A drum solo happens at most rock shows. You can usually tell it’s happening because the beer and restroom lines get longer and longer. In our weekly aircheck meeting, the morning team listened and smiled. They knew the feedback would be positive because there were many excellent moments in the six-minute segment. There were funny moments and personal anecdotes, and the show revealed character traits. It wasn’t hard to find things to praise. But in the bigger picture, something was off. Each of the three was doing their own thing. They were playing the same song, but it wasn’t in synch. Great shows perform as an ensemble, not a drum solo.

Be An Ensemble, Not A Drum Solo

Here’s a short summary of the problems:

One-Upsmanship: The setup was terrific, and they clearly worked on getting into the segment quickly and enthusiastically. But once it was established, each cast member added a different perspective to the conversation without regard to what had been said. It was one topic, but three separate stories that seemed to compete for attention.

Story Preparation: The topic was prepped, but the story was not. The cast had clearly prepared for the conversation, but each had prepared separately. It quickly became clear that the prep process was too shallow because they wanted “to save it for the air and capture our natural, spontaneous response.”

Listen and Respond: This improv technique is critical to the success of a team show, and it was missing. It sounded like each personality was waiting for someone to take a breath so they could crash the conversation and force their comments into the break. They were each waiting for their drum solo.

To a listener, the result is confusion, which is the second most common reason for tuning out (commercials are #1). The result wasn’t horrible, but it didn’t resonate. When we listened a second time with that in mind, the show recognized how a listener would be confused in the chaos.

What Went Wrong?

The art of conversation seems simple, but executing it on the radio is complicated. The essence of conversation is an “informal interaction of thoughts, information, opinions, and ideas around a central theme.” The key word is the crucial aspect of ‘interaction.’

Conversations are a dance of words in which each participant co-constructs the dialogue, making it richer and more dynamic. However, when each cast member is thinking more about what they will say next, problems arise.

This example is fairly common. Instead of genuine dialogue, we hear three people in solo monologues about the same topic. The cause usually comes from good intentions. Each personality wants to contribute to the segment, but here’s what often happens:

Host: Jennifer told us that she’s thinking about breaking up with her boyfriend because he doesn’t like her friends and doesn’t know what to do.

Cohost 1: Jennifer, take it from me. You can get new friends, but you can’t get a great new boyfriend. This happened to me when I was 26 and I still regret it. He was the one that got away, and now it is too late. He’s married, has three kids, and makes half a million dollars a year. I still have my friends, but I’m desperate and dateless.

Cohost 2: I was on the other end of this. I couldn’t stand my fiance’s friends and she knew it. I even tried to manipulate the situation and break up their relationship, but it didn’t work, and I had to figure out how to live with her friends, whom I hated, and the girl I loved. I chose the girl, and am still dealing with the friends fallout.

Host: I would never let this happen for a best friend because those are so rare, like a lifelong buddy. But the circle of party friends? Uh, who knows?

As mentioned, this isn’t horrible, but none of those perspectives grows roots. It’s what we call Topic Grazing. Each personality has a valid thought and a story behind it, but none of the stories take root because the show needs to perform as an ensemble, not a drum solo.

To a listener, the result is chaos and confusion, which is the second most common reason for tuning out (commercials are #1).

Fixing It

Here is the remedy that will allow your show to reach new heights:

Prep: You knew this was coming, right? Better, deeper show prep fixes most problems. In this case, brainstorm what you will do with the topic, and not just the topic itself. Every cast member must know the direction for the segment so they can be prepared to contribute to the story being told. If they only know the topic, chaos will follow.

Yes, And:  This Improv principle champions acceptance and collaboration. It’s about being part of an ensemble, not a drum solo. It’s building upon what a cohost offers to enrich the conversation for the benefit of listeners. Imagine a chef preparing a dish, only to be joined by another chef who adds their expertise to the original creation. The result can be an exquisite blend of flavors through collaboration. But if the chefs are thinking only about their own masterpieces, it will be a disaster.

Slow Down: Also, pause and breathe! Many shows move too quickly and each pause is quickly filled with another character filling the silence void. Stop rushing through conversations. It’s hard to follow and unnatural. You can learn to do this as a team by using hand signals.

Conclusion

This is not unique to broadcasting. Consider a meeting where employees pitch ideas in succession, each presentation sealed off from the last. The potential for synergy and innovation is lost in the procession of consecutive monologues. After the second or third presentation, the “audience” becomes increasingly fatigued. It’s hard to pay attention. They’re confused and worn out.

It happens on social media all the time. A comment thread starts as a useful conversation, but within 6-8 posts, it’s off the rails as individuals pump their views without truly engaging with the story in the original post. Now, think about the last time you were engaged in the comments that go wildly off the rails. It wears you out, right?

Shifting from competing monologues to engaging dialogues is about fostering an environment where each voice adds value, every contribution sparks a response, and the collective outcome captivates the audience. This doesn’t require hosts to change who they are. It simply asks them to engage more deeply with what’s happening at the moment, to embrace the unpredictable, and to co-create the narrative around a central theme. In other words, know when it’s time for your drum solo and when it’s time to make the song being played sound better.

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