by Tracy Johnson
Jeff & Jer were great storytellers. They shared their lives on the air every single day. How did they do it? By understanding story anatomy, and through creative exaggeration.
Jeff Elliott shared secrets of how the show turned seemingly ordinary events from their lives into share-able, repeatable entertainment. He told me:
This is where the skills of an improv troupe is useful. They call it advancing the football. The idea is ensuring you’re taking chances and playing with others so unexpected moments arise. It’s things like never blocking the advancement of a bit. Personalities can block a bit by a bad attitude or mood, with cheap, easy punch lines, or by lack of investment in the game at hand.
The game, of course, is creating anticipation for the outcome. That means everyone on the show must avoid distractions by being focused, prepared, and, ready to play.
Magical moments come from cracking up the entire room up with an unexpected, honest reaction, or relating something personal they’ve never heard before.
It happens when you are bold enough to ask questions of a guest that lead to answers which become quotable in other media.
They happen when you train yourself to constantly think, “How can I make this bit larger? How can I say or do something that will make it bigger, and more memorable to the listener?”
In other words, breaks become memorable when they advance from ordinary to extraordinary through exaggeration.
Great moments can be funny, outrageous, and over-the-top. Or they might also be sensitive and personal. Jeff talked about how the show reached listeners through many emotions:
It might come in a warm and fuzzy way, by personally investing in a caller’s situation. Or it could come in standing up for something about which you feel strongly, or from being present enough to actually listen and respond to callers and cast members.
The magic happens when you’re alert enough to catch something that can be repeated or replayed to generate buzz by stepping on the gas and making it larger than life.
Another important element is building a segment from beginning to end or Hook to Pay Off. This requires preparation, of course. But it also takes a certain amount of discipline.
If the material is strong enough, we can create a cliff-hanger to lure an audience across a stop set, to another hour, or serialize it to the next day, or in some cases even throughout the week.
We learned to advance a bit to just the right moment where people have to know the outcome, then find a way to bounce it to the next break or next day. This creates drama in a big way.
PPM programming tactics have reduced opportunities for personalities have to develop content, and the natural response from many shows has been to focus on shorter breaks. They eliminate everything that doesn’t absolutely have to be there.
That’s a fundamental mistake. Don’t sacrifice dramatic moments for brevity trying to chase PPM. In a world where attention is harder to earn, exaggeration is more important than ever.
Elliott understands an adjustment is necessary. But it does not remove the responsibility to entertain.
We were very cognizant of the conventions of PPM. For the first time in our careers we could not just stream of consciousness, but had to commit to a structure.
It forced us to create great moments within that structure. That can be done, but we also have to realize that there will be moments that demand we just ride the bit; let it breathe and grow when we see a didja hear moment coming.
And those moments are often the result of an exaggerated story.
If these moments cost a meter for a quarter hour that day, they are worth it for the long-term image and relevance of the show.
Many personalities are stuck in a rut. They’re doing the same show they’ve done for years. Or decades. After all, it’s worked in the past, it’s easier, and doesn’t demand as much time or attention.
That wasn’t a choice for Jeff & Jer.
Here’s Elliott talking about the satisfaction of creating great radio moments.
This kind of radio is truly exhausting. The best show prep is probably a good night’s sleep and an attitude of fun and playfulness in the studio.
The reward, other than ratings and bonus checks is a wonderful feeling while driving home after a show where you just know that you nailed it. It was a radio show that had tremendous momentum, and impacted lives. You made a difference.
To do this, you have to exaggerate. But never lie.
Some personalities struggle with The Three E’s Of Entertainment: Exaggeration, Embellishment, Enhancement. Understanding how to build a radio segment that causes the audience to lean in to hear more is an art that leans heavily on this concept.
And the reward? It never gets old. Elliott recalls:
I remember being 16, filling in on the morning show in my hometown, and getting to the school office to sign in late. The school secretary commented about something I said that morning about a news anchor’s new glasses. She told the other secretary about it.
It felt great. And it still does.
Well said, Jeff. It’s no accident you’re in the Hall of Fame.
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