This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Consultant Tips” series, written by Charese Fruge on July 23, 2019
In a recent conversation with Dave Farra, host of the Dave and Mahoney Morning Show on KXTE/Las Vegas, I asked him what the biggest challenge facing radio talent today is. His response to me was, “Don’t get me wrong, while extension of the brand and social media are critical to the success of talent, I feel like companies are so consumed with this, that we’re forgetting what’s really important. The success of any morning show on any platform, whether it’s traditional, podcasting, YouTube etc. starts with good content. I feel like there is so much pressure to get followers and comments or have something go viral on social media, that we as talent either forget about the basics of compelling a listening audience, or younger talent don’t even take the time to cultivate the craft.”
Radio is theater of the mind. I constantly have to remind talent that while great social media content is good, a visual bit doesn’t necessarily translate to a listening audience. I also have to remind young talent that not everyone can stop what they are doing at 7:30 in the morning to go to Facebook or Instagram live to watch the bit as it unfolds. Sure, they can catch it later on social media, but in the meantime, you’ve lost your real-time listening audience. Think about great comedians. Most of them have to start out learning improv, so they can translate comedy on stage and create theater of the mind. Radio is the same way; you have to master the basics of storytelling and pushing people’s buttons to capture and keep people’s attention.
You can also compare good radio to an exciting football game. A great morning show has a star quarterback and a receiver with a tight grip and fast legs. A driver who can see an opening, throw the Hail Mary to the receiver who catches the ball and runs it down the field to score a touchdown. The crowd goes nuts, or in the case of radio, the reaction is big, the phones blow up and you’ve got their TSL.
So, a quick refresher on Radio 101: Make sure the topic you are going to address will pass the filter of your primary target demo. Will it drive passion and spark a reaction and debate among this demo? And for goodness sakes, DO NOT ASK A YES OR NO QUESTION, or a question that only has one or two answers. There is so much great content out there. If you can’t find something that’s debatable and/or relatable, then you and/or your producer are lazy. If you are going to comment on a topic, you MUST take a side. Do not waste airtime by being indifferent.
Defer to someone else or to your listeners. Be relatable or self-deprecating so you make a connection with the audience and don’t be afraid to record calls and clean them up. Pre-taping a call will not wreck your integrity but taking a caller live will tank your ratings if it goes on forever and its boring. Most importantly, know when to get out of a bit. No matter who gets the one-liner, a good driver will have no problem sharing the spotlight with a team member or a listener. They will know when the bit is done.
There’s only one other thing that is as important, if not more so, than mastering the basics. Unfortunately, this is something that some companies don’t see as a priority because it costs money. But hiring a Rock star producer whose greatest skill is phone screening is a must. Sure, interns can help, but those interns need to be directed by a seasoned producer who can screen and coach a listener in 20 seconds or less. As the industry continues to downsize, a good producer is not something you can skim on if you expect your morning show to perform. Each member of a morning show should have their defined role and should be able to stick to focusing on that during the show. A solid producer will keep the momentum going, keep all the plates spinning and make the show seem flawless. Good producers are like mini-program directors for a show. They are hard to come by, so if you find one who helps move the show forward, lock them into a long-term deal and pay them well. They will prove to be a big return on your investment.