a talent coach working with hundreds of air personalities, it’s a privilege to sort through the challenges in so many formats and markets. It makes life interesting!

Here are 9 reasons I love air personalities.

They Throw Talent Fits

Talent is typically volatile and their personality causes them to be excitable, extreme and over-the-top.  When they throw a talent fit, it feels like the apocalypse is happening. There’s a ton of energy coming from a place of passion (and insecurity). It’s energizing. And it’s exhausting.

Then it’s over. It usually passes pretty quickly.

This is healthy. When air personalities are repressed and keep things bottled up, it’s like a volcano. When the pressure gets too high, they blow their top! It’s much easier to manage and better for everyone involved when it happens in shorter, less extreme outbursts.

If you’re a PD, manager or talent coach, take a deep breath. Let it out. Now step back and don’t over-react. Chances are it’ll be better tomorrow and you’ll laugh about it together.

If not, fix it then.

When They Discover Something New

When personalities find a new way to connect to their audience, it’s better than a new flavor of ice cream or a new toy.

It’s even more fun when it’s something they’ve been working on for awhile, and the light suddenly comes on. That’s when they run into your office and excitedly tell you that they “figured something out”. Then they proceed to explain their discovery. And you realize it’s exactly what you’ve been telling them for weeks. Almost word for word.

Don’t compete for credit. Everyone learns at their own pace and in their own time. When they discover it for themselves, it sticks! Don’t deflate that excitement by trying to take way their glory!

Their Ego…and Their Fear

Many programmers try to bring down the ego and minimize their fear. This is a mistake. Most air personalities can’t win without both ego and fear.

On Wall Street, traders say stocks are driven by greed and fear. Air talent is kind of like that.

Great personalities are driven by a deep desire to be popular and famous. They love being on the air because it attracts attention! It’s ego driven. That ego needs to be fed.

It also must be managed. When programming my stations, I felt that I spent at least half my time building up the confidence (ego) of my talent and the other half managing their fear.

Fear is a powerful force. A little of it is healthy. It keeps them inspired and motivated to perform. Sweaty palms can be a good thing. But when fear is out of control, personalties tend to freeze. Air talent overwhelmed with fear can’t perform.  This is when they need to be supported and understood.

Managing ego and fear take time and patience. The most important thing a PD can do is develop a trusted relationship. Do that, and difficult discussions from ego and fear are much easier.


Air personalities are naturally curious. When they become interested in something, there’s a childlike enthusiasm for it. Some call it immaturity. I call it a fun, youthful, charming and curious way of looking at the world.

And it’s contagious.

Jeff and Jer used to say (one the air):

You can only be young once, but you can be immature forever.

That’s pretty much it, right there.

Programmers and managers: Never, ever, ever suppress this trait. It’s like watching as child’s innocence taken away.

But you do need to direct it, focus it and help them channel it through their personality brand. Let them play. Just make sure they play in the yard!


You already know air talent is sensitive because you’ve been in critique meetings with them. But when you understand them, it makes sense.

Great talent reveals their personal characteristics to listeners every single day. They fly without a net for 3-5 hours a day.mAnd the really good ones reveal things about their personal lives that causes them to be  vulnerable.

Then they pick up the phone, answer an email or check social media and someone is angry at them. Or disappointed. Thats hard. None of us like to be criticized, and when talent gets a complaint, it’s personal. That’s why they’re highly sensitive.

It’s a hard job.

Personalities need to know their talent coach/PD is a fan and has their back. And they’re already volatile and vulnerable folks.

Psychologists say it takes 9 compliments to offset one criticism. That’s why I recommend PD’s spend most of their time finding a good reason to praise talent. They thrive on positive feedback.

Testing Authority

I love air personalities because they challenge boundaries and guidelines. Constantly. A PD sets a talk break limit at 90 seconds, and in a week or two, they’re pushing two minutes. Set it for 2 minutes and it’s 2:30.

Tell them they have to play two songs between stop sets and you can guarantee one. Get into the stop set no later than 7:55, and they’ll be in around 7:57.

Look, they’re not deliberately violating the rules. They just don’t understand the rules. Or they do, but can’t figure out why it’s important. Or maybe they’re testing you to find out what will happen.

Somewhere deep down, you know that, don’t you?

Don’t take it personally. Push through it. Explain why your rules are important. If you can’t explain it, maybe the rules aren’t very good. Then, consistently restate the things that are important to the brand.

Work Ethic

Everyone thinks radio personalities are lazy.

After all, they only “work” 3-4 hours a day. Then they go home about the time most of us are firing up a second cup of coffee.

But a lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into a winning radio show, even when most don’t recognize it.

A morning show gets up at 3am, usually is fully engaged until 1 or 2pm, then constantly thinks about tomorrow’s show until they appear again the next day.

Then they do it all over again. This is a hard job. They’re always tired, and it’s not as easy as most folks think. Saying air talent is lazy is like saying an NFL player only works 16 days a year.

We may not fully understand it, but programmers should appreciate it.


I love when they give their feedback on programming. It shows they’re engaged in the brand. Their ideas aren’t always valid, but usually there’s genius in their input  that can make the entire station come alive.

But you have to nurture it. And most of the time, you have to ask for it.

One of the best tactics a PD can employ is asking the morning show talent their opinion on promotions, contests and major decisions. Showing that respect helps them buy in to the decision. And that can be the difference between just another contest or promotion and an amazing success.

And: The Escape

Isn’t it great that they can’t wait to get out of the station when the show’s over, but can’t wait to come back in the next day and perform all over again?

That’s contagious. I love it.


Personalities make radio come alive. In fact, they make it worthwhile. It wouldn’t be the same without these outrageous, extreme and unpredictable characters. Without them, what’s the point? It’s not really that fun without air talent, is it?

Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough true personalities. There are a lot of announcers. Announcers aren’t nearly as much fun to work with. They work shifts, but don’t perform shows.

If you’re a programmer, air talent holds the key to your future. So maybe it’s time to understand everything about them and become experts in coaching talent.

Maybe I love personalities because they are rare. Or maybe they’re rare because we don’t let them be who they are.


Who’s Ready to Step Up and Fix Commercials On the Radio?

