Never underestimate the power of a simple break that communicates who you are. Character development is a critical element of any show. Whether you’re on-the-air for one month or ten years, you’re always defining yourself to connect with the audience. To find “your people” if you will. And sometimes, we make these bigger deals than they need to be. The telling of a big story with our opening the phones at the end. That tends to be a good path, because the focus shifts from your story to the audiences, effectively making them the stars of the show. Consider this simple break from Christine and Salt, WTIC-FM, Hartford. During the show, Christine got an email from the school nurse about her son. She shares it with the audience, becomes self-deprecating about what a bad mother she is, and the chemistry of the room then takes over. It’s not long, but very relatable. And it effectively allows Christine to bond with “her people”. Other mothers are probably laughing and nodding their heads up and down sayid “Yup, that’s me.” When it comes to character development, simple breaks like this work, too.
Would you, could you do a break like this, as heard on John and Tammy, KSON, San Diego? John’s dad had been in failing health for some time. This is a show that keeps no secrets from its listeners. They are intimately aware that when you move the audience to care about you (and in turn you care about them), the show becomes important. Radio is the most intimate form of mass communication there is. Thousands of listeners at any one time based on numbers from Nielsen. But in reality, we all know our strength is that it’s really just that one person experiencing it when they listen. The audience traveled the journey with John and his father over the many years this show has been on in San Diego. The countless times John would have his father on for many reasons, they were quite aware of the bond between the two, even when John was making fun of him. So it was appropriate that John include listeners on his last days, too. Here is a break of John talking about his father a few days after he lost him. The description of his last few minutes are incredibly powerful and could only be done by a talent experienced and seasoned and one comfortable to do so. This is emotional, balanced, and radio at its most powerful. Do you have this kind of relationship with your audience? You’ll win bigger if you do.
A focus of our content at some stations is the music. It’s an area often missed by personalities – to talk about the artists and songs you play. It’s smart to do because it further ingrains you into the fabric of the radio station and is a primary reason listeners choose your brand (at least initially). We do a lot of this on Mark and NeanderPaul, KSLX, Phoenix, who recently interviewed Paul Stanley from the iconic group KISS. As a classic rock station, this is like a three-foot putt, given how much the audience loves the music and that content based on nostalgia truly works when times are tough. What Mark and Paul do so well is get the artists to reveal themselves. Stanley comes on to sell his latest downloads, which are remakes of 1970s R&B songs. That’s his objective. Ours is to entertain the audience. This interview works on two levels: Stanley reveals himself because the guys ask questions that compel those stories. They then serve Stanley’s goals by talking about the new project, and quizzing him on his true knowledge of that music. Wrapped all around the conversation is a great use of audio to keep the listeners engaged.
Storytelling is an art and a major part of the telling of a great story is the details you share to drive the narrative. Consider learning that your dad fathered another child and you found out about it from your drunk sister. And…that the sibling you never knew you had lives in the city in which you live. It’s a pretty compelling narrative. And it works for several reasons: it’s the truth, there are some gasp-worthy details, and the story lives on the margins. You’re revealing yourself to the audience with intimate details you wouldn’t just share with anyone. And each detail is more shocking than the last. That’s the thesis of the story told on Moug and Angie, MIX 106, Boise, Idaho recently. Moug found out what his father did several years prior and thinks he saw his sibling in town based on a description. This is excellent storytelling. Another great decision made in the structure of this break is its first few minutes, where the team has a listener tell their crazy story first, which tees up Moug to tell his. I love that they put the focus first on a caller to hook the audience than what’s typically done, which is focus on the talent first. All around, these are two stories you will long remember. Moug is defined in the process, setting him up for listener questions about all of it down the road because it’s so memorable
The two things which drive the success of realty shows on TV are very well-defined characters and drama, drama, drama. The next time you venture into your favorite realty show, watch them through these prisms and know that this is what drives great radio breaks, too. Another element of great realty shows is relatabiilty – as viewers, we must relate to the drama – possibly see that it could be us in that dilemma, as well. Enter The Josie Dye Show with Matt and Carlin, Indie 88, Toronto who see that relatable drama lives around them all the time. The show regularly gets emails from their promotions director and something about each email irks them: they always have the red flag that notes the email is urgent. This bugs all of them because not every message from her is urgent, in their opinion. So what do they do? They call the promotions director and confront her, asking why she does it and asks that she stop. In one word: drama. A break like this works because listeners have lived it (or see that they could) and in their fantasies, they’d make the same call. The only thing is that these guys did make the call. So listeners lean in to see how it goes. Just like a great scene in your favorite reality show on TV.
