Brilliant At The Basics Is The Price of Admission

Brilliant At The Basics Is The Price of Admission

by Tracy Johnson

Attending a concert or sporting event has a cost. You don’t get the entertainment the price of admission is paid. Hand over the credit card, get the tickets and watch the show. It’s a transaction. But there’s a cost of listening to the radio, too. And the price of admission to compete for audience attention is to be brilliant at the basics.

Being brilliant at the basics is critical. Without a solid foundation, stations are doomed to mediocrity no matter how wonderful some moments may be.

Brilliant At The Basics Tune-Up

Virtually all great stations that constantly outperform the market regularly remind the staff on the basics that lead to success. This should be a consistent part of every programmer’s leadership, and he/she should require active participation from all staff members.

To ensure a station stays sharp, I recommend clients conduct a quarterly tune-up exercise with the entire staff.

A couple of weeks before the launch of a new rating period is a good time for it. The sessions help each team member better understand the station’s mission while providing an open forum for fine-tuning performance.

Here are ideas to discuss with the team:

How The Audience Uses The Station

Listeners do not listen as much as we think and are not paying attention to any radio station. Even yours.

Yes, some super-fans hang on every word and are actively involved. We love them! They call the station, text us, email, comment on social media and come to events. They have loud voices. It’s easy to think they are typical of our audience.

But they aren’t. And there aren’t many of them.

The bulk of the audience is distracted and knows very little about stations, shows, personalities, or features. Remind personalities and the promotion team how the audience actually uses the radio.

Most Listeners Don’t Know You Exist

Ouch. Really? Yes, really. It is a painful reality check, but most of the population doesn’t know the station exists.

Even more shocking: Most of the cume audience doesn’t think about your station. It’s just a button on the car radio. They may not even remember the dial position.

Maybe they remember something about the station, but it’s often something that stood out years ago. They may even know you for something that no longer exists. In San Diego, we flipped the legendary B100 to Star 100.7 in 1994. To this day, it’s common to hear, “Oh, 100.7. That’s B100, right?”

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In the tune-up, stress the importance of clearly and simply position the station on-air and off. And brainstorm ways to do it creatively.

Stations Are Chosen For Mood

Radio is a utility. Consumers push a button and expect to be entertained. If they don’t love what they hear, there are other buttons to try.

Listeners don’t (and won’t) work hard to listen. They make emotional choices, not logical ones.

Most of the time, stations are chosen when they match listener moods right now. If they tune in and can’t figure out what is happening, they tune out.

That’s why it’s so important to focus on consistently delivering the essence of the brand at every moment. Does the station stand for light-hearted, upbeat fun? Positive and encouraging? Soft and relaxing? Be that. All the time.

Train the team to understand how to execute the basics with enthusiasm and creativity within the “color palette” of the station brand.

The Audience Is Blind

This is huge. Listeners can’t see what is happening in the studio. They don’t have eye contact with personalities. And they’re not watching the video that’s playing on the air. They’re blind.

In general, listeners don’t care about what happens in the studio. They aren’t clued into inside references. They don’t know what a “spot” is or what a “control board” is. And they really don’t care. It’s not on their radar. To them, it’s self-indulgent talk, and they can’t relate.

Learn to evaluate and analyze every element on the station for relevance, clarity, and ease of understanding. Then paint word pictures to help listeners visualize the story being told.

The Ratings Process

The Ratings Game is a complicated process. It’s flawed. But as long as ratings are important, it’s critically important to understand how to play the game.

Review the mechanics of how stations receive listening credit. All the details are in my eBook The Ratings Game.

Be sure to remind the team about the type of people who participate. Only a select few, unique folks agree to participate in the ratings process. And they are not like the general population.

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Then review the fundamentals of radio performance, including:

  • Balance of talk and music.
  • Efficiency in talk breaks.
  • Forward momentum.
  • Building interest through hooks and teases.

Personality Stages

It takes time for audiences to get to know radio personalities. A long time. It takes even longer to fall in love and become fans.

This is a natural part of the Personality Success Path evolution. Analyze which stage (Introduction, Familiarity, Growth, Like, Love) each personality has reached and use it as a foundation for performance. Details are here.


Following this exercise, consider taking the next step by conducting a Zero-Based Programming Audit with the programming team to reveal areas for growth.

These are just some of the areas every team member should understand. Spend time with the staff. Answer questions. Being brilliant at the basics should be a part of every employee’s training.


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