Coming Up Next, An All-New Phone Prank!

The day after the horrific Newtown shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, I remember waking up wondering Howard Stern’s take.  So, up to Howard 100 I went on Sirius XM and sure enough, that’s what Howard was talking about.

I can’t remember how long the segment went (I didn’t actually care).  But I do remember it was as insightful, engaging, and interesting as Howard and his team always are.  He made points, shared his thoughts, and asked questions of his team that lead to a provocative conversation.  Howard, Robin, and the show filled my immediate need to hear their perspective.  They were, on that day (as they are on all days), quite relevant.  Their content matched the moment.

I realized then that this is the relationship I want every radio talent I work with to have with their listeners.  I want the audience to wake up, and be curious, wondering the perspective the show has on whatever is going on in the world on that day.

True, it’s generally about some sort of frivolous topic:  who didn’t get a rose on The Bachelor, the Sex and the City re-boot, or the NFL playoffs.  But last Wednesday’s attack on the US Capitol forced an all-consuming topic that every American knew about and galvanized around.

I listened to fifteen shows last Thursday (some live, the others recorded).  Most mine, some our competitors.  Just to see what everyone was up to when I dialed in.  I listened to each for an hour.  That was much more than what the typical fan would give a program.  I wanted to see if I had the same experience around this topic with them as I did with Howard on Newtown.  I wanted to see how relevant each show was to meet the moment from the previous day.

Almost all the shows did something (or several things) around it.  Sharing their shock or take on what they saw (reflecting back what the audience felt).  Some found people who were actually in the Capitol at the time to get first-person storytelling (riveting).  One got on their preacher for his perspective (quite inspiring).  Another a therapist on how to talk with kids about it (appropriate).  Nearly all felt comfortable tackling the topic, because that’s where listeners were when they tuned in.

But others were a head scratcher:  One talent did a four-minute break about how she could eat an entire 16” pizza in one sitting.  Another show asked for callers on their topic of the day:  tell us about the argument you had with your delivery person.  A host went on about how he could never say the name of his maid correctly.  One did their generic relationships bit about first kisses at wedding receptions (tongue or no tongue?!?).  And finally, more than one kept telling me to not go away because they had “an all-new prank phone call coming up in the next fifteen minutes.”

This might have been okay content on an average day.  But last Thursday, they were missed opportunities.

One of radio’s greatest strengths is its ability to shift quickly to be relevant.  Relevancy is derived from the topic – it’s whatever is going on right now – it’s a critical image to own and something the audience is looking for when they tune in.  For shows that miss that mark, the audience shrugs its shoulders on that day and continues its search for relevancy.

There are a few standard push-backs when serious topics like what happened in Washington last week come up.  Here they are and here’s how I reply:

  • “We don’t do politics” is the one most often used. My reply is:  fine, but do you do humanity?  What if you tackled the topic and prepped in a way where politics never entered the conversation?  Both the blue and red teams were horrified with what they saw at the US Capitol.  Go be human and connect.  Get the audience to care what you think by that shared humanity.
  • “Listeners are looking for an escape from the topic.” No, they’re not.  They might be looking for an escape from the seriousness of it, but we all want to be around whatever is going on right now – it helps us feel connected to the world.  So, go be that, in the most human of ways, and the audience will lean in.

On a typical day, the topics are light and frivolous.  But then there are days when they aren’t. One of my biggest lessons as a talent coach over the years is that we must continue getting our personalities comfortable to go there by exploring what they think so they can be themselves and be honest with the audience.  And move the audience to care about them.

We can reduce their fear of the topic by also teaching them how to do this, so the program continues to radiate their wattage and defines who they are as personalities, so listeners wake up each day wondering what they think.  It’s easy to say things like the DC uprising should be a topic on the show.  It’s harder to show them how it can be done.  That’s why we teach.

Relevancy is not an elusive concept.  Be about “the now”.  That’s one way we’ll make more radio fans.

Being Large To Be In Charge

Any show I work with gets the same question each December as we evaluate our year:  what do you remember about our year of shows?  What specific things did we do that stood out, moved the needle, advanced our strategy, and deepened our relationship with the audience?

I figure if they can recall it, it mattered to them and probably cut through with the audience.  Here’s some of what came up:

  • “When we developed an idea to send 50 lunches to first responders as a thanks for what they were doing because of Covid and our listeners helped us send 500.”
  • When the protests happened, and we wondered what life is like from the African-American perspective in America and a Black pastor came on and talked to us so compassionately we cried.”
  • “Adding that new funny feature at 8:15.”
  • “When I admitted to the audience I was getting a divorce.”
  • “Asking listeners to help us raise $50,000 to buy socks for homeless people in our town due to the cold winters and they donated $158,000 instead.”
  • “Understanding that Covid made people feel alone and we reminded them they weren’t alone with us in their lives.”
  • “Developing a relationship with the doctor coordinating our state’s Covid response so that she would feel comfortable coming on our show every week to update and calm our listeners.”
  • “One of our co-hosts taking a stand on the BLM movement and the audience reacting heavily about it on social media – some against, but most for.”
  • “Coming up with that new interview feature for social media that made more people aware of us.”
  • “Getting behind the campaign encouraging listeners to shop local during the holidays because we want to support ‘the little mom and pops’ who make our town what it is.”

What’s a common theme of the above?  They’re all big things.  And big is remembered.  By both talent and listeners.

In the twenty years I’ve coached shows in every sized market, no one has ever suggested something small that was a nuanced change about the program.  I ask this question each December to continue the teaching process.  To remind talent that yes, we have to get the little things correct.  But we also must differentiate ourselves with big things to stay top-of-mind, so listeners keep coming back for more.  Being large means you can be in charge.

