HBO and the Perils of Change

Last Monday, I fired up the HBO Max app on my Apple TV to catch the finale of Succession and groaned.

HBO Max (formerly known as HBO Go formerly known as HBO) is rebranding again and they told me that to further engage their content (for $19.99 a month) I needed to download their new app called Max.  There was a heavy sigh because I don’t have the patience to do that and find these moves perilous.  I had no choice so I signed into the app store (what’s my password again?), downloaded the new app, had to reauthorize its use with my TV provider, and then enter a six-digit code on another device to make it work.  That’s lots of work to watch a TV show.  Prayers were said and the app worked.  But the process made me wish HBO were owned by Waystar Royco, with Kendall as CEO, because I know he wouldn’t make it so hard.

We can talk in another Planet Reynolds about the constant re-branding by HBO.  I’d always thought that the value of HBO’s programming over the years was in those three letters H-B-and-O and am not really sure what “Max” means.  But that’s for another time.  What I’m reminded is that change is fraught with peril.  Which is why I sighed again getting an email from them, suggesting I “find my way around the app to find everything.”  I have no time to learn a new app.  They’re making me work for it.  And no one likes that.

Change at your radio station, and more specifically, change on your morning show is a high wire act.  Some shows tell me they want to move their benchmarks around to “keep them fresh” or “let a different audience hear them”.  I always push back on that.  Because listeners/consumers/all humans hate change.  We sometimes have ideas with layers and nuance and make the audience work for it, which they won’t.  It’s easier to tune out, then to figure it out.  That’s for all of us when we are faced with change in anything.

We crave familiarity and routine when we wake up.  That good predictability and structure makes it easy to listen.

Think about it like this:  when you get out of bed each morning, you do the same thing in the same order every day.  I get up, I head to the bathroom, let the dogs out, then turn on the coffee, etcetera.  When you leave your house, you take the same exact route to work every day, despite being able to get to the studios dozens of ways from your home.  That routine wakes you up.  Predictability, familiarity, and structure!

I am looking at new cars.  The biggest downside in my decision?  I’ll need to learn where all the buttons are to do everything again.  It’ll be frustrating and is a vote to not do it because it’s taxiing and unnerving.  Change rattles us.  Which is why we keep gravitating back to what we know, even if it ain’t the best.  I know where to find my content on the (now defunct) HBO Max app.  I don’t on their new one.  Why did they make that change and why is it on me to learn it?

Benchmarks and known, familiar talent bring that to your listeners.  If done well, that’s another familiar item in the routine of your fans.  That structure plays in your favor.  Same for content – I have launched many shows over the years and my advice is always the same.  The audience pushes back at change so our ratings might go down.  So, play familiar music, choose the most familiar topics, and tell stories to introduce yourself to the audience so that that familiarity transfers to you.  For tenured shows, follow the same path and play inside that known topic which brings good unpredictability to the dynamic.

HBO Max, or whatever they’re calling themselves now, and their new app, makes it harder on those of us to find their content.  Thanks for the email, Max, suggesting I spend time learning your new app.  While that won’t happen, I guarantee when I fire it up next, looking for a show or movie I want to watch, there’ll be lots of profanity in the house, and the dogs will run and hide, as I endlessly scroll looking for it, because HBO changed things.

We know what we like and always seek what’s familiar.  Be careful before you thrust change into listeners’ lives.  Unless you’re patient, it could work against you and create an opportunity for a competitor to seize your spot.

Play to becoming familiar. Known, trusted brands tend to own the category and be epic.

The Failure Re-Frame

There can be only one number one. Everyone else is on the journey there.

You won’t be surprised if I share that most every talent tie their self-worth to their ratings. That’s their validation they’re funny, smart, talented, and accepted by the audience.

I can relate. That’s what I did when on-air. If the ratings went up, I was worthy. And if they didn’t, well…

We all know there isn’t a direct line from the radio you do to the growth in the ratings. There are tons of variables, some out of your control.  Some shows I’ve worked with took years to break through.  Keeping them centered on that journey is job #1.

I look at it differently as a talent coach. Part of our job in coaching creative people is managing them when things don’t go well, as they invariably do. A bad break, a few less-than-stellar shows, or a handful of trends that don’t meet expectations might be seen by talent as a failure. Pretty bold use of the F-word, don’t you think?

Which is why the video below captured me.

