AudioGreat breaks achieve a positive strategic goal back to the show. They communicate, both in content and presentation, something about the show plot. Breaks which score are real, relevant, and fun. They earn you valuable images. Here are some breaks by Reynolds Group shows which achieve this.
Two of the regular items that bear themselves out when you talk with listeners is that they want fast moving breaks, with multiple parts to keep their attention. And that the sweet spot for length is about three minutes with rare exceptions. Enter The Big Dave Show, B105, Cincinnati who prep their breaks accordingly. Here’s a nice, compact break with two major elements around the Luke Bryan tickets the show has for giveaway: Part One in Luke or Dare is the team offering a trivia question to a caller – if they answer it correctly they get the tickets. Or they have to accept the dare, which is Part Two. Listen to this break and note how quickly it moves – they never give the audience a chance to get lulled into restlessness because of its pacing – it was prepped for this. There is launch/set-up, execution, and payoff all within three minutes, leaving the audience wanting more verses fatiguing them by staying too long. Which leads to a third important point: if you have something to give out, spend more time figuring out how to give away the prize because how you do it is the win for those just tuning in, wanting to have a good time.
What is a great song, but a story? Reality shows, even your favorite weekly sit-com, tells a story every week. Facts and figures only matter if they tell stories, which is how we connect as human beings and show our humanity. So this begs the big question – how do you do in telling stories on your show? What’s your story? The stories you find around your life and the Hot Topics frame your point-of-view and communicate your take. Stacey and Jonah, 106.5 The Arch, St. Louis heard that a gentleman and his family went to a Cardinals baseball game and, because he’d seen a picture, noticed that sitting close by was the family of the person who donated his heart in a transplant a few years prior. In a bold move, he introduced himself, believing this moment would never happen again. The show could have relayed the story on their own, but they elevated it by getting the man, the transplant recipient, on their show to tell them what happened. Awesome story-telling, very human, and quite memorable radio.
Our post last week was about being in the moment for pop culture – attaching yourself in a unique way to a Hot Topic. The most inviting content might be what’s going on in the world right now, because those topics are clickable (and postable on your social media platforms). But the treatment of that topic, as my friends at Coleman Insights have long advocated, is what is critical to making the break stand out. There was a huge controversy around the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, where the expected horse to win was disqualified and Country House declared the winner. Good conversation for the show just after the race, because people are aware of it (awareness is the main threshold for determining a topic for your show). Kyle from Two Men and a Mom, WRAL-FM, Raleigh found out something very cool. His father-in-law placed a bet on Country House, because he lives in a country house (it was one of those “on a whim” bets). His father-in-law’s $20 bet, at 65-1 odds, paid off $1300. So, they got him on and you got to hear his story, energy, and sense of humor around the topic. Giving their program one more break that could only be done by them to engage and entertain the audience. That he placed the bet and won big is a coincidence. That they took advantage of it as content for the show isn’t.
If I were to take an hour of today’s show and play it in two weeks, would it feel old and dated? If so, that’s a good sign that your content choices were “of the moment”. That you were so tapped into what’s going on right now, you reflected pop culture and were contemporary. Your audience wants not only a connection to you, they want to be connected to the topics of the day. That’s being radio’s version of click bait. In a brainstorm around the topic of James Holzhauer, the weird guy who keeps winning on Jeopardy, John and Tammy, KSON, San Diego wondered what it was like for the contestants who lose to him. Noting that each contestant and their city of residence are used in the introduction at the beginning of the show, they wrote down a few and used the Google Machine® to find one. Here’s an interview with the guy who came the closest – the contestant who lost to Holzhauer by just $18. In the moment, from a unique angle that fascinated them, and a few minutes of highly relevant pop culture radio their fans could not get from anyone else.
Breaks can’t be linear – you cannot have one point-of-conflict and mine that for several minutes. The best evaluated breaks are ones with a focused thesis, but also with elements inside that are more than conversation which feed the central narrative. In the many focus groups I’ve watched over the years, the breaks that score best use multiple elements around the point-of-conflict to keep the audience engaged. Koz and Jen, WTMX (The MIX), Chicago do quite well building these breaks and using their time efficiently to play into listeners’ attention deficit. The central theme of this break is that Jen’s husband is a cheapskate, because he bid low on an item being auctioned off for a charity. Before getting him on for the “confrontation”, Koz and Jen each had one of their kids comment on what they might bid for the item, adding additional elements of humor around the theme. We often hear from shows that want to talk long – this break is under two minutes, defines the cast, is vulnerable and fun, because it was prepped thoroughly.
