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!


Being the Story

You know where I’m going once I get my second Covid shot? To Staples to have my card laminated for free. You know how I know to do that? Staples is smart. They placed themselves in the topic and then every radio show I listened to told me.

Staples isn’t dumb. They know people will go in for their free lamination and buy something else.

Once done at Staples, I’ll probably head to Krispy Kreme, show my laminated vaccination card, and get my free donut. Who goes to Krispy Kreme for one donut? Anyone with even a marginal pulse buys a dozen. Sold! They did the same thing – put themselves in the story to create talk. Every radio show I listened to told me that, too.

When are we going to create talk for ourselves? It’s easy to come up with phone topic after phone topic as content for a show. The harder part, and the thing I work with shows overtime on, is knowing what’s going on and placing ourselves in the middle of it so we become the story.

I work with Sander Hoogendoorn, the morning guy on 3FM in the Netherlands. I love Sander. He’s very creative and brought to one of our Skypes the idea on the right. Unless you know Dutch, that long hashtag in the picture says #showyourshot. Once listeners get their vaccine, we’ll give them one of those bandages on his arm and ask them to send us a picture of themselves showing us their shot. It’s our way of inserting ourselves into the story to create buzz through images which will all be placed on our social media channels to positively influence people to get their vaccines. They’ll talk about us!

Two shows I work with the US decided to do this campaign. I’m proud of Lexi and Banks at K-BULL 93 in Salt Lake City. Along with PD Travis Moon and operations manager Chris Hoffman, we’ve launched the campaign with our goal being the same as Staples and Krispy Kreme – be in the moment in a unique way that’ll cause talk for the show and station.

Another show doing this is Kyle, Bryan, and Sarah at MIX 101.5 (WRAL-FM), Raleigh. We have a dedicated website and have already gathered pictures of people who are doing it. Visit the site here. It also owns all our social media channels so more people know about it so we get credit.

As you start scrolling, you’ll see images of folks you don’t know. Those are all local celebrities we approached weeks ago, asking if they’d endorse our campaign because we have the serious mission of being the most local show in the market. Listener’s pictures are all over our social media channels. Bravo to PD Sammy Simpson and Brian Maloney, the market manager, for helping figure out how to do it big.

This idea has sales implications, too. Ways to monetize it with clients that help serve their needs. We did that, of course, because we also work hard for the sales department.

The only sustainable advantage you’ll ever have over your competitors is to out-innovate them. That’s the challenge I bring every show I work with because I wish to create ideas that will cause talk for the talent so more people tune in.

Great ideas don’t always cost money (#showyourshot cost just a couple hundred dollars for the few bandages we needed to create the images to launch it on social media). Great ideas take an innovative spirit and the bandwidth to make it all happen.

No bean counter at Staples said no because of “all the millions it’ll cost us in laminations.” No lawyer at Krispy Kreme said everyone getting their free donut had to sign a release holding them harmless from a lawsuit in case they got a stomachache. Both companies simply saw opportunity to get a little free marketing from people like us in radio – a chance to become the story.

That’s what I am working on with every show I’m lucky enough to coach.

If we get back to doing this in radio, fans will need to be around us every day out of a fear of missing something.

And we all know what that does to ratings and revenue.

Michael Strahan and The Power Of A Difference


Michael Strahan removed the gap between his front teeth, and I can’t figure out why.  It’s one of the distinguishing physical characteristics of the NFL on Sunday and Good Morning America host.

Think Robert DeNiro’s mole, Tom Selleck’s moustache, and Barbra Streisand’s nose.  Distinct, unique, it’s part of their brand.

Why would someone erase something that made them different?

Ries and Trout talk about points-of-parity and points-of-differentiation in their iconic book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.  They ask the question, and I, in turn, ask every personality I work with:  what is noticeably different about what we do that helps us stand out?

To the audience, we live in a “sea of the same”.  That’s our starting point to the uninitiated.  That we’re another “him and her” morning show that talks a lot and has wacky bits.  Our job over time is to develop bold points-of-differentiation to separate ourselves from our competitors and define the images we want to be known for.

So, I engage every show on this:  besides you, what do we do that no one else does?  What makes us stand out?  As someone who’s sat in his share of focus groups, if listeners cannot answer this unaided, you’ve got some trouble.  Find those points-of-differentiation.  The more you have, the more distinct you are

Listeners only get big things – nuance never cuts through.  Saying you do a phone topic every morning at 6:50 won’t cut it.  Here are examples of what will:

  • At MIX 104.1, Boston we do a feature each morning at 7:45 that is so unique and now so embedded in the audience’s life that our PPM meters triple and sometime quadruple at that time. Big and different.
  • Bert Weiss is a smart, strategic thinker. When he started The Bert Show on Q100, Atlanta, he added into the cast an openly gay female who was quite comfortable sharing her life.  She added deep hues to the perspective of the show and made the conversation more interesting.  Listeners knew when they were listening to that show.  Big and different.
  • When Frank and Wanda were the morning show on V103, they had Miss Sophia, Atlanta’s most popular drag queen, do their Hollywood report each morning at 7:20. Three guesses what she brought the show in imagery and ratings.  Big and different.
  • The Josie Dye Show, Indie 88, Toronto does a huge and unique community service project each December. They ask the audience to donate socks to homeless shelters.  They get 200,000 pair every year.  Big and different.