Radio’s commercial problems continue. The ads have been horrible for awhile now. But it’s becoming a crisis. And at some stations, the ads make up nearly 25% of programming time.

Listeners know we have to play some. They accept that. They’re actually quite forgiving. Even millennials are okay with putting up with some commercials, as I proved in my study on 18-30 year old listeners.

But do the commercials have to be so painful? Do the stop sets have to be so long? Does every station have to break at the same time? It’s time to fix the commercial problems.

Check out this data from NuVooDoo. Their research shows that well over half of listeners to every format think radio commercials either “don’t apply to them” or “don’t sound good”.

This is embarrassing. And frightening.

One of the issues is creative input in production. The copywriters disappeared years ago. They’ve been replaced by account executives writing commercial copy for clients. It’s horrible.

Another is the sheer number of units. As revenue decline, we keep adding more. More avails doesn’t mean more advertisers or bigger budgets. It means lower rates, which opens to the door to a lower class of advertiser. Usually not the ones who have great spots. Radio has become a steady stream of per-inquiry ads, mattress stores and pawn shops. And it’s horrible.

A third issue is the tendency of each station to schedule stop sets at exactly the same time. I know they’re trying to game the ratings system, but what we’re really doing is running listeners off the medium. One station plays commercials. The audience tries to escape the pain, and all other choices are playing the same spots.

And I haven’t even mentioned the 15, 18 or 20 (or more) minutes of commercials running every hour.


Listeners respond less to radio advertising than ever before. Perhaps it’s because they’ve become conditioned to the endless drone of bad ads. Or they’re immune to disruptive advertising of all types.

But we have an opportunity to turn this trend around.

While more and more ad dollars have been leaving traditional media, online advertising is benefiting. But there’s a backlash in the ad community and digital is getting hammered for similar reasons. There are too many ads, they’re not very good and their main advantage has been compromised. It turns out digital ads aren’t as accountable as we have been led to believe.

Video and audio pre-rolls are in our face, but don’t necessarily get viewed. Click bait ads luring clicks where we don’t intend to go, but don’t convert into sales. And hired “bots” that game the system are causing many advertisers to rethink the amount of ad dollars going to digital.

How to Fix the Commercial Problems

It’s not easy to turn our industry around, but now’s the time to take action. Listeners like radio. They really do. Even millennials. In focus groups, they get it that radio has to play spots. They just don’t understand why the commercials suck so much and why there are so many.

Here’s how we can make an impact:

Shorter Stop Sets

Look, I know PPM wisdom suggests longer stop sets and fewer interruptions is better for ratings. But the long-term damage is severe. When we hit that 8 minute break, listeners tune out. Some punch the button physically, but almost all stop listening. And stop responding to the ads. It’s time to rethink the programming clocks.

What will happen when (not if) advertisers suddenly realize that they’re paying for ears on the programming, not on their messages? Frankly, it’s amazing they haven’t figured this out already.

Radio is doing exactly what advertisers are questioning about digital ads. We’re baiting the audience to tune in, but they’re not hearing the ads. We’re making it unlistenable.

We need to reduce stop set length in two ways:

Play fewer spots overall and distribute them differently. Reducing the spot load isn’t just a good idea. It’s a tactic for survival. The industry can’t support the current spot loads. Let’s start by reducing the commercial loads to 6-8 minutes per hour.

And don’t play them in one or two breaks. It may be good for the Nielsen PPM game, but it’s horrible for the art of radio. Not to mention the benefit of our other customers: the advertiser.

What if we played three stop sets per hour of just 2 minutes each? Or three minutes, if you must? Wouldn’t that be promotable to both listeners and advertisers?

Improve The Quality

We have to get better quality in the commercials we air. It’s an emergency. The ads are terrible. They don’t work for the advertiser, and we’re doing a dis-service by pretending they drive response.

Account executives sell a schedule, get the ads on the air, then hide under their desk on Mondays hoping the client doesn’t call to find out why the weekend sale was a bust.

Let’s make a commitment to quality and creativity. Where’s the pride? This alone would help our audience shares.

And while you’re at it, make sure the commercials are relevant at the time they play. It’s becoming more and more common to hear an ad on Wednesday evening about a sale that ended the previous Sunday. Who’s paying attention to the listener experience? Not to mention the advertiser’s interest. You might think it’s not your problem. But it is. It makes us sound out of touch.

Position It

And third, let’s get creative in programming our stations again.

Radio has long battled the “too many commercials” complaint. And we’re not fooling music fans by promising “commercial free” segments. Especially when their Spotify subscription is always commercial free. Radio stations are chasing each other around the clock without regard to the bigger picture.

How about acknowledging that we play commercials, but make a guarantee or promise that we’re not going to be extreme? It wold be refreshing to hear authentic messaging promising short stop sets and limited commercials. And if you want to throw in a couple of commercial free hours each day, go for it! That’s a bonus.

A NuVooDoo study reveals that among likely ratings respondents, playing fewer commercials is highly appealing. Of all the “less commercial” messaging:

“…a claim of playing 50% fewer commercials topped the list – followed very closely by a commercial-free hour. Among those likely not to accept the offer of participating in PPM, 50% fewer commercials is a decisive number one.


There’s so much hand-wringing about the future of radio and the state of the industry. But the solution is pretty clear: Fix radio’s commercial problems by playing fewer commercials, and make them better.

Of course, that sounds simple, and it won’t be without pain. But it’s hard to argue that hanging onto the current model is more about survival than growth.

Until we make substantial changes, we won’t get well. Everything else is just gaming the system. And the audience stopped playing the game long ago.



Yes, You Can Double Your Ratings In A Year-Here’s How

Yeah, a headline like Double Your Ratings immediately makes you think it will be followed with some flippant comment like, “Get twice as many listeners.”

I’m not selling a radio “get rich quick” plan. But driving ratings may not be as impossible as many programmers and air personalities think.

Whether you have a 10-share or a 2-share, every station can double the ratings. It literally works for everyone, though I’ll admit it’s a bit more challenging double a 20-share than a 1 share.

Here’s the empowering thing: Every station can do double your ratings without external marketing and advertising. It doesn’t require a big contest. And it doesn’t depend on a promotion or marketing budget.

The truth is, it’s really simple to double your ratings.