Giannis Antetokounmpo plays for the #1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who were believed by many to win the NBA Championship this year. Well, it didn’t work out because they were defeated by the #8 seeded Miami Heat.

When asked last week at a press conference if this season was a “failure”, here’s Giannis’s reply. Everything, he said, is a step to success.

So, when things don’t go your way, how about this “failure re-frame” to keep everyone focused and positive? Everything we’re doing is a step to the win if you have a strong culture, a talented team, and a smart strategy. Keeping them focused on taking those steps to success and not on the ratings will help get you there faster. And keep you at success longer.

I’ve never heard a more eloquent and appropriate reframe of “failure” into the true purpose of the mission to become important in listeners’ lives.

This video might be the best two minutes of your day to help manage your team of high performers to becoming epic players for your brand.


Five Brand Takeaways from Sometimes When We Touch

This blog was originally written for and appeared on the Coleman Insights website.  Visit them here.

I love love songs. Let me control the music when we’re together, and it’s likely the ride will be with the Carpenters, Barry Manilow, Dan Fogelberg, Bread, and Ambrosia. Younger Steve might have been embarrassed to admit this. Today’s Steve owns it and will show you all the kitschy music he sings along with in the car. Which brings me to a call I had with the show I work with at WINK-FM in Fort Myers, FL.

Logan, the morning co-host, was sharing that he remained in the good graces of his wife because he had just taken her to another Air Supply show. They both adore the group. This led to a discussion of Soft Rock, which Logan knows I enjoy. Logan recommended I watch “Sometimes When We Touch”, a documentary about the history of Soft Rock and how it morphed into another of my musical passions, Yacht Rock (of which many know I am highly opinionated), on Paramount+. I watched it that night.

“Sometimes When We Touch” is shown in three parts: the reign, ruin, and resurrection of Soft Rock. It was completely engaging, fun, and a great escape.

Here’s what rang true as I smiled and sang throughout all three parts and how they pertain to radio:

  • BE THE CANDY, NOT THE ENTRÉE. The entrée is serious. Candy is fun. It’s lighthearted. It’s a guilty diversion. “Sometimes When We Touch” is total candy with zero “nutritional value.” It’s not designed to make you think too hard. It’s meant to be a diversion. When I saw the Eagles recently on their MeHotel California tour, Don Henley tells the audience they’ll give us a three- hour vacation from the stresses of the real world with hit after hit we can sing along with. That’s exactly what they did. No one left in a bad mood. Be the candy, not the entrée. If you’re a music station, unless you’re compelled to cover something that dictates being serious, handle everything else with humor, mischievousness, curiosity, and fun. Be the candy. That’s the X factor of radio.
  • DON’T ABANDON YOUR POSITION. Everything is cyclical. Something that may go out of fashion comes back. It inevitably happens to every brand. You may be the shiny new object one day and then competitors try and take your position. One of the best pieces of advice I got from Jon Coleman in the early years of my company was to know my position in the marketplace and to not bend wit the winds. Abandon your position and it may never come back to you. Turns out soft rock had more staying power than anyone expected, but the brand was always true to itself.
  • AUTHENTICITY IS POWERFUL. Speaking of being true to oneself, there’s the enduring power of authenticity. Dan Hill tells the story in the show of how he wrote “Sometimes When We Touch”. He was dating an older woman who rejected him, and he wrote her this immensely honest love song to express his feelings. He told her his truth through his song. She said he was too sensitive. It became by far his biggest hit. After it topped the charts she wanted him back, but it was too late. Always, always, always tell the audience the truth. Great brands and talent do, and the audience knows if you aren’t.
  • PROTECT YOUR IP. I knew we’d eventually get to Yacht Rock and it happened. That was the greatest point of curiosity for me. Who came up with the term? How? And why the hell didn’t they trademark it so they could become zillionaires?? J.D. Ryzer and Hunter Stair created the term “Yacht Rock” with their YouTube series of the same name. They’d surely be rich…had they trademarked it. But they didn’t, which is heartbreakingly detailed in the series. Thinking about how to protect your brand is so important. We come up with ideas that turn into morning show features or community service programs, for example. One of my processes at that point is asking, “Have we secured a service mark for it? Do we have the YouTube channel? Maybe bought the website domain?” Because if not, someone could steal our intellectual property. If you develop something unique to your brand, own it not only in execution, but own it legally.
  • EARN YOUR LISTENERS’ TRUST. I posted about “Sometimes When We Touch” on Facebook because I am passionate about the music and its evolution. I wanted to share my find with my people. Jay Nachlis from Coleman and other friends in my network watched it because they trust my opinion, much like I trusted Logan’s. And then they tell their friends, who tell their friends. Isn’t that how you find new streaming TV shows? Aren’t you more apt to trust a friend’s recommendation than an ad? In radio, we worry so much about engaging with listeners tactically – but if they trust you, you have them for so much more than a promotion. Talent builds trust with the audience so when they’re endorsing a product, talking about the radio station, or doing content in their unique way, listeners who trust them will endorse you to their network of friends (aka “future listeners”). Talent = Trust. Work hard on that part of your brand.

