by Tracy Johnson
Generations of young people grew up with Looney Tunes. One of the highlights of the popular animated shorts was the Roadrunner cartoon. If you’re not familiar with Chuck Jones’ stories, you’re missing out. It’s great entertainment and radio personalities can learn a lot from Wile E. Coyote.
The Coyote pursued the Roadrunner, but always fell short of capturing his prey in a disastrous (and hilarious) way.
Here’s an example:
Jones’ cartoons followed very specific story rules that guided each episode. The rules provided structure and consistency while building personality traits for the two main characters.
The Roadrunner gets top billing, but the real star of the show is Wile E. Coyote. He’s everyone’s favorite loser.
Here are Jones’ 11 rules, with commentary on how many apply to radio personalities:
The Roadrunner didn’t beat up on the Coyote. It just happened. But the constant taunting of “beep beep” annoyed the Coyote. It was maddening and motivating.
The Coyote had a deeper character profile, yet the Roadrunner complemented it with an arrogance that brought more out of the Coyote.
Radio Application: The pair were well-matched, and they stayed in their personality roles. That’s key on any multi-personality show. Knowing who you are creates appealing moments when each personality stays in their lane.
Trains and trucks were the exception from time to time. Sometimes the Coyote painted a tunnel on a rock, hoping for Road Runner to smash into it. Of course, the bird goes through unscathed. The Coyote follows and a train comes through from the other side. Hilarious!
The Coyote’s failures make him a relatable, sympathetic character. The fact that he comes back for more over and over without losing enthusiasm is an admirable trait. It’s an aspirational value for the audience.
The fact that he fails every single time makes him a “lovable loser” that we can identify with on some level. And, it makes us feel a little better about our own shortcomings.
Radio Application: Like the Coyote, personalities confident enough to be vulnerable become likable. It’s much more charming than the arrogance of perfect character that never loses. Embracing and showing off quirks is a key part of being a lovable air talent.
When watching this cartoon as a kid, I always wondered why the Coyote didn’t go after another target, like a rabbit. Anything that wasn’t as fast or smart! Of course, that wouldn’t make the story as interesting, would it?
He just came back again with another great plan that was certain to work this time. The Coyote never stopped because he couldn’t. He was fanatical, obsessed with achieving his goal.
This led to a certain amount of predictability. Viewers knew that the story would end with the Coyote getting injured in impossibly violent ways. This built anticipation and expectation.
Radio Application: The Coyote’s failure acts as a benchmark for the cartoon’s content. You didn’t know what was going to happen, but you knew how it would turn out. The Coyote would fail, and the Roadrunner would race off with a smug look on his face.
This is the same type of appeal for radio listeners when listening to recurring daily features like War of the Roses or Second Date Update. They generally know how it’s going to turn out, but not the path it will take to get there. Comfort, along with surprise.
There was no talk in Roadrunner cartoons-ever. There were sound effects and the Roadrunner’s famous sound. Yet the cartoons were heavy on character definition. They showcased character traits through the stories they told.
The brilliance of the cartoon writing is that it was through pictures and sound effects. Imagery told the story. A characters held up an occasional sign as a prop or punchline, but Jones insisted on telling the story clearly and simply without dialogue.
The format required that each scene have a focus to move the story forward. Every detail was critical to make the story come alive.
Radio Application: Air personalities should learn to tell stories the same way. Clearly, with no detours. In an audio-only world, there are no pictures to help tell a story, so words must be colorful, descriptive and precise.
This simple rule for the Roadrunner is a good example of having a defined character role.
Radio Application: Identify the role you play on the show that will allow character to come alive in exciting ways. Know the boundaries. What fits each personality brand traits and what is off limits?
Remember, a character role is different from traits in a Personality Profile. Each personality’s role is what they do on the air. Personality is who they are. Both are important.
This is a key tool to increase familiarity in the setting. A familiar setting is important. It’s like the bar in Cheers or Jerry’s apartment in Seinfeld. Familiar backgrounds allow attention to focus on the story.
Radio Application: The same is true in audio creation. A comfortable, familiar environment for new, fresh and exciting content is important. That’s why branded, named features are so valuable for success.
The structure of performance allows the audience to focus on what’s most important: the entertainment.
Here is yet another example of benchmarking in the show. As soon as Wile E. Coyote got a box from Acme Corporation, something was about to blow up in his face (literally).
Radio Application: What benchmarks do you have on your show? Remember, benchmarks are not the same as features. Benchmarks should be woven into the fabric of the content so they become part of the overall story arc?
This is another recurring theme, and an effective tool in relating stories. Gravity is a universal truth that is easily understood. No explanation necessary. This makes it instantly familiar and relatable. The audience gets it.
His humiliation is endearing, adding a likable trait to his Personality Profile.
The Coyote’s emotional reaction to failure causes us to care, especially when the Roadrunner watches him fall off a cliff, smiling. And waving.
His self-analysis and constant failure makes him that character we cheer for. There’s a warmth in the struggle!
It’s interesting that the “hero” in the story is an aggressor in real life. The Coyote is the loser, while the Roadrunner, a victim in real life, is the villain. This juxtaposition of characters provides a unique perspective.
Other classic cartoons do this as well. Remember Tom & Jerry, where the mouse always outsmarts the cat? Surprise! Chuck Jones created that one, too!
Radio Application: This is also true on personality radio shows. Many times, the most memorable and most loved character isn’t the one that has their name on the show. Or the nicest character. It’s the personality that listeners best identify with.
This has nothing to do with how many words are spoken.
Winning shows understand this and use it as a strategic advantage. It’s what I call a For The Show mentality.
This is my favorite rule in the storyline. There’s never an end to the story arc. It’s about the struggle. Entertainment is in the process, not the outcome.
If the Coyote catches the Roadrunner, the story is over. It’s like when two actors finally hook up in a sitcom. There’s nothing is left to hope for or anticipate. No possibilities. When the pursuit ends, the story arc dies.
According to Screen Rant:
When Jones was creating Wile E. Coyote in 1948, he found inspiration in the writings of Mark Twain, best known for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. In 1872’s Roughing It, Twain describes the coyote as long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton. He describes the coyote as a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. And he is always poor, out of luck, and friendless.
The image stuck with Jones, and he realized the brand values that should define and guide his character.
Radio Application: Many shows think they have to have finish a story. It doesn’t always have to tie together in the end. You do need an ending, a pay off, but it doesn’t need to result in a conclusion to the storyline. Entertainment is found in the pursuit of a solution, not the solution itself.
A couple of other things regarding the cartoon stand out.
Chuck Jones’ genius is evident in how he cross-promoted and recycled the Coyote.
Beginning in 1953, he borrowed the character in a series of episodes of Sam Sheepdog vs. Ralph Wolf. Ralph The Wolf is a dead ringer for Wile E. Coyote.
And, the Coyote was a recurring character in Bugs Bunny episodes. It’s a great lesson in expanding your brand by playing and recycling your hits.
Also, look at the photos and cartoons in this article. Notice the color schemes? It’s full of yellows, oranges and reds. There’s a style that subtly adds to the brand. This consistency may not be obvious, but it matters.
Developing show rules of presentation is a valuable exercise. It’s an advanced step in building a 5-Star Personality Brand.
What are the rules of conduct in creating stories that showcase character traits in your personality profile?
And how are you executing the profile? Share them by email [email protected]
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