You can double your ratings just by getting more value from existing listeners.

Here’s how:

Double Your Ratings Math

Follow along as we do a little math. Sorry, I know you’re not in radio because you love math. But I’ll keep it simple.

The following is based on adults age 25-54, in the morning show (6-10am Monday-Friday). According to Nielsen (in PPM measured markets), here’s how much a typical station’s P1 listeners tune in:

In case you’re wondering, each listening occasion lasts about 9 minutes. That’s not relevant in this discussion, but it’s interesting. Most broadcasters think it’s quite a lot more. But no matter how long the average commute time, the tune in time is much shorter.

But here’s the math that is relevant. The average P1 tunes in just 2 days per week. Repeat for emphasis: The average P1 (note average listener, not total cume, but P1) tunes in just 2 ays per week. The actual number is 2.3 days per week, but I promised to keep the math simple. Again, yes, that is P1’s. It’s not the total audience.

And that average P1 tunes in 3 times per morning.

So do the math.

2 days/week x 3 times per day = 6 quarter hours/week

That’s the credit a station currently get from P1 listeners.

The Power of +1

What if you could convince the existing audience to listen just one more time per day and one more day per week?

By getting one more tune in per day, and one more day per week, quarter-hours grow from 6 per week to 12.

3 days/week x 4 times per day = 12 quarter hours/week

You have just doubled your ratings from 6 to 12 quarter-hours. It seems like a magic trick, doesn’t it?

How to Double Your Ratings

Of course, something this simple isn’t necessarily easy. But think about the impact of just one more day per week, and one more quarter hour per day. It seems possible, right?

How does that change the way you approach your show tomorrow? Maybe you’ll spend a few more minutes preparing teases for upcoming features.

Does it make you more interested in promoting a new song? It doesn’t matter if they stay tuned to hear you or hear that song playing on your show. You still get ratings credit.

How about planning the show a few days ahead, so you can invite listeners to tune in the next day at the same time for a specific reason with a horizontal tease? Or promote something for tomorrow on Facebook and Twitter?

Will you re-think that morning show promo that runs all day instead of just slapping together another “if you missed this morning’s show, you missed this” promo.

And maybe you’ll invest a little more thought into every break, even those throw-aways early in the morning when “nobody is listening.”

Doesn’t that make you realize that every break is important? Every quarter-hour is precious. You don’t have the luxury to present anything less then “A” material.

Reality Check

Now let’s look at it a little deeper. Sorry, I know math sucks.

Consider how the audience is listening. You’re probably preparing way too much content.

If you’re on the air four hours per day, five days per week, and present four breaks per hour, you have 80 segments per week to fill.

5 days/week x 4 hours/day x 4 breaks/hour = 80

If the audience is tuning in only six quarter hours per week (see above), they are hearing only 7.5% on your show.


They miss more than 90% of the content you works so hard on each day.

Are you sure you are talking about the most top of mind material frequently enough? Are you framing content and introducing topics clearly and concisely, every single time?

And perhaps it’s not such a bad idea to create less content, make it better and  repeat that great material. This increases the chances of listeners hearing the best the show has to offer.


Many times, broadcasters are depressed when they realize how little the audience is tuned in.

But I think they should be excited. Break it down, and it’s easy to see that the challenge of winning listeners isn’t that overwhelming, is it?

Just get one more quarter hour per day. One more tune in occasion.

And get one more tune in day per week.

That’s all there is to it.

Start now. Plan one thing in tomorrow’s show that has a legitimate chance to earn one extra tune in occasion. Promote it. Tease. it. Develop multiple angles or a compelling storyline to increase the chances of gaining an advantage.

One extra quarter-hour. One extra day per week. Double your ratings. That’s all it takes.



Air Personalities: Name Tag Yourself More Effectively!

When at an event with strangers, it helps if everyone wears a name tag. Knowing a name brings strangers just a little closer together. It’s the first step to getting to know someone. The same thing happens in the relationship between radio personalities and listeners. That’s why name tagging is so important.

This seems like a minor thing, but it can be the difference between your listener feeling connected to a show and feeling distanced. From research, we know the biggest cause of tune out is listener confusion. And a major cause of confusion is when they “don’t know the people on the air.”

But it’s a really easy for personalities to overlook or forget the fact that listeners don’t know all of the personalities.

One of the problems is that there are even managers and PD’s who think air talent is so insignificant, they should not say their names.

They couldn’t be more wrong. However, there’s an art to doing it without sounding self-indulgent.

How to Name Tag on Multi-Personality Shows


Forget Original Material: Focus on Unique Performances

Every time I work with an air personality that insists on creating original material that has never been done before, a shiver runs through me.

They’re almost certainly going to fail.

There are so few truly original ideas that nobody has done before or is doing now. And talent that is so convinced they can do it are misplacing their efforts. Most of the content you see, hear and experience is an idea that’s been done many times before. It looks different and feels different because of how it’s performed and who’s performing it.

Original material doesn’t matter. Unique content does. That may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not. Here’s the difference.

Original Material

 When is the last time you had a truly original idea? Are you sure it was really original? Did you Google it? Chances are, your original material was a result of something you saw, heard or experienced elsewhere.

Seth Godin discovered that original material is a dead end to obscurity. When looking for ideas for a book, he was looking for a new topic that had never been done.

He says:

Every time we had an idea, every time we were about to submit a proposal, we discovered that there was already a book on that topic. Someone else had ‘stolen’ my idea before I had even had it.

You can spend most of your time trying to create a new feature, topic or story that nobody has done. But that’s not the key to unique performances.

Stop wasting your time! Why bother?

Your Fans Don’t Expect 100% Original Content

The key to success has nothing to do with finding all original material. Content becomes unique when you hijack the content by injecting your personality into the topic.

As Godin says:
No one expects you to do something so original, so unique, so off the wall that it has never been conceived of before. In fact, if you do that, it’s unlikely you will find the support you need to do much of anything with your idea.


Instead of obsessing over original material, focus on how to perform your content so that only you could do it. Hijacking ideas and making them your own allows you to spend your energy figuring out how to connect with your audience with an emphasis on character traits.

After all, listeners don’t become fans because of the information or the topics. They become fans because of how those things are performed in a style that’s all yours.