The entire thing turned out to be an April Fool’s Day prank Strahan pulled to cause talk (that was big and different).  Had he actually erased the gap, it wouldn’t have made him any less interesting or engaging.  But it would have taken away a trait that made him look different.

As Seth Godin said recently, distinctive isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

It might be an interesting strategic exercise to sit with your morning show and list your true points-of-differentiation.  They need to be big.  The longer the show’s been on, the more you should have.

Hope you have a decent list.  Unless I’m competing against you in the market with another show.

Oprah Says There Is No Tomorrow

Imagine your premiere talent DVR-ing the Super Bowl on Sunday and then watching it on Monday so they could talk about it on Tuesday.  They were just too busy to watch it live.  Sounds absurd, right?

I once worked with a talent who never participated in any of the Super Bowl breaks the day after the game.  I was listening that morning to prepare for our call.  During the conversation, I asked why she went silent when the rest of the show was talking about the game, the commercials, the anthem, and their parties.  She told me she didn’t like football and by not watching, she was being her “authentic self”.  That sounds crazy, too, huh?

Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.

Both items above continue to happen with big content choices the entire country is aware of.

The Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan was the 14th most watched conversation in television history.  And while the actual numbers were smaller in comparison to what’s at the top of the list because of fragmentation (Oprah and Michael Jackson in 1993 are number one with 62 million viewers), it was near-everywhere the day after.  Yet there were still shows that opted out, choosing less relevant content that day.  Some because they don’t care personally about the royals.  Others because they needed to be in bed by 8pm and couldn’t watch.


P1s tune into their favorite show on average twice per week for ten minutes.  That’s their snapshot of the program.  It’s all they know about their favorite morning show.  What you choose to do in those ten minutes creates perceptions that drive listenership.  Not being on the biggest topics of the day means we’re not relevant when they tune in.

All missed opportunities to be where the audience is.  Yes, talent could make the case that the royals are irrelevant, but Oprah got them to tell stories and give us a peek inside the family.  And many times over its two-hours, things were said that created immense buzz.  It was riveting.

It’s not if listeners watched, it’s are they aware of the topic that validates doing it.  That’s what matters when choosing content.  Awareness.  To make a music analogy, when it comes to pop culture content, play the hits.  Oprah’s interview was a big hit record.  On things like this, there is no watch it tomorrow.

As I told the talent who wanted to be her “authentic self” not watching the Super Bowl, there is no way she can participate in pop culture conversations on the show if she doesn’t consume them in real time.  While I’d never tell her what to say, every great talent needs to own a perspective and then be honest with the audience.  You can only do that if you experience it first-hand, even if you hate it.  That’s part of the job to create connection with listeners.  Interesting talent are curious and jumping into every topic means you’re curious.  I want to wonder what my favorite personalities think about whatever is going on.

When it comes to these big, disposable pop culture stories, we must consume them because there is no tomorrow for these topics, unless there’s a new development.  Then we need to be there, too, as the story evolves.  As Oprah proved to us on this one:  there is no tomorrow.

Did I tell you about the talent who told me he didn’t watch Harry and Meghan because he no longer has a TV?

Just when you thought you’d heard it all.

I’ve gotta write a book…

Giving Your Show a First Listen

I was recently asked by a company to give fresh ears to one of their shows to see if it was a program I wanted to work with. I wasn’t too familiar with the program and did some due diligence. I thought you might also benefit from what I do to help your show.

I listened to four hours of the show, across three different days, in every hour of the program. I never judge a show from one day of listening. I like to hear each hour to see if there’s a consistency in what they do and how they do it.

Fresh ears on a show are always good. I hear things some closer to the show don’t. I also don’t walk in with any bias (good or bad) and can evaluate the program as a “first time listener”, much like real listeners are hearing the program.

