How To Tell a Good Complaint From a Bad One

It seemed like a never-ending battle with the audience. Our morning show was the legendary Jeff & Jer, who were pretty good at what they did as evidenced by their induction into the Radio Hall of Fame. But barely a day passed without a complaint. It drove us crazy.

Until we revised the station’s audience persona. This exercise was a catalyst that allowed us to transform a radio brand.

I’ll tell you the story, but if you expect the happy ending to be that complaints stop, you’ll be disappointed. The complaints never stopped. However, it did change the way I responded to complaints. And it helped me understand our audience much more intimately.

On Star 100.7/San Diego, our station’s values were to be a bright, fun, positive choice for adult women to escape from the real world. We did it with a sense of humor, larger-than-life personalities, high profile promotions and an overall station personality of goodness. It translated into tremendous success.

Jeff & Jer were the morning show, the engine that pulled the train. Our philosophy was to be Disneyland on the radio dial: a happy place where there are no problems, no worries and nothing bad ever happens. There are no bad days at Disneyland, and moms don’t have to worry about children being exposed to something that would embarrass the parents.

That didn’t mean we were prudes, but at it’s edgiest, the station was PG-13. We were sensitive to the role we played in listeners lives. We were far safer than most radio stations in the market, and more family-friendly than popular prime time television sitcoms like Friends or Seinfeld.

But listeners still complain.

Overcoming a Listener Complaint

We also had a policy to respond to every communication from every listener. Each phone call is returned and each email got a personal response.

So when I got an email, letter or phone call complaining that “I can’t listen to your station with my kids in the car”, a conversation followed. For a long time, I engaged the listener, challenging them on their position.

That’s always a mistake, by the way. The customer (listener) is always right in their opinion. And nothing you say can change that opinion.

Most of the time, their beef would be over something that we considered silly. For instance, the show had a recurring feature where they’d pick a letter from the alphabet, and Jerry would list the names for boobs that start with that letter. Here’s an example:

Okay, I guess it’s a little edgy to say “boobs” on the air, but in the context of how it’s presented, it’s really not something that would qualify as “dirty” or salacious.

So using sound programming judgement, we learned to tolerate complaints but didn’t take them seriously.

But everything changed when we conducted a research project using the OAR method (Observe, Ask, Research) of audience evaluation to better understand our listener. This is a fundamental step in the process of identifying traits when building an audience persona.

How We Transformed a Radio Brand

As we gathered more insight, we gained insight into the lives of our listener, and it revealed hidden values that we couldn’t (or at least hadn’t) recognized.

We knew that the women we targeted had kids and lived in the suburbs, but among the deeper things we learned in the project:

  • They worked full time because they had to, not because they wanted to.
  • Their family needed two incomes to pay their mortgage in San Diego’s expensive housing market.
  • Their kids were very involved in activities around school and the community.
  • They felt guilty for not spending enough time with their kids/family.
  • Most of them felt they had very little time for themselves.
  • They had a nagging feeling that someone else was raising their children and life was out of control.
  • Their #1 worry was that their kids would grow up with a strong morale background.
  • They trusted our station, and Jeff & Jer were a safe place for their kids-like Disneyland.

When we understood this about them, the reason for complaints became much clearer. When they’re rushing out the door in the morning, loading the kids in the SUV and going over homework in the car on the way to school, we were their soundtrack, friend, and to an extent, escape.

So no matter how fun or harmless the “boobs” feature was, it set off alarms in our listener’s heads. It was like a villain was on the loose at Disneyland. Even if it wasn’t “dirty”, it suddenly wasn’t as safe.

Armed with this insight, we made adjustments, but didn’t change programming or eliminate the feature. However, we were sensitive to the audience values that were violated from time to time. We changed in two ways.

Responding to Complaints

First, I learned to stop arguing with listeners when they complained, because it was clear what inspired their comments.

It wasn’t their fault! They trusted us, and we had to respect that trust. I realized that when listeners complained, their greatest concern was to make sure the relationship they trusted wasn’t changing. That their favorite radio station was still there for them. They really wanted to be heard. And it was my job to listen.

So the first remedy was to change how I responded to the audience. The second was to adjust how we presented content.

On-Air Sensitivity

When I shared the information with Jeff & Jer, the light came on, and they immediately said,

We have to stop doing things like that.

But that wasn’t the point. The content actually fit well with their character brand profiles. Changing the show’s content by eliminating material because of complaint would remove some traits that made up the rich and diverse personality mix.

They came up with a brilliant solution, demonstrating another reason they’re in the radio Hall of Fame.

Playing on the Disney theme, they reasoned that not every ride was for all kids.

So they started framing edgier segments differently. Instead of just presenting “Names for Boobs”, they set it up with an audio version of a “You Must Be This Tall to Ride” sign.

Here’s an example of what they might say:

Jeff: “Okay, we know you’re probably on your way to work or driving your kids to school, so if you have young kids in the car…you probably will need to turn the radio to another station in about 3 minutes, because Jerry is at it again…and some of you probably don’t want your kids to hear what he’s going to be doing next.”

In the background, Jerry’s complaining, “Come on, it’s not that bad. It’s nothing. It’s fun. They love it when we do this.”

The effect? Tune in. Suspense. Expectation. Mystery. Who’s going to tune out after a tease like this?

They had to hear what’s coming up.

The Lesson

This is a great example of how to use an audience persona. The information gathered doesn’t always lead to an immediate change in your brand or product, but the understanding that comes from the process has a profound impact on everything you do.

It affects how you write promos, create posts on social media, choose content and present material. It causes broadcasters to think through promotions differently and adjust communication with listeners through text messages and emails.

And, it may even alter how you relate to annoying complaints.

By the way, the adjustments didn’t stop, or even reduce, complaints. That wasn’t the goal. In fact, we want complaints. It means we’re creating emotional reactions and provoking a strong response. Listeners don’t complain about things taht don’t matter to them.

It did help us understand why they complained, though. And knowing that allowed us to respond appropriately.

Get An Audience Persona

If you haven’t built an audience persona yet, get started by watching this webinar on demand and downloading the templates to help build a deep persona profile.

If you need help, let me know and we can arrange to guide you through the process.

Photo credit:


The Danger of Dead Ends and Detours

Dead ends and detours are the most frustrating things on a road trip. But they’re even more destructive on radio shows. On the air, both are equally dangerous on the air.

When traveling, two unforeseen things occur:

A detour is annoying because it routes you in an unplanned and unintended direction. And the longer the detour, the further out of the way it gets.

It’s annoying at first, but some detours turn out to be okay. Some even enjoyable. They take you places you would otherwise miss. In fact, some detours can become the highlight of your trip.

Another unexpected event is coming to a dead-end. A road block. Dead ends are never a good thing. The only solution is to turn around and go back because it’s impossible to move forward.

The same things happen on the air. Dead ends and detours destroy momentum, annoy listeners and turn otherwise terrific breaks into a horrible listening experience.

Avoiding Dead Ends and Detours

Show prep will protect against dead ends and detours. Most often, breaks bog down due to lack of detailed planning. On solo shows, this is almost always the cause of a break that doesn’t quite het where it’s intended. Just having an idea of which direction the content should flow and hoping for the best is rarely the recipe for success.

On multi-cast shows, it’s a little more complicated. Assigning and enforcing show roles is important for many reasons, but this is one of the most valuable. When a host takes charge of the break, and each cast member trusts the host, a show will have fewer problems.

And learning improv skills helps solo performers and multi-personality shows.

But it’s still going to happen from time to time. So it helps to know what causes these problems. This will help in the planning and preparation process.

Dead Ends

Dead ends are comments that make it difficult to continue forward in a direction.

A common problem is when a personality asks a rhetorical question, planning to continue with a thought. A co-host responds with a definitive answer rather than advancing the story line.

Here’s an example:

Host: Man, what would we do without our quarterback?

Co-host: Yep. I agree. We’d be in trouble. He’s really good.

Clearly the host is setting up a discussion. But the co-host is a barrier to the break moving forward. There’s nowhere to go with the comment. It’s a dead end, and a momentum killer. It adds nothing to the conversation.

Bad Questions Are Dead Ends

Another source of dead ends is poor question construction. Many programmers coach talent to ask questions to spark listener reaction. That’s a fine tactic, as long as the questions are good.

But personalities often craft questions that don’t lead to colorful responses or stories. Closed questions leave the audience with nowhere to go. The phone doesn’t ring because the question hasn’t provoked a response.

Here are examples of closed questions.

Do you agree with the President’s decision? (The only possible answer is yes or no).
How would you like to win $1,000? (Of course I would).
Do you think the Cowboys will win the game tonight? (Again, yes or no).

Each of these is a dead end. Even if the listener (or a co-host) responds, it doesn’t move the entertainment forward.

These, on the other hand, these are open-ended questions that lead to a more interesting response:

What would you do if you were the President?
You just found $1,000. How would you spend it?
What are the keys to the Cowboys winning tonight?

It’s pretty easy to see how these would all inspire more interesting responses isn’t it?

Difference Between Dead Ends and Detours

There are essential differences between radio personalities, but the ability to advance storylines is a skill that is clearly a big advantage.

Listen for it, and it’s easy to hear in radio shows. Some shows just sound highly engaging, expertly segueing from one topic to another in a single break. They leave me wishing they talked more.

Other shows sound like they work hard, maybe even prepare content in depth. But they can’t hold interest for 30 seconds. Their breaks are well structured, they are focused and they get to the point quickly, but dead ends destroy the listening experience.

Stu and Angie on Hot AC Majic 100 in Ottawa have a great rapport, and have mastered the art of conversation. Listen to how they flow seamlessly from one element to another.

This rather simple break transitions naturally from weather to a local community event about smoking to personal observation and opinion about teenage behavior.

On the surface, the break is ordinary. It’s routine. But it’s so  well structured and easy to listen to. It’s brilliant in simplicity, but the key is how they keep the communication flowing by avoiding dead ends and detours.

5 Things That Bring Breaks to a Halt

It’s fairly common for personalities to get off topic and allow breaks to get stuck in a circular pattern. It happens to every show from time to time.

Usually it happens in one of these 5 things:


When personalities just don’t know when enough is enough and keep going to hit one extra punchline, momentum is killed.

Sometimes, a second (or third, or even fourth) punchline is fine. In fact, mini-pay offs are like dropping audio bread crumbs. And that’s a critical part of leading the audience through content.

But when the break reaches a high point-the end-and the show just can’t stop, it’s like slamming into a brick wall at 100 mph.

If there is more than one punch line, great! Just be sure that each is better than the previous. And each mini-payoff should support and set up the big conclusion. That will help build momentum toward an end point.

Phone Calls

Air talent loves to go to the phones. In some cases, it sounds like some personalities expect the audience to provide the entertainment for the show.

Look, I love phone calls on the air. But only if the calls add to the storyline of the break.

When a call doesn’t move the storyline forward, it destroys momentum. It’s a dead end.

And that happens mostly in one of two situations:

  1. We take one too many phone calls. Everything is going along well, but that one extra call adds nothing new and suddenly the whole break feels heavy. It bogs down. It’s a dead end.
  2. Or, the call isn’ screened, the caller is unprepared and the host doesn’t know what they’re going to say. Then they introduce an angle that takes the break off-topic. It’s a detour.

Protect against this by designing topics to attract stories, not just responses.

For example, asking listeners, “What’s your favorite food for a party?” will lead to boring responses. I mean, who cares? And each call is going to sound like the last: “My favorite food is _______ because ________.” Each caller will be repetitious.

But if you rephrase the topic to “Party food disasters…what did you plan and what went wrong?”, you’ll generate stories that can add color to your topic.


Multiple personality shows face unique challenges to stay on track and avoid bringing breaks to a screeching halt.

It happens when cast members are unprepared, aren’t paying attention or are thinking more about what they’re going to say than supporting the storyteller.

But the biggest cause is shows who want to preserve the surprising, spontaneous response on the air. So co-hosts have no idea where the break is going.

I hear it when a personality is leading a break, telling a compelling story. They say something that reminds another character of a personal story. So they tell it. And just like that, the break goes off-topic.

It’s a detour. It may be well-intentioned, but it doesn’t matter. The audience is confused and it’s hard to get back on track.

It also happens when there are too many stories in a break. Even if a personality waits until the “right moment”, that next, related story probably isn’t going to be more compelling than the first. And both fail.

It’s not hard to protect against this, but it takes discipline and attention. Each cast member should become proficient in the improv skill of listen and respond. Be in the moment and react naturally.


The fourth mistake personalities make is stacking too many topics in a break, or more accurately, not drilling deep enough in a topic to find a story.

This usually happens from poor development in the preparation process.

