There’s a philosophical tug-of-war about the best way to program a radio show. Come to think of it, the same applies to music programming. Is it better to deliver exactly what the audience expects whenever they tune in or be unpredictably fresh so they are always surprised? The answer is both. It’s important to be consistent yet fresh.

On the one hand, satisfying audience expectations is critical. What if you walked into Starbucks one morning only to find they decided not to serve lattes that day? It would be more than a little disappointing.

So be consistent with the things that matter most. Program the most important, one-thing features regularly, at the same time each day. If Love Trapdecided to skip or move Love Trap, listeners would revolt. It’s a daily show-defining moment.

But it’s also important to be fresh and exciting. Nobody wants to hear the exact same thing each day, like Bill Murray waking up to “I Got You Babe” each morning on Groundhog Day. That’s why McDonald’s never takes the Big Mac off the menu but regularly brings back the McRib only for a limited engagement. The brand remains consistent but adds a promotable excitement.

Be Consistent Yet Fresh

Most radio stations master one of the two extremes. They’re either consistent and boring or fresh and confusing, preventing them from gaining traction.

The key is to be consistent yet fresh.

My friend and client Haz Montana (Meruelo Media/Los Angeles) recommended a fascinating book that explains the concept.

Hit Makers: The Science Of Popularity In An Age of Distraction explores the thin margin between wildly successful hits and similar products that are considered massive failures. It’s a great read with many applications to radio programming and promotion.

Author Derek Thompson makes the case that big hits rely on three key factors:

  • Familiarity: The public responds to the familiar. Songs become hits when a new release has recognizable, familiar qualities. This is why features are so valuable. They act as content containers that make the segment comfortable, yet the story inside the feature is fresh.
  • Freshness: We want something new but not radically new. New styles of music become a movement when creative energy builds on a familiar foundation. This is why many current pop songs use samples of older hits. The combination of familiar and fresh is powerful.
  • Distribution: Hits happen when the public is exposed to them often. This may be the biggest difference between a #1 song and a tune you’ve never heard of. This is why we recommend identifying your best content (biggest hits) and recycling those hits as often as possible. Then promote them on and off the air.


Two things get in the way of executing this concept on radio shows:

  • Personalities become bored with the same features, even the hits. Just like a fast-food worker no doubt gets tired of serving burgers and fries. Fight that boredom. Play those hits and do it with enthusiasm.
  • Many programmers (and some personalities) fall into routines and are reluctant to embrace any changes. Many shows have used the same imaging, contests, and games for months, years, and even decades. Don’t just set it and forget it.

Both are important. We need to innovate and evolve, but avoid moving so fast that fans don’t recognize the show. Consistent yet fresh requires a combination of discipline and creativity. We can help with that.

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