Expectations Are the Thief of Joy

I’m an Apple guy and just ordered their new MacBook Pro. It’s received stellar reviews and it’s time to update my laptop, so I placed my order.

One thing Apple gets better than any other of the hundreds of brands I interact with is that they know they’re not in the technology or computer business. They’re in the experience business. I’ve always said that about those of us in radio, too.

The laptop is backordered, and I was told it wouldn’t be delivered until December 23. Then Apple did what Apple does. They managed my expectations to bring me joy. Over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve checked on the status of the order, they’ve consistently moved the delivery date up. As I write this, it’s December 9. Where all other brands are having “supply chain issues” and delaying deliveries, Apple is heightening my anticipation as they always do so I stay joyful and gush about them as I’m doing to you.

Teasing is important in radio. But not for the reason most of us believe. It’s near impossible to extend listening as people have lives and those lives will always win out over them giving us another quarter hour. What great teasing does is set the expectation that listeners will miss something great if they tune out. So they get a sense they won’t be in on something special, so they come back to the show for more of that joy.

Often, I hear shows offer no teasing. That ain’t good. Many times, I hear something bland and unimaginative (“coming up next, our Hollywood Report” or “in six minutes, we’ll talk about when I took my dog to the park”). But when we tease intriguing, connective, relevant, entertaining content, being done in a way our competitors cannot, we bring joy to the break and set the audience to return for more of it the next day.

Worse still, I continue to hear stations and shows tell me that I need to do things like tune in Thursday at 7:20 for a “major announcement”. Only to find out that three days of hype led to the morning show telling me Maroon Five will play at the civic center in the spring and that we have family four packs/win ‘em before you can buy ‘em tickets starting on Monday. Yikes. Half the audience shrugged, the other half yawned, and all of them felt duped.

Expectations are the thief of joy indeed. The more you tease the same thing, the higher the expectation and greater chance of less joy.

Listen to your show. Ask if they are on the very best content available on every single day. Because it all starts with content and everything they do is considered content. Is it substantive and strategic? Does it align the program and cast with an image important to developing a relationship with the audience? Then, is it being done in a way that fits and both heightens expectations and delivers it to bring joy to the audience receiving it?

Our customers (listeners) want happiness. It’s in our control and epic if we bring it to them. But first we must set the right expectation and then deliver on it.

Oh wait, the MacBook Pro is now coming December 2…

When Will My Show Make Money?

Program directors and talent wonder the same question: when will we get ratings? Managers and sales folks ask a different question: when will the show help me make money?

The trajectory has always been the same to answer both questions:

Content leads to…

Images which lead to …

Perceptions which lead to…

Ratings which lead to…

$$ Revenue $$

Doing the right content in the right way leads to positive images, which give you the right perceptions, which then generate ratings, which results in revenue.

It all starts with the right content.  Remember:  everything you do (everything!) is content to the audience.  Are you making the best content choices all the time so they stick around or come back?

This trajectory applies to every show, and any format.  Patience plays a critical role, but being strategic about your content, based on the age of the show and its relationship with the audience, informs the strategy.

Guess at that content and who knows where you’ll land?  But have that right game plan and add in the patience noted above (it’s very important to be patient because you cannot move this along faster than the audience will allow) and you’ll make lots of money and might even become epic.

Grading Your Morning Show, Giving It All C’s

I’ve spoken before in Planet Reynolds about the foundational elements every show needs to be strategic:  what is the show about (its “plot”)?  What is your game plan for character development?  Is the cast focused on earning the right images to drive loyalty?  Does the show have significant benchmark appointments, that cannot be duplicated, which will drive occasions back to the program?

I talk with new shows about the “need for C’s”.  A subjective metric to assess if your show is on course.  These are the Four C’s every talent and show should work on, around the framework above, to assure they’re strategic.  How would you rate your show in each of these areas?