Effective breaks happen when personalities find an emotional essence for a break. That means finding the story inside the topic.

Find the story and you will discover that most details in any topic are irrelevant. Eliminate the details. This will naturally narrow the focus of a topic and make it easier to keep the audience engaged.

You’ll also find that it allows more personality to cut through.


Finally, breaks reach a screeching halt when there are too many details that don’t advance the premise of the story. Facts aren’t interesting, but many personalities seem to think they need to be thorough and complete in presenting a break. But they don’t.

Descriptive, colorful details are essential in telling a story. But if the details point the wrong way, the story bogs down (dead end) and is hard to follow (detour).

Avoid the Screeching Halt

Each of these five things cause breaks to become too complicated, causing listeners to become confused. And when they’re confused, they get bored. That leads to a loss of attention.

And then: tune out.

When forward momentum is lost, breaks deteriorate. This kills personality even if the content is great.

Test the Topic. Before putting anything on the air, try a question or setup on a friend, family member or co-worker. Or put it up on Facebook or Twitter. Pay attention to their response. If you get a short, boring reply, your premise is too factual. Rephrase it, and find a way to introduce the topic so it produces a more colorful response. When you find a good response, practice advancing the conversation, probing for more of their story. Work on it, and soon you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier.

Get Into Improv: Improv skills help personalities on team shows and solo performers by understanding how to listen and respond, avoid blocking and responding “in the moment”.


Detours aren’t the end of the road but you get lost. They’re frustrating and annoying. On a road trip, you have to deal with it. On the air, listeners have a choice. They tune out.

Dead ends are the end of the road, and there’s nowhere to go. And listeners not only tune out, they try to avoid going on that road ever again! And that, of course, is very bad.

Dead ends and detours are hazardous to a radio show. Pay attention to how each break is constructed and work on skills to avoid these common pitfalls.

Photo credit:


Why Your Show Sucks On Monday-And How To Fix It

Most everyone hates Mondays. There’s even a Boomtown Rats song that made it an anthem in the 80s.  That day is tough for listeners and for radio personalities.  It’s different than every other day. It feels different. Response is different. And the audience? They’re just…different. There are at least 3 reasons your show sucks on Monday.

And I have four things to help deal with it.

Why is it different? Here are three key reasons:

Monday Is Different

It’s easy to understand why listener moods are different after a weekend in a different, and usually more fun, routine.

They’ve been in weekend mode, and so have you. Now it’s time to crank it up again. They’re moving a little slower, and so is their family. The kids don’t want to get up. They don’t want to get up. And everyone is just a little cranky on Monday morning.

The result is that when they finally get started, it’s a more frantic pace.

Those clever segments that normally bring out a great response don’t produce the same results on Monday morning because they’re not as available or as eager to play along with your show.

You Are Different

If you’re on a morning show, you’ve been off for three days (one of the advantages of a morning show is that virtually every weekend is a three day weekend, from 10am on Friday through Sunday night).

It’s hard to shift gears again and get into a different mindset. Sleep patterns changed the last two nights. You’re tired, and have one of those weekend hangovers.

Show prep is probably not as thorough or as complete as it is on other days. Things happened over the weekend, and you haven’t been paying as much attention as usual. Plus, since everyone hit the door early on Friday, Monday’s show probably isn’t quite as put together as other days.

Like the audience, you’re adjusting to a new week. It feels different because it is different.

Physical Differences

If that’s not enough, studies show that you are physically different on Mondays. You tire more quickly and psychologically are less optimistic. It’s what you might call the Monday Morning Blahs.

All three of these are real factors.

So what’s the solution? Is that just how it is? Are we doomed to have a bad show because it’s Monday?  Never!

Fix That Monday Morning Show

Making Monday’s show great creates an opportunity. Remember, every show is dragging. What a great time to take advantage of those lazy competitors who are mailing it in!

Here are four things to pump it up and make it sizzle:

Show Prep. It’s always a good idea to plan a show further in advance. Some shows have laid out a show plan up to a full week in advance. This makes it much easier to get ahead of Monday morning.

It’s tempting to rush out the door right after Friday’s last break, but make it a priority to spend a few minutes to insure that Monday is ready to go. Start that process on Thursday if possible. I’m all for personalities getting into weekend mode as soon as possible, but establish a discipline lays out the content for the show before hitting the door.

Start Earlier. Knowing Monday is more of a grind, make it a policy to get to the studio earlier than usual on Mondays. Try to come in 30 minutes earlier if possible, but just 15 minutes can make a big difference.

This helps multi-cast shows to reconnect, plan content based on new weekend developments and get the cob-webs out before turning on the mic.

It also helps to play some warm-up games to get the blood flowing before the show begins. It may seem silly, but it’s amazing how quickly it helps pump up the energy.

Plan The Show Without Listener Interaction. Since the audience is dragging, they’re far less likely to participate. Getting upset at them won’t help. And begging for phone calls sounds horrible and desperate. Accept that the phones won’t light up like it might on other days, and prepare the show as if nobody will call.

This is good advice every day. Too many shows count on listener contributions to drive the show. Phone calls on the air are terrific, but planning for the audience to provide entertainment value is lazy. Plan the show for no phone calls. If they do, it’s a bonus.

Expect less contribution from your listener. This means your interactive content must be simpler, easier to play with and require less thought than other days might.

Prepare Psychologically. Most successes in life are a product of attitude. Mondays happen and there is nothing we can do to stop them. But we can program ourselves psychologically to start the week full of enthusiasm.

Figure out how to look forward to the new week with an attitude of new opportunities. Change your mood and Monday will follow.


Monday will never be fun. And it will always be different. That’s why it takes a little more focus and extra effort to make it work.

Supercharge every Monday by preparing for it and knowing that it’s one of the most difficult days of the week. This goes double for Tuesdays following a long weekend!

And if you need some ideas to jump-start the show on Monday mornings, we have some of those for you right here.


How Talent and PD’s Can Learn to Celebrate Air Check Meetings

In a perfect world, air talent would receive regular input, filled with constructive, positive comments. The PD would be supportive and upbeat. And upper management would act as a protective shield from complaints. In this make-believe world, talent could look forward to, and even celebrate, air check meetings.

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

Jimmy Kimmel explains what reviewing his performance is like:

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate Air Check Meetings

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

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

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

Produce Improvement: 

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

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

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

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

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

Prevent Bad Habits: 

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

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

Further Discussion: 

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

Bad Air Check Sessions

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

George Martin: The Beatles PD

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

george martin beatles

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

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

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


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

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


3 Secrets To Become an On-Air Superstar

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?


How to Be Prepared, Yet Still Perform In the Moment

Here’s a term that could unlock the next level of your performance: Relaxed readiness.

Air personalities struggle finding the balance between being highly prepared to perform and “winging it”. I’ve actually had personalities tell me that they can just come in and talk about their life, confident that they would be able to find something entertaining. On air personality actually told me:

I just bring my experiences to the air. It’s good enough. My show is totally spontaneous. I plan nothing. That’s how I get such a natural response.

Okay. Fine. How is that working out for you (hint: Not very well)?

This type of approach almost always sounds sloppy and unprepared. And it’s one of the things that is causing radio shows to lose ground in the battle for attention. In some cases , it’s rampant.

I actually heard this on live sports radio. A talk host was interviewing Trent Green, the former NFL quarterback turned television personality. Green’s show on the NFL Network is quite popular, and known for a loose, fun personality approach to football, with high energy dialogue.

The host asked Trent about how they prepare for the broadcast. Green responded that the team spends many hours off the air exploring topics and discussing angles. They debate the best approach in searching of the most entertaining way to present content. When they hit on something, their producer takes notes and crafts the organic dialogue into a structured topic list for the show.

That’s a healthy approach to injecting point of view and individual personalities into content.

Then The Radio Host Said THIS

The art of show prep was obviously lost on the radio host. He asked,

Do you ever have those times in the production meeting when you get on a roll, and the producer stops you and tells you to save it for the air so that it’s fresh and you don’t lose the magic?

Green paused and uncomfortably long time, as if trying to think of how to respond. Then he said,

No, that literally never happens. We go through everything in detail so we know what to expect, what’s going to work and not work and so we don’t step all over each other.

There you go. I’m all for spontaneity. It produces surprise and some of the most memorably moments in a performance. But the spontaneity shouldn’t be a surprise to the performer!

Many personalities think they can get away with “winging it.” They create a topic list and don’t plan the approach so the rest of their show can react naturally. This is a mistake.

It’s no wonder radio is struggling, and programmers place strict limits on talk breaks. In cases like this, it’s self-inflicted. We can’t control everything but we can control how we prepare, giving us the best possible chance of being important to the audience.

Every other form of entertainment spends more time and attention in preparation than live radio shows. The audience is granting you a precious gift when they give you their time. Respect that time and don’t waste the attention they give you.

On the other hand, some personalities don’t feel confident unless they’ve outlined every detail. Some go so far as to script it in advance. It sounds like it’s rehearsed. It’s predictable and lacks excitement.

There is a solution. You can be prepared and ready to perform, yet preserve natural, spontaneous reactions with Relaxed Readiness.

Tina Fey Explains Show Prep: Relaxed Readiness

Comedian Tina Fey is one of the most naturally likable improvisational performers in the world. She’s likable, spontaneous and always comes off as being in control. How does she do it?

Here’s what she said when asked what it takes to be ready to perform:

I call it relaxed readiness. There’s a lot of preparation. So preparation, preparation, preparation. And then you want to be in a state of relaxed readiness so that if something spontaneous does happen, you’re there and can take advantage of that moment. But I think you only get there with a lot of prep work.

I love that so much. It’s exactly at the heart of what radio personalities should be doing. That’s why Time Spent Listening is in direct proportion to Time Spent Preparing.

That’s why, when you’re prepared for virtually anything that can happen, great personalities can make the best of mistakes. In her book Bossypants, Fey relates one of her rules of improv:

There are no mistakes, only opportunities, which doesn’t mean that things can’t go wrong, but that it’s your job to make the best of the situation you find yourself in.

If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what?  Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel.  I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike…. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents.  And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident.  I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.


Relaxed readiness happens when you have invested the time and effort to know your content in enough depth to perform spontaneously. Don’t script it. Prepare it in great depth. It’ll give you confidence to unleash your personality and create some magical moments.


Don’t Start At The Beginning

If you want to get the attention of listeners, you must hook your audience quickly, Nobody knows more about the importance of beginnings than novelists and screenwriters, but we think their rules of entertainment doesn’t apply to us.

After all, you are delivering four hours of entertainment every day. Listeners tune in to hear what’s going on in our lives and in our studio. We aren’t writing fiction, we’re doing a great radio show about US. That’s sarcasm, by the way, in case you didn’t pick up on it.

The Hook is the first step of a well constructed break, followed by Set-Up, Dress-Up, Payoff and Blackout-and it’s the single most important of the five. With that in mind, here are some guidelines from writers that you can apply to your show.

Here’s how you can become a better storyteller:

Hook Your Audience: Do NOT start at the beginning!

Advice for first-time novelists is, “Throw away the first chapter.” Chances are, chapter 2 is where it starts to get interesting. Start THERE, where the action begins!

What if you remove the first chapter of your break? The first 30 seconds or 2 minutes of a break? Too much? Yes, this means dropping the listener right in to the middle, but if it’s well crafted and compelling, they won’t care.

Get to the meat as quickly as possible. If you’re interviewing a guest, give just enough information to establish credibility. You might even ask the first question before you introduce the guest to hook the audience on the topic. Then, back up and put the question into context.

Don’t put too much emphasis on the amount of context the listener/reader really needs in advance. They’ll get it, if you develop the story in the setup.

Show, Don’t Tell

If you have to TELL your audience that they should care, you’re screwed. They either care or they don’t. It’s either relevant or it isn’t.

The motivation for caring should be inherent in the content. That is addressed in preparation, not in performance. Don’t explain it. Just do it and make it compelling enough to gain their attention.

No History Lessons

How long would you read a book that started with a complete historical perspective before the story begins? How long would you watch a James Bond movie if they explained the character’s history instead of showing the chase scene?

If you feel obligated to include the history, at least don’t put it up front. Bury it where it’ll do the least damage.To be fair, there are some topics where history is interesting and useful, but the historical overview won’t hook your audience.

MYTH: Credibility Is Important

How many times do you see a presentation where the speaker has bullet points and slides on their background? Nobody cares. It doesn’t make what they’re talking about better. And your listeners don’t care about you, either. They care about themselves.

Don’t try and prove how smart you are. If you have something to say, say it. Your brilliance will emerge. You don’t have to give your history or background.

