Canada is about to open back up its borders for Americans to visit their country. After being closed the better part of two years, we haven’t been able to go there and they haven’t been able to visit the United States. This begs the question to The Josie Dye Show with Matt and Carlin, Indie 88, Toronto: is America excited to be able to come back to Canada? In the construction of any entertainment around a big topic, find the tension. It’s the conflict that will drive any central narrative. Think of a story you’ve been told recently – drama has driven your interest. The rules are different in Canada for cold calls. Josie, Matt, and Carlin decided to call America, in search of people who were actually indifferent to the fact that the borders were re-opening. The indifference is the conflict they used to create entertainment. Here’s a silly break which shows that construction.
Let’s gather around the campfire and talk a little bit about character development. Often, talent think anything they talk about defines them. There are certain criteria all of this must pass to be effective: you have to affirm a core character trait a typical listener can identify with, you must be honest, and it must come in story-form because we are a story-telling medium. Then there’s this: tell me about something that is happening in your life right now. That real life content is the most authentic. And it will be delivered much differently. A story from years ago is minus the emotion you felt then (it’s a story being told from your head). A story happening now lives in technicolor because I will feel it as you tell it. Here’s a simple story as told on Logan and Sadie, WINK-FM, Ft. Myers. Sadie getting a new umbrella is really an open for the meat of the break, Logan talking about his kid going off to college (the topics are tied together as you will hear). This is simple, but you will leave feeling Logan and, if you’re a parent, connecting with his exasperation because you’ve lived it, too. Because it’s happening now.
One of the required attributes to be a truly great personality is having a natural curiosity about the world around you. An almost insatiable interest in whatever is going on in the world. As I’ve done this work, the million-dollar players I’ve worked with have this quality. That curiosity drives better topics. The conventional wisdom when Bill Cosby was released from prison a few weeks ago was that morning radio should not touch it. Why? It’s a big topic and if you want me, as a listener, to bond to you, you’ll share your thoughts. The day the story broke, I had my weekly call with John and Tammy, KSON, San Diego. They were outraged this happened and had a zillion questions on how it came to be. We leveraged their genuine interest in the topic to create a break that was relevant, interesting, and memorable by inviting on a lawyer who could answer their questions. All because the cast wondered why. What is your curiosity about the topics of the day? Are you forever reading about whatever is going on, looking for angles and stimulation to activate your interest so you can bring it to the audience? If you do, you’ll excel.
Want to win big with women? Do lots of relationships content. A new signature feature for us on Kyle, Bryan, and Sarah, WRAL-FM, Raleigh is called Love Him or List Him. Purposely playing off the HGTV show Love It or List It, this one works great as America re-opens and listeners get back to dating. The simple thesis of this weekly feature is that a female listener comes on who’s had a date or two with a new person. The quirk is that she saw something or an odd thing happened which makes her wonder if she should continue seeing him (Love Him) or move on to the next person (List Him). This is simple story-telling with a hook that is relatable and intriguing to other female listeners. She comes on, lays out her challenge, and then you take calls, asking the audience what they would do in that instance. The big win is that those calling with opinions probably have lived through it so you’ll get a lot of first-hand advice and stories. Once you field a few calls, get that gal back on and tell her what the audience thinks she should do. Here’s a version with a twist!
We all do well in radio using available audio of things that happen in the world. I’ve covered on this page the value of available audio to help make your break sparkle and give listeners some context in what you’re talking about. Dave and Mahoney, ALT 107.5, Las Vegas did something with audio that was so simple, yet so smart. There was a video circulating a few weeks ago of a woman who went crazy at a McDonalds. They got two other audio clips of people losing their shit at a fast food establishment. Theming it under the banner of Fast Food Freak Outs, Dave played the audio, then gave his team three options on what fast food restaurant it happened at. The brilliance of this move is that, as a listener, it drew me in, too. I wanted to hear the audio so I could guess from the fast food chains he offered at the end of each clip. There are passive breaks where the audience really has no role – you talk and they listen. Then there are active breaks where it’s designed to get into listeners’ heads and draws them in vicariously to participate.