Great brands make you feel something. Tap into “Sometimes When We Touch” for some Soft Rock inspiration.

Now, who’s ready to set sail with Captain Steve? The SS Reynolds leaves the dock promptly at 7:00pm. On board entertainment is Christopher Cross and Seals and Crofts! Night two? Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins!

A New Year, A New Tier



TO:  Radio’s Great Personalities (You!)

FR:  Steve Reynolds, Talent Coach (Me!)

DT:  January 1, 2023

RE:  A New Year, A New Tier


Welcome back to the grind.  I hope your break was relaxing and you had great time off to decompress, recharge, and not think even once about radio.  For those of you who keep the early hours (my fellow morning folks), I hope you slept in past 6:00am.

Radio stations and personality-driven shows, like the one you do, are living, breathing organisms.  We must adapt and evolve to stay relevant.  I have five challenges for things that could markedly change you and your show:

  1. Do something for your team. Reset and review your show strategy.  What’s your show about?  What’s its plot?  Review character development traits.  Redesign how you’ll prep to get even better story-based, real life content from everyone.  Where is the best content?  How can you be more local?  What are the important images to earn?  You’ll never go wrong engaging everyone on your team, including the key people at the radio station, on your show strategy.  The strategy is what makes you win.  It’s never a bad thing to communicate the core strategy to the key people you need help from to succeed.
  2. Do something for your ratings. While none of us can directly manipulate the ratings, review everything to see what could be refreshed.  The content you do and how you do it is in your control.  What ideas or features are old and tired?  What new things can you bring fans where they won’t take you for granted?  Nix all content that can be done by any show at any time. Where are the upgrades in your features and content so the audience doesn’t cheat on you by checking out another show?  Generic and evergreen content end up being lame and indistinct.  What new things can you bring your show and digital assets to deepen your relationship with listeners when they engage you there?  Become more relevant by doing content that is more personal, more pop culture, or more local.
  3. Do something for your community. My last blog was about knowing your show’s cause (Be the Beacon).  If you know yours, plan on doing something big around it in the first quarter.  We don’t do many big things in radio any longer.  Remind listeners, remind co-workers, and, most importantly, remind yourself the power you have to move the audience to do something big to help people in your hometown.  If you can’t find time to give back to your community, then it isn’t your community.
  4. Do something for your station. Reaffirm your attitude of gratitude.  Say thank you to those you work with all over the station.  Scare the shit out them by showing appreciation for not only what they do for the cluster, but for what they do for you and your show.  This is a leadership move.  Elevate your leadership.  It’s always a good move acknowledging the hard work and contributions they make helping the radio station succeed.  Don’t do this via text or email (decent, but low effort).  Don’t do it in person (they’ll think you’re from Mars and feel pressure to return the compliment, and that’s not the reason you’re doing it).  Write a short note, put it in an envelope, and leave it on their desk.  Why this way?  Well, no one writes notes any longer, so you’ll stand out.  Second, a handwritten note says you mean it.  Those you write will beam with pride for themselves, the station, and especially you.  I bet the next time you’re skittish on a sales promotion or need some piece of equipment fixed in the studio, it’ll be easier.  It’s also a bad ass leadership move.  Get some inexpensive notecards from Amazon, commit to writing them over the next few weeks, and go be a bad ass.
  5. Do something for yourself. Our brains need nourishment.  Because of the intensity of this industry, we need balance in our life so we don’t burnout.  What non-radio thing intrigues or interests you?  Go explore it.  Feed your brain by taking a course on it at a local university or community college.  That’ll make you a more interesting person to be around.  Not to get a degree, but because the balance will serve and invigorate you.  I work with a talent who always wanted to become an auctioneer.  Guess what he did last year?  He took classes and became one.  He’s an even better talent today because he fed his brain.  If no topic comes readily to mind, take a course in marketing to see if best practices can help your show or career.  Or a course in psychiatry or leadership to learn how to form more positive teams and communicate better with people.  I live in Raleigh, NC.  Within thirty minutes of my house lives North Carolina State University, Duke, and UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as a ton of smaller schools.  I regularly ask myself why I’m not enrolled in a class or two around a subject that’ll feed my brain.  This is the year I do it – do me a favor and stay on me so I remain honest to this one?