This demonstrates your respect for the audience by caring about their time. When you care about the quality of their time, you’ll show it off by being entertaining, engaging, compelling and interesting. Or at least usefulBy being prepared.

Hook Your Audience: 7 Tricks

If you’re struggling with hooks, or just starting out, there are a few tricks. Use them to open breaks with an impact:

Begin with a question the listener wants answered

It doesn’t have to be a literal question, of course, but suggest a question that begs to be answered by piquing their curiosity. In a good movie, the viewer is immediately intrigued: “Who is this guy? Why is he in this situation? Will he get out of it? What’s this secret thing they keep referring to?”

Make them curious

Curiosity is seduction. Sometimes we suck the life out of topics, when they could be fascinating. Find passion in your topic. Preparation. If YOU don’t care – if you aren’t curious why should they?

Be provocative

Challenge a belief. Even if they instantly disagree, they’ll stay long enough to get mad at you. Start with your most dramatic and/or unpopular assertion. Get it out there. Don’t build toward it. Say it! Then support it (again, set up).

Evoke empathy

Start with a story about real people, or a character in a scenario they identify with.

Promise there will be conflict

We would rarely read a novel or see a movie if not for the promise of conflict. Tension and suspense are compelling. How will this turn out?

Mystery, suspense, intrigue

How many bad books and movies have you stuck with just because you had to find out who did it? Even bad movies or bad books. Look at your topic and find a way to add mystery. ANYTHING worth talking or writing about has potential for mystery which plays on their curiosity.

Conclusion: Hook Your Audience

The hook is the most important part of a story, and the critical part of your radio break.

Your job is to touch the audience emotionally in some way. They remember what they feel.

Your goal should be as author Paul O’Neil stated,

Grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, send your thumbs into her windpipe in the second, and hold her against the wall until the end.

That’s a lofty goal, but you can start by just getting them to give you one more moment. One more tune in. Ten more seconds. Then another. And another. Every break, every moment. It will soon become habit.

This is one of the 7 points of reference for air personalities in my 7-point ratings tune up. I’ll show you how to have your best ratings period ever in an exclusive, free webinar on March 13, 2018. Get details and sign up for the webinar here.


Dealing With Tragedy On The Air

It seems that a week rarely goes by without a tragedy in the world. Each affects your audience emotionally and personally. And almost every time, radio stations are taken by surprise because it’s impossible to plan exactly what to do in every situation But we can prepare for how to deal with tragedy and emergencies when they happen. This guide will help you sort the steps to relate to your audience when they need you most.

Of course, there are many types of tragedy and emergencies. Some are personal (a sick child, a father who’s been laid off). Others are personal to a cast member. Many times, they’re local (natural disasters, for instance). And then there’s the increasingly common events of terrorism and mass killings.

When something extraordinary happens, will you be there to reflect it, be a part of it? Are you prepared to change direction as the situation calls for it? Jeff & Jer called it the ability to change course to “know how to be really good when things are really bad.”

Radio can shine and air personalities can stand out in times of tragedy. And I’m not talking about covering the news event.

As Deborah Parenti of Radio Ink puts it:

Cable news outlets run 24/7 updates from news sources and press conferences. They hash over the events with talking heads, “experts,” and “analysts”, interspersed with a few eye witness interviews repeated over and over throughout the day. Depending on the channel, some of it is also presented through a political lens. Indeed, it’s a role they have carved out as part of their 24/7 cycle, one which has also shunted broadcast TV coverage to more of a “bulletin” status…But where radio distinguishes itself and what truly spotlights its niche among all media is/was and will continue to be, its distinct ability to reach out, dig in and be part of the community. That’s a far different role than reporting on the community.

One of the most important things you can do as an air talent is find a way to become the show to tune in when something major happens. Weather emergencies, local tragedies and city-wide celebrations are moments that matter for your show. Your link to the audience is magnified. It’s the time when you have to be at your best.

Capture The Moment Emotionally

The ability to capture the moment can be the difference between success and failure. If you are able to identify those moments when they occur, react quickly and tap into your audience’s reaction with an emotional sincerity, you can make giant strides in your goal of attaining local celebrity status. this happens when you’re able to stay within your character profile, yet speak passionately in times when listeners are highly emotional.

Great personalities are able to speak with passion. Showing that you truly care about a subject can go a long way toward winning listeners. But you can overdo it when you pour too much emotion into the presentation.

Fast Company says:

Passion in speaking is like spice in cooking. If you’ve ever added cayenne pepper to a dish, you know you need to be careful to use just the right amount. Too much emotion in your speaking is like dumping in a whole tablespoon of hot pepper—it’ll be the only thing anyone will notice, and they won’t want to finish.

Passion vs. Emotion

Passion is important in delivery, only in small doses. To connect emotionally, you’ll need to use your personality skills.

The only thing the audience will recall is your emotional display. Speak with passion to allow your message to take on vivid color but stay calm. When listeners are surprised by the intensity of emotion, they miss your message. Emotions should be the spice to your recipe, not the main ingredient.

When you’re too emotional, your show become fatiguing. A little goes a long way. Your voice can become sharp, and you come off as if you’re shouting. Or, you are overcome with grief, and your voice sounds light, lacking the power of motivation. The audience might hear you, but they won’t be listening. At least, not for long.

While staying under control, build toward a high point, and use the rhythm of your delivery to add power to segments. If you stay in the same vocal tone too long, listeners become immune to the message.

Vary your pace, tone and inflection to keep attention and cause response.

Dealing With Tragedy: How To Respond

Each tragedy requires a different response. And while there’s no formula, you can work through this process to get a handle on your reaction.

Is It Local?

The first consideration is whether the tragedy is a local event. If it is, many of the recommendations and guidelines that follow don’t apply.

When an event  disrupts life in your community, your response should be bigger and deeper. It will also have an affect on how you should react over time. If the tragedy impacts your audience where they live, plan to be talking about it more often and for a longer period of time.

But don’t avoid it because the “event” is somewhere else. Many stations get sucked into “it’s not local”. That’s just an excuse. If the audience is affected by it and is talking about it, it’s local.

Be Who You Are

Unless you’re a news station, don’t try to cover it as a news story. The temptation is to distribute information and provide updates. You may even be tempted to broadcast a sister station’s news coverage. Don’t.

If you run news on your show, isolate the facts to your newscasts. It may make sense to add more frequent news updates, depending on the impact and timing of the tragedy. But your personality content should always be emotionally connecting with the audience. And you should tease the next news update frequently.

For most shows, it’s not about providing the facts or being on top of a breaking news story. Listeners are coming to your station for your reaction. This is a time to reflect your character through the filter of the audience’s mood.

The closer the event hits your target audience, the greater your response. But don’t try to be someone else.

Adjust, Don’t Change

In other words, know who you are and what you are for. What is the primary reason your audience comes to you? Be that. Your content will adjust, of course, but don’t change the nature of your personality brand.

Sometimes personalities try to explore the reasons for a tragedy. Unless you’re a news or talk station, that’s not your role. You can’t solve the problem and your audience doesn’t expect you to come up with any solutions. The goal should be to have a strong emotional reaction, but don’t let it become a rant on all the problems that led to the event.

When tragedy strikes, you will be taken out of your routine. Your comfort zone is challenged. That’s okay. It’s good to stretch your boundaries. Just stay within yourself and don’t try to do more than you are capable of

If you’re not sure what to do, it’s more important to talk about it frequently than to talk about it in depth.  One show I work makes it a point to reference a tragic event every quarter hour in some way, but doesn’t turn the whole show into constant coverage.

Respond Quickly

Most of the time, being quick is more important than being polished. Responding quickly is key. Timing is critical. Information moves at light-speed. While you’re not going to compete for covering the story, your response must consider recent developments. And you have to be on it while the story is top-of-mind.

When San Diego was on fire (a Sunday) and tens of thousands of listeners were driven from their homes, my stations took action. By Monday afternoon, we had over $1 million in cash to give directly to the victims. We didn’t wait. We took action.

Your response will vary depending on the timing of the event. Key questions to consider:

  • How long ago did it happen? If it happens at night, and you’re on the next morning, how is your audience feeling right now? Don’t re-hash the facts and details just because you didn’t happen to be on the air at the time of the event.
  • How much does the audience know? If the story just broke, or is happening while you’re on the air, it’s still fresh, and listeners are probably not fully informed. This would require a slightly different approach. But remember, information moves quickly. They’re probably just as informed (or more) than you are.

The most important thing is to make a decision and take action. Don’t wait. You’ll miss the moment. Get on the air and get moving. Figure out the details later.

Brand Values

How closely does this tragedy hit your audience’s lifestyle? When a gunman shot up an Orlando nightclub, it affected everyone in the world, not just the local Orlando community. The same happened in the Arianna Grande concert bombings, especially for hit music stations and parents of her fans, mostly young girls.

The more it impacts the lifestyle of your audience, the more it touches your brand values. And as a result, the attention it should receive.

When you think about it, every major tragedy affects your audience’s world. Find an entry point that can be an emotional connection for your brand. That might be collecting stuffed animals for children. Or taking care of pets and animals. Or a diaper drive for moms. If you’re a Christian station, maybe there’s a church that has been impacted that you can help.

Find a need in the disaster area and focus on that.

Psychological Impact

Some tragedies are physical. Others are psychological. If the event took place in another geographic location, chances are your audience is more impacted emotionally. The more you can speak emotionally and tap into those feelings, the more effective you’ll be.

Every event has a psychological impact on at least some of your audience. Judge the extent of that damage and respond to how your audience is feeling. Then craft a response that connects with the emotions of that psychological impact.

At one station I work with, the station targets adult women, many of whom have school-aged children. The host of the show is married to a school Superintendent. Following a school shooting, the show brought him on to talk about how he’s dealing with it in the school district. How will their teachers be talking to the kids the next day?

That’s an example of injected the show’s unique personality brand into the topic. At another station, the host has four year old daughter. Following a dramatic event that involved children, the show brought a guest expert on to explain how he could talk to a four-year old about the tragedy. This is quite different than just having an expert on to talk about the event and give general advice. It puts the show’s brand into the story.

Personal Response

If you are personally affected by the news, use that emotion. Bring your perspective to the audience, especially if it’s consistent with how they’re feeling. If you can be the personality that puts into words how they are feeling, you can become a source of comfort.

However, if you’re really upset about it personally, work that out before you go on the air. Talk to someone. You need to be calm, collected and in control of the show. When you’re too emotional, your voice can become sharp, and you come off as if you’re shouting. Or, you are overcome with grief, and your voice sounds light, lacking the power of motivation. The audience might hear you, but they won’t be listening.

What You Need to Gather

While hearing you on the air brings comfort to your fans, it’s also important that you have some elements in place. Here’s what should be on your checklist to gather as soon as possible:


Assign one person the task of searching local and national websites for information that fit your brand’s needs. This can have value for on-air and your online/social presence. Make sure they follow up and stay up to date. If you don’t have a producer, recruit someone to help. It could be a friend, relative or someone from another department on the station. Your attention should be focused on how you’ll perform and craft your on-air content.

Get Contact Information:

Who can you reach as s spokesperson that has authority or can add an interesting angle? Television reporters? Newspaper people? News anchors? Depending on the situation, you might also track down community leaders from schools or businesses, head of charities, Pastors of churches, etc. Use social media to track them down. You may not use them to report on the news, but those close to the tragedy can often give you a unique angle to explore.

Interesting Personalities:

If there’s a character or two in your city that’s doing something unusual, it’s a great way to talk about the event without sounding like everyone else. Look into social media to see how ordinary people are taking action. Find the ones that are most interesting, reach out and form a relationship.

Possible Angles:

Figure out what kind of stories you will be relating. Find something unique, such as: What happens to pets? How will you protect your family to get them all in the same place? Do you need help or can you help (get folks together)? Are there scams to watch out for?

Be Real, But Positive

As the audience gets past the initial shock, they won’t want to wallow in the negativity of the story for long. Pay attention to find the right time to turn the corner and represent hope and positivity.

Most every tragedy has good news inside the horrors. Mr. Rogers called it, “Look for the helpers” and tell those stories.

Again, use social media to find sources of content. It’s even better if you can develop a relationship with one of the heroes and spotlight their story. This brings it home in a whole new way.

Public Response (Promotion)

If you’re planning a public reaction (promotion), your station should have a process in place.

Once you have a handle on the tragedy, plan your reaction. Here’s a step-by-step process for finding how to deal with tragedy on the air.