DeDe In The Morning’s Unique Performance

Here’s a perfect example of how it works in radio. This is DeDe in the Morning on K104/Dallas. With her co-hosts Lady Jade and Michael Shawn, listen to how this show takes a fictional story that everyone has access to and turns it into something only they could do through a unique performance:


This break comes alive because of their personalities, not because of the topic. By the way, this is a great story to use on your show, too! Steal it and perform it in your own unique style.


There’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from, borrowing, adapting and even stealing someone else’s idea. There’s a lot wrong with simply performing someone else’s content exactly as they did it.

You can’t copy your way to success. So be smart about choosing the right ideas to steal, then work hard to make those things stand out in a remarkable, delightful and important way. Original content doesn’t matter. Unique content delivered in your character voice does.

Photo Credit:

The Critical Importance of Storytelling On The Radio


Pop Quiz: What’s the most important skill a radio personality can have? Is it a great voice? A pleasant personality? A smooth way of talking up song ramps?

It’s none of those things. It’s the ability to tell stories. Storytelling is at the very core of the difference between announcers and true personalities that command attention on the air.

Fortunately, there are some basics any personality can learn and apply to tell better stories. There’s an art to relating a personal experiences on the air. But every art is governed by some principles and laws. There’s also a science to storytelling. The science is in the structure of a story. There are 5 storytelling steps, and each is important in crafting a great break on the air.

Some personalities are naturally great storytellers. They have a gift for making the listener feel special. Others (most) have to work on it.

Mastering, or at least understanding, the 5 Steps of Storytelling will improve your communication and connection skills, on the air and off. It will also tighten and sharpen the show’s performance because you’ll realize the importance of deeper show prep.

Let’s examine and demonstrate each of the 5 Steps of Storytelling.

5 Storytelling Steps Defined

Here’s a short summary of each step of a well-told on-air story: The hook, set up, dress up, payoff and black out.

Step 1: Hook

A magazine attracts attention to a story by the headline. Their headline is the hook. On magazine covers, the headline is designed for one purpose. It’s to provoke curiosity so the shopper picks it up and turns to the story. That’s it. It’s the same on the air. The hook’s sole function is to get interest in what will follow.

Hooks have to be quick. You have 7 seconds to get the hook in and lure the audience deeper into content. The hook should rarely be about you, but rather to set up a story that supports the hook.

The hook is the most important part of your story. If you don’t capture attention in the opening line(s), listeners will be gone by the time it gets “good”.

Step 2: Set Up

In the magazine metaphor, the set up is the first paragraph of the story. Once you open the magazine to the right page, the setup lures you into the rest of the article. On the air the Set Up should advance the story and frame the details that lead the audience onward.

The second step of storytelling is really the first step toward Pay Off.

Personal stories, main characters and conflict happens in the Set Up. Think of it as a bridge from the opening line to the twists and turns that build interest toward the thrilling conclusion.

A set up should have enough detail to move the story forward. In most cases, such as in the Jeff & Jer segment below, a personal story works best in the set up phase, particularly if listener participation is coming later.

Step 3: Dress Up

In this step, the break accelerates toward payoff.

How will you embellish, exaggerate and enhance the content? Turn up the volume on the story during the Dress Up step.

Adding detail, color and twists and turns is important in this phase. But every element must move the story toward the conclusion.

A lot can, and often does, go wrong in this step. The wrong details can become a detour or dead end. This usually happens because personalities fail to plan this part of the story.

Step 4: Pay Off

There are two critical elements in getting to the Pay Off. The first is building anticipation by increasing suspense. The second is protecting the outcome so the Pay Off is surprising.

Every break needs a destination.

Before the story begins, plan the outcome. In fact, this is where you should target the bulk of show prep time. It’s much easier to perform spontaneously when you know where a break is going.

Some bits don’t have a natural punchline, including the example below. That’s okay, as long as there’s a direction and a plan for getting out efficiently.

Step 5: Black Out

Once it’s over, it’s over. 

Many great breaks are ruined when talent goes for one more punchline. That one extra joke or one more phone call can turn a good break into an ordeal. It’s always better to find an exit and take it rather than hoping for another out that doesn’t come.


Storytelling structure is a fundamental element of radio performance. Personalities should use the 5 storytelling steps in every break. In Show Prep, start with the Pay Off. Identify how you want the break to end. Then develop a great Hook. With those elements in place, the Set Up and Dress Up are much easier.

Some segments will have a longer Set Up or Dress Up than others. Experiment with the 5 storytelling steps in your show prep process to find your sweet spot. As you learn to master the break structure, it will et easier and easier.

This is just a sample of the storytelling principles I share in my new online seminar, STORYTELLING BASICS. The webinar is October 9 at 1pm EST. Sign Up for the free seminar here.  The seminar is also available on demand after October 9 here.



How To Host A Radio Party

Everyone loves a party. It’s a celebration. It’s fun. And if it’s done right, guests can’t wait for the next party. But did you ever host a party? I’m sure you have. Hosting the party isn’t nearly as glamorous as going to a party.

It’s a lot of work to host a party. A great party is directly related to the amount of time and effort the host puts into planning the details and promoting – yes, promoting – the party to guests.

How to Host a Party

The list of tasks for a successful party is endless. From the planning stages of create a guest list to cleaning up after the party, it’s a big job. For example, to host a party, you have to:

Plan the theme.

Prepare the room.


Put together the playlist.

Send the invitations.

Hire a caterer.

Handle RSVPs.

Follow up with those who don’t respond.

Call and remind guests as the date gets nearer.

Then, guests have to know what to expect. What time does it start? When does it end? Is there dinner? Or appetizers? What should I wear? Can I bring a guest? Is there a charge for the drinks? What should I bring? Who else will be there? Who is it for? How do I get there? Where do I park? Where do I hang my coat?

When the party starts, the host has to make sure everyone is looked after. The host must insure guests  feel welcome and included by making introductions and facilitating conversations.

At the end of the evening, the host arranges for rides home for those who may have had a bit too much to drink. And often, they send them off with a gift bag to put a finishing touch on a great evening.

And when everyone finally leaves, guess who gets to clean up?