My friend Jon Coleman wrote in a recent blog about how big things move the number to the left of the decimal point in ratings and smaller stuff changes the number on the right.  The shows I work with move the number on the left by doing things that get them noticed and create talk.  Read Coleman’s “How to Move the Ratings Needle” here.

Whether we’re asking the audience to join us in helping organizations in need or creating new, fun content to take listeners away from the stress of their world, being memorable without violating fit for your brand is always an advantage in a marketplace where radio is “safe”.  We need to spend more time developing these things, too.

Big stuff cuts through, being boldly different is remembered, and believing you can will create deeper authenticity.  And all of it makes for more passionate fans who will spend more time with the show.  This is what the personalities I work with spend time prepping on.  Because what we do with our content choices is completely in our control.  Groomed by curious talent who use that trait to come up with something to do with A-level topics that intrigue the audience.  That’s a powerful differentiator in an industry where we can easily be perceived as just like everyone else.

Chat with your premiere talent and ask what’s top-of-mind from their previous year of content.  See what you get.  Then focus them on doing bigger things that will positively impact their images and make more listeners return out of a fear of missing something.

I believe in talent’s ability to prove radio’s limitless power to create fans who are excited for what we do and to positively impact clients who trust us with their marketing and advertising dollars.

We get to make a great painting each day.  The epic content we place on that canvas gets us there.

Satan Meets His Match

With an interest to do a year-end ad, Match.com could have done one that was fact-based – listing the number of people they matched, how many of those couples are still together, and how effective they are at finding that special someone for everyone who joins.

Or they could have done something timelier, funnier, and more relevant.  Which is what they did.

Millions have viewed and shared the Satan ad online.  It begins at the start of the year, where Satan meets his match (her name is “2020”) then revels in what a dumpster fire things have been for everyone.  It’s very funny and memorable.  Its core attribute, though, is its relevance.  Every one of us thinks this was our year, too.  Looking forward, it ends with the tagline:  Make 2021 your year.

I’m always talking with shows about how important it is to be a reflection of whatever is going on right now.  Simply put, if you were to re-air the program your show did today in a few weeks, would it feel old, stale, and out-of-touch for those listening?  If the answer is “yes”, that’s a good sign because it means the content choices today were relevant to listeners’ lives.

This is why Match.com’s Satan ad works.  Anyone watching is nodding up and down because this is their life at this moment – we are thinking (and experiencing) it.  The absurdity and humor are the sticky parts to make it memorable.

One of our many strengths as an industry is to reflect back to the audience what is going on in their lives for connection.  When listening to shows, I screen how much of our content feels evergreen and if the topic could be done anytime, by anyone.  Was it something to do just to eat up time?  Or is the show in touch with what’s going on in the world right now and using those topics as content to do fun, interesting, contemporary, and unique things that no one else could do?  That’s relevance.

Sure the Match.com ad won’t age well down the road.  But, that’s the point.  That ad makes a connection with the audience (pun intended) and makes you laugh so it’s remembered because it’s about right now.  Affirming those images separates it from all the other dating services and, if you’re looking for love, you join them because they’re top-of-mind.

Doing a great radio show is a strategic process.  Encourage your talent to know the topics happening right now and to swipe right, using them to create relevant and entertaining breaks that makes the show meet the moment.  Visit our Hot List page here for a weekly starter list of those big topics – sign up your talent to get it each Sunday (that’s on the page and it’s free).

Tackling these topics from the talent’s point-of-view defines them.  Then doing epic shit with the Hot Topics creates a vibe where listeners will return each day out of a fear of missing something.  We look for relevance in every brand we interact with.  Your audience does, too.

Doing so makes your talent, their show, the radio station, and our industry matter to the lives of our listeners which means more occasions for higher ratings.

A Provocative Question With Little Time To Go

Truly great shows meet the moment.  They are exactly where the audience is for topics and tone.  Think 9/11, Covid (when it was new), or something fun like when the first American Idol was chosen.  Every show reflected the mood of the audience with tailored content for where the listeners were at that time.

There are other examples over the years – most not serious, some quite frivolous.  When your show is there, that’s called being relevant.

Here’s a provocative question I’ve discussed with every show in the last week:  what the hell will our show sound like on November 4, the day after the election?

There are three potential outcomes:  Trump’s reelected or Biden wins outright.  Or…we won’t know.  Under each circumstance, what content will your show do that Wednesday, how will you do it, and most importantly, how do you want the audience to feel when they listen that day?

With the one-year anniversary approaching of the Boston bombings many years ago, I proffered this question to two shows I work with in Boston.  We had to be on that topic on that day because that’s where the audience would be.  I asked the shows one month out this question so we could do appropriate content that day.  I did not feel that doing our usual Hollywood features, trivia games, and relationships-advice phone topics would be a match.

When I asked the Boston shows what emotions listeners would have and how we could reflect back that we were feeling that way, too, we settled on showing pride for the city – for what everyone had been through in the previous year and how they had emerged.  Someone on both calls said they wanted the audience to be feel Boston Strong again.  Knowing the importance of the topic and how we wanted listeners to feel made crafting that show easier.

Great shows happen at the point of wonderment in any relevant topic from your talent.  That’s when they are their most authentic and grounded in honesty.  And you stand your best chance that listeners will be interested and intrigued, too.

I would never presume to know how your show will sound on November 4, because I am not familiar with your brand and your talent.  But each show I work with has a game plan depending on what happens on election day.  I love strategies; my shows do, too.  Now, all we’ll have to do is wait and see and then execute the appropriate game plan.  And here’s the best part:  not one game plan we came up with at any show has anything to do with politics, Trump, Biden, or the issues.

Have you engaged your show on what they should do that day, too?  Or will you wake up that morning with the audience consumed by one topic and your show doing its standard fare instead?

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