Don’t fear change or growth – go get uncomfortable to do that.  Embrace that journey.

What we don’t have enough of in life is people who’ll root for us.  I’m rooting for you.  Even if I compete against you at another station in your market or I’ve never met you.  I’m hoping you grow as a person and radio professional because I hope that you would do that for me.  Because, despite its faults, radio continues to be good to me and a good way to make a living and change communities by the power of personalities like you.

If no one’s told you lately, you bring value to what we do in this industry.  It’s a new year so go move up a tier.  There’s no better time than now to move to epic with the suggestions above.

Be in touch and let me know how they work out for you.

Be the Beacon

The holidays are here soon and as we approach Christmas, you might be putting together your show’s community service campaign.  It’s appropriate, it’s where listeners are, and the alignment is natural that you do something to help your community.

Listeners are stressed about life, frustrated, and looking to join a brand that does good in the community.  But I wonder:  will you raise money for a charity this year, or will you do something bigger and atypical for a cause important to you to deepen your authenticity and affirm your humanity?

Often, I’ll tune into a radio station that will beg listeners for money, which then gets turned over to a charity.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  There’s always the fear that the charity will get the big win in money, a database of your listeners who gave, and credit for the project.

What’s more impactful to build your brand is to focus on a community service image year-round that envelopes a singular cause.  That will show the heart of your talent and be more memorable than just raising money for a charity.

An example.  Six years ago, we had this conversation at Indie 88, Toronto.  The morning show said that homelessness was their cause.  At any given moment in the winter, there are 5000 homeless on the streets of Toronto.  The show went to the shelters to talk with the homeless as well as those who’ve dedicated their lives to taking care of them.  They heard stories that more deeply impacted the effort.  Our show is built around being different.  If it smacks of pro forma, we tend to back up and think about it some more. We learned that what homeless people need more than anything else is socks to prevent frostbite.

So, we developed Socks for the Souls.  In our first year, the Josie Dye Show with Carlin and Brent asked the audience to send them 10,000 pair of socks.  We got over 170,000 which were turned over to the shelters.  This year, we will collect our one-millionth pair.  Kinda cool.  Everything the show does is focused on the homeless and tends to be around socks.  The station has a concert this week.  The price of admission?  Ten pair of socks.  We even put an Amazon link on the website so listeners can, with a couple of clicks, send us socks.  For just a few dollars if they do it, listeners feel better about themselves and us, we feed a passion for the show, and we make a difference in the community.

At WINK-FM in Fort Myers, FL, their cause is animals.  So, we do “Pet Projects” year-round.  At Christmas, Logan and Sadie ask listeners to donate dog toys which are then delivered to the shelters, because we aren’t sure if Santa visits animal shelters on Christmas Eve.  Or we’re raising money to buy and train a service animal for a wounded warrior who lives in town.  Or we camp out at grocery stores, asking listeners to buy us a bag of pet food we give to the shelters so they can save that money in their budgets.  We do a similar campaign at KSLX, Phoenix with Mark and NeanderPaul’s Operation Pets and Vets.  Focused, big, different.

Every show I work with has a focused cause, important to them.

Two things to consider:  many radio stations will promote everything.  If a local charity needs promotion for an event, they’ll do it.  The thing I’ve learned is that if you do everything, all for different causes, it adds up to less than if you choose one and center everything around that.

The other item to think about is if you align with a charity, all their imagery transfers to you.  If it’s an old, tired charity, you could be perceived that way, too.  Case in point is Karson and Kennedy, MIX 104.1, Boston.  They were approached by the Marines years ago, asking them to raise toys for their Toys for Tots campaign.  We re-framed the effort to Karson and Kennedy’s 10,000 Toys for Girls and Boys.  Lots of shows do this now, but we were the first.  We made it ours, listeners responded positively, we built our own show’s images, and turned everything over to the Marines.  A win all the way around because it fed our cause:  kids.

