by Tracy Johnson
I work with an air personality that is always striving for excellence. She works hard to be at the top of her craft, always seeking the little things that provide an edge. Lately, she’s questioning (but not challenging) some of the programming “rules” her PD has put in place. She asked about the best way to open a talk break: Always start with the station basics or be creative?
As with all art, there are few rules that are actually effective to guarantee radio success. Most of the time, those programming rules are shortcuts to help manage the station more than a set of standards that encourage excellence. That’s why guidelines are more effective. But guidelines take more time and expertise to manage properly.
Still, many traditional programmers dig in their heels and insist that the only way to open a talk break is by identifying the station, selling the positioning statement and promoting a key benefit for listening. They reason that this sears the station brand into the consciousness of the audience to be more memorable. Some PD’s in PPM markets relax this rule because they believe branding is no longer a priority since the meters pick up all listening.
Both extremes are a bad idea.
While there is merit in both programming philosophies, strict policies miss the more important point. Here’s why:
On the one hand, we can’t afford to waste the listener’s time. PD’s that encourage talent to quickly get to the point with a fast hook are on the right path. But abruptly launching into a topic or segment isn’t the answer. Sometimes personalities come on without a verbal handshake. No matter how strong the content, there is a lack of warmth. Listeners are left feeling like outsiders. Rushing into a topic is a mistake.
Branding is critically important, even in PPM markets. It’s true that meters measure actual listening, whether or not listeners know what station it is. But it’s also true that listeners constantly tune in and out. And most have no idea what station they’re listening to. So when (not if) they tune out, how will they know to tune in?
If the station and show are poorly branded, positioned or promoted properly, the audience may forget about you. Identifying the station, personalities, benefits and key features has never been more critical.
There are creative ways to accomplish both goals without reciting the exact same words when we open a talk break. Repeating the words verbatim usually cause audiences to become numb to the words. The message doesn’t resonate.
In fact, some studies have shown that as soon as positioning lines are repeated verbatim, listener attention is lost. Subliminally, they assume something “bad” is coming, like commercials or more talk. It’s a subtle cause of audience tune out.
As with most programming dilemmas, the answer is neither black or white. It’s in the middle.
Performing to the listening environment means personalities must quickly transition from one form of entertainment (like music) to another (like talk). I call this the high risk zone as we open a talk break.
But it shouldn’t be so tight, efficient and focused that we lose humanity. This simply confuses listeners. And confusion is one of the worst things that can happen! It’s the beginning of tune out.
And rushing through station basics does nothing to build a bridge to content, especially when the personality doesn’t sound like they mean it.
It’s every personality’s responsibility to make the radio station important. Few great personalities are on bad stations. And for most air talent, the majority of an audience is tuned in primarily for something other than to listen to you talk.
Sorry, but that’s true.
So doesn’t it make sense to play into that interest by showcasing the station brand and format benefits in the best possible way? Like you mean it?
On the other hand, PD’s need to be more creative and practical. Simply saying the same words over and over has never convinced listeners of anything. They are numb to the repetition. They don’t even hear it. Get creative. Coach talent to shine a bright spotlight on the important format and brand elements of your radio station.
Then let the personality shine!
Most human beings love to create systems. The more we standardize repetitive actions, the easier it is to monitor and administer the format.
But radio is show biz, and when art is involved, rules are restrictive. Personalities should learn to make their station famous by applying creative skills. Programmers should learn to encourage personalities to flourish by coaching talent to use their unique abilities to build a great radio station.
Art and science seem like opposite concepts, but many of the greatest artists in history use science (and math) to inspire their work. When art and science work together, magic happens.
I’d love to hear how your station is building it’s brand by leveraging creativity through personality. Send examples to [email protected]
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