Anyone who has worked with me over the past 10 years has either heard me utter the term “Sitcoms Not Movies” or they’ve seen something like this displayed inside the air studio. There’s a big reason for that, it’s an approach I believe in. Simply put, it means your audience spends thirty to sixty minutes with you on their commute and it’s your job to provide the content that has the largest local appeal and present it in an entertain way during the two to four segments when they’re with you.
If you’re really good as an air talent or you’re fortunate due to a traffic jam, maybe the listener sticks around for an extra 15-30 minutes. If everything though goes the way it normally does, you’ve got two to four segments to connect and entertain them and then they’re gone.
Sometimes broadcasters have an internal feeling that they’ve done something earlier in the show and don’t want to repeat it or they worry that someone listening is going to say “you already discussed that topic earlier” and what needs to be remembered here is that this is the ultimate compliment. If they’re listening that long, that’s not the norm. Those are the types of listeners who we label as P1’s and we want to hug them and take them out for a beer because they are loyal and invested in us.
The majority though aren’t doing that and they instead use your radio station in smaller doses. I can’t stress enough how important it is to resist the “we already covered that” mentality because the reality is that the majority of your audience doesn’t know you did it.
As years have passed by and we’ve seen the ratings system shift from a diary world to the game of PPM, we’ve learned that people listen more frequently to radio but they spend less time per occasion. We broadcast in a “what have you done for me lately” world and if your content isn’t crisp and on the right subject matter when the listener puts the dial on, good luck getting them to come back.
When I hear a producer or a host tell me “we’ll bury this smaller story in the back part of the hour, it’s only 5 minutes” it makes me crazy. First of all, is it really that important for the audience? Secondly, if it’s worth 5 minutes of talk time, then shouldn’t it be good enough to be placed anywhere in the show? Third, what are you telling the listener who’s only opportunity to listen is now and you’re displaying your C-D list material?
I once had a situation in St. Louis when a producer booked a bull rider for a show. I was driving and knew it had little value to the audience so I called up and asked “why did we book this?“. The producer said “bull riding is coming this weekend to the Scott Trade Center and they’re going to have twenty thousand people at the show so I figured it would be good to get in on it now while it’s hot“.
It would have been one thing if our personality was involved in the event riding the bull and we were going to involve the audience in the bit but that unfortunately wasn’t the way we approached it.
As a result my response was less than calm and went something like this “If we’re going to do this type of radio and base our content on what sells tickets at the Scott Trade Center, then I want the director for The Wiggles on Ice on Monday’s show since they’re coming to town and the tickets are selling out fast…..then on Tuesday I want the director for the Sponge Bob Square Pants show since that’s selling fast too and then on Wednesday, we should find out if we can get a clown from the circus on the air because they’re in town for 3 days and all 3 shows are expected to be sold out”.
The point of that tirade wasn’t to show who was boss or to beat someone down for a mistake, instead it was to remind my host and my producer that we can’t give away quarter hours of listening. Listeners don’t have to listen to us, they choose to listen to us. That stops though if we give them less than stellar content.
This example is 7-8 years old and the competition for people’s time has only increased since then. Today we’re fighting tooth and nail as an industry to keep audience’s listening to what we do while every other outlet pops up with a new offering and less clutter so the response to competition can’t be to provide a less than outstanding listening experience on material that has little to no value.
While the content selection is subjective to PD, Host and Producer, we’ve seen enough data come in to get a better understanding of what works in our markets. The PPM system is far from perfect (I’ll save that for a future column) but it does allow PD’s to see what content is consumed best. All one has to do is track a show and look at the quarter hour performances for that material and you can see if it moves the needle or not. That’s one thing I like a lot about this system.
That said, the one thing that blows me away is how so many people in our industry still don’t understand the ratings system and what they have to do to receive ratings credit. This system has been in place for roughly eight years and if we’re in the business of generating ratings and revenue then I don’t understand how someone who’s livelihood is attached to the results of the game doesn’t know how it works.
Fair or unfair, this is our report card and not delivering results, can lead to unemployment. If my future was at risk or heck, if I was having great success, I’d certainly want to know what was going on. Since the details are fuzzy to many, let me lay out for you what the rules are:
- #1 – Ratings measurement is captured each hour in 4 quarter-hours – :00-:15, :15-:30, :30-:45, :45-60
- #2 – You must receive 5 minutes of listening inside one of those quarter hours in order to obtain ratings credit
- #3 – The 5 minutes of listening does not have to be consecutive (EX: they can listen to you for 3 minutes, leave for 10 minutes and then come back for 2 and you still get credit)
- #4 – If the listener listens for 4 minutes during the quarter hour, you receive zero credit – if they listen for 5 or more minutes, you get credit for the full quarter hour
- #5 – If a listener listens to you from :12-:15 and :15-:17 which is a total of 5 minutes, you get ZERO credit for both quarter hours – remember you must get 5 minutes in the quarter hours listed above
If you work in the industry and you look at the way your station’s clocks lay out, you should see segments that play inside these windows and give you the most amount of talk time possible to allow you to gain credit. Keep in mind, some quarter hours in your market may have less audience or less listening time than others and we do still have to air commercials and take care of the bottom line so there’s always a strategic game being played in the background. Regardless, you always need to deliver 5 minutes of listening inside of those quarter hour windows.