We are targeting two groups when we do campaigns like this.  The smaller group of fans who’ll help you reach your goal and the much, much larger group who won’t, but whose perceptions you’re positively impacting so they feel even better about you.

It’s easy to do something for a local charity.  And they’ll be the big winners if you do.  But ask:  are you all about the local children’s hospital or the cause of kids?  The animal shelters or the cause of pets?  The cause of vets?  The cause of mental health?  The cause of volunteerism?  What’s important to you as a human being?  Be that.

Be focused.  Be big.  Be different.  Then, you’ll be noticed.

Also, be the beacon.  Listeners want to be around brands that show their values and do good for the community.  Light the positive path forward for listeners to feel good about their world, their community, their life, and you.  Bring them there and they will follow.

Then watch them join your brand more often and fall more deeply in love with you because you’ve shown your humanity.  Build the many dimensions of your brand through the passions of your talent.  That’s the road to epic.

12 Important Fall Reminders

With school back in session and the fall upon us, listeners are back to their post-summer routines. Inspired by the smart brand managers and talent I’ve been around, here are some reminders that will help your show:

  1. Let’s remember and assume the audience knows less about our show than we do. So…frequent resets of who’s on the program (introducing the cast regularly) will help both current and new listeners.
  2. Reset our regular features. “If you’re new to our show,” is a very powerful sentence because it’s a reset statement which allows you to explain, in one sentence, what the feature we’re about to do is all about. Giving them context will make it easier for them to listen.
  3. Teasing is critical to get more listening. Teases, if well-written, add forward momentum to a show and compel images that if listeners do have to leave, they’ll miss something great (so they might return the next day).
  4. Horizontal teasing is your most valuable tease – telling your 7:45 audience this morning the substantive thing you’re doing tomorrow morning at 7:45 is powerful. We stand a greater chance of gaining another occasion if we do this. Daily cume is critical to the ratings going up.
  5. Listeners know if you’re prepared. Know your topic, how you’ll get into it (hook them), support the topic, and then get out before you walk into the studio every day. Let’s show our fans that respect and leave them wanting more.
  6. Average attention spans are ten seconds. The first ten seconds are the most important of every break. Spend your most time on that and the audience will stay.
  7. Listeners’ default position is that they’re being sold something. Listeners come for great content. Give them that, then sell them something. Remember when talking about a station promotion (which is important to do), you’re selling them something as that isn’t perceived as content.
  8. Brevity is critical. It’s one of the keys to keeping listeners. Let’s not waste their time with breaks that don’t have a focus and game plan. A great writer values editing the most of all that they do. Ditto social media posts – those that do well tend to be short and take up no more space than they have to.
  9. I know we get tired of hearing the same old songs on the show, but the listeners don’t. Familiarity in everything is key to winning in morning drive. Support and be enthusiastic about everything your station does. You are a voice of trust and credibility to the audience and will be a bigger part of the station because of it. There’s no downside to that.
  10. We are an immensely mobile society so much of their listening is in cars. Think of this and imagine it as you’re designing your breaks. Our very, very, very best content should go in that block. We can create the greatest impressions when we have them as a captive audience in the car and give them our most entertaining content.
  11. Be brilliant at the basics. Weather, traffic, identifying the radio station by name, setting up breaks, having payoffs. Being great at the basics always helps to get that extra measure of ratings.
  12. Finally, the one thing listeners want more of than anything? Connection, fun, and laughter. With exception, they want an escape from the anxiety of life. Provide that human connection then be fun/funny/laughter/humor/silliness (pick your word) and give it to them and they’ll come back the next day for more. A connection, your honesty, and authenticity go a long way to character building and showing your humanity.

Fall is a great time to reset the show – freshen up your positioning and try new ideas as you recapture audience that changed over the summer due to lifestyle and new listeners find you.

For a printable copy of these reminders, click here.

A Pivot Point for Top Talent

Imagine a total stranger walking up to you on the street and baring their soul.  Telling you a story of great weakness and vulnerability in their life.  That would be odd, right?

But that’s exactly the kind of relationship we want with our audience. They’re total strangers to us, yet we aren’t to them.  Which is one of the key elements that makes a personality successful.

