At our core, we’re storytellers. Each break in which we do content, we convey who we are and what we’re all about by the sharing of stories. We prove our relatability and entertain the audience by telling them. Then the great shows turn the forum of storytelling over to the audience. There are three components of all memorable stories: the set up (this is the short synopsis of what the story is about at the very beginning, not unlike the opening paragraph of any written story). The second part has all the wonderful details, drama, and tension that move the narrative of the story forward. And the end is the payoff or destination. With this week’s audio, I want to focus on the middle part, because it’s the drama and details that make a story come to life and entertain the audience. Lexi and Banks, KUBL, Salt Lake City had just come back from their holiday break. Lexi had a very bad motel experience as she drove with her boyfriend and dogs to see family. A five-minute story is long, unless it contains lots of drama to keep the audience hooked to move through the narrative. As she tells the motel story, count nine different pieces of drama that kept the listener’s interest. If you have only one or two pieces of tension in an experience, reconsider telling it because there might not be enough there to entertain the audience. This has all that and then some, which makes it memorable, relatable, and fun to hear.
One of my favorite new features in 2020 came from John and Tammy, KSON, San Diego. All content must be relevant and the best content is fun (or done with the intent to make you laugh or feel better). I always add major bonus points when something is developed so specific to that show, no one else can do it. One of John’s daughters is a vegan. When she comes to visit, his life changes dramatically because he has to buy different food for the house and try different things for meals. That tension is what makes this a great feature when Abby arrives called Lifestyle Advice From a Vegan. No other show can do this because it happens only to John and only when Abby arrives. That’s what makes this very authentic and funny. John writes the script so he can poke a lot at himself (he’s quite self-deprecating, which works here), asks Abby to read it as though she wrote it (he doesn’t allow her to pre-read the scripts so you hear her smiling or laughing as she says certain things), and then he adds an appropriate music bed. All around, I am getting to know John (character development) and the bit allows the show to display it’s quite genuine sense of humor. Here is the last installment of the feature from 2020.
Be strategic about your content messaging and be different from anything else out there and you stand your best chance things will cut through. We were looking for a fresh way to do character development with David, Sue, and Kendra, Magic 106.7, Boston. When doing a standard character development exercise recently, we happened upon some traits the entire team had that were odd (in a good way). When doing character development, it’s always most efficient when listeners connect with a core attribute they have in common with you (i.e. being a spouse, having kids, liking sports, owning a pet). But sometimes, it’s the quirkier things which are the stickiest. Here’s “Getting to Know You”. Kendra hoards receipts. She never throws them out. The audience is told this fact then callers are challenged to guess how many receipts she has in her pocketbook that morning before she reveals the awful total. I love this take because, while letting the listeners into the lives of the cast (we do this with all three cast members), it’s not your standard tell a story, then ask for phone calls, that makes it work for me.
I have focused on three key kinds of content over the years: what’s up locally (because local matters if you live in town), things going on in pop culture or the news (these are the “now topics” that set your relevance), and then things going on in your life that position you as just like the listener. Consider stories from your life our version of #metoo content. You want the audience to hear the story and think, yea that happens to me, as well. Such is this week’s break from Mark and NeanderPaul, KSLX, Phoenix. Mark has the typical marriage with his lovely wife, Rose. They do battle over how the dishwasher is loaded, just like you and me. Mark tells the story, which is the initial connection point to convey he is like every listener in the audience who is in a relationship. Then, they move to phone calls for listeners’ stories of connection – these calls turn the listeners into the focus of the conversation (it’s never a bad thing to make them the star of your show) and give the guys more stories to hear to have their fun. Real life is usually the best content, because of the strategic message and authentic humor.
One of the many things David Letterman taught us was the value of adding characters to the show by using the odd and funny people around you. In these days of ensemble teams and our industry’s inability to budget for more cast members, this is the easiest and least expensive route to growing your show. Characters add dimension and color to your program and can instantly add more humor and edge, too. Look at what Letterman did in the early years to set himself apart from the other nightly talk show hosts and be memorable. He made stars out of the the guy who owned the souvenir store next door to him, the stage manager who had an innocence and natural sense of humor about him, even his mother. You can do that, too, to grow your show at zero expense to the company, Find the genuinely real and funny people in your life (your family, your social circle, neighbors) and create reasons to have them on the program. Some for a specific reason each time (they own a character trait) or to comment on and add to the conversation about whatever topic you’re doing in that break. John and Tammy, KSON, San Diego excel at this. Here are two real life characters that come and go in the show: Neighbor Gary and No Nothing About Country Ken. Find those in your world just like this and overnight, become an even better show.
