by Tracy Johnson
It’s one of the most unique names in personality radio. They have built a network of affiliates from their hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. And they continue to build their career with selfish radio. Free Beer & Hot Wings are one of the industry’s best-kept secrets. It’s an impressive success story.
The first question is usually how they came to be known as Free Beer & Hot Wings. Gregg “Free Beer” Daniels and Chris “Hot Wings” Michels put the show together in college. They wanted to talk to men. So what do guys want? Free beer. And hot wings. They found their radio names.
It’s even more interesting to learn how they have built the show and continue to win.
Here are the relevant information points:
The most striking thing about the show is their passionate fan base. The goal of a recent research project was to find where the show is vulnerable. We asked listeners who they would choose to listen to if the show went off the air. In two of the three markets researched, the #1 answer was that they would no longer continue listening to the radio in the morning. In the other market, “I wouldn’t listen to another station” was just two percentage points behind the #1 answer.
Wow. Let that sink in.
How do they do it? Let’s investigate.
The show has changed in their 20-plus years, constantly evolving as the personalities mature and re-invent themselves. Gregg and Chris talk about how the show has changed.
Some shows follow a template. Others copy winning stations in another market. But the key to truly great personality radio is interesting people having fun on-air. It’s contagious.
The best shows find their own formula. Free Beer & Hot Wings call it Selfish Radio. Executive Producer and personality Steve McKiernan explains.
The show is passionate about learning new ideas and concepts, but cautious to make sure they do it their own way…always.
Here’s Chris Michels discussing how the show learned it’s not possible to compete with a show by copying them.
It’s selfish, but not self-absorbed. The show places a high priority in staying in touch with their audience.
Successful shows are often afraid of change. That’s not the case here. The show’s evolution is driven by their desire to succeed, but informed by data.
Recently, Strategic Solutions Research conducted a massive research project to learn how the show can improve. Was that scary?
The research not only gave the show confidence in performance by verifying how much listeners love them, but it also revealed specific things to improve.
As host of the show, Gregg assumes responsibility for keeping the show moving forward. He has mastered the discipline of performing with the conscience of the listener while letting the fun happen naturally. That’s only possible when every cast member maintains a For The Show mentality.
Kelly joined the show in 2019. One of the first things that impressed her was how well the cast sets up their partners.
Many personalities are struggling through furloughs, layoffs, and downsizing. It can be discouraging, for sure. The environment today is different than when Free Beer & Hot Wings built their empire. But it can be done.
I asked the show for advice to young talent looking for that big break.
To find that dream gig, Joe acknowledges there are many ways to be successful.
The concept of performing an improvisational show with people you like hanging out with sounds easy. And that’s the point. They make it sound easy. But it only happens by a commitment to success. And that takes time.
I call this show the hardest working show in network/syndicated radio. They invest endless hours in preparing and performing, providing support for affiliates, and developing their brand on and off the air.
Here’s Kelly talking about what it takes to succeed.
The Free Beer & Hot Wings “formula” is pretty simple. It’s a team of good people that like each other working hard and having fun on the radio.
Threaded through the sometimes sophomoric humor an engaging conversation is a heart. The show is relatable because each personality is authentic. They become a part of listener’s lives.
And like all dominant personalities, relatability is where this show shines brightest.
Personality is the key to radio’s future. It’s the only thing that allows radio stations to be relevant going forward. Free Beer & Hot Wings have built a relationship with fans that can’t be replaced.
It’s the single most important asset broadcasters need today.
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