  1. If organizing a promotion or public response, make sure everything you do is user-friendly and easy to participate. Pick a high-profile public location, like a mall or major retail area. Stage it there.
  2. Then, invite partners to get involved. See if other media, such as television stations, want to participate. Chances are, they’re looking for an angle to cover without having to create their own thing. Let them promote you!
  3. Find your niche and tell that story in a powerful, sensitive and emotional way. What matches your personality and brand? Find that and make it famous

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, my station (Star 100.7) bought a giant bell, similar to the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

We installed it in a public location, then invited listeners to come and honor the victims. Each name of the 2,996 victims as written on a piece of paper. Listeners came, chose a name, said the name on the air and rang the bell.

We carried it all on the air live. It took over 8 hours. No commercials. Was this great PPM programming? Of course not. It was hard to listen to. And it was a tune out. But what an impact. It was powerful, dramatic and it stood out from everything else.

It was hard and took time and resources. But it paid off.

The easy thing to do is join in the thousands of others that promote a donation code or tap into existing relief campaigns.

Don’t do that.

It’s lazy and you won’t get any credit. Not that it’s all about credit, but come on! We know why you’re doing it!

Forget about those agencies that are working on their campaigns. Why promote them? Do something on your own. Be unique and make a difference.


At the end of the day, you can’t plan these things, but you can be prepared. This is part of being a well-rounded personality with layers of audience appeal.

For more on how to speak emotionally when tragedy strikes and examples of great shows doing it well, check out How to Be Really Good When Things Are Really Bad.

Photo Credit:



Library Depth & How Often Songs Should Play

The ratings come in. You have a TSL (time spent listening) problem. The cume went up, but your average quarter hours are down. Your first thought is to examine music library depth.

Then the research comes in and the perceptual confirms it. Listeners say you repeat songs too much.

Listeners tell you they can predict the next song, and air talent is constantly complaining about having to play the same music over and over. You get phone calls asking why you play the same songs over and over.

What’s a programmer to do? Your natural reaction is logical. The answer is obvious, right? Fix this problem by adding more titles to the library to reduce fatigue and increase variety.

It won’t work.

9 Realities of Music Library Depth

In fact, slowing rotations is exactly the wrong move. Here’s why:

Ratings Are Misleading

There’s an inverse relationship between cume growth and TSL decline. I call it the two-switch theory of radio programming.

When reach (weekly cume) increases, it’s almost always a result of attracting secondary and tertiary listeners, not fans. These secondary listeners spend far less time with your station, so average TSL naturally declines.

Your audience reach has increased! Congratulations. You should expect a lower TSL. Avoid knee-jerk reactions to ratings.

More Songs=Weaker Library

You were already playing the best music for your audience (well, probably). That’s probably one reason  you’re attracting more listener to your station.

Every song added is weaker than what is on. It has less appeal to the cume you’ve attracted. As a result, it dilutes the power of your playlist.

The more songs you add, the weaker your library. The appeal of the station goes down and you lose the button-punch battle.

What’s Your Criteria?

If library depth is based on music testing, re-evaluate the criteria used to merit airplay.

Many programmers gravitate toward playing songs with low negative scores. That seems logical, but many times, the songs with higher negatives also bring out more favorites. Removing high negative songs may result in less frequent reasons for the audience to leave, but it also chases away passionate positives in some song scores. That passion is the incentive to stay tuned.

Theoretical attempts to reduce tune-out can cause bland stations. Those “non-negative’ songs almost always lack strong positives resulting in a “sameness” factor that is fatiguing and adds to a repetition perception.

Weak Song Repetition

Repetition issues arise when playing too many average or weak songs, not listener favorites. Playing a bad song once is one time  too many. My favorite song? You can’t play it often enough.

Test this theory the next time a listener complains. Ask which song is played too much. Then ask if they LIKE that song. Chances are they don’t. Then ask for their FAVORITE song and if you also play that too much. They’ll say “No, you should play it more”. Most likely, it’s in the same, or more frequent, rotation.

Sound Repetition

Repetition is also influenced by “sameness of sound”. Similar songs by the same artist (especially over-played recurrents and gold) add to fatigue.

And artists who tend to sound the same can increase perceived repetition.

Many/most listeners don’t distinguish between similar sounding songs by the same artist (Katy Perry, for example) and familiar songs by similar sounding artists. So while your music software is not breaking your scheduling rules, listeners hear it differently.

Not Your Fault-Maybe

Listeners generally have no idea which station they’re listening to when they hear a song. They heard it on the radio and assign “repetition” to their favorite station. Congratulations! That’s you! You’ll be credited for a repetition image, even if you’re not the station causing it.

It’s not fair, but it’s reality. And there’s not much you can do about it.

So if listeners are going to assign you a repetition image, at least be repetitious with  the best songs!

Or Maybe It Is

Repetition often results from poor music scheduling more than library depth. Listeners are creatures of habit, tuning in at the same times each day. You can have the largest library in all of radio, but if the same songs play in the same dayparts, hours and quarter-hours, they won’t experience the depth of your library.

It doesn’t matter how many titles you play if listeners hear the same ones. Another overlooked factor is repetition based on lifestyle. If they hear the same song on their drive to and from work, you might have a repetition problem.

Repetition Images May Be Good

If they really are hearing the same songs over and over on your station, that means they’re listening-a lot. Attempting to “fix” this “problem” removes the reason they listen in the first place, and reduces your appeal to both heavy listening fans and those who listen much less.

The more popular your station becomes, the more your repetition complaints will rise. Wear it like a badge of honor!


Fans always say they want “more variety”. We assume they want more depth and breadth in music.

What they want is more variety of their personal favorites. You can’t satisfy personal favorites, because everyone has a different idea of what that favorite is. Trying to satisfy the library depth problem will take you down a dark, lonely path toward ratings oblivion.

Personal Bias & Library Depth

Face it. You listen more than anyone else to your radio station. Your average P1 invests just a few minutes a day with your station. Don’t you want them to hear the best version of your brand every time? Can you afford to have their hear anything else?

That alone will lead to a tighter playlist.

It’s only natural for your personal tastes and preferences to creep into music decisions. Fight the temptation to compromise the best interest of the station because you like a certain song or genre of music.

Yes, your “gut” is important, but not as important as programming to the preferences of the audience.

When In Doubt, Leave It Out

One of my earliest programming lessons came from consultant Frank Felix. In an ultra-competitive battle between two classic rock stations, I was an advocate of a longer playlist. Playing “Stairway” every 19 hours seemed like a sure way to burn our library and develop negative images.

To Felix, library depth was an easy problem to solve.

I’ll never forget Frank telling me:

The way to defeat a direct competitor is that when they play nothing but the 20 greatest songs of all time, you play the 19 greatest. That way, once every 20 songs, you’re playing a bigger hit.

That philosophy applies to all competitive situations. Listeners never get tired of hearing their favorite songs. They quickly tire of average songs they don’t like so much.

If you’re not sure about those borderline songs that could go either way, leave them off. Generally speaking, it’s true that you don’t get hurt by what you don’t play.

Program For Passion

When assigning songs to categories, pay particular attention to those songs with high passion. Favor those with the most favorite scores. Many songs test well because nobody dislikes them. Those songs usually have low burn, and are very play-able.

However, they don’t deliver the same excitement as high-scoring songs driven by favorites. It’s fine to accept more burn in a high-passion song.

This applies especially to CHR stations. How many powers should you have? There really aren’t more than 3-4 true power hits at any given time. Beyond that are titles that are not yet familiar or lack the passion. Avoid the temptation to add more “A” songs, just to fill the category. It’s better to adjust the category based on the strength of current music.


If short playlists beat large lists, how can you maximize your library? Learn to recycle effectively.

Very few listeners tuned in between 10am and 5pm will also be listening from 11pm to 6am. In fact, almost none. So why waste fresh library tracks when virtually nobody will hear the variety?

Recycling recurrent and gold categories is simply replaying the songs used during certain daytime hours in the overnight.

Some stations take it a step further and replay the exact playlist overnight. This allows the music programmer to spend more time perfecting the schedule in the most important hours rather than wasting resources on low-leverage times.

Most music scheduling systems handle recycling easily.


Finding the right rotations is more art than science, and it will take some trial and error to find the balance that works best for your brand.

Exercise discipline, objectivity and use research tools as a guide.



How To Figure Out How Long Should Your Spring Promotion Run

One of the most difficult decisions for programmers, promotion managers and air talent is figuring out promotion length.

How long should a campaign last? A weekend? 2 weeks? A month? How can you decide how long a promotion should run? You want it to be long enough to establish roots and get traction. But not so long it starts to get boring.

In the past, radio stations extended promotions over a longer period of time. It was common for a contest to last 10, 12, or 13 weeks. Now, with shorter attention spans and a faster paced society, promotion length is impacted. The shelf life is generally shorter. It’s become more typical for a campaign to run 6-8 weeks, and many times a major promotion lasts less than a month.

The trend toward shorter and more concentrated promotions is going to continue. So how can you decide the proper length for a promotion campaign?

Here are six things you should consider:

How To Decide Promotion Length

There are many variables that impact how long your campaign should last. Here are six of the most important considerations:

How Big is the Promotion?

Obviously, a larger promotion can be sustained longer than a shorter one. And usually, the bigger the payoff, the longer the promotion can last.

This is not an absolute, but generally a bigger prize will command interest over a longer period, particularly if the promotion involves a large pay off. It’s logical, right?

But no matter how big the prize, if the storyline of the campaign doesn’t have enough depth, it’s hard to keep it fresh and interesting. I’ve been involved with many contests with big money prizes that just couldn’t hold up because the story wasn’t strong enough to support it. And I’ve also had great promotions with relatively small payoffs that last much longer.

If possible, extend the length of your campaign by building the promotion in stages. Instead of rolling out every aspect of the contest, keep some surprises back and add drama in layers. This also makes it easier for your audience to follow and understand.

A promotion built in layers has movement, momentum and will be perceived as even bigger than the actual payoff. It’s also more interesting to the non-player.


Regardless of the actual promotion length, factor pre-selling into the campaign. Short promotions are challenging because your secondary listeners (also known as P2’s and P3’s) take longer to catch on. They figure out what you’re doing just as it’s winding down.

With pre-promotion, you can establish familiarity in a campaign while still running the actual promotion for a shorter time period.

If it’s a short promotion, pre-sell longer. In this regard, radio stations can take a page from movie companies, rolling out a campaign for a new film in stages. You’ve probably seen trailers that promote the next big blockbuster months or even years before it’s released. The closer it gets, it becomes more specific, revealing more details. And in turn, building anticipation for the launch.

Caution: Promoting too far in advance without updating the messaging and creative assets will result in fatigue before the promotion even begins.


Many stations make a big mistake by back-selling their campaigns too long.

Once the promotion is over, it’s over. Listeners really don’t care who won, unless it was them. However, they do care that there actually was a winner. So use all of your resources to promote winners.

But on the air, back-selling should be short. Very short.

The ideal back-sell would creatively segue into a pre-promotion for the next campaign. By leveraging the success of the previous promotion, you’re build momentum for the next one while paying off the first.

if you are clever, you can transition from one chapter into a new one, much the way a movie company promotes a trilogy. One movie ends by setting up the next one.

When back-selling, the philosophy is, Don’t tell me what I missed…tell me what I’m GOING to miss. The promotion ends, but the story doesn’t.

Interest Level

Another factor that influences the length has nothing to do with the active audience. It’s all about the story that has already happened.

This is common in cause marketing.

You can constantly tell a story of how the cause is making an impact by revealing the benefits of the campaign in the past. That can extend the shelf life because it is about a story, not the payoff.

The actual promotion is a tactic that is just one in a series of ongoing events that all contribute to a larger story.

Promotion Weight

Generally, most stations don’t run nearly enough promos to reach critical mass. Attention spans are short, listeners are not paying much attention and it takes multiple impressions to create response.

No matter how simple the promotion, the audience just won’t get it right away. For best results, plan to overwhelm listeners with more promos than you think you need. That’s the only way to make an impact.

The shorter your campaign, the more heavily you should promote. Promoting a campaign 4-5 times per hour is not too much, as long as the promos are creative and interesting. But you can’t sustain this level for months. So a key consideration in duration of the promotion is taking into account how heavily you’re planning to market it.

In our fast-paced. competitive world, it’s usually better to run heavy promotion for short periods and then move into the next aggressive campaign.

Promote it Off Air

Great contests and promotions attract attention beyond the existing audience. They usually are more effective driving repeat listening occasions, but some promotions can also build cume if the promotion is interesting enough.

So doesn’t it make sense to leverage that aspect by promoting it externally? Don’t just rely on promos to drive it.

Along with ads on TV, direct mail or outdoor, use other resources. Social media advertising is highly effective and can be targeted by lifestyle, interest, demographics and geography. This is especially valuable if you’re also using it to build your station database.