A pivot point for top talent happens incrementally as you nurture that relationship with listeners.  How?  By building trust and showing your humanity.  Trust is built with them the same way you build it with your close friends and family.  Through honesty and vulnerability.  Trust is a product of vulnerability over time.

Which brings me to the school shootings in Uvalde, Texas.  I am no longer under the belief that we can ignore these events.  They are happening in our listeners’ lives, and we must acknowledge this fact rather than run from or fear them.  But what you do solely rests on the kind of relationship you have with the audience.

Encouraged by their great managers (Brian Maloney and Sammy Simpson), Kyle, Bryan, and Sarah, WRAL-FM, Raleigh, have worked tirelessly to have this kind of relationship with their audience.  From an on-air discussion about what happened in Uvalde, they received that unexpected call from a total stranger – a local woman who was in the Columbine school shootings several years prior.  She was encouraged by her kid in the back seat to call the show as they were listening to share her experience given the on-air conversation.  More humanity and compassion.  A story that resonated with the team and proves how comfortable that total stranger was to honor her relationship with those guys by baring her soul.

Hear that call here and feel the emotional connection this show is building with its fans.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s an unsolicited text the show got from yet another listener (another stranger) that says it all:

I’m sure it’s not lost on you, but just in case, I wanted to mention this.  You three (and the station) have created such a positive/fun environment that she was able to not only listen with her kids on a regular basis but felt safe and heard enough to call in and have an open conversation without any solicitation after what she went through in ’99.  I hope you all remember that that’s a testament to the foundation you all have built over the years.

That pivot point, groomed over the long term, is one of the reasons this show has been number one in every demo for nine consecutive months.

What kind of relationship does your show have with its audience?  Is it part of your strategy to win?  How are you working on that every day?

My favorite part of coaching is watching talent epically connect the dots like this and level up.

Makes me proud to be in radio.

Practice Makes Permanent

Many of us read in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, that it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of a complex skill.

Which brings me to show prep.

Back in the day, personality-driven shows could get away with winging it.  No longer, though.  The audience’s expectations, along with their A.D.D., won’t allow any show, new or tenured, to make it up as they go along.

I was asked recently to talk with some Audacy brand managers about the growth of talent.  Audacy is making a greater commitment to growing their people.  In the Q&A, their wonderful personality, Katie Neal, asked how to make a show more creative.

Well, you have to put in your 10,000 hours.  But an X Factor to making those hours valuable, and my answer to her question, is to surround everyone with more curiosity.  Creativity and curiosity are tied together, as I’ve discussed in this blog before (Steve Uses the “C” Word).

Prep isn’t sitting around a room, throwing out a big topic and then asking, “What can we do with it?”  Prep is marrying your elusive wonderment against a topic and engaging others to truly come up with angles that are memorable, different, and can’t miss.

In the last two weeks there are two examples with shows I work with that inspire me:

  • I had a Curiosity Zoom with Lexi and Banks, KUBL, Salt Lake City. In our chat about the Will Smith-Chris Rock story, it was noted that everyone was curious if the whole thing was faked.  That’s when we all wondered what a body language expert would say if they just watched the video.  So, they found one.  It was a fascinating break around the big topic.  The body language expert shared he thought the whole thing was staged based on what he saw.  Memorable, different, and can’t miss.
  • There was no bigger topic than the Final Four match-up between Duke and UNC if you live in the Triangle. We couldn’t do enough around this story line.  Chatting with the morning show Kyle, Bryan, and Sarah, WRAL, Raleigh, someone said that it’s always the next day in Australia.  So, they called a friend there the day before the game to ask who won, claiming it had already been played there.  He said UNC.  Most listeners got the joke.  A few didn’t.  And one called the program for clarification.  The laughter continued.  Memorable, different, and can’t miss.

These two treatments of those two big topics happened because I have curious people on the shows who are forever falling down the rabbit hole, reading about it all to further stimulate their fascination.

Curiosity needs to be nurtured.  Are we doing enough for our talent to do that?

I am so lucky to have been around shows over the years who always practice their curiosity.  In almost every instance, that curiosity has become permanent and part of the ethos on how those shows prep.

Look at your program.  Do you have curious people?  And are they surrounded by even more curiosity?

You want a show that’s memorable, different, and can’t miss?  Go find people like that, who channel their inner 8-year-old, and question everything, with an insatiable appetite to learn more, more, and more about everything.

Then watch what happens to the creativity of the cast and your show.

That ain’t a bad way to spend those 10,000 hours to becoming epic.