  1. Connection.  Despite social media, the internet, and all that texting, human beings, at their core, desire connection.  Human to human contact is essential to developing a relationship.  I recently joined Clear so I can get through security lines faster at airports.  From registering to finishing my account at their kiosk to the security line, I was accompanied by an actual human being.  Ever call a customer service number, only to sit through three minutes of pressing “1” for this and “2” for that before you get a person who can help?  I bet you’re not happier after all of that.  Connection is one of radio’s superpowers.  The audience wants to connect with your talent, and they must work on that purposefully when doing the show.
  2. Companionship.  We learned during Covid, with everyone sequestered in their homes with their small circle of family for over one year, that companionship is critical.  Companionship fosters a deep relationship.  Think of those in your personal life you’re close to.  They provide you companionship.  Deep inside, so many listeners feel alone.  Scrolling Facebook a million times a day doesn’t fix that.  We can, though, by reminding the audience that, wherever they are in life, they aren’t alone if they hang out with us.
  3. Content.  This is how we accomplish numbers one and two above.  We engage with certain websites because we’re looking for content.  We turn on a TV show because we want content.  Pop open Facebook, Instagram or any other social media app?  You’re looking for content.  Same for your audience.  They’re looking for content, too.  Are you on the best content in each break on every day?  Or is it irrelevant pablum the audience shrugs their shoulders at?  The right content affords connection and companionship.
  4. Comedy.  Life sucks, so make people laugh.  In the two decades I’ve coached shows in North America and Europe, there is one constant:  no show wins without solid humor images.  Not laugh in a set up/punchline kind of way.  Not in doing wacky “radio bits”.  Listeners want to be around genuine, fun people.  Yea, there are days the news or pop culture cycle compels us to be serious – those are outliers, and we must respect them – but go have fun and people will wanna be around you.

The Four C’s:  Connection, Companionship, Content, and Comedy.

It might be instructional to ask your show to grade themselves in each area on a 1-10 scale, with managers doing it, too.  Compare those grades and see where you match.  Any disparity gives great programmers an opportunity to influence their show with yet another strategic conversation about their growth.

I’d be interested to hear how that turns out so let me know.

Because grading your morning show and giving them all C’s might just keep you on the path to being f’n epic.

Start at the End

Years ago, one month out of the first anniversary of the Boston bombings, I decided to engage the two shows I work with in that city around what our programs will sound like that day.  I received back, as is sometimes the case, silence.  When I was on the air, I was the king of never planning.  I usually worried about large milestone shows like this the day before.  We don’t have that luxury any longer because of the competition for listeners’ attention.

I engaged both rooms in an exercise instructive to help develop our content.  Instead of brainstorming certain pieces of content (what phone topic can we do, who can we interview, etc.), I asked everyone this question:  if a listener tunes in that day, what do you want them to feel after the break is over?  What happens at the end of the content?  If we know that, we can work backwards to craft great breaks.

That focus – what emotion do we want the audience to experience listening to us – changed the conversation.  Because one of the many great things about radio is that we determine how our customer feels when they take delivery of the product!

I cynically suggested to the Boston teams that we re-live that day, angering people.  Or maybe offer that they be weary of folks on the streets with backpacks, frightening listeners.  Both were obviously rejected.  I again asked the question: what feeling do we want listeners to have when we’re done?

Then the answer in both rooms:  “We want them to feel ‘Boston Strong’.”  Yup…everything after that got easy.

With the milestone twentieth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, I ask you the same question.  What content will you do, and what emotion are you going for the week of September 11th to be where listeners are?

Some shows will grab all that low-hanging fruit:  let’s ask people where they were when they heard?  Let’s talk to someone who was on a plane that day!  Maybe re-run audio from TV!  All of that is twenty-year old content.  Is that good enough for your fans?

Every show I work with was engaged on this a month ago.  Each has a game plan for unique, local content, all in our efforts to make our fans feel the right emotion so we connect with them, and they remember us.  Because we figured the feeling first.

This proves that to start at the end is quite helpful in crafting the right content for days like this.

What’s your ending?

Start with that, and you’ll be epic the week of 9/11.

Steve Uses the “C-Word”

Four score and seven years ago, I was interviewing for a job at a classic rock station in Washington, DC owned by Westinghouse (now you know why I said “four score and seven years ago”).

During the interview, the program director said he was going to throw out some topics and wanted me to say whatever came to mind.  The entire list was comprised of things going on in the news/pop culture at that time.

I didn’t get the job but have never forgotten the exercise because it was so fascinating.  In my follow-up with the PD, he shared that he wanted to see how informed I was about each topic (they were both serious and silly) to assess if I had a perspective that would be interesting on-the-air.  He said if I could be interesting in his office, I could do it on a show, too.

Time for the C-word.  It was a test of my curiosity.

Having a wonderment about the world around you and a curiosity about the topics of the day is a quality that separates the good from the great talent.  A natural curiosity leads you down new paths and makes you not only interesting to listen to, but more creative, too.  The talent I work with who perform at the highest levels are all naturally curious people, who are always acting on that by discovering new things about whatever is going on.  That makes them interesting to listen to.  Because they are always exploring the topics to learn more.

I use the exercise above with every applicant I interview for a job – I want to get a sense of their wonder outside of their circle.

If I’ve ever done a call with your morning show, you know I use a version of the interview technique above at the start of each conversation.  I casually ask the show what they think of a current topic or I share mine to see what happens.  True, I am making conversation to reconnect with all, but I am also looking for organic content.  I want to see if the room lights up.

Which leads me to Bill Cosby!

I had my weekly call with John and Tammy at KSON, San Diego the day we were shocked that he was being released from prison.  Many shows default to “we can’t talk about that” (which is rooted in a fear of the topic because they don’t know what to do with it).  The KSON show gave us natural, organic content around the Cosby story, all instigated by their curiosity.

John and Tammy were outraged and had a zillion questions about how that could happen.  Click John and Tammy’s logo to the right to hear what they did.  The topic was top shelf and they got all their questions answered from someone who could, which is excellent content for any radio show.

My friend Bruce St. James, who does mornings at WLS, Chicago, is incredibly smart (a good talent trait), but also quite curious (that’s what makes him smart!).  I happened upon this tweet the day the Cosby story broke, which said it all.  Bruce was also curious about how Cosby could be let out, so that fueled his breaks.  And the audience naturally took the trip with him.

I once worked with a talent who sat around all day watching Netflix.  He was incurious about everything and didn’t last long on the show.  The audience made its mind up on him quickly.

If I’m curious, it’s because of my mother.  Lillian was an exceptionally restless person, always wanting to know more, more, more about everything.  She made me watch TV shows that would make me think, compelled me to read magazines and newspapers to form an opinion, and to gravitate to people who were entirely different from me because that would provide a world in technicolor which might make me a more curious person.

Do you have curious talent doing your show?  People fascinated with everything going on and a desire to explore all of it?  How can you make them more curious?  It’s what we work on with every show I am lucky to touch.  My goal is talent who are bold, daring, and interesting so they stand out as one-of-a-kind.  We must access each of those traits because curious people lead to more creative, unique shows.

I’ve long wondered if curiosity is nature or nurture.  Maybe it’s a little of both.

Come to think of it, I guess I’m curious about curiosity.  Maybe I should explore that…

Go foster with your talent a more curious environment about everything.  Then you’ll be epic.

Hope You Had a Nice Vacation…I Really Don’t Care

There’s a show out west I don’t know but like as a listener. I’ve never met the people doing the program. As fate would have it, the anchor pinged me on Facebook wanting to set up a Zoom to say hello.

As a fan of their program and student of personality radio, this was an easy yes.

When we connected, I wished the anchor a happy birthday. He asked how I knew and we both said in unison, “Facebook!” I had listened to part of their show that morning to prepare for the call. I asked, quite sardonically, if he’d talked about his birthday on the show that day. Hoping for one particular answer, he looked in the camera and said emphatically, “No.” When I asked why, hoping again for a particular answer, he said, “Because no one gives a shit.”

We both went two-for-two.

I’ve talked in Planet Reynolds before about celebrity or local birthdays and how the audience, at best, shrugs at this as content. Same thing for your birthday. The audience just doesn’t give a rip. Unless something spectacular happened, like your spouse got Chris Martin from Coldplay to call your cell to surprise you and you have that audio.

Ditto your summer vacation. Unless something drama-filled happened while you were away, and the story is off-the-charts engaging, the audience doesn’t want to hear about it because it isn’t about them, it’s about you.

As co-workers come back to the building, imagine this: you’re walking down the hall and Karl from engineering passes by. You ask Karl how his vacation was (courtesy question, right?). Karl stops to tell you where he went and what he did with the family while at Disney. Say it lasts four-minutes (the length of a typical break). There are zero drama-filled stories to keep your interest. You might stand there and nod, but what are you thinking? Quietly inside you’re impatient, wondering when this will be over as you have important things to do. Because it’s not about you nor is it entertaining. All you want is to escape the conversation with Karl the engineer.

If that’s how you’d feel in that scenario, wouldn’t the audience feel the same?

The audience comes to the show for content – the win comes when you make your show about them. Talking about yourself is good because you must reveal who you are for character development. But, the listener must be able to relate to or see themselves in that story – that’s how you connect. Not everything that happens in your life is strategic character development.

Any topic on the show can start from your perspective to define who you are, but we have a very small window to connect and entertain because there is so much choice. Unlike your chat with Karl where you’re trapped for those four minutes, the audience can just hit a button and find something that works for them.

There is a truth that has stood the test of time. If I am around you and focus all of my time getting you to talk about you, I’ll leave a more important person in your mind. We must treat the listeners like that, too, so they keep returning.

I left the Zoom with the show out west respecting them more because they think like listeners.

Let’s make strategic content decisions that ultimately elevates our audience, because our content makes them the focus. They’ll then carry us to the win.

Go be epic and you’ll make more fans.

40 Secrets of Successful Shows – The Final Ten

Do your talent have EPIC in them? Are they high performers, always seeking that next level, welcoming the challenge for growth? Are they confident to not be the smartest, bestest, funniest, or most strategic in the room?

For each of the last three weeks in the month of May, I’ve shared ten ways to tell if your talent have that capacity to become icons. This is the list of the 40 Secrets of Successful Shows.

I’ve encouraged managers who read this to evaluate their high-profile programs based on this list. And also suggested personalities do it, too. Because positive relationships are at the foundation of a great culture of support, I also recommend that managers and their talent get together to compare notes and then set a path for EPIC. Working on those things from these lists will help make the show and station even more relevant to your win.

Week one’s list of ten is here. Week two can be found here. Week three is here.

May Week Four, the final ten:

  1. The cast never loses touch with its constituency, meeting the audience wherever they are in life for content.
  2. The show is constantly innovating, coming up with ideas for the brand which communicate the show’s plot, reflects pop culture, or reinforces their character.
  3. They have a social media strategy to engage the audience on those platforms that is marriage to what their show is about.
  4. They are highly motivated to win and never lose their work ethic.
  5. The show is predictable so the audience is comfortable with them, but not so predictable they become vulnerable to something fresh across the street.
  6. Each cast member replies to listener emails, voicemails, texts, and social media posts so fans know they’re being heard.
  7. Each understands the personal and professional goals of the others in the room and work hard to help them achieve those goals.
  8. They love and welcome discomfort knowing there’s growth in that path.
  9. They evolve as people over time and can bring the audience along for the ride, sometimes doing narrative story arcs that force additional occasions to the show.
  10. They care about and give back to their communities and communicate that pride to the audience.

These are the things I’ve found the high performers do regularly which make them so valuable to the success of their brands.

Click here for all 40 Secrets of Successful shows in one handout.

Your talent are your roadmap to EPIC. Invest in them and you’ll always win.

40 Secrets of Successful Shows – The Third Ten

Spend time as I have over these many years coaching and observing great talent and you’ll start seeing why they excel.

Why do some programs become ratings behemoths in their markets, for their stations, earning their companies millions? Why do some personalities scream through the speakers, becoming icons that listeners have to be around each day? What do they do that the others don’t?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve shared twenty secrets (of the forty) of the great ones. How have your talent fared? How would they evaluate themselves? These attributes, with the right coaching and investment, can be learned. They create EPIC talent who set you apart.