Here are eight things I am listening for if this is my first pass with a potential client:

  1. Can I tell what the show is all about? Hang out with me for a minute and you know I believe each show must have a plot, much like a TV show. This must be grounded in the truth of the talent and reflective of who they are. And it’s something that cannot be duplicated in the market. Being real is not a plot (every show is real to its audience). “Smart guys, stupid show” is.
  2. Is each member of the cast well-defined? Character development is very important – I want to get to know each person, which compels their honesty against their perspective in the topics being chosen for the show. They also must share their life – or at least the parts that position them as just like the audience. It’s in this you get connection. This is how you move fans to care about the program. Once listeners care about the talent, they will care about the show.
  3. If there are two people of the same sex, are they noticeably different? If not, they’re just two male or female voices – you must noticeably separate their personas for them to have impact.
  4. Do they have defined on-air roles? Tom Brady is always the quarterback and Rob Gronkowski is always a tight end. Does the audience know how each person fits into the structure of the team?
  5. How relevant is the content for the audience? Are the topics they’re choosing right for the demo? I’ve discussed relevancy before in Planet Reynolds. Be on the biggest, best topics of the day for the greatest level of accessibility by the broadest audience in your demo.
  6. Does the audience consistently feel something at the end of each break? Emotion makes everything memorable. Interesting people have a passion and convey that in how they do their content.
  7. Did the show do anything with their content that couldn’t really be done by anyone else? Everyone tends to be on the same topics. It’s in our power with great prep to do things with that content that create an image of innovation and difference. These create a singular identity that makes fans come back again.
  8. Are there fun, unique benchmarks on the show that would positively impact behavior that compels me to return each morning at the same time? Radio wins come from getting fans to come back again. Great benchmark features get a show known for something, add positive images, and gives you additional occasions from those most likely to give them to you – your P1s.

Get fresh ears on your show and use these as guideposts to hear them differently. The assessments made will lead to strategic conversations with your talent that will help everyone’s efforts.

Now it’s time for the back part of the due diligence with the show I referenced above. Will they be open to hearing all these items as a first time listener would, too? If both the show and I say yes, we have a match to take off like a rocket to grow the program.

Be strategic. Be fun. Be interesting. Be relevant. Be real. Be different.

Then you’ll be epic.

Hey NAB – Steal This Slogan!

Set aside what you or I might think of what Rush Limbaugh offered his 15-million listeners each week, we should laud him for what he taught us the last three decades:  that our win comes from compelling talent and the content they offer fans.

When radio was investing millions of dollars in “AM stereo” (remember that nonsense?), Rush resurrected radio stations left for dead because he was bold, different, irreverent, relevant, and fun.  They didn’t care that he was on AM!  While I’ll leave any reflection for another blog on where we’d be had we invested that money in developing talent, Rush was connective in a way few have, and reminds us that it’s not just your music mix of Today’s-Best-Variety-Hot-County-Relaxing-Favorites that gives you a lift to #1, it’s your people.

Peggy Noonan said in the Wall Street Journal this week that Rush “created a community – an actual community of, at his height, tens of millions of people who thought along with him every day and through that thinking came to feel less like outsiders in their views.”

That’s what we do each day with our talent.  They are the face of your brand.  In a world of loneliness that few will admit, made even more challenging by the pandemic, talent (real human beings on your radio station) reach out and touch listeners’ hearts and souls, and make them feel less lonely.

This should be the slogan the NAB uses when extolling the benefits of radio to listeners and advertisers:  Radio – We Make You Feel Less Lonely.

Our greatest strength is that intimacy.  It’s our ability to have a presence on-air and do content that is the ultimate #metoo for people who think they are by themselves.  One listener tunes in and understands they do have a friend, the person they’re listening to on the radio.  That’s the Power of Personalities.

This is why I coach the talent I work with to share those parts of their life that prove to the audience they are just like them – to be honest, genuine, and real – because that’s what works.  From their sense of humor or a shared sense of compassion, the audience wants to know they aren’t alone, and that the people on the radio will always root for them – then they will root for us back with their continued listening.

We do this by understanding the audience, their life and lifestyle, but also with what is going on emotionally in their world, then connecting that to what is going on emotionally in ours.

A shared vulnerability allows for a terrific relationship, much like you or I have in our personal lives, where we want to be around each other more often.  If we develop and nurture a relationship with listeners this way, they’ll become fans.

I never really connected with Rush’s content, but I was always aware of him because of it.  There were millions who left saying, “this guy speaks for me”.

Listen to your talent through this prism for a few days.  How can you coach them to level up so they, too, create bigger communities of fans that feel less like outsiders in a world where so many feel as though they are on an island?

We burned millions of dollars trying to make AM radio have parity with the sound of FM many years ago.  Rush proved we were focused on the wrong thing.  The answer to our ills was staring us in the face all along:  have great people on-the-air, who do the right content, and listeners will get addicted.

Can we make investments moving forward to help our personalities get even better so they get even bigger?  So listeners won’t feel alone?  Our talent are our boldest point-of-differentiation.  Do that, and our ratings and revenue issues will fix themselves.