Drama drives great breaks. Minus some level of drama (conflict), breaks will just sit there and never engage the audience. It’s drama that draws in listeners, makes them feel something, forces them to take sides, and makes the content and story you’re telling memorable. The TJ Show, AMP 103.3, Boston found out that Vanessa was approached by the mother of a girl scout to buy some cookies and how bothered she was that it was the mom and not the kid doing the pitch. There is your conflict. TJ is a master at stirring the pot to keep listeners on the hook. TJ tells the story about Vanessa at the grocery store and her encounter with the girl scout’s mom – listen to how they hook the audience in the first 20 seconds. Then, TJ crafts a payoff to further hold on to those listening (he surprises and delights with the payoff). Then, here come the phones with listeners taking a side and telling other stories around this silly drama, keeping listeners on the lam even more. Hear how the drama is presented right off the top, then listen for how this show holds on to listeners with how they present payoffs and phones from the drama. Real life, and real life with conflict, works.
Who’s not getting robocalls on their cell phones? Time to turn the tables. Gary Craig, WTIC-FM, Hartford is a legend and, in part, built his show around Crank Calls. So doing a robo-crank perfectly fits his program. Gary downloaded a new app called Robo Killer to his phone. When he gets what looks like a robocall on his cell, he engages the app, which answers the call and screws around with the guy in India calling to sell insurance or tell you that you’re in trouble with the IRS. The smart approach to doing relatable, distinctive radio is to take the huge topics of the day (in this case it’s robocalls, which everyone is getting and hating) and figure out what to do with the topic that you can own (using an app to mess with the caller so everyone is laughing). Look at a Kimmel, Fallon, or Ellen and that’s what they try to do everyday to create an experience you cannot get from anyone else. Gary understands this approach in creating fun things to do for his show, which is why he’s iconic in the market – what Gary gives you, you cannot get from anyone else.
We preach on these pages that the most important thing you can do to win is earn images – it’s the long ball play to gain success. Shows that have them win, shows that don’t lose. There are four critical images to earn that help you build reasons listeners come. These work, regardless of format: be Fun (people want to wake up and have a laugh); prove your Authenticity (have a perspective on the topics you choose, and let listeners in your life); be Innovative in ways that fit your brand (this creates differentiation between you and other shows); and be Relatable (prove you are just like those listening). Daybreak’s Drew Steele, FOX News 92.5. Ft. Myers, FL subscribes to this philosophy, despite being a conservative opinion show. His plot is conservative politics, but the images are the same. President Trump is exonerated in the Mueller Report and this is topic #1 one on Drew’s show. Instead of pounding the table with his point of view, Drew did a song parody to communicate his perspective – because he knows that nothing is more sticky than making people laugh while showing it.
There are ways of doing political content without doing politics. You just have to figure out how to insert pop culture into it. Vice President Mike Pence was coming to town to do a few speeches and fundraise. Mark and NeanderPaul, KSLX, Phoenix decided to test listeners’ knowledge by answering the phones (these were recorded) and asking if the caller knew the VP’s name. No one did. Then, to take things a step further, they asked callers a different set of questions – like “who was Fonzie’s girlfriend on Happy Days” (all things from our childhood we’ve held on to forever). As you would guess, the listeners knocked every one of those questions out of the park. They openly say on the show they do not do politics. But here’s one way they did – by diverting the audience’s attention into pop culture to help create the humor. Here are the two breaks where they did both.
A simple technique to create some fun is to marry the opposite of a topic to create some humorous tension. It seems like everyone is into Game of Thrones (its final season premieres on HBO in April). It’s quite easy to convince yourself that everyone watches and loves the show, which is untrue. When you look at the actual numbers, close to 98% of America doesn’t watch it. The threshold for content choice is if the audience is aware of it, and this topic passes that test. Now marry the opposite of that conventional wisdom and you have a relatable break done in a fun way. John and Tammy, KSON, San Diego approached people who know about the show, but do watch it, and asked them to describe the program, using their limited knowledge of its plot and characters. They then aired the most fun replies and talked around it with cast members on their show who know all and are deeply passionate about the program.