Let’s play off stereotypes for this week’s audio: guys don’t do any work around the Thanksgiving meal. They neither cook, clean, nor offer anything else. With that stereotype out of the way, here’s a classic piece of audio from Tiffany and Michael, B101, Philadelphia. Holidays are a time of family gatherings, in groups large and small. We know that strategic character development almost always happens when we put family members of the cast on the show and get them to bring us inside the relationship. Real works and this is real. Here’s family man, devoted husband, all-around great guy and cast member Michael Chew getting assigned the list of things he needs to do around the house from his wife, Nancy. To effectively define your character, the audience must see themselves in the story that you tell, you must add dimension to the break (this is what Nancy does – she brings the real and the room plays with it), and at its end, the typical listener must say the cast member is just like them. This accomplishes all of that.
Even though we all knew Alex Trebek would, at some point, leave us, we were faced last week with ways to treat that content on the show. I did some extra listening around the dial – to shows I work with and shows I do not – to sample how talent handled it. Several took the path of least resistance: let’s give out some Trebek facts and spend the balance of our time reflecting on his life and making commentary. Good, not great. These moments call for deeper dives of storytelling. Finding people who can talk about the subject from a first person perspective. Of them all, Rob and Joss, Sunny 98.1, San Diego were one of the few who stood out. Yes, they started the break as we all would. With a great frame. They then pivoted and put on someone who had been on Jeopardy to reflect on Alex and talk about him in ways they could not. Bonus points because that person was local, but they didn’t need to be. Great content is relevant to the moment, emotional in its display, and centered around a story no one else can tell. This hit all those marks.
An oft-used bit is to mess up the lyrics of a song and the listeners have to guess the right song to win. Where things gets into unique territory (and become much more valuable because it’s unique) is to have a cast member’s parent do the bit. Often, a cast member would just do this, but using your mother helps position you as their kid (and a real person) and gives you more to play with. Such is the case in a regular bit done by Brian and Chrissy, WGNA, Albany called Chrissy’s Mom Screws Up the Songs. Here’s the payoff to one they did around Halloween. Listen to the production value of this bit and how quickly they moved through the content to not waste the audience’s time. In less than two minutes, the listener is hooked, engaged, having a good time, and leaves with several positive impressions of the show’s humor and relevance. Bonus points that they never put the caller on to guess the song – I love this because there is no inane banter with the winner. They just credit them, focusing more on the execution of the content that is entertaining to everyone not calling.
“Yea, but what are we doing with it?” That’s a question I ask every show in near every weekly conversation. Choosing the topics for the program is the easy part. What we do with them, past the interesting angles that define the talent, is what makes it sticky. You have seen me preach this countless times on this page. The audience wants to be around people they know and like when they turn you on, but most importantly, they want to laugh and have a good time. Looking for a new feature for Karson and Kennedy, MIX 104.1, Boston, the team came up with Drunk News. It’s been done by other shows (Leno even did it for a while). The difference here is how the show did it. They could have read news stories and acted drunk – that would have be perceived as a wacky radio bit. Or, you could type up some news stories and go to the bars in Boston at 2am and get actual drunk people to read them – that’s real. That’s what they did. Nothing truly revolutionary here. It doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be relevant and fun, which this is. Here’s a retro-break that easily shows how it can be done to stand out.
PPM ratings are all about occasions. Our job in developing daily, fun radio, is to have as part of our recipe, “tune-in features” that affect listeners’ behavior so they turn us on. Listen to any successful show breakdown their wins and you will almost always hear them reference that fans set their watch for features they must hear. Solid, fun, can’t miss benchmarks must be a part of your show if you care to turn a two-day a week listener into a three-day a week listener. Much like Apple releases new products and targets them at Apple fans, your fans are the easiest route to getting more listenership because they already like you. Benchmarks must reach certain thresholds to be effective, though. Just doing the same thing at the same time each day isn’t good enough. When The TJ Show was on AMP, 103.3, Boston, we challenged TJ to come with a can’t miss feature we could get known for. Here’s TJ’s Street Match, a play along game that used people on the streets of Boston, one listener, and a bunch of very quirky questions to keep everyone tuned in.