If you have a good database, run extensive email campaigns. I have clients that run multi-week (up to 8 week) promotions with almost no on-air promotion. They drive it all off-the air, and it’s converting into measurable listening increases.


Okay, so how long should a promotion be? Obviously, the answer depends on a variety of factors. But if you force an answer, generally they should be at least two weeks, but not more than six.

On occasion, a promotion will run up to 10 weeks. More than that, and you’re probably stretching a bit.



Get Your Own Pro Video Studio For Less Than $500

It’s clear that video is a powerful tool for communication, engagement, exposing a brand, selling a product and getting attention online. There’s no reason to invest thousands of dollars in expensive cameras and video gear. You can build your own video studio on the cheap!

Most of us are overwhelmed easily at the prospect of starting a video strategy, starting with the equipment and technology needed. But it’s not that intimidating when you really get into it, and you probably have some of the most important gear you need already.

Degree of Difficulty

You’ll be amazed at what you can produce in your video studio that’s built for less than $500. Not only is it  a fully-functional professional video studio, you can put it almost anywhere. You really don’t need much space.

Rick Morton, morning personality on Z90/San Diego explains  how he did it in this short self-produced video, which was created entirely in one corner of his morning show’s office:

Pretty cool, huh? And remarkably easy. Once it’s set up, you can generate a ton of high quality video.

Video Studio Shopping List

Here’s everything you need, with prices: to build your own video studio on the cheap:


An unused office or just a wall in a low traffic area will do fine. If there’s absolutely no space at your station, do it at home. It’s a tax deduction! You will want to find a place that’s as quiet as possible. If it’s just outside the break room, you may have some background noise or have to re-record some of the footage and that can get annoying.

Cost: $0


For greatest flexibility, paint part of your studio area white (a clean white background can look great in some videos). Paint another part chromakey green (for a green screen background that can be replaced with any image you choose). In a third section add a backdrop with your logo. Paint it on or get a large vinyl sticker or  poster from a copy shop. Another nice effect is the backdrop with repeated logos on a plain backdrop. You’ve seen these in many press conferences.

If you’re building the studio to be shared with other stations in your cluster, make sure the logo can be replaced easily and quickly. Or, you may just go with the chromakey background to make it as flexible as your imagination.

Maximum Cost: $50.

Note: If you don’t want to paint a wall, or don’t have a wall to paint, get a green screen background for about $20. You can hang it whenever and wherever you need it.


You can do a lot using the green screen and graphic or video backgrounds in production, but you should also have something that provides depth and identifies with your brand, like an aerial shot of your city. That’s what Rick used in the video above.

Try to find a high resolution photo and have it enlarged at a copy center. If you can’t find one, check with a local traffic service and see if they’ll take a picture from their helicopter the next time they’re out.

Cost: $30.


You could spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a professional camera, but you don’t really need to. All you really need is a smartphone, which you probably already have. Many video cameras on phones are higher quality than DSLR video. Cost: $0.

If you want a “real” camera, get a GoPro HERO3. Cost $199.

If you do a lot of action shots, it might help having this, but you don’t need it to start your studio.


This is a big help in getting the perfect angle, and they’re dirt cheap.

Get the  Stargoods Flexible Iphone Tripod Mini Octopus (Set of 3). Cost $16.99 (for 3). Or, upgrade for a better one, like this. GripTight GorillaPod Stand Cost: $29.


This is the most important item of all. Most amateur video is poor just because it’s not well-lit. Natural lighting is always best, but you can’t always count on it, especially if you’re in an internal office with no windows or a studio. So invest in a lighting kit like the 600W Umbrella Continuous Lighting Kit by LimoStudio.

They’re not expensive, and will make a huge difference in how your videos look. There’s a bit of a learning curve to use lighting kits most effectively, but you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. And there’s always Google and YouTube to help you.

Cost: Under $100.


You could spend several hundred dollars for professional software like Final Cut Pro but there’s no point unless you’re planning to become the next Spielberg.

If you have a Mac, you already have iMovie. That’s all you need. If you have a Windows PC, download simple video software that you can find it for free.

Cost: $50 (maximum).


When you create a video, upload it to your account on YouTube (start your own Channel) or Vimeo. You can upload it in HD, and the popularity of these platforms will lead to more potential fans discovering your work.

Cost: $0.


That’s it. You might find you can do this for as little as $200 if have most of the hardware (smartphone, computer).  But it will certainly be less than $500.

Now get to work. I can’t wait to see what you create.


Admit it: You See Yourself Somewhere In This Morning Show Video

Film maker Mark W. Gray has a short form video starring Bill Jones (you may have seen him as the news man on Glee) that may hit a little too close to home!



Radio is Not Free: There’s a Cost of Listening

Virtually everything comes with a price and a value. That’s what drives every transaction, and the economy. Yet since consumers don’t pay cash for radio, it’s easy for broadcasters to assume that it’s free. It’s not. Radio has a cost of listening.

Starbucks charges $4 for a cup of coffee. Their cost of materials is far less. There’s a lot of profit in that cup of Joe. But the value delivered to customers is worth more than the the ingredients. Otherwise, why would you keep paying for it?

The Starbucks brand is wrapped in their environment. That includes the stores in which they serve coffee. The convenience of being on nearly every corner. Their commitment to serving the community. The principles on which their brand is built. All of these things represent value that cause coffee drinkers to happily pay several times more than they would at 7-11.

An iPhone is valued by the Apple customer, though competing brands offer smartphones with similar features at a lower cost. Apple prospers because they deliver an experience to their customer. Their market share grows even though their products are relatively expensive devices with high margins.

These examples are easy to understand. Commerce takes place when the perceived value of a product or service is equal to or greater than the cost.

But what does that have to do with radio? Plenty. And it’s a good thing.

Is The Cost Of Listening Driving Away Audience?

Radio is a different business model. Money doesn’t change hands when a listening occasion takes place. But the price/value relationship still applies. Each listener makes entertainment choices for specific reasons. It could be to hear their favorite song, find out what’s happening in town, win a contest, get a laugh or simply find station to match their mood.

Your ability to deliver an experience that meets the desire is what your show is worth. The greater the value, the more the customer (listener) will put up with.

But there’s a price. Listeners pay for your “product” with time. The longer it takes to realize value, the greater the cost of listening.

Too many commercials (and poorly produced commercials) add to the cost of listening. The same goes for directionless, pointless talk. A contest comes on that’s too hard to play or they think they can’t win? It drives up the cost. After awhile, it gets expensive to listen.

Your topics are unfocused or confusing. A song (or three) I don’t like. Information that’s unimportant or irrelevant. Unfamiliar or uninspiring  personalities. Another 7 minute stop set. I’m not sure I want to pay the price of staying tuned in.

There are dozens of distractions that increase the cost of listening to your radio. And there are more and more choices to shop elsewhere.

When the cost becomes too great, listeners leave. They may punch the button to find another radio show or turn to satellite radio or their personal device. They may turn on Spotify or Apple Music, or go to a podcast.

Some escape to YouTube, interact with social media, play a video game, turn on a movie or any number of other entertainment options. Your competition isn’t just other radio stations, you know.

Keeping The Cost Of Listening Affordable

In a research project with Strategic Solutions Research, we explored what causes tune out. That’s another way of identifying what adds to the cost of listening.

Those six things are:

Not Getting Attention Quickly

Content That Has No Context

Slow Pacing

Not Enough Payoffs


They Just Don’t Care.

Each of the six are detailed here.

You can reduce the cost of listening by providing more value. There are two solutions:

Lower Your Prices

Identify what you’re doing that is running off customers, and stop doing it. This is the first choice of many programmers. We add commercial-free blocks of music, stack stop sets into quarter hours with lower listening levels and tighten the personalities to reduce all that “talk”.

The lower your prices approach can be effective, to an extent. Objectively evaluate every detail of your station or show as if you were a listener. Now get rid of all unnecessary clutter. You’ll be shocked at how much you can clean up.

You won’t be able to remove all of these things, of course. Commercials are with us for awhile. But the more streamlined the station, the better your listener experience. Therefore, you make your station more affordable. It’s a better value proposition.

Increase Value

The other way to deliver a better experience is by increasing the benefits of the experience. With your list of most important brand qualities in mind, what can you add to make you memorable, unique and irreplaceable?

How can you deliver this experience on the air in every break and extend that value as a meaningful part of your audience’s lives on multiple platforms? Does what you offer match what they pay to tune in-and stay tuned in-to your show? To your station?

Chances are, those things revolve around your personality that can’t be duplicated.

Great personalities can charge more for their entertainment because it’s worth it.


When we deliver more value than is expected, radio becomes a bargain. How are you connecting to the audience emotionally to deliver an experience greater than the ingredients of your product?


How To Screen Calls…Without a Call Screener

Most radio shows make use of listeners on the air, if they can. And for good reason. Great callers can add personality to a show and act as another microphone to bring out more of your personality. But it’s getting harder and harder to get calls. There are a variety of reasons, but one of the main problems is that most of us don’t talk on the phone as much as in the past. It’s easier to text or respond on social media.

And there’s another problem. Great callers are a terrific addition to a segment. But only if they’re great callers. Most of those calling in to try and get on the air aren’t great callers. And many of them end up on the air anyway because we’re so happy that someone (anyone) called. Or, a show doesn’t have time to properly prepare the caller. That’s usually because the phone screener position was eliminated (or never existed) long ago. And often, the producer was soon to follow.

That’s a shame. And it’s not good for high profile personalities. But it’s a reality that has caused more than a few personalities to compromise the quality of callers that get on the air.

So what’s a radio show to do? Is it possible to screen calls effectively? Yes, it is, if you’re creative, know what you’re doing and use the tools available to you.

Getting Great Callers

One of the keys to getting great callers on the air is getting more callers to call in. That makes sense, right? The more you have to choose from, the greater the chance of finding someone useful and interesting. But that doesn’t solve the screening problem. Because the more lines that ring, the more frantic it becomes in the studio.

Callers are not entertainers. In fact, most  are not even as qualified as guests on your show. So you can’t just hope that when you go to the caller they have something to say. Fortunately, there are shortcuts to screening calls and getting better responders on the air

Use Social Media

More and more shows are driving response to their social media pages. That’s fine, and it’s more likely to attract a broader audience response. But honestly? It’s really boring to hear personalities reading what listeners have typed on their Facebook page. Come on! We’re an audio medium. But you can use Facebook to get great callers on your show.

Did you ever wonder how some shows get calls without ever giving the phone number on the air? They’re usually more prepared that most shows who beg for calls and give the phone number every 10 minutes. Just plan your content further in advance. Put the topic on social media 1-3 days before you plan to air it, and see what kind of response you get.

Note: you’ll get more if you participate in the discussion that should follow.

When there are interesting comments, send a private message to the user, asking if they’ll be on the air with you. You can schedule the call at their convenience. Recording it will help you know where the call is going, and you’ll be able to tell the on-air story more effectively. And, you’ll have several calls ready to go before you even launch the topic. It’s like magic. As an added benefit, you can tell them when they’ll be on the air and they will be likely to tune in. And probably tell some friends.

Text Messaging

This is another popular form of communication, and a great way to screen calls. When introducing a topic, promote response by text. It works! And the texters will usually be more thoughtful efficient and edited! Now don’t rush one the air to read the texts. Message the best responders back and ask if you can call them and talk about it on the air. They’re not perfectly screened, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

Recycle Callers

When you get a great caller, use them for multiple topics. If someone sounds great on one segment, chances are they’ll have a comment (or something you can use) on another. That means you’ll have to prepare further in advance (again, you should be doing this anyway). Keep a list of topics in the studio and re-use your best callers. That’s one of the tips for getting the most from phone calls I share here.

Use Ringers

The most certain way to get great callers is to stack the deck by setting up each caller. Use ringers or regular contributors. Many shows have a roster of go-to folks they can use anytime. You can use family, friends, co-workers, personalities from other markets, listeners who sound great, actors and actresses or just about anyone else who can pull it off on the air.

Ringers are great because you can get them to say what you want, can record them in advance and make sure they fit into your storyline.


You don’t need a lot of calls to make a great phone segment. You just need a few great callers. If a random caller can add to your show, great! But chances are, they need to be screened and coached.

With a little creativity, you can not only attract responses you can use, they’ll be prepared and ready to perform the way you want! It’s not quite like having a producer or screener, but it’s a great shortcut. A word of warning though: Putting great callers on the air will produce a lot more callers, whether you provide the phone number or not. So you may want to beg for that producer/phone screener position after all!



9 Reasons To Love With 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 interesting people you could possibly meet. As a talent coach, it’s a privilege to sort through the challenges in so many formats and markets. Here are 9 reasons I love air personalities.

