As someone who has spearheaded the launch of 2 FM sports stations and been responsible for creating and debuting countless talk shows I think I have an idea or two about what goes into unveiling a brand new program. I say that not out of cockiness but out of recognizing the details that go into everything you do to make a show matter and gain an impression from Day 1 and believe me, I’ve missed plenty of times and have made numerous mistakes so I’ve gained some perspective on why things do and don’t work. While I’ve modified the way I do things over the years, the importance in having a plan and going through every detail still factors into how I launch shows today and I believe first impressions still matter significantly and you’re only going to help yourself by having your ducks in a row as opposed to working it out as you go.
First things first of course is identifying who your host or hosts are going to be and what the mission statement is going to be for the show. As a Programmer you should have a strong idea of who it is you’ve hired and then comes the challenge of deciding on how to brand that personality’s style and presentation. This step is super critical because every aspect of what you do with this show is going to connect back to the overall theme of the show. From the website to your social media platforms to your on-air imaging to your external marketing, when you mention the (insert name here) show your goal is for the audience to identify with the position and be able to recall something about it.
From there then you can dive into what content items matter most in your market, how should the flow of a show go, do guests matter or not, which ways will we focus on connecting with an audience and which qualities about the host(s) stand out and which characteristics have less appeal. I’m a firm believer in using a white board and engaging talent in discussions on these questions because the more they’re involved talking about it and the more they see it in bold text, the more they remember it. I can recall numerous sessions where I’ve spent 3-4 hours in a conference room with a show unit and after listing strengths and weaknesses, guest ideas, features possibilities and strategy ideas to build awareness for the show it’s carried directly over to all involved with the show.
As a rule of thumb I try to always keep a show off the air for at least 1 week and go through every single scenario possible before releasing them into the wild. Most radio people just want to go on the air, do the show and do the least amount of analysis possible before getting started and that’s because it’s not always comfortable or easy to think about who you are, why you matter, what the theme of your show is and what strategy you’re going to implement to help the program reach a level of success satisfactory for everyone involved. If I had more time I’d probably give a show 2-3 weeks of strategy sessions before launching it but in the radio world that’s an eternity and unrealistic. That said I believe the time you invest in understanding the goal, the people involved and the direction for where you’re headed pays off for you in the end.
Ironically enough though, the one form of media which we’re lumped in with most (TV) seems to put the extra detail into what they launch and after weeks of buildup via promos, interviews, social takeovers and numerous other marketing opportunities they have a pretty strong impact on getting consumers to sample their brand new offerings. For radio though it’s usually a case of hire the host, connect him or her with the producer, figure out a couple of topics and guests for show #1 and off you go. That process though is why shows usually come out of the gate unfocused and without a specific purpose.
Take a step back for a second and picture yourself in the shoes of James Gandolfini or David Chase. You’ve got a brand new show debuting on HBO and you’re the creator (PD) and the lead character (on-air host) of a program titled “The Sopranos”. Would you launch the show on the day you were hired? Would you just go in front of the camera and figure it out on the fly? Would you leave it to the consumer to figure out what the mission statement of the show is? When I hear radio people mention “we’ll get that sorted out afterwards, let’s just get it on the air” it makes me crazy. Using that rationale a show like The Sopranos would have been a radio dud. However because a strategy was in place, a mission statement was understood and the content was crisp once it hit the air, people had an expectation of what they were going to see, they bought into the messaging and they consumed the content. The result was one of the most iconic shows in television history. Here’s the promo leading up to Season 1 on HBO. This is why radio shows need the extra detail invested in them before they even touch the airwaves.
So you’re now going to tell me that the Sopranos are an entirely different deal and not a fair comparison right? Ok then let’s take the entire movie industry. You head out on a weekend to watch a 2-hour film. What’s the first thing you watch when the lights go off? Previews! They run usually 1-2 months in advance of when a film is released in the theatres and then the film company will buy a heavy advertising schedule a few weeks prior to the release to get you interested in going to see it. Heck when you’re in the theater and the preview is done, half the time you can’t shut up about whether or not you’ll go see it once it’s released. Is there really any difference between launching a new movie and a new radio show? Actually there is. The film has spent time going through every detail and establishing what they want people to take away about it whereas most radio shows do not.
One could also suggest that the film is planned out and only 2-hours long whereas radio shows sometimes deliver 10-20 on-air hours per week but this isn’t about how much time has to be filled, this is about drawing interest in a new show, having a creative direction and plan for where you’re headed and understanding the roadblocks ahead to navigate around in order to achieve success. Here’s the Transformers 4 trailer. Watch it and see if you can come away with what the focus of the movie is. I’m sure you will and like most people on this planet you’ll be heading to the theater to watch it soon and making it the #1 film at the box office on the weekend it’s released.
It seems simple and it should be but strategic planning is an essential focus for the launch of any new program. I believe it makes a HUGE difference between having short-term and long-term success. If you can spend time with your talent and production staff and go over what the main hook of the show is going to be and illustrate a plan for how to create something which is going to matter to the local audience, then your chances of success are much higher. I also find that most of your staff will appreciate the time you took to analyze them and provide them with ammunition helpful to their future success and subconsciously they’ll recall parts of what you taught them and it’ll carry over to their conversations without you needing to say anything further. They may not want to spend 3-4 hours trapped inside a conference room but those who understand the big picture of what’s being created will adjust and be thankful later when the audience shows up to listen.
For a closer look at a day to day game plan and what’s required to launch an effective show click on the link below!
Additionally I’ve attached a few promos which my former Imaging Director Jeff Schmidt produced to help launch some talk shows on 95.7 The Game. Typically I like to promote a brand new show for at least 2 weeks prior to a launch and if time allows to do it even longer I don’t see any negative in building even deeper suspense. I believe a new show should be given a ton of promotional support prior to hitting the airwaves so from a promo standpoint a healthy number to schedule is somewhere between 100-125 over the span of 14 days. The main goal when launching a new show is to generate curiosity which leads to people wanting to sample the new program. Then it’s up to your talent to deliver on the expectations that have been positioned in the promo and make sure that the hype created for the new program is warranted. You’ve heard it said time and time again that you never get a second chance to make a first impression so get your details together, have a focused plan and understand what you’re trying to create and tap into before you do it and you’ll be further along then if you tried to figure it out as you go!
Haberman & Middlekauff – Launch Promos:
Damon Bruce Show – Launch Promos: