Everyone talks about chemistry, that undefinable trait that is usually more of a good feeling than a critical ingredient. One of the greatest bands in history (The Beatles) created their best music when the members couldn’t stand being around one another.
Experts say chemistry can’t be forced. It just happens. Sure, chemistry contributes to a radio show’s success. Working with someone you like is more enjoyable. But sometimes broadcasters place too much emphasis on good show chemistry because shows that get along are easier to manage.
Recently, a PD for a station with a high-performing morning show informed me that a change was coming. He just couldn’t figure out who to keep and who to let go. He told me:
The cast just doesn’t get along. They’re constantly fighting, and they never hang out together off the air. The show is doing well, but it’s bad chemistry.
Fortunately, we talked through it and no changes are forthcoming.
Chemistry is the union of multiple elements that together produce something new, different, and better. That requires complementary parts, each playing an important role with an understanding of how each contributes to the whole. That’s the official description.
But isn’t that more about respect than compatibility? Spending personal time together is no more important on a radio show than a football team having dinner together on Wednesday night.
Penn & Teller performed together for more than 40 years, and never really got along. Penn explains:
Teller and I never had a cuddly friendship. It’s a very cold, calculated relationship where we thought we do better stuff together than separately. Respect lasts longer than affection.
The duo has little in common, and as a result, little to share in their personal lives. Teller says:
Opposites — I don’t know if ‘attract’ is exactly the right word, but opposites do sometimes complement.
Aha. That’s the secret. Complementary pieces that create magic when together.
It’d be great if everyone got along and all was smooth on and off the air, but this should not be the basis for casting a show. Hiring a cast because they get along well often ends up with a show of similar characters that lack dimension and depth. That would be like starting a band with four members who all play drums and nothing else.
Strong casts are loaded with personalities that have a clearly defined role and unique personality traits that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Of course, there comes a point that even the best casts can’t work together. When members simply can’t stand one another and are unable to set aside personal issues for the good of the team, the bitterness will find its way to the radio.
But broadcasters should remember that it’s not easy to replace strong radio shows and the best team shows almost always come with drama.
Personalities need strong programmers, managers, and coaches to help them maintain perspective and rise above interpersonal issues.
A healthy ego is necessary for confident performances, but sometimes ego rubs others the wrong way.
Character quirks make interesting air personalities, but those quirks can also be annoying.
Emotions are required for successful shows, but emotions can cause moods to swing from one extreme to another.
In other words, great team shows come with baggage. Entertainment isn’t always pretty behind the scenes. It’s often messy. Programmers play an important role in bringing out their best and keeping them moving forward.
Great shows come together because they understand how to blend unique elements into a new product. That’s chemistry. They may not love one another, but they know they need one another.