[tweet_box design=”box_09″]Here are just 9 reasons Tracy Johnson loves air personalities.[/tweet_box]

They Throw Talent Fits

Talent is typically volatile and their personality causes them to be excitable. When they throw a talent fit, it’s fun, comes from a place of passion (and insecurity) and usually passes pretty quickly.

It’s also healthy. When They keep things bottled up, it’s like a volcano. When the pressure gets too high, they blow up! Much better to have it happen in short outbursts.

If you’re a PD, take a deep breath, 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

They can’t win without both. On Wall Street, they say stocks are driven by greed and fear. This is kind of like that.

Great personalities are driven by a deep desire to be popular and famous. I love hearing them talk about themselves. That ego needs to be fed, but also must be managed.

But they’re also fearful. They need to be supported and understood.

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


It’s a childlike enthusiasm. Some call it immaturity. I call it a fun, youthful, charming and curious way of looking at the world.

Never, ever, ever suppress it. 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’re playing in the yard!


Great talent lays it out there every day. This is a hard job. And the really good ones reveal things about their personal lives that causes them to be  vulnerable.

None of us like to be criticized, and when talent gets a complaint, it’s personal. That’s why they’re highly sensitive.

They need to know their talent coach/PD is a fan and has their back. Psychologists say it takes 9 compliments to offset one criticism. That’s a good model for working with personalities.

Testing Authority

They’ll challenge the boundaries and guidelines regularly. You set the talk breaks at 90 seconds, and in a week or two, they’re pushing two minutes. Then 2:30.

They’re not deliberately violating your rules, but are probably testing you. You know that, don’t you? Don’t take it personally, and consistently restate the things that are important to your brand. And, it helps to provide reasons why.

Work Ethic

Everyone thinks they’re lazy. After all, they only “work” 3-4 hours a day. But a lot more goes into it, even when most don’t recognize it. Really? The morning show gets up at 3am, usually is fully engaged until 1 or 2pm, then constantly thinks about the show and prep for tomorrow until their appearance that night.

Then they do it all over again. This is a hard job. Saying air talent is lazy is like saying an NFL player only works 16 days a year.


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 some genius in it that can make the entire station come alive. But you have to nurture it.

Most personalities seem to hate rules, formats and discipline, but get them talking about the station, and you realize how much they understand. And how much they can help you.

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.


Personalities make radio come alive.. 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.

Maybe I love personalities because they are rare. Or maybe they’re rare because we’ve programmed the personality out of the talent.


Hook Your Audience: Don’t Start at the Beginning

If you want to get the attention of listeners, you must hook your audience quickly, Nobody knows more about the importance of beginnings than novelists and screenwriters, but we think their rules of entertainment doesn’t apply to us.

After all, you are delivering four hours of entertainment every day. Listeners tune in to hear what’s going on in our lives and in our studio. We aren’t writing fiction, we’re doing a great radio show about US. That’s sarcasm, by the way, in case you didn’t pick up on it.

The Hook is the first step of a well constructed break, followed by Set-Up, Dress-Up, Payoff and Blackout-and it’s the single most important of the five. With that in mind, here are some guidelines from writers that you can apply to your show.

[tweet_box design=”box_09″]Radio talent: Here are the five most important aspects of a strong hook[/tweet_box]

Here’s how you can become a better storyteller:

Hook Your Audience: Do NOT start at the beginning!

Advice for first-time novelists is, “Throw away the first chapter.” Chances are, chapter 2 is where it starts to get interesting. Start THERE, where the action begins!

What if you remove the first chapter of your break? The first 30 seconds or 2 minutes of a break? Too much? Yes, this means dropping the listener right in to the middle, but if it’s well crafted and compelling, they won’t care.

Get to the meat as quickly as possible. If you’re interviewing a guest, give just enough information to establish credibility. You might even ask the first question before you introduce the guest to hook the audience on the topic. Then, back up and put the question into context.

Don’t put too much emphasis on the amount of context the listener/reader really needs in advance. They’ll get it, if you develop the story in the setup.

Show, Don’t Tell

If you have to TELL your audience that they should care, you’re screwed. They either care or they don’t. It’s either relevant or it isn’t.

The motivation for caring should be inherent in the content. That is addressed in preparation, not in performance. Don’t explain it. Just do it and make it compelling enough to gain their attention.

No History Lessons

How long would you read a book that started with a complete historical perspective before the story begins? How long would you watch a James Bond movie if they explained the character’s history instead of showing the chase scene?

If you feel obligated to include the history, at least don’t put it up front. Bury it where it’ll do the least damage.To be fair, there are some topics where history is interesting and useful, but the historical overview won’t hook your audience.

MYTH: Credibility Is Important

How many times do you see a presentation where the speaker has bullet points and slides on their background? Nobody cares. It doesn’t make what they’re talking about better. And your listeners don’t care about you, either. They care about themselves.

Don’t try and prove how smart you are. If you have something to say, say it. Your brilliance will emerge. You don’t have to give your history or background.

This demonstrates your respect for the audience by caring about their time. When you care about the quality of their time, you’ll show it off by being entertaining, engaging, compelling and interesting. Or at least usefulBy being prepared.

Hook Your Audience: 7 Tricks

If you’re struggling with hooks, or just starting out, there are a few tricks. Use them to open breaks with an impact:

Begin with a question the listener wants answered

It doesn’t have to be a literal question, of course, but suggest a question that begs to be answered by piquing their curiosity. In a good movie, the viewer is immediately intrigued: “Who is this guy? Why is he in this situation? Will he get out of it? What’s this secret thing they keep referring to?”

Make them curious

Curiosity is seduction. Sometimes we suck the life out of topics, when they could be fascinating. Find passion in your topic. Preparation. If YOU don’t care – if you aren’t curious why should they?

Be provocative

Challenge a belief. Even if they instantly disagree, they’ll stay long enough to get mad at you. Start with your most dramatic and/or unpopular assertion. Get it out there. Don’t build toward it. Say it! Then support it (again, set up).

Evoke empathy

Start with a story about real people, or a character in a scenario they identify with.

Promise there will be conflict

We would rarely read a novel or see a movie if not for the promise of conflict. Tension and suspense are compelling. How will this turn out?

Mystery, suspense, intrigue

How many bad books and movies have you stuck with just because you had to find out who did it? Even bad movies or bad books. Look at your topic and find a way to add mystery. ANYTHING worth talking or writing about has potential for mystery which plays on their curiosity.

Conclusion: Hook Your Audience

The hook is the most important part of a story, and the critical part of your radio break.

Your job is to touch the audience emotionally in some way. They remember what they feel.

Your goal should be as author Paul O’Neil stated,

Grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, send your thumbs into her windpipe in the second, and hold her against the wall until the end.

That’s a lofty goal, but you can start by just getting them to give you one more moment. One more tune in. Ten more seconds. Then another. And another. Every break, every moment. It will soon become habit.


How To Fix Your Radio Station for Generation Now

Over the course of several weeks, I sat down with over 150 millenials to learn their true feelings about radio. The project was conducted through focus groups and one on one interviews. And one of the most important takeaways is that we just don’t understand millennials.

This generation is interesting and becoming more and more important by the day. But you probably don’t understand who they are and how influential they’ve become.

Understand Millenials: There Are a Lot Of Them

First, those in the demographics we label millenials tend to dislike the term. They hate being lumped into a stereotype.

You know they’re out there, but most broadcasters tend to think of them as being on there fringe of the mainstream. They’re not. They’re mainstream. And what we typically call mainstream is becoming more and more influenced by millenials.

No matter which demographic definition you agree with, the generation is huge. The broadest definition of a  millennial is considered to be those born between 1978 and 1998.

Yet radio has pretty much ignored millennials as they were growing up. After all, they were teenagers, and younger. And we only cared about 25-54 year olds. Advertisers didn’t seem to care about them, so we ignored them.

That’s changed. The vast majority of millennials are 25-39 year olds They’re in your target demographic. Try winning 25-54 now and not appeal to millennials.

And get this: By 2030, there will be 22 million MORE millennials than boomers. And every boomer will be 65-plus, with the vast majority 70-plus.

Millennials are no longer “those people”. They are your target audience.

Understand Millennials: The Gap

That creates a big problem for broadcasters. There’s a big perception gap between Boomers and Millenials. And in many ways radio stations generally are programming to a boomer mentality.

That may be because we’ve spent so much time chasing Boomers and Generation X that we don’t really know how to program differently. You man have a 25-44 year old target demo, but most of us running stations think more like boomers than millennials.

The Quote That Scared Me

A fundamental thing I asked the respondents is what they generally feel about the radio. It’s an open-ended question designed to get to the heart of their impressions. In other words, when they scan the dial of all stations, what do they think?

One thing came back pretty consistently and is summarized in one quote:

We don’t understand why every station has Grandpa on the radio.


That doesn’t mean you are old. Or that you sound old necessarily.

It just means that you sound like you’re for someone else. This is a major problem that manifests in many ways.

For example, your Hot AC station may target 25-39 year olds. Traditionally, your content would include a lot of family topics, filled with raising the kids and protecting the nest.

But Generation Now marries later (or doesn’t marry at all), and starts families later. You think you’re talking to a 33 year old by talking about her pre-teens and teenagers on the air, and she thinks you’re Grandpa.


Many broadcasters think this will change. One even said,

As they mature, they’ll become just like us and their tastes will change.

Really? Thank again. It’s never happened in history. Just because you grow older doesn’t mean you turn into your parents. In fact, each generation influences society far more than society influences them.

There is a big culture gap between this generation the previous one. And it’s time for radio to reflect that. In the meantime, learn all you can about millennials. You may even start to like them.

Find out how in my free webinar How To Fix Your Radio Station For Generation Now. Webinar is Tuesday, October 10, 2017 1pm eastern time. Sign up here.


How Air Personalities Can Make Content More Important

Whether it’s on-air content or online material, success isn’t just making the content good. It’s make content important.

It’s hard being an air personality. Really hard. And it takes time to generate original content every single day. Investing time in preparation is important. And every day, its important to be part of listener’s conversations.

Yet most shows are generating more content than you need. In fact, they’re generating too much content. The result is that everything is good, but nothing is really special. And you need special.

The 80/20 Rule of Show Prep That Will Surprise You

Instead of spending so much time creating so much content, spend your prep time developing less content, but prepare that content deeper. Make it unique, and make it special.

Then, practice recycling techniques to get more mileage from that truly “A” material.

Now, I’ll surprise you with a statement that you probably haven’t considered. You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule, where 20% of effort produces 80% of your results. It’s true. But there’s a new way to look at it.

What if you spend 20% of your time creating the content and 80% of your time promoting it?

How should you promote? Start with what you do on the air. Write creative teases for each segment. For your best moments, generate promos that drive traffic to your website or social media page. And don’t forget to promote the content via social media.

A sharper focus on fewer things almost always produces greater impact. Leverage your strengths of promotion to make content stand out.


4 Subtle Signs Your Personalities May be Self-Absorbed

Nearly all great performers have a larger-than-normal ego. In fact, a healthy self-confidence or a swagger is necessary to be a compelling, confident air personality. But a self-absorbed show is deadly. In fact, it’s one of the most common things that repels listeners.


In the entertainment business, the world doesn’t revolve around you, it revolves around each individual listener. They have the power in this relationship, and to succeed, you have to fit into that world.

However, if you do it right, the world does cycle back to you. This is a delicate balance. Self-absorbed talk is a sign of vanity, which is of the 7 Deadly  sins of Radio Personalities, and it goes far deeper than just talking about yourself.

Vanity is a sneaky mistake that almost every personality has to fight on a regular basis.

Here are the signs that it may be a problem on your show:

4 Signs You May Be Self-Absorbed…and Not Know It

A show that is listener-based can tell endless personal stories without sounding arrogant or inside. On the other hand, some shows that only talk about external content can come off as being “all about us, not about them”.

Why is that? And how can you project a listener-first image while still relating your character through content?

Self-Absorbed Sign #1: The Entry Point

The hook, or entry point, should be designed to pique listener curiosity, to cause them to lean in and become interested. That means it should almost always start with them, not with you,

If a break starts with a story about you, or what you did last night, they tune out almost immediately.

Yet, a simple adjustment to the  opening line can make the difference between being relatable and self-indulgent. For a great example, listen to this segment of Jeff & Jer:

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff6600&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true&visual=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Notice how that opening line sets up the following stories from Jeff’s life? Brilliant. This is a great example of how to set up the topic through a listener’s interest. You must make it about them, then project your personality through content.

Self-Absorbed Sign #2: Responding Naturally

On a multi-personality show, or when solo shows interact with listeners, many personalities are so focused on what they want to say next, they don’t pay attention to what is currently said.