We’re Gonna Need Better Prizes

I worked with a show many years ago that was, to put it politely, “ratings-challenged”.  The program director and I knew the issues were rooted in relevance of content, not being local enough, and a lack of unique treatment of those content choices to stand out.  But what we do is people management so we’d regularly enroll the show’s principle players in finding a solution that would improve things.

We’d ask the talent what fixes the larger ratings issues so they could take ownership of the right path forward.  And each time we would get back the same answer:  we need better prizes.

The show didn’t last much longer.

Our long-term wins come strategically.  Where the show thought that manipulating listenership and getting contest players to come back to the program was the answer, developing images is always the smarter choice.

Have we identified the right content is the first question.  Then how we do that content to endear ourselves to the audience is the key that unlocks the door for increased engagement with fans.

This show consistently played to the two percent of game or contest players when being much more concerned with the perceptions of the other 98% just tuning in, looking to be entertained, was more important.  Where we’d preach that how we gave out whatever prize we had was the smarter putt, they stayed hyper-focused on the quality of the prize.

Who’s Wheel of Fortune really doing the show for?  Those three contestants spinning the wheel with Pat and Vanna?  Or those of us sitting on the sofa trying to figure out the puzzle, looking to win nothing?  It’s always about us, the larger group they want watching.  Go time the opening of Wheel.  From the moment the show starts until the first letter of the first puzzle is revealed (that’s when the show is about the viewer), it’s less than thirty seconds.

Think of those 98% when doing your content (contests, games, or not).  What messages are listeners walking away with about your show?  A concept I consistently talk with talent about is doing their content for the person least interested.  If those fans leave knowing how real you are; identifying with the story you just told; vicariously playing along with the game you have the prize for; understanding how different and relevant you are; laughing and having fun, then you’ll find your win.

There are tactical things every show can and should do to extend listenership.  But the truly long-lasting wins come strategically.

“We’re gonna need better prizes” solves nothing.  Coach your show to process how those you will never hear from, the other 98%, are reacting to what you’re doing.

Advocating for their win advances all efforts for your win to becoming an epic brand.

Great Shows Don’t Happen by Accident

No standout show or talent in radio got there by guessing at it.  The Ryan Seacrests and Howard Sterns of our industry ascended to iconic status (iconic:  great ratings, tons of revenue) because there was a strategic process in place to get there.

Does your show have one?  More importantly, do your talent have the three elements necessary for that strategy to work?

A new year brings me new clients.  Because what I do is a boutique service, looking to pay a higher level of attention to fewer shows, I evaluate any potential program around three key elements.  These attributes indicate if those on the show, the ones we’re pining to be Seacrests and Sterns, are a cut above the rest of the market to get there.

Those three areas are their Aptitude, Attitude, and Work Ethic.  Let me touch on each as you think about your talent, hoping they can make a difference building your brand.

Aptitude:  simply put, do the people on the show have talent and a capacity to be bold, gigantic personalities fans crave to be around each morning.  Are they fun/funny?  Do they have a natural interest in what’s going on in the world and a perspective on everything current with no fear to share it?  Can they be vulnerable with their life and honest with the audience?  Are they self-confident and curious?  Are they electric to be around?  Will they get involved locally to generate great content for on-air and social media that can be done in unique ways?

Attitude:  are they positive team builders who put all others above themselves?  Can they lead unselfishly?  Do they figure out how to get stuff done and innovate around speedbumps that appear on the road to great execution of relevant content?  Or are they the types who tell you how something can’t be done or why it won’t work?  I call these the “if only…” people.  If only I had this it would work.  Nope, we create our own path and success.  Great attitudes drive wins.

Work Ethic:  gone are the days where talent could show up, be pretty, and get great ratings.  Because of the competition for listeners’ time, we must work at this (in a word:  prep) and earn it every single break.  Identify the right content, develop a treatment of that content which makes it memorable, and hunker down to pull it off.  I can tell if a show prepped or is winging it when I listen – you can, too.  We no longer have that grace to get this done.

Every talent needs to be coached up (even Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are coached up).  Having great aptitude, a superior attitude, and an unparalleled work ethic are the foundational elements of personalities who are difference-makers.

We need talent to help set us apart.  Leaders help groom these attributes in personalities to get them there.

Couple that with a strategy that fits your people, and your win will never be accidental.

Work hard at it and it might even be epic.