Your Radio Show Is a Daily Party

A radio show is a party that takes place on the air each day. The question is whether or not it’s a party listeners will tell their friends about…and want to come back.

Let’s go over some of the details it takes to host a party on the air.


Do listeners feel welcome to come to the party? Do you build anticipation with specific, direct messaging so they know what to expect? When they tune in to the party, is it clear what the party is about and who it’s for? Or do they feel lost and confused?

Have you told them exactly when and where to listen? This happens both on and off the air. Use all tools available, including email, social media and promos.

When did the last email go the audience database? Were details included about the highlights for tomorrow’s party? Did you tweet them? Text them?

Is there a guide to the show on the station’s web site with updated information so listeners can come to the party?


Fun doesn’t just happen at a party or on the air. It’s the result of careful planning and preparation. You can’t throw a party, invite a few people and hope for something good to happen. You have to set up the entertainment to match your theme and excite your guests.

How is the content targeted to fit the guest’s mood? Does it makes sense to them? Is it appropriate? Is it appealing to those on the guest list? In other words, do you curate content, turning topics into stories that resonate with the target audience.

A great host builds a party’s schedule around one main thing that stands out above all others. What is the highlight of the party that guests will talk about tomorrow? Will something happen at the party to make it memorable? Are you staging your show in a way that points listeners to one key moment, then staging it in a way that helps listeners actually remember it?

A great host arranges entertainment that makes guests feel involved, but doesn’t rely on the guests to provide the entertainment. On the radio, are the breaks entertaining on their own, or are you just throwing out a phone topic and hoping the audience has something interesting to say?


Little things make a big difference at a party. Decorations don’t make the party successful, but they add ambiance that enhances the experience. Are you using on-air decorations effectively?

Does the production match the theme of the party?  Have you taken care of little things like music beds and production effects that set the tone? Does it accent the party or does it overwhelm in an obnoxious way?


The invitations have been sent, but that doesn’t mean anyone will show up. Just because a promo aired for a feature that airs at 7:20 doesn’t mean listeners are coming for it.

A party host has to follow up on the invitation. Once appointment tune in events are set, it’s important to constantly remind them that the party is happening. Guests have other things they could be doing.

Don’t expect them to RSVP on their own. Build a plan to follow up and chase them down. Create a plan to make sure listeners come to the party!


Remember that the party is not for you. It’s for guests. A host’s job is to provide a great experience. Do this well and guests will love the host for it. They’ll tell their friends about it. And they’ll look forward to the next party, which happens to be tomorrow.

Great hosts don’t spend their time talking about themselves. Do that and one by one, all guests will leave. Nobody wants to be around self-absorbed party hosts.

Clean Up:

As soon as the party is over, clean up begins. It’s time to pick up the pieces and start planning the next one. The process starts over, with new invitations.

But before the invitations go out for tomorrow’s party, it’s a good idea to review today’s show and consider how the next one can be better.


Your guests’ (audience) enthusiasm for your event (show) will only be as great as your attention to planning (preparation) and detail (execution).

It’s a lot of work to insure an event is a success. Don’t take it for granted and expect them to just “find” you.


A Winning Personality Formula: TSP = TSL

Memorize this show prep formula and remind yourself of it every day: TSP = TSL.

The amount of time spent preparing is directly related to the amount of time spent listening. It’s not the only factor, but it’s a major contributing factor.

Most personalities will read this and think the solution is spending more time gathering topics. But just finding things to talk about is the easy part. I’m talking about deeper preparation that transforms content from topics to entertainment.

Master chefs spend time selecting ingredients to be used in a recipe. Finding the freshest vegetables and most desirable cuts of meat are the foundation of his masterpiece.

But most of the time and attention is on what he or she does with the ingredients. How will they be cooked? What is the perfect combination of spices to accent the individual tastes and textures? Should it be sautéed, broiled, baked or fried? How will it be presented? What side dishes and wine pairings will turn dining into an experience?

Mastering the fine art of performance takes time to perfect.

Show Prep Formula Perspective

Dan Wylie is the VP of Programming for Canada’s Blackburn Radio. He shared a remarkable comparison that emphasizes the importance of preparation, and the commitment it takes to excel on the air. Dan told me:

The average NFL football game lasts 3.5 hours, but there’s only about 12 minutes of actual action in each game.

Most of the game time is spent planning, preparing, organizing and adjusting to current circumstances. Things like huddles, time-outs and adjustments at the line of scrimmage makes up over 95% of the game.

That’s just the game itself. NFL players spend the rest of the week reviewing their performance. They analyze competition, learn new plays and prepare a game plan. The off-season is spent conditioning, training and keeping themselves in peak condition for next year.

Show Prep Formula: The NFL Way

The quarterback comes out of the huddle. He looks over the defense, and as the seconds on the play clock tick down to :00, a frantic series of adjustments at the line of scrimmage looks more like a fire drill than a well-oiled machine.

Blocking assignments are altered, pass routes changed. Everything about the plan has changed. Sometimes it looks like they’re making it up as they go along.

Watching quarterbacks in the NFL is a great lesson in the art of creating a morning show. They make last-second decisions. But those decisions are the result of deep preparation for every possibility.

Quarterbacks spend countless hours learning the playbook and knowing the assignment for every player on the team. Then he spends about 60 hours each week watching video of the opponent, studying tendencies and looking for clues that give him an edge.

The coaching staff prepares a game plan. A play is called in the huddle. Everyone on the team knows what is about to happen. Then, everything changes when it’s time to execute.

Changes are made based on a deep knowledge of team strengths and weaknesses, opponent’s vulnerabilities and the situation in the game. but those changes are always made based on the team’s playbook, game plan and coaching direction.

Aaron Rodgers on Show Prep

Here’s MVP Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers on the keys to winning the Super Bowl:

The key is to be able to focus on preparation. You can’t let the distractions take you away from what you need to do next. You need to show up prepared to play, expect the unexpected, and know exactly what you are going to do.

Going into the game mentally prepared helps Rodgers know exactly what plays to run, and which audible to call against each defense. When the mind is prepared, the rest is just execution and muscle memory.

And that takes time. There’s no substitute.