The result is a disconnected conversation that doesn’t come off naturally or organically.

The offending air talent may not actually be self-absorbed, but they appear to be since they’re not really reacting spontaneously. They can come off as if they’re steamrolling the conversation, sort of an audio bully.

Another symptom is when personalities talk on top of one another, competing for attention to get their point in.

On-air breaks shouldn’t be a contest to see who talks the most, the loudest or the fastest. Talking over each other is one of the biggest causes of listener tune out, as proven in the webinar on demand Content Superhero.

Self-Absorbed Sign #3: Redirecting Conversations

Self-Absorbed people tend to redirect conversations back to themselves, when we really should be trying to reflect the conversation to us.

Listen to your show closely in air check sessions, paying attention to small ways that you may be so anxious to talk about yourself or deliver a clever line that you miss the entertainment value in the break.

It’s common to hear a listener comment on a topic, only for the air talent to turn that comment into a story about themselves. This is redirecting the conversation.

Reflecting, on the other hand, is inserting your personality and character into a topic in a way that causes listeners to want to hear your personal stories because it relates to them.

There’s an art to standing out on the air by connecting with the audience naturally while reflecting attention back to you.

For more on this, check out the webinar on demand, It’s Not About You, It’s All About You.

Self-Absorbed Sign #4: IMEWEUS

Imeweus is a big problem in radio. It’s over-use of the phrases I, me, we and us. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using those words, but when banter is filled with too many of these references, it can tilt the whole feel of the show toward being inside or about us.

Another sign of Imeweus is when there’s too much talk about what’s happening inside the studio instead of in the listener’s environment. It’s easy to forget what they’re doing while listening, and performers often communicate from their own perspective, not the audience’s.

The listener is blind. They can’t see you, yet many times we perform as if they can.

To overcome this habit, take the Imeweus Challenge: Focus on one break per day and eliminate those words in that break. It’s harder than you might think. You’ll have to think ahead, learn to re-phrase your conversation and pay close attention.

When it becomes more natural, do it once an hour. Gradually work up to going for an entire show without saying I, me, we or us. In about 3-4 weeks, this will become a new habit. You’ll be cured, and the show will be much more relatable as a result.

Bonus Self Absorbed Sign: Inside Jokes

Maybe you think it’s charming to create a little internal club. You know, the kind where only the insiders get the jokes? It’s not. It repels your audience, and even those you think are in on it probably don’t get it.

Inside jokes are like being at a cocktail party where you don’t know anyone. You stand around with two people who are having a conversation that doesn’t include you. You hold your drink and try to hide your discomfort. But you’re the outsider and you know it. You just want to leave.

For the audience, being left out of the conversation is an immediate button push. Make sure all content is for consumption by the listener.


Sometimes personalities get bored with the basics. We want to liven it up and make it more entertaining for us by being playfully inside. But the audience doesn’t perceive it that way.

Avoid inside, self-absorbed content. It will kill your relatability.


How to IZE Your Content to Add More Personality

One of the basic pillars of performance is relating to an audience on their terms. I call it ize-ing content.

Personalities that are friendly, warm and involved in the listener’s world become friends. But you can’t become friends unless you add personality to your show. Otherwise, you’re just a voice on the radio.

This seems to be a declining art. Air talent sounds increasingly robotic, detached and as a whole seems to be losing the warmth that goes beyond content, topics or material.

Perhaps it’s a by-product of our obsession with the PPM-centric programming philosophy of eliminating all “useless” talk, keeping it tight and trying to win more occasions of listening. The actual words may not be needed, so they’re eliminated.

Or perhaps we’ve inadvertently raised a generation of air talent that doesn’t understand the importance of being authentic, natural, relatable talent.

Or maybe personalities really are disconnected from the audience because they’re voice-tracking multiple stations in other cities they know nothing about.

What’s missing is content additives, relatable comments, phrases, mentions and observations that let them know we are real, live, living and breathing human beings getting through life the same way they are.

Add Personality By Ize-Ing Content

Content additives are at the heart of  “ize-ing” content.

The four principles are to energ-ize, personal-ize, local-ize and supersize your show with content relatables. This requires discipline, time and attention. They should be infused into every single break in your show. It should be part of your show prep process.

In my webinar on this topic, I go into more detail in each of the four IZEs, but here are seven simple ways every personality can make it happen.

Information Elements

Research tells us weather still one of the most important elements on most every show. Every station does it, but few are relating it. Most are just going through the motions with a stiff, official forecast.

You’ll need a sweater and a coat today… the sun is coming but just 1 degree on Monday as the new work week begins.

Dress warmly today-a sweater and jacket will be about right – it’s going to be chilly but not cold…

A break from the snow later this morning, but bundle up… and don’t forget to put a hat on the kids. The sun is out but it’s really cold out there today.

Sarah Taylor is the midday personality on Spirit 105.3/Seattle, a terrific Contemporary Christian station. Sarah is upbeat, bright and clever. And she masters the concept of ize-ing her content.


Sarah Taylor Great Examples of How to ize Content

Listen to this break, a simple weather forecast and how Sara personalizes it:

In just a few seconds, Sarah told a story. It’s a short story, but it adds color to a service element that is usually ordinary and mundane. This actually gets heard! And it adds value to her personality brand.

In just a few seconds, she communicated everything we needed to know about the weather. It cuts through more than the official forecast from the weather service or detail about today’s highs and lows. it’s perfectly presented to the audience, a target of moms.

It’s simply great example of energizing a break with color.

Welcome Listeners

Create stories (yes, make them up!) about their lives and what they’re doing today. Make it sound like everyone is listening, and the party is on your station!

Thanks for turning us on this morning… including Paula and Shannon. They carpool with their kids to school at (name the school), and Paula told me her 6th grader has her hooked on (our station). Awww, thanks so much. You made our day! And to her daughter Chelsea: Good luck on that history test today.

Another new listener checking in this morning… Brenda just found us on her way HOME from the late shift at the hospital and tells us that she can’t get enough of that new Maroon 5 song, and she’s standing by for (contest coming up in 10 minutes)… Brenda, your chance is coming up at 8.

“Maggie just called – she’s fighting the snow to get to her first day of work at a new job this morning and she’s afraid that her new boss won’t understand that she’s late because traffic is bad. You’re not alone, Maggie!”

Take Phone Calls

Even short phone calls or playing excerpts of calls that punctuate the show and suggest that you are friendly, warm, approachable and interactive. Listener interaction, even if it’s repurposed from previous days (or weeks or months) gives the impression you’re talking with the audience, not at them.

Shake Hands

Thank them for listening. Insert listener names (just first names) and locations, including neighborhoods, schools, communities, businesses, etc.

This is a great way to shake hands on the air. Sometimes personalities come on abruptly as if they’re walking up to a group at a party and just start talking without introducing themselves. It’s more polite (and likable) to introduce yourself with a quick handshake.

Lifestyle comments

Find ways to connect to things happening in the community with simple references that acknowledge you are “one of them.”

Laura is dragging a little this morning, getting ready for another day of battle at the cosmetics counter at (retail store)… she was at (event) last night and didn’t get to sleep until after 1… wanted to get moving this morning… here’s Rihanna.

If you’re passing near (intersection) in the next few minutes, stop by and help Terry and John… they’re stuck on the right side of the road waiting for Triple A. They’re carpooling to (business) and John insisted there was enough gas to get there… uh huh. Thanks for having us on… and good luck guys.

This happens in organic breaks, but also in ordinary promos and reading liners.

Supersize It

This is another of the ize-s. It’s supersizing content. Here’s Sara Taylor again with an example:

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true&visual=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]


This promotion is for Spirit 105.3’s concert featuring Jars of Clay, but you never see it coming. She paints a picture, taking you there with rich details. It’s not over-the-top, but the promo is much more interesting because it’s so colorful.

The great part of this break is in the details. She doesn’t just mention the scones. It’s warm scones, fresh out of the oven. And you don’t have just one, you have and one in each hand.

The technique is excellent, but it’s energized by her personality. Sara’s smile comes through every time she opens the mic, and she reveals character through comments, without calling attention to herself.

Music Additives

Include music information and content. Artist information. Song details. Don’t isolate pop culture exclusively to the Biz. Integrate it throughout the show in small bits, not just in your celebrity news feature.

These music additives connect song to your personality, show and station. Not in every break, but regularly and frequently. It’s easy to find out what Britney, Katy and Adam are doing today and relate it in a small way.

Justin Bieber says he wants to be Michael Jackson. What do you think? Is this song his “Billie Jean?”

The countdown is 28 days until Nicki Minaj debuts on the voice and I can’t wait… here she is.

It’s easy to get information on the artists and connect with listeners for one of the primary reasons they’re coming to your station!

Format Bridges

Connect each element to the preceding and upcoming element. Introduce the songs. Promote your features.

Here’s a great example of a personality oriented show demonstrating that they love the station, embrace the music and turning on some personality for a short break. This is Jagger & Kristi, morning show on Magic 92.5/San Diego:

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Anyone can read liner cards and provide facts.

It’s on you to paint a picture and make every break come alive. Say it the way nobody else does-or can. This is at the heart of personality.
Morning personality Rick Morton was reading a liner card for a promo on Z90/San Diego that offered an exclusive party experience for a listener. He set up the break by saying:

This is what it must feel like to be Paris Hilton.

That one line built more excitement and vision than all of the facts and details for the promotion. It lured the listener into wanting to hear more. Subtle? Yes. Small thing? Of course. But it’s these details that paint a picture for the audience.

Another Format Bridge Example

Here’s another example from the same promotional campaign.

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Start putting more prep time into those things that seem easy. It may seem like a small thing, but as the saying goes: Many Mickles Makes a Muckle. In other words, little things add up to mean a lot.

Make every mention come alive and tell a story!

Opportunities are everywhere. Start tomorrow. It’ll energize your show!

Want to get more information on how to IZE your content? Sign up for my webinar on July 18, 2017.


4 Ways to Fire Up Promos With Content

The world moves fast and your audience has high expectations. That alone should be enough to cause us to reconsider how we promote stations. Every element is an opportunity to entertain, position and inspire action. But most stations keep running out the same type of content. We need promos with content.

It’s important! Imaging promos that repeat your position or tell listeners fall on deaf ears. Do you think that saying “We play today’s best music” 14 times an hour causes reaction? Does building a promo around “Keep listen for your next chance to qualify for our trip” drive tune in? I don’t think so. It’s a waste of time. And you can’t afford to waste a moment.

So how can you get more out of those commercials for your station or show?

Here are four ways to fire up your promo campaigns with content.

Find The Content & Sell It Emotionally

Get rid of claims and all promos built around positioning. Yes, positioning is important, but we’ll deal with that later (#4).

Positioning promos are generic. They don’t inspire action. And they don’t cut through when thousands of messages compete for limited attention.

What is a generic promo? Here’s an example:

Peppy and Zippy, with the most fun in the morning. Miss a day, miss a lot. Weekday mornings from 6-10 on (station).

Did you hear Peppy and Zippy this morning? If you missed it, you missed this (out-of-context clip that doesn’t make sense unless you heard it). Peppy and Zippy in the morning, with the most laughs and (city’s) best music on (station). Home of the All-Request Workday.

Instead, find a way to insert topical content into the promo and provide a specific time to listen.

Listener Nicole has a problem and needs your help. Her boyfriend was away for two months, and now he’s back. Should she tell him about her affair while he was gone? Or ignore it and hope he never finds out. Your calls and Nicole’s decision tomorrow morning at 7:40 with Peppy & Zippy on (station).

With a little preparation, it’s easy to find headlines that direct listeners to tune-in moments.

Trim Copy Points to One Message

Most promos try to do too much. We want to give all the details about the concert. Or provide the instructions on how the contest works. Those long lists fall on deaf ears. The audience doesn’t have the attention span to get your message.

The details may (or may not) be important. But you can’t communicate the nuances of the campaign in one promo. So don’t try. Create a campaign with a series of messages focused on one specific element. Add a call-to-action and you’ve got it!

For example:

Mix 100.3’s $10,000 Secret Sound is on. What is this sound? (play sound). Think you know? It’s worth Ten Grand. Listen to win at 11:15…and get the details at

See what this promo does? All that matters is getting the listener to the next tune-in occasion. This is much more powerful than a list of all the times to listen. And, for those that want to know more, you’ve provided a way to get it. By the way, stations should get more unique url’s for promotions. It sounds bigger and is far easier for the audience to remember. You can always redirect them to the landing page on your website.

In writing promos with content, always think about:

The next time to listen.
A specific content-based reason to tune in.

This applies to promos outside a personality show, and inside the program.