Brian and Chrissy, WGNA, Albany did something fun and different for Valentine’s Day last month. With a mission to be super local, the team partnered with a country artist who lives in town and got him to do custom Valentine’s Day songs for listeners as gifts for their significant others. The effort happened on several levels – getting to know the couple the song was being written for, customizing the song, then getting the local artist to record the Valen-Rhyme, which was presented to them. This works because it was topical and different. Then it scored its biggest points being local and fun to hear. We often do things in radio and play with whatever is presented to us at that time (i.e. a phone topic where we only get to use whatever is called in at that moment). Brian and Chrissy seized control of this idea, orchestrating the listener calls prior to the holiday, gathering the info to write the songs, then penning them with the local artist, who recorded them. The audience would have never known, nor would they have cared. Listeners just want relevant content that is entertaining. That they put these elements in place to create memorable content for the holiday helped craft and present breaks to their fans they’d laugh at and come back for more of the show’s brand of fun the next day.
We offered a Free Idea last week called WINOS. As Rush Limbaugh taught us years ago, putting together tribes in your audience gives them power to not feel like they are alone in this world. Kyle, Bryan, and Sarah, WRAL, Raleigh seized the idea, which is an acronym for Women In Need of Sanity. Their target is a 35-year old female who’s going crazy after one year of Covid. Sarah from the show will lead the group, then over the course of the next few weeks, build out the tribe by taking calls from women who have this in common with her and the others who want in. There’s power in the group. There is also humor as this week’s audio proves. This is where your win actually happens. Listen to not only the real life offerings from this nurse, but how deft the show is at allowing her to be the star of the break, maximizing her observations and sense of humor. We all know shows that would be uncomfortable allowing the caller to be the center of the break, even trying to top the lines. Not here and not with this team. The show is elevated because they elevate the caller. WINOS starts a new idea for the program, a tribe for the audience, and more genuine humor coming from listeners who feel comfortable to call the show to have fun.
A misstep for some shows is to try too hard to impress the audience. Real life talk works and does best when it’s grounded in truth and based in story-telling. With the recent snowfall in New England, Karson, from Karson and Kennedy, MIX 104.1, Boston, decided it was time for his ten-year old son to start shoveling the driveway. An important marker to decide if a real life story should be shared on the air is if there is a better than fair chance listeners have experienced the same thing or could see themselves in that scenario. The center of this story is how much young Barrett should be paid for that task. Instead of just telling the story and opening the phones, Karson decided to call for a family meeting to discuss the dilemma during dinner. What is in our hands is how we offer the content to the audience. In this break, you feel as though you are not only relating to the topic, but sitting at the kitchen table while the family eats, discussing things. The topic works well, the presentation of the audio helps advance its memorability.
One thing that makes powerful talent powerful is they’ve moved the audience to care about them. The intimacy of our medium (it’s just you and that one listener, as we learned years ago) flows from a very deep relationship. Built on vulnerability and the sharing of your life with listeners, the more you let them in and prove you are like them, the more that connection happens. You have the power to make people care not only based on what you share, but how you share it. At John and Tammy, KSON, San Diego, John has been abruptly forced out of his apartment because the landlord sold the house. On its face, you could think: how do I make them care about my problem? Emotion, and more specifically humor, moves them into the “care column”. John has accumulated lots of stuff as we all do (very relatable) and must decide what to take to his new place. The X-factor in this break is the show asking the listener who joined to decide if the item John references should make the move. The feature they did was called Take It or Toss It and the ruling made by the caller was final. That John has to move is his problem. That they figured out how to use a listener in a fun way made it sticky, thus moving the audience to get to know him and care about him.
One of the many ways the internet has come to help shows is to offer up audio of almost anything you’re talking about. Breaks need another element to keep listeners’ attention. Often that’s a listener call. But almost any topic that’s tackled has some kind of audio available online. Chatting about last night’s big TV show? Play a piece of audio from it so those listening who didn’t see it feel included. Then, social media has lots of audio from videos of relevant topics that help sell what you’re doing and create laughter. Mark and NeanderPaul, KSLX, Phoenix found a video of a parrot who can sing along with Led Zepplin songs. Just the right silliness for a show that plays classic rock music. Hear how the audio of the parrot helps create the fun. Bonus points from these guys for the front and back ends of the break. In the first part, they seamlessly talked about NFL football from the day before and on the back end, there was a tease about the My Pillow guy, taking a break that could have been done anytime, and making it topical, too. Make sure you use available audio in all of your breaks to help them stay electric.