Visualize It

Visualization is the ability to create clear, detailed and accurate images in your mind of events that you want to create as physical reality. There are visual triggers that help quarterbacks recognize which type of defense he should expect.

We often hear talent claim their best shows are spontaneous, just “living my life on the air.” I’ve actually heard personalities say, “Don’t talk about that now. Save it for the air.” More often than not, they start their show without the tools to succeed. They haven’t prepared.

Quarterbacks don’t design new plays in the huddle. They don’t run plays that haven’t been rehearsed. They plan every detail to give them the best chance to win.

It’s true that the best moments on the air are spontaneous, just as the difference between winning and losing is the result of instant decisions on the field. But spontaneity is the product of preparing for every possible outcome. This provides the background to react when unexpected circumstances arise.

Show Prep Formula & Your 12 Minutes of Content

Most personalities are on the air between 3-5 hours per day. The average for a personality oriented morning show, coincidentally, is 3.5 hours. Just like an NFL game. On a typical music station, it’s common for a show to execute four breaks per hour, each about 3-4 minutes, or around 12 minutes of content per hour. That doesn’t seem like much, does it?

But to make it great, you must invest the time.

Rachel Ettiger is half of the morning show Jeff (Kelly) and Rachel on Virgin Radio/London, Ontario.

Rachel is one of the best I’ve ever heard in presenting Entertainment Reports. But it doesn’t happen by ripping and reading the latest headlines and hoping for the best.

I love what Rachel told me about show prep:

It takes about two hours a day to prepare the Hollywood information, understand it, digest it and know it so I can just tell it without sounding like I’m reading it. It’s a lot of work to sound spontaneous and fresh.


How much time and effort goes into your show? Do you have a show prep formula?

Like a professional athlete your show should be in a constant state of preparation planning and adjustment. Train yourself to be alert for content that applies to your show. Obsess about how your content will be presented. Plan your entry point for maximum impact.

Every day is game day. You can’t win by making it up as you go along.


An Air Personality’s Perception of a PD

I can’t resist passing this along. This is a hilarious job description for a program director. At the root of comedy is truth. Mix in some exaggeration, and presto! OF course, I love program directors. I was one once, and in the core of my soul, I still am. But you gotta admit, this is pretty funny. But I suspect it was originally conceived by an air personality.

The Man Who Makes it All Good

What do you tell friends who ask you what you do-really? Program Director, huh? Don’t the announcers just come on and say what they want? Not quite.

The Program Director is the person at a radio station responsible for “directing programming”.

Program directing usually begins at 10 a.m. when the “PD” (as he’s affectionately called) strolls in with a steaming Grande Mocha Cappuccino Latte which he actually got free through a station trade with a local coffee shop. Or, he traded some concert tickets for it.

Radio stations sometimes trade advertising for products or services. In this case, the PD is taking advantage of coffee trade set up by a former (sleazy) account executive a year ago. Everyone forgot about it, except the PD, who has keen skills like that.

At this point, the station probably owes Starbucks $2800 dollars in ads because the PD has been mooching on the trade and since the account executive that set up the deal was fired 6 months ago – nobody is keeping track.

“It’s all good,” says the PD.

Beware of Program Directors who use that phrase. Nothing is ever “all good” when somebody tells you it is – especially at a radio station. When a PD tells you “It’s all good,” he is really saying, “I’m ignoring the bad stuff because my latte is getting cold.” That’s not a bad thing. It keeps everyone positive and upbeat.

The Program Director is Like a Boat With Hats

Program Directors hire and fire the people on-the-air. Just like boats, the best day and worst day in a DJ’s life is the day he gets a new job from his Program Director and the day the DJ is canned and finally gets rid of the PD who hired him.

Most Program Directors can spot great talent. They have a sixth sense for it.

Unfortunately, once the talent is hired, most PDs also have another core skill: annoying the crap out of them over stupid, picky, meaningless issues which eventually force already unstable personalities to fantasize about a murder-suicide, involving (and starting with) the Program Director.

Sometimes the Program Director is also the Music Director. That’s called wearing two hats. Unfortunately, no one can afford two hats in the station’s budget line, which is where the record companies come in.

Record companies provide gifts to PDs like hats and other promotional materials including concert tickets, trips for listeners, t-shirts, etc. It used to be cash, cocaine, and hookers but government regulation kind of screwed that up. Thanks a lot, jerks!

Now, everything a Program Director receives has to be accounted for and disclosed. Why? Because the PD’s boss, the General Manager, wants to make sure he gets his cut.


I’m kidding. Disclosure occurs because the government doesn’t want the radio station doing any back room deals and promising to play crappy songs in return for anything of value.

Well, at least unless the public knows. In the good old days, radio had Payola (See “cash, cocaine, and hookers” above). That was great because the DJs and Program Directors were able to make a decent living by taking bribes and playing the record company’s crappy songs.

Governments finally stepped in and cleaned all that up. That’s why today, a DJ or PD can still make a decent living by taking a bribe and playing a song but ONLY if they disclose it to the listeners. Unfortunately, most radio companies frown on Payola and make employees sign a paper and swear to God they’re not taking any.

It seems the only folks who can legally take Payola anymore are the politicians who stepped in to clean up radio. Of course, they don’t call it Payola. They call it “campaign contributions”.

By the way: what’s the difference between a seedy record promoter and a lobbyist? You can trust the seedy record promoter. Wait, there is no difference.

There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Anyway, back to the Program Director. Besides directing programming and maybe overseeing music, the PD has to go to lunch everyday – usually with the guy who does the afternoon show. It is embarrassing when the bill arrives because the PD is never sure whether to offer to pay the bill with another station trade or let the afternoon DJ pay with the money he made by illegally selling station stuff on eBay.

As you can see, being a PD is a day full of hard decisions.

Sometime in the afternoon, the Program Director might have to take a meeting. He will bring in a yellow legal pad and pen but seldom write anything down. This is because anyone with ideas will usually offer to “forward” the info to the PD.

Email has been a boon to the art of program directing. Plus, Program Directors agree they can delete more listener complaints faster now thanks to broadband.

At the end of the day, the Program Director hangs around long enough to make sure the General Manager leaves before he does. This paints the Program Director in a very positive light and suggests that he’s working himself to the bone. (This tactic also works in other professions.)

Other things you should know about the Program Director:

Sometimes he has to wear a third hat and do a show on-the-air. He will often use a pseudonym because the last thing the PD wants is for listeners to know that the idiot on the air is also the idiot who is doing the program directing.

Most Program Directors have offices with signed memorabilia from rock stars. Nothing says success like a framed jock strap with Kid Rock’s signature on it.

Oh yeah, and Program Directors do not look like Andy Travis from the old TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.



6 Sure Fire Ways To Get Rid of On-Air Crutches

Okay, so this is, like, an article about, ah, all those, um, bad, uh, habits or on-air crutches that Dj’s pick up, you know. Know what I mean? Fix these things and, like, you can be super-better at your, um, job and stuff. You know? Whatever.

All air personalities develop crutches. It may be repeating certain phrases (‘How you doin’ on a Thursday?”), running thoughts and sentences together or even just saying, “uh or um” all the time. Inserting “filler” words into conversation slows the pace and gets in the way of communication.

Those fillers happen when searching for the right word or waiting for the mouth to catch up with our thoughts. Soon they become ingrained and we don’t even hear ourselves using them. It becomes a habit.

And it’s a barrier for the listener. In fact, at times it can get so annoying she may hear nothing else.

On-air Crutches: Everyone Has Them

I can virtually guarantee that if you’re on the air, you have a crutch or two. You may know about it, or maybe not. Most of the time someone needs to point it out to you.

It’s a huge problem for most broadcasters. Kevin Olmstead, who became famous for winning over $2 million winner on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, points out that breaking up a statement with fillers causes a loss in confidence from your audience.

For example, read the following lines and compare how they sound:

We’re going to hunt down terrorists and bring them to justice, dead or alive!


We’re going to, ah, hunt down terrorists, and, um, bring them to justice, uh, dead or alive.

Now imagine the President saying it at a nationwide address designed to inspire confidence in the administration. The first line sounds bold, powerful and focused. The second demonstrates less confidence, doesn’t it? It sounds tentative and lacks conviction.

Throw Away Those Crutches

It’s possible to overcome bad habits. First, you have to know they exist. Kim Welter, a member of Toastmasters and a former English teacher says,

 We seldom listen to ourselves, so we don’t know what the pattern might be,

That’s especially true for air personalities. Most dread the air check meeting. And many rarely, if ever, listen to their own show. This is where a program director or talent coach can help. If that’s not a possibility, start a new habit to air check yourself and pay specific attention to those little things that stand out as crutches.

Once they’re identified, go to work to overcome the bad habit.

Here’s how:

Change Your Posture

Changing the position in front of the microphone can make a big difference. If you normally sit down to perform, stand up. If you typically lean back, lean forward. Getting out of the comfort zone can sharpen performance because it forces the brain to be more alert.

When we get into habits and patterns, it’s easy to perform a decent break. That’s going on auto-pilot. Changing the posture can get you going down a different path.

Slow Down & Relax

Here’s an easy thing to improve: Relax. And slow down. This will also improve your vocal qualities. The fastest talker is not a powerful force. Filling each micro-second doesn’t win the biggest prize.

Practice relaxed and powerful conversation, both on and off the air. Replace crutches with silence. It will help you gather your thoughts and your voice will catch up with your brain (or vice-versa).

Speak as slowly as needed in order to maintain a thought without the crutch.

As you improve, pick up the tempo. But remember that momentum is more about keeping the break moving forward. It’s not about talking faster.

Pause Between Thoughts

Most crutches are defense mechanisms air personalities develop to fill time. One of the first lessons in radio was likely that dead air is a sin and you wouldn’t get to the promised land of ratings paradise unless you fill every second with sound.

It’s not true.

You actually don’t have to keep making noise in order to keep listener attention.

“Uh and um” occur when personalities feel (usually subconsciously) that they have to keep talking.  But pausing between sentences can actually add more drama and impact to presentation.

Pausing is an effective way to break the habit of using the same words over and over. Focus on one word that is a crutch, and every time you start to say it, just pause briefly. Collect your thoughts and move on without the word. This feels awkward at first, but it will break the habit.

It’s natural to try and fill all dead space. But it’s not awkward to the listener. It’s perfectly normal.

Prepare Better

Performing spontaneously is important, but too many personalities take that to an extreme. Plan the structure of each break and know what will be said before trying to say it. Visualize how the segment will flow.

If that doesn’t help break the habit, prep even further. Create bullet points to prompt you through the break. And if that doesn’t work, script the breaks until the habit is broken. There’s nothing wrong with writing out everything you say on the air. Some personalities actually sound more causal and spontaneous when reading from a script.

If that doesn’t work, voice-track until the crutch is gone. And force yourself to re-perform the break until you nail it without the crutch.

Work on Body Language

Sometimes habits recur when personalities perform with their head down, or their eyes closed or staring straight ahead at the microphone. Stop this practice. If you’re on a multi-personality show, make eye contact with co-hosts. If you don’t have a co-host, fake one.

Tune a television to a channel with talking heads, and make eye contact with them. Or buy a mannequin to sit across the console. Or mount a poster on the wall. Speaking directly and making eye contact helps eliminate distractions.


Breaks get off track when personalities try to do too many things at once. Chances are, this is the biggest problem. Even if the break is technically prepped, most air personalities don’t pay attention until a few seconds before the mic goes on.

Stop trying to multitask and focus on the next break. It will make a huge difference.

Be in the moment. If you’re thinking about the next segment, the next song, the next element…or worse, texting a friend…the habits will never get better. And they may become worse.


It takes discipline and attention to detail to get rid of bad habits, but you can do it! The result: You’ll come off as more confident, more prepared and more credible. You’ll also be more interesting.

Try it and let me know how it works for you.

Thanks to The Blade for examples and help in creating this article. Click here.

5 Fast, Easy Ways to Improve Interview Skills

Some personalities are naturally good interviewers. Others are horrible, and no matter how much they work at it, they just don’t seem to get it right. After all, just like in a relationship, you just can’t change the person more than 5 or 10%. But everyone can improve interview skills.

With a little time and attention, these skills can be a most useful weapon in the personality’s arsenal. And it’s not just skills that apply to guests on your show. When you improve interview skills, you’ll become better with phone callers and interacting with co-hosts.