So if people listen for short periods of time and we know that the challenge to obtain credit comes down to capturing 5 minutes of listening in a quarter hour, then you should think about how that approach is implemented in your show.
Most hosts and producers go into a planning session feeling like they have to create 10-12 topics and have something brand new all the time to keep themselves and the audience entertained and that’s not true. The only people in the market who know the show plan each day are the producer and host and sometimes the PD and Board Operator.
Your audience comes to you looking to hear your opinion on the content items that appeal most in your market. They want to be updated on what took place today and they want to know what you think of the information. They don’t care about history lessons, they don’t care about what you did during the first hour of the show and they don’t care about what you’re going to do next hour – they care about what you’re doing right now and whether or not it’s important to them!
Let’s take a look for example at one of the most popular stories in our format over the past 2 weeks – LeBron James’ decision to leave the Miami Heat and return home to Cleveland. If I stopped by your radio station on Monday after the news came out, I’d expect to know what you thought about the story. If you weren’t serving me your opinion on this story, good luck getting me to stick around for 5 minutes.
You can tell me you’re in a non-NBA market, you can tell me you talked about it earlier and you can tell me the story doesn’t interest you and I’d tell you the majority of your audience cares about larger than life personalities, greatness, drama, conflict, egos and compelling stories and if you can’t make something work with those opportunities in front of you than maybe you should take the day off.
In order to play the “Sitcoms Not Movies” game and keep yourself and an audience engaged on a day like this, let’s look at some creative ways to make the angles work for 4 straight hours.
- LeBron’s letter in SI – how do you feel about the way he broke the news? How does it compare to the approach of “The Decision”? What does it say about everyone reporting on the NBA that they got beat out by SI? What in the letter did you like most and least? How would you feel if you were in Dan Gilbert or Pat Riley’s shoes reading this? How much did Nike know since they had billboards ready right after the news came out?
- LeBron’s departure – What does it mean for Miami’s future? Has Pat Riley lost his magic touch? If you’re Dwayne Wade do you feel betrayed? How does this impact Chris Bosh’s future? How does this impact Miami’s standing in the Eastern Conference?
- LeBron’s return home to Cleveland – what does it mean for the Cavs future? If you’re a Cavs fan do you now feel bad for how you responded to him leaving? With LeBron not mentioning Andrew Wiggins in the letter does this mean he’s on his way out? Did Kyrie Irving know this was coming? What other pieces do the Cavs need in order to win a title? How does this impact Cleveland’s position in the East?
- LeBron’s Legacy – does the Miami stint help or hurt his overall legacy? What if he never wins in Cleveland? How is the Miami 4-year run viewed historically (2 titles/4 NBA Finals visits or didn’t deliver what they said they would)
If you had been on the air on this Monday, I’ve just laid out an angle for each hour that you should have no problem spending 10-15 minutes speaking passionately about. This isn’t taking into account the addition of audience participation, guests who can add additional insight, opinion and new information to the story and using audio to further enhance the presentation. Case in point, that Pat Riley soundbyte where he challenged LeBron to stay should absolutely be on your cut sheet.
If I am driving into work in my car on this day and I put on my favorite station, I expect the morning show will tell me what they think about this story. Remember that my drive is going to be somewhere between 30-60 minutes and during the next hour you’re going to have an entirely different audience and they are going to seek out your thoughts on the day’s biggest stories with the same enthusiasm that I just did.
Your job as a personality is to keep the A+ topic fresh, relevant and entertaining because the audience is going to seek it out each hour and if you don’t have it, the audience will go elsewhere to get it.
Look at what a company like Starbucks does. They make sure the inside of their location is always clean. The people who work there are usually very friendly, courteous and focused on taking care of your needs despite having to endure long lines. And while they have plenty of pastries and breakfast options you can choose from, they nearly start every conversation by asking you “what kind of coffee can we get for you this morning“. They know what they do best and why you came to them and they make sure every day to be great at it. The same thing applies to sports talk radio and quarter hour presentations and connecting with listeners.
Whether you like it or not, your audience has two powerful weapons to work with – time and choice. They don’t have to use us, they choose to use us. If we fail to appreciate that commitment by providing them with content that matters to ourselves and no one else, they’ll spend their time with another media source.
In every market there is a team and player that has mass appeal to the audience plus sports news happens every day and we can see which items register better than others so it’s our job to feature those hot button subjects and deliver them with regularity. It may be tiresome to those of us on the inside of the building but to those on the outside, every segment is new, fresh and full of promise.
If you want to put yourself in position to win, remember that we’re in the business of selling out arenas and stadiums. The people in attendance expect to see a headline act deliver the material they’re familiar with. If we give the audience the hit songs they seek, they’ll be fans of ours for life. If we fail to do so, eventually we could be sitting with them!