The first ten are here. The second ten are here.

May Week Three, the third ten:

  1. They have significant daily benchmarks/features on the show which define their sense of humor and cause habitual listening.
  2. The egos in the room are healthy enough to drive stardom but not so great to cause division.
  3. They let others associated with the show know how valuable they are to the success of the team.
  4. They know what’s going on locally and see the value of that as content.
  5. They belong to local civics groups and organizations so they become multi-dimensional through those outside interests.
  6. On-air, they don’t forget the value of the basics, like giving the weather and time and promoting the rest of the radio station, its personalities and promotions.
  7. They have a strong interest in “retail politics”, knowing that meeting listeners will get them to use the show more.
  8. They don’t say no to something because there isn’t a talent fee attached.
  9. Each cast member holds a distinct point-of view on every topic.
  10. They can create conflict and drama with their content to hook listeners.

Next Monday, our final ten qualities of successful personalities, rounding out the forty.

Your talent are your roadmap to EPIC. Invest in them and you’ll always win.

40 Secrets of Successful Shows – The Second Ten

As a talent coach who’s been lucky enough to touch the success of hundreds of shows in North America and Europe over these years, there are consistent things the great ones do.

I’ve put a list together of the top 40 things winning programs and personalities do that help them grab that brass ring.

Last week’s First Ten can be found here.  Our second installment is below.

It’s always interesting to see if talent see their show the same way a manager does.  Share these lists with your people and ask them to grade themselves on each of the items. You, do, too.  Then get together to compare answers.  I bet you end up with a healthy strategic conversation that will help everyone grow.

May Week Two, the second ten:

  1. They rely less and less on canned prep services because they can create their own unique and original content.
  2. They understand that “facts tell and stories sell”. They are spectacular story-tellers.
  3. They are highly inquisitive about the world around them and that drives content development.
  4. They’re confident enough in what they don’t know and love to be challenged by people smarter than them.
  5. They take smart, strategic chances and are not afraid to “fail up”.
  6. They have mechanisms in place to resolve internal conflict in the team when it appears.
  7. They care about each other as people and can move the audience to care about them.
  8. They have a positive relationship with the managers and don’t see them as adversaries.
  9. In prep they develop more than they need so they can truly do the A-level ideas and be graded as such by listeners.
  10. They’re innovative and their ideas turn P2s into P1s.

Next Monday, ten more qualities of successful talent.

The only way to be EPIC is to challenge everyone to think differently.

40 Secrets of Successful Shows – The First Ten

Working with hundreds of high profile shows over the years in North America and Europe, common themes have emerged of the talent who are the most successful.

I’ve identified 40 attributes of personalities and shows that excel in ratings and revenue generation of the biggest brands, in markets large and small, and in all formats. Each Monday in the month of May I’ll share ten of them.

It might be an interesting strategic exercise to share this list with your talent. You grade them and they grade themselves in each of these areas.  Then you come together to talk.  Where you disagree would be a conversation for growth.

Elevating the strategic thought process shows your commitment to their evolution.

May Week One, the first ten:

  1. The show has an overarching content strategy, or “plot”, unique to them and different from everything else in the market.
  2. The cast is well-defined where each member is different from the others. And the core cast is seen as likable.
  3. The show has significant and meaningful points-of differentiation from other entertainment choices available.
  4. The show is fun to listen to and there’s lots of laughter.
  5. The cast is human and vulnerable in sharing stories about their lives so the audience says, “They’re just like me.”
  6. The program is driven by the topics of the day, knowing the highest equity topics equals the broadest appeal.
  7. They’re always honest with the audience.
  8. The show (its cast and the content they do) matter to the audience.
  9. Collectively and individually, they prep relentlessly, always looking for the right topics and doing unique things with them that fit the brand and will intrigue listeners.
  10. They’re friendly with the other departments in the building and work tirelessly to help those people reach their goals so they’re treated the same.

Next Monday, I’ll share ten more qualities of successful shows.

Continue to work on this and your personality brand images will be EPIC!