This happened on Ellen’s show yesterday (play audio). What was she doing to Tom Hanks? And the behind-the-scenes firestorm that started. Zippy has the inside scoop in 12 minutes on Hollywood 360.

Create Your Own Promos With Content

Following this advice takes time and resources. And that’s in short supply at most stations. Don’t get frustrated that the production department can’t handle that many promos. You don’t want them spending their time on repetitive promos anyway. They should be creating new concepts.

Take matters into your own hands.

Have the production god create production parts. You can write, voice and produce the promos yourself. You may even be able to produce it on your home computer and bring it in the next day or email it.

Create Urgency and Relevance Through Scheduling

Once you’re creating promos with content, make sure they work. They can only work if they’re actually heard!

Invest the time in figuring out where specific promos should run to be most effective. Then develop a system to manage the promos. Don’t use one rotator cut with a series of promos that run at random times. You have limited control over it.

Instead, create multiple cuts that air at specific times. Then populate the rotator with promos designed to run only there. It’s a lot more work in the beginning, but once it’s set up, it’s easy to manage. And it sounds great. Here’s an example:

Rotator 1: Runs at 10:20. Content: Directs listeners to tune-in to win at 11am.

Rotator 2: Runs at 10:50 into spots: Content: You’re less than 10 minutes away from winning $10,000.

Rotator 3: Runs at 11:20: Do you know the $10,000 Secret Sound? No winner at 11. Direct tune in to 2pm.

Each rotator should have several versions of the message.


Content wins. Audiences won’t tolerate less. And content is promotable if you produce promos with content.

Promos are essential to forward momentum on stations. And, promos can direct the audience to increase listening occasions.

You may wonder how to position your brand values in promos with content. No problem. Fold it into the messages in a natural way. Most promos are about your station, with a message of listener benefits added on. Turn that around. Build the promo about the benefit, and tag station values to it.

Get rid of everything you don’t need and replace it with content-based messages that inspire action. And have fun doing it!


Coaching Talent: Do You Really Want a Dog?

By Tracy Johnson

Be careful what you wish for. You must know what you’re getting into when you say you want a dog. If your parents bring one to you, there are responsibilities and expectations. The same is true for program directors who want high profile air talent.

Dog trainers will tell you that the key to their success has little to do with the dogs. It’s all about training the trainers. The dogs are easy. Their behavior is somewhat predictable, if you know what to expect, are patient and are prepared to manage them.

Just like training a puppy, air talent will make you crazy with short attention spans. They’ll wear you out with their energy. Personalities keep you up at night with problems only they think are important.

Their problems are rarely at a convenient time. They want to play at dinner time. Or eat at bedtime. When it’s time for their walk, they’re ready for a nap.

It takes a lot more time to manage air talent than you think. And sometimes it tests your will to live. But it’s worth it. Raise them well, and you’ll have a loyal companion. There’s nothing like it.

But get it wrong and they’ll make your life a living hell.
Do You Really Want a Dog?

When your child wants a dog, you kind of know what’s going to happen. They promise to take care of it. To walk it every day. They’re going to clean up after him. But when the kid gets tired of the dog, the dog will starve.

Do you really want a great air personality? Prepare yourself, your station and your staff. Because everyone in the family is going to be involved in raising them.

When bringing home a new air personality, be sure they’re integrated into the entire station environment. Don’t let them become an island. It’s easy for walls to go up between talent and promotions, sales or engineering. As their master, it’s up to you to help them become immersed in the operation and feel comfortable. And, you must communicate with the other departments so they feel a part of the process.

So the first question to ask is: “Do you want A dog? Really?”

High-profile air talent demands time. You have to love your show. Spend time with them.
The Role Of Program Director

Sometimes you’ll be a counselor. Other times a psychologist. At times, they just need a friend or confidante. It’s a lot of hard work. You can’t just get a dog and bring it out only when it’s convenient or play with it just when you feel like it. Or when you have TIME for it.

You have to make time and invest time. And your schedule has to be flexible to make time on their schedule. And that can be a pain.
Okay, You Want a Dog. What Can You Expect?

In her book Thanks for the Feedback, author Elaine Lin points out three different aspects that all apply to the process of managing talent successfully. She calls it ACE:

Appreciate Them: Let them know you love them. Coach them to bring out their best. Evaluate them honestly and fairly.

Apply management skills to each aspect for best results. Appreciating them means showing that you’re a fan. Make sure they know you’re on their team, in their corner. Let them know you love them, and value what they bring to your station every single day.


When Bad Ratings Happen To Good Stations

It’s the most stressful time of the year! Well, one of the most stressful, as ratings are delivered, budget strategies contemplated and futures plotted. When the “report card” comes in, how do you respond? Most PDs I know are generally optimistic and hopeful, eagerly anticipating positive results. But bad ratings?

What happens when a bad book strikes? How do you handle it? Do you scramble for explanations, justification and rationalizations? How do you address the team? Each situation is different, of course, but I’ve had my share of both good and bad ratings periods in my career.

Here are some things I’ve learned in dealing with it:

How To Respond to Bad Ratings

Bad ratings happen. Here’s how to keep it in perspective

It’s the Past

Realize that ratings are a reflection of what has already taken place, and often not a particularly accurate one.

If you have the right strategic plan, maintain commitment and focus. It usually takes much longer than we would like for the audience to respond to programming adjustments.

That’s frustrating, but don’t allow it to take you off course. There’s nothing you can do to affect the current ratings, but you can impact the next one. Move forward.

Ratings Are an External Force

You cannot control external forces.

You can only affect your actions. We don’t operate in a vacuum. Analyze what competitors have done, and objectively critique what worked and why.

Don’t react to other stations, but do pay attention to how those stations have affected your audience. Maybe the music cycle is working against you, Or, if you’re a news station, that big story might not be there. There’s nothing you can do about those those.

Show Confidence

Don’t allow your staff to obsess on ratings.

Share the information, point out positives and negatives, but instead, focus on doing great radio and impacting the audience’s life every day. Sometimes you get kissed, sometimes you get screwed. In the long run, it works itself out.

Great stations have a way of being rewarded with more good books than bad. Stations that focus on last quarter’s ratings always struggle.

Analyze and Learn

A bad book, or series of bad books, could point to a legitimate problem. But ratings aren’t research.

You can’t program your station or adjust your show based on the Arbitron or BBM data. Use perceptual research, focus groups and other forms of analysis to understand how and why audiences are behaving as they are. Drawing conclusions based on ratings lead to flawed strategies.

Focus Your Team

Your staff looks to you for leadership. Be a leader. Admit station weaknesses, and have a plan that involves your team to move forward. Commit to excellence and a strong strategic vision, then communicate it clearly and with confidence. Take the focus off a bad book and direct attention to the future.

Fix It Now

Did you have a bad ratings period? It’s over. but don’t let one bad book turn into a losing streak. Get a ratings tune up by checking into this webinar on demand:


Bad books happen. Good books happen, too. Be prepared to manage through the ups and the downs while focusing clearly on how to make a difference in the life of your target audience.




How To Sound Great, Even When On Vacation

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

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

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

How should radio program for vacations or days off?

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

Basic Rules For Vacation Programming

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

Don’t Displace Other Personalities

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

Avoid Mix and Match

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

Be Careful With External Solutions

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

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

Best Of Or Keep It Live?

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

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

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

Program For Vacations With Ratings In Mind

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

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

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

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

Multi-Cast Shows & Vacation Schedules

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

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

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

Vacation Options

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

Be Live If Possible

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

Tease & Promote

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

Platooning Vacation Schedules

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

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

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

Be In the Moment

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

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

Fresh Breaks

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


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


How Radio Should Use Twitter

To love Twitter is to understand Twitter. For most, it takes quite some time for the light to finally turn on. Each social platform is unique, and Twitter is one of the most confounding of them all. It’s radio’s red-headed stepchild.

Instant gratification from social platforms like Facebook and Instagram have spoiled us. With little effort, friends and family validate our posts with likes and comments. When they do, our brain gets a pleasurable hit of dopamine. It feels good! It’s the same feeling air personalities have when the phones light up with callers.

But, Twitter is a different social media animal. Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms withhold and re-prioritize content. Twitter, however, is a linear, realtime experience.

How Twitter is Different

Social Media experts have plenty of advice about how to behave on each platform. They’ll tell you how often to post to avoid being annoying. Some preach the benefit of building a massive account online under your brand name. But that general advice doesn’t apply to Twitter. It’s unique.

On most social platforms, we originate content and start conversations. But Twitter is as much about engaging in existing topics as starting them. Don’t be the person that walks into a cocktail party and changes the subject! You won’t be invited to the next party. Be topical. Listen. Join the conversation.

So how often should you tweet? How should you manage your account? When is the best time to tweet? Let’s examine what some of the world’s top radio stations are doing.

Sign Up for Free Webinar to Use Twitter Like a Boss

How Top Radio Stations Use Twitter

One of the fastest ways to learn best practices in social media is following others in your industry. You’ll discover what to do…and what not to do.

Here are some radio stations that are doing Twitter well:


NPR gets how to use Twitter. They have almost twice as many followers as their nearest radio competitor. Their 6.9 million followers is partly due to their large national platform, of course. But that’s not all.

NPR publishes a wealth of updated, timely, quality content.

But study their tweets. They’re masters in participating in conversations to guide their audience in new directions.

NPR leads the way with consistency, quality and community engagement. Since their first tweet in April, 2007, NPR has learned to be part of a conversation. And, they keep a finger on the pulse of their audience.

Here’s something that will surprise you. NPR tweets an average of 119 times per day! 119! That’s almost 5 times per hour, or once every 12 minutes. Why so many? Because NPR understands that the average shelf life of a tweet is about 10 minutes. Even those fans that follow you aren’t scrolling back to check out your prior tweets.

As a result, NPR is on a whopping 63,597 Twitter lists!*


BBC’s Radio 1 signed on to Twitter for the first time in June, 2007. With 2.8M followers and counting, BBC Radio 1 is one of the most followed music radio stations in the world.



The station has multiple accounts, which allows them to focus each content stream. For example, they have a “Now Playing” account (@BBCR1MusicBot) that displays the song on the air now.


The station’s social media team manages each stream. This helps them maintain consistency in the brand.

The main BBC Radio 1 account tweets an average of 27 times a day and is being tracked on 7,253 Twitter lists.*


This may surprise you. New York’s Hot 97 is the only local radio station on the “Twitter Top 100 Most Followers” for radio stations list.



902,000 people follow the hip hop station on Twitter and the station tweets an average of 56 times per day.*

Much of their content features video. Also interesting: Many tweets direct followers to their air personality’s Twitter streams. And those personalities have large audiences as well. @Rosenbergradio (Peter Rosenberg) has 331,000 followers.

Sign Up for Free Webinar to Use Twitter Like a Boss

Using Twitter on Your Local Station

What can we learn from these big radio brands for local radio? Several things.

NPR, BBC Radio 1 and Hot 97 teach us that Twitter is a global audience, even if you are a local station.

For one thing, your brand has no boundaries. You can reach your local market and extend the conversation beyond your station’s signal.

Also notice that every tweet from the three brands includes a photo or video. If you want your message to stand out in the stream, you have to get attention.

They also prove that it takes more time and effort than you think to reach your audience.

Don’t Be Intimidated

A co-worker once conducted an experiment in a radio station meeting. He asked everyone jot down what they did over the long Thanksgiving weekend. He gave them one minute, then went around the room asking people to read their answer out loud.

When all 25 people had shared their answer, he made his point. Every person in the room created a piece of content from start to finish, in under a minute. And each message was fewer than 140 characters!

Yes, managing social media takes time, but you can do it. If you are the person assigned to manage Twitter, engage and interact! And be great at it.

Join conversations and start new, topical ones. Twitter is a linear, real-time experience for radio stations and listeners.

In fact, Twitter is very much like radio in that respect. When a segment is over, it’s over. If you weren’t listening, you missed it. You won’t hear it again.

If you’re an air personality trying to build a Twitter audience, start a new habit. Each time you turn on the mic, follow it with a tweet. If you find that you have nothing tweet-worthy, there’s a content problem!

It’s a commitment, for sure. But anything worthwhile is. And there are tools that can make this easier. For example, use Hootsuite to schedule tweets in advance. You could write and schedule tweets the day before during the show prep meeting.

Integrate Twitter as part of your Radio Station storyline.


Your influence on Twitter will grow when radio stations devote time and attention to managing the stream.

Join conversations. Tweet often. Be thoughtful. Engage and respond. Use multiple accounts.

Don’t get hung up on likes, retweets and comment. Over time, they will come, but you have to be consistent.

Work smarter, not harder. Use the tools and talent that you have in front of you.


Sign Up for Free Webinar to Use Twitter Like a Boss