It’s easy to lose sight of the audience’s needs when you’re laying out a game plan for your radio show. Usually a Host and Producer chat throughout the day about topic ideas. Then guests get booked, callers/social media reaction is introduced and along the way, a talk show tries to cover every single story that captured the host’s interest over the past 24 hours. There’s only one problem – what you’re talking about might mean something to you but not necessarily to your audience.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “less is more” at some point in your life and I’m a big believer in that same approach when it comes to creating a great talk show.
Let’s take Monday for example. I don’t care what market you’re in, the Ray Rice story needed to be a major part of your content focus. Every single audience can identify with the story and form an opinion on it. Issues such as wrong vs. right, corruption vs. justice, athlete’s getting preferential treatment and the future for all involved in the story, all resonate with people.
It’s a topic which is compelling, uncomfortable and emotional and if you’re doing your job as a host and producer, there are tons of angles to examine (see below). There are guests to be booked to advance the story, callers will want to share their points of view and there is audio galore to take advantage of from every single sports network on the planet. The bottom line, this is a piece of content that if presented well could carry your entire 3-4 hour show.
In my world, I like to look at a show as a collection of 1-hour programs. Some like to approach it with a 2-hour mindset and I understand that philosophy as well but those who operate as if the show is a 4-hour feature film are missing the point. I’ve used the line before “Sitcoms Not Movies” and it simply means you’ve got no more than 30-minutes to satisfy the listener. After that period of time, they’re gone.
Today, PPM shows us that listeners stay for shorter periods of time. I know you may want to believe that the audience shows up every day and stays for the entire program but the reality is that they don’t tune in for the beginning, middle and end of your show. They’re in and out frequently and it’s our job to try to and grab a quarter hour of listening when it’s available. If we’re good at our jobs, we’ll turn one quarter hour into two and if they really like us, they may also check back later in the show or on another day during the week.
During the days when radio was solely measured by diaries, people wrote down what they remembered listening to and the majority said that they were with us all the time. While that loyalty looked great on paper, it wasn’t realistic. While PPM certainly has its flaws in terms of not having enough meters in individual markets, it at least captures what your audience is consuming. You receive credit from your audience if they listen to a minimum of 5 minutes during a quarter hour and those minutes don’t have to be consecutive but they must occur during the windows of :00-:15, :15-:30, :30-:45, :45-:00. If they listen for 5 minutes straight but those minutes for example are :12-:15 and :15-:17, you get zero credit.
I point that out because when you’re outlining your show, you need to be thinking about who your listener is, where they’re likely listening to you and what their routine will be. If you’re doing a midday show, you’re likely the companion to the at-work listener or employee on the go. If you’re hosting during morning or afternoon drive, you’re the friend of the commuter. Each show has to have a different strategy based on how the audience uses the show.
Whatever the case, your priority should always be on delivering the content that matters to the majority of the audience at all times. If you’re offering the B-C-D topic right now because the A-topic was already discussed last hour, what are you telling that person who’s just put on your show? If it’s not your best material or something that appeals to a large portion of your audience then why is it on?
For example, yesterday in San Francisco it was the first Monday of the football season and there were three A+ subjects. We had the Ray Rice topic, the 49ers win on the road in Dallas with a sea full of red inside AT&T Stadium and the Raiders open up the Derek Carr era with a loss in New York. This isn’t to say that the A’s or Giants weren’t also a subject but in comparison to those other three options, the passion level for those subjects was smaller. If we spent thirty minutes of our talk time on subjects #4 and #5 and a person with a meter put us on seeking NFL content, we’d have disappointed them and sent them away quickly.
It’s easy to get caught up in your show and live inside the road map you’ve created and try to entertain yourself but remember that we are in this to gain listeners and deliver results for advertisers and it always comes down to presenting material that the majority can consume. The challenge (and fun) for the host and producer is to develop the angles that will keep the story fresh and deliver them differently each hour. While it may at times frustrate you, each time a new segment starts, the presentation is brand new to a new group of people and if they’re listening to you for the first time that day, you want to make sure to attack the content with a purpose and a strong degree of enthusiasm.
Example – The Ray Rice subject
- Did the NFL know about the tape? If not, why not? How could TMZ get access to it but not the NFL?
- Why did an Atlantic City Prosecutor offer him a deal in light of this evidence? When did they know about the tape?
- Why do we feel differently now about this than we did when the ruling came out? Did we not expect it to be this ugly?
- How do you feel about the Ravens cutting him and the NFL suspending him indefinitely? Is the punishment severe enough?
- Why would Janay Palmer marry him after being the victim of this type of abuse? What has Ray been doing to make things right?
- ow will this situation effect future rulings on domestic violence involving NFL Players? Will those punishments now be changed?
- How does this impact Roger Goodell’s position as NFL Commissioner? What should be done if we learn that he knew about the tape?
- What does this mean for Ray Rice’s future? Would you want your team to take a chance on him? What does he have to do to rebuild your trust?
When you look back after each show, you should find yourself hitting the best subjects multiple times. Your audience changes frequently and anyone who tunes in, is going to be excited and curious to know what you think of the subjects that matter most on that particular day. While it’s natural to feel like you’ve “already covered that” earlier in the show, the good ones understand that recycling content is a good thing and you can’t go wrong presenting your views on the biggest local/national stories of the day as opposed to diving into lesser important subjects.
While you may look at your show and think “I’m taking a break from the top story because I’ve been on it for 30 minutes“, the material you sink your teeth into in place of it, is what the audience of that particular segment is going to measure you by. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a market where you have 2-3 great stories to work with, that can work. If though you don’t have that benefit, recycle your best work and exhaust the angles so they remain fresh and interesting to yourself and your audience.
Ask yourself this. If you were on the air in Baltimore today, would you have spent quarter hour of your show discussing the Orioles or another sports story when the entire market was red hot on the Ray Rice issue and looking to you for further insight and opinion on it? The only other subject that I could see making any sense would have been the actual Ravens game because it can tie back into the organization’s flaws, when they knew this material would surface, if it impacted preparation for the Bengals, how will this issue impact this year’s team, etc. Aside from that, there’s one story the local audience is coming to you for perspective on and it’s up to you to satisfy their craving.
If you watch baseball you’ve often heard announcers in the 9th inning of a game say “the closer doesn’t want to get beat with his secondary pitch” and the same principle applies to doing a radio show. Your best pitch is the story that appeals most to your local audience and the only one who controls the pitch selection is yourself.
I remember the great Joe DiMaggio once said “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best“. If you approached your content the same way during every segment of every show, how much better would your show and radio station be? If a great hitter has success at the plate, he’s going to do the same exact thing until the pitcher makes him adjust. Radio isn’t much different. The real question is whether or not we’re wise enough to stick with a winning formula until the audience requires a change!