5 Ways To Improve Interview Skills

There are many ways to make a guest appearance work. Follow these guidelines to grow your skills from boring to interesting:

Do Your Homework

Most personalities know their subject matter well enough, but too often preparation is generic. They haven’t gotten past the typical questions and answers.

Seriously: How many times have you heard a celebrity asked, “Who was your biggest influence?” Boring!!!!

Dig deeper to be truly prepared for the interview. That will improve your chances of getting a response that will make your audience sit up and take notice.

It’s easy research your material on the internet. Find out all you can about your guest. That familiarity will lead to a confidence and comfort zone when the interview is underway.

Larry King is one of the all-time great interviewers. His method was to force himself to think like a listener. All of his interviews were conducted from the audience’s perspective!

Get away from the “where are you going next” type questions. Nobody really cares. Instead, ask about their best and worst experiences on the road.

Here’s an example from Geoff & Dana at 93.7 The Breeze in Vero Beach. When they talked to Leann Rimes, Geoff did some research and found out that she doesn’t like to be tickled. This minor character trait turned into a charming and memorable moment on the air.

In the first part of the interview, she says hello and you can tell that she’s not excited about being on. But listen to how Geoff organically asks about tickling. She lights up, is suddenly interested and they have a discussion that Leann has never had on the air before.

This opens the door to a terrific interview segment.

Make Your Guest Comfortable

The more comfortable they are with your studio, your people and your environment, the better the interview will go.

So ask your guest to arrive early, if it’s an in-studio interview. It warms them up and makes them sound more involved in your show. This is a small detail that makes a big difference when conducting live interviews.

If your interview is via phone, try to get a few minutes with them in advance to establish a  relationship. Just a couple of minutes can make the difference between being distant and detached or closer and more intimate.

When the interview begins, relax. In fact, don’t think of it as an interview at all. Make it a conversation.

Conversations are far more compelling. They’re interesting. And more relatable.

Here’s the difference.

An interview usually flows like this:

You: Question
Guest: Answer
You: New Question
Guest: New Answer
You: New Question
Guest: New Answer

It’s stiff, almost scripted.

The personality asking questions is so focused on asking the next question they don’t actually hear the response. And they fail to pick up on verbal cues that can be the most interesting part of the conversation.

Meanwhile, the guest is so accustomed to answering the same questions, they often don’t really hear the question. They go into auto-pilot.

Change the interview into a conversation like this:

You: Question
Guest: Answer
You: Respond to the answer
Guest: Responds to your response
You: Respond to their response
Guest Responds to Your response

Do you see how this conversation flows naturally? It starts with the same question, but the performers allow exploration of the topic.

Embrace The Silence Gap

How many times have you heard an air personality ask a question, then just as the response gets interesting, they ask another question? Talent has a tendency to fill pauses with talk. But silence can be one of the most powerful tools for an interviewer.

Magicians Penn & Teller are brilliant entertainers highly skilled in the art of communication. They know how to delight the audience by framing their content (magic tricks) with personality. They call it the Silence Gap.

In a CBS TV interview, Lee Cowan asked them,

Does it ever get awkward for you not to talk? It’s awkward for me to do an interview with someone I know isn’t going to answer any questions!

Teller shrugged, then explained,

Not speaking is just about the most intimate thing that you can do.

Pausing, Cowan filled the silence gap:

Intimate in terms of …

Teller interrupted:

See? You felt like you had to speak. If we just stop, and look at each other, that gets intimate fast, and that’s what I feel when I’m on stage.

Many personalities miss magical moments because they feel a need to avoid “dead air”. It’s human nature to fill a silence gap, and if you don’t do fill it, your guest will. That’s when the best responses usually happen.

This extends to phone calls, too. The listener will tell you how they feel if you let them, but it won’t be the first thing that pops into their mind.

Know the Answers

A good lawyer doesn’t start a line of questioning if they don’t already know the answers. If you’ve done your homework, you should know what to expect. And if you know what to expect, you can construct the interview in a way that builds drama and expectation.

TV talk hosts use screeners for pre-interviews to make sure the conversation goes the way they want it. Based on the pre-interview, they can eliminate questions that will be less interesting! You may not be able to conduct a pre-interview, but you can improve your chances for success by imagining how the interview will go.

However, there’s a danger in knowing too much. Sometimes, personalities tend to  answer their own questions with a long, fact-filled question. One of the most common mistakes is leaving the guest with nothing more than a “yes or no” answer.

Make sure questions are brief, clear and lead to a longer, detailed response.

DeDe in the Morning on K104/Dallas is a great interviewer. When Deion Sanders was on with them, DeDe took on a topic most personalities would stay away from: Suicide. This led to a powerful, emotional segment with Deion revealing some heartfelt emotion.

This segment was one break in a series with Deion, but without a doubt the most powerful.

Encourage Deeper Engagement

In that segment, did you notice how the show allowed Deion to go deeper when he talked about his personal thoughts of suicide while at the top of his career? They didn’t get in the way or get uncomfortable with the conversation.

They not only practiced Penn & Teller’s Silence Gap technique, they encouraged Sanders to open up by going into some awkward and uncomfortable territory.

The station is hip-hop and R&B, and rarely talks religion, but when Deion shared his story about turning to Christianity, DeDe was in the moment. She went with it. That took courage. This can’t happen if you’re focused on your next question. It requires the confidence to listen and respond.

This was the surprising, left-turn moment. The unexpected twist made this an unforgettable moment for the show.

Stephen Colbert is known as a comedian, but has a gift of engaging his guests to get deeper with them. His tactic: First, ask a question they don’t expect, and show sympathy. Watch how Colbert interviewed Joe Biden on his late night TV show:

This takes courage, confidence and it takes some time to dig into the guest’s life.

Do some research and find out what your guest is really passionate about. Talk about something that excites them.


Good interviews are hard, but you can improve your performance with a little time and attention to these skills. Mastering these 5 techniques won’t make a bad interview great, but it will improve your chances of getting more value from those guests.

Join me for A Guide to Better Interviews, a free webinar at 1pm EDT on July 10. It’s free to attend, but advance registration is required. Sign up now here.