I’m regularly asked two questions: when do you know a story should be told on the air and how long should a break go. To the first, a story should be told if it has a central theme and lots of elements with twists and turns and unexpected moments that will keep me on the edge of my seat. When the story defines you, makes me feel something for you, and gets me to experience some kind of emotion is when you know you might have gold. How long should a break go? Well, that’s like porn – I know it when I hear (see) it. A great story with all the attributes listed above can take as much time as it needs to breath and be expressed and not a moment longer. Here’s Karson and Kennedy, MIX 104.1, Boston with a story about Karson’s really bad day-before. From his car breaking down on a major Boston street, to issues with the insurance company and tow truck, followed by no power in his house for several hours. Sometimes it all goes to shit and that was what Karson dealt with. Tell the story around the central theme and let the chemistry of the room take over for however long it needs.
Two certain things that will resonate with any audience and make your break special: first, regardless of format, you must be on whatever relevant topics are happening on any given day. Contemporizing your show makes you be in the moment and any move you make away from being a generic, evergreen show is important. The other item is having destinations and surprises built into some of your breaks. Yes, conversation is critical in this day of “real talk”. But we still need to surprise the audience with payoffs which will make your break more fun and memorable. Enter Mark and NeaderPaul, KSLX, Phoenix, who execute this break perfectly. KSLX plays classic rock and targets a mostly older male audience. The rules don’t change there. During Pride Month, they still tackle former American Idol contestant David Archuleta’s coming out and then offer a surprise jingle at the end to remember all the letters of the alphabet when referencing that community.
There is an immense value in all things nostalgia right now. The formats doing well are those that play older, well-known music. Brands with very high equity and are well-known have an advantage. We have a daily feature on David, Sue, and Kendra, MAGIC 106.7, Boston called the Throwback Live. I love this feature because it has many elements that could hook listeners: it has throwback audio clips from decades past that will be great nostalgia for listeners, it’s presented as a game that’s a friendly competition between two cast members so the audience can root for someone, and it’s vicarious so those in cars can play along as they travel to work. Research has proven many times that games resonate and are evaluated well by the audience. In large part because they’re easy to follow and are fun. That this has the added elements of throwback audio and the competition between two cast members, who’ll get defined in the process, are a bonus.
What do you do when your church going 80-year mother, a Chicago Bears fan for life, detests Aaron Rodgers and he’s hosting Jeopardy that night? You charge up your phone to get commentary about what she thinks. So did John and Tammy, KSON, San Diego weeks ago as Jeopardy continued to offer up guest hosts with the death of Alex Trebek. Bring me there. That’s the message of this post. Make me feel like I am in the room with you. John knows his mother would be opinionated and fun with topic. So the show had options: recount the story themselves, get Bonnie on the phone after-the-fact, or record her in real time as she drips with emotion. It’s option “C” every time because that’s a higher level of drama for the audience to glum on to. That she’s older and works at a church is a wonderful setup. Remember…when in the middle of emotion, record it. These work parts will help you better tell the story and you will make the audience hearing it feel like they were there with you.
A novel character development feature we have on Logan and Sadie, WINK-FM, Ft. Myers, FL each Monday is called the Relationships Report Card. We spend so much of our time in radio talking about our families. This is important to do to not only define you to the audience, but to force more real life content into the program. This is essential storytelling to create a bond with listeners and remind them that they are just like you. Add in that the most natural humor for a show comes when you’re telling the truth. The Relationships Report Card was added to define Logan to the audience. His wife comes on each Monday morning to “grade” him as a husband over the weekend. She cites things he did (or didn’t do) and assess to him a letter grade. It’s empowering to women to have that forum and she speaks for all as she playfully calls Logan out on how he was as a spouse.