Radio Show Prep & The Low Hanging Fruit

Radio Show Prep & The Low Hanging Fruit

by Tracy Johnson

Radio personalities are taught the importance of keeping a show simple , and that’s sound advice.  Listeners don’t listen much and pay less attention. A basic premise is to explain every break as if talking to a third grader. But simplifying content requires preparation. It’s not as simple as grabbing low hanging fruit and slapping a phone topic on the air.

Low hanging fruit happens when personalities apply an obvious response to a topic. It usually happens with topics designed to attract phone calls.

You know the drill:

Hey, Kim Kardashian is allergic to peanuts. That would be annoying because I love peanut butter, and eat it every day. What food do you love and couldn’t imagine being allergic to it? Here’s our number.

That’s low hanging fruit.

Sometimes it happens when shows are pressed for time. A story happens, and thinking it has to be on air immediately, we rush to get it on “while it’s hot”. That may apply at times, but nearly every topic can wait a day or two.

Wait Until Tomorrow And Get It Right

Just because something happens today doesn’t mean it has to be on the air tomorrow.

Most of the time, it’ll be just as relevant the next day. Waiting 24 hours actually allows time for the audience to hear about it. It could be argued that it’s actually more timely. It will be more topical, since more listeners will be talking about it.

On the morning a news alert came out that Janet Jackson had a baby at age 51, my client put it on the entertainment report, which was appropriate. But they tried to develop a storyline about the topic without thinking through the possibilities. The break was fine, but it didn’t go anywhere.

After the show, I asked what they would have done differently. They had several great ideas, and admitted they wish they had thought of that. 

Here’s the thing: The next day, Janet still was a 51-year old mom. And in a few days, when she’s home with the baby, she will still be a 51-year old mom. The topic is relevant. But they thought they missed the moment.

To their credit, they got back into the topic the next day, and it was a terrific segment about how Janet would be nearly 70 when her child graduates from high school. This led to a discussion about the best age to have kids. That’s a lot sticker than the low hanging fruit of “Hey, how about that? Janet had a baby.”

The point is, they almost missed a great opportunity thinking they would miss it if they didn’t do it immediately.

Don’t Jump The Route

Radio producer Isaiah Twitty once played cornerback on his college football team. His defensive back coach taught him to be patient, and not go after after the first thing he sees when covering a receiver. He called it “Jumping the Route”. By waiting for the right moment, he’d have a chance to make a bigger play, perhaps an interception.

The passage of time affects feelings about the piece. You’re much more likely to have an original idea when reacting to details, not the immediate news when it breaks.

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Be patient and make a big play.

Get Past Low Hanging Fruit

Grabbing low hanging fruit happens all the time.

If the topic is “table”, you think “chair”. If it’s “salt”, you think “pepper”. But that doesn’t turn content into a story. It’s just a topic.

Here’s a different approach that can get you to a better place:

  1. Put the content through a TESOP filter. TESOP is Topic, Execution, Story, Observation and Perspective. Work through each step and more angles will emerge. Pick one to build a story.
  2. Plan every break to be self contained. Don’t jump immediately to “call us now”. Plan each break without counting on listener participation for a successful break. There’s nothing wrong with phone calls, and they can add to a break. But don’t expect listeners to carry a segment.
  3. Start with a premise, then build backward from the Pay Off.  This is a common technique used by stand up comics.

2 Ways To Get Deeper

Here are a couple of ways to get past low hanging fruit.

  1. Find an emotional connection in the content. If it is a story about a high school kid finding out her uncle is her biological father, don’t settle for “Wow, that’s messed up. What did you find out by accident?”.

    Put yourself in the situation. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you want to know? Then dig deeper into why. Chances are, a more relatable observation will emerge.

  2. In show prep, ask and develop three questions:

    What else could happen? Explore more possibilities to find a more interesting angle.

    What should happen? In other words, what would you want to happen? This can lead you  a break with more potential.

    What would be cool if it did happen?

Mining Your Life

Another technique is to brainstorm a topic for unique material by exploring personal questions.

If the topic is the first day of school, don’t settle for “Memories of your first day of school” or “Tell us what it was like taking your kid to school for the first time”.

That’s low hanging fruit.

Take it deeper by probing associated ideas from your life to find stories related to the topic.  Here are a few examples:

  • Who was the meanest teacher you had? Why?
  • What did you dread about going back to school as a kid? Why?
  • When did have to move to a new school?
  • Why did you get suspended, expelled or sent home from school?
  • What did you do when you played hooky? Did your parents find out?

Then, in a brainstorming meeting, each person writes down their responses. Not every question will trigger a memory, of course. This is just a place to start, but as you go through the exercise, you’ll find personal content that could become a much more interesting (and sticky) story.

This technique is explained in more detail here.

Brainstorming Example

Here’s a real life example of avoiding the low hanging fruit.

Jeff & Jenn on Star 94.1 in Atlanta mastered the concept of purposeful meandering. I love the term. It’s using banter to lead the audience to the point naturally and organically.

Here was their “aha” moment:

Topic: Jenn thinks her husband is weird because he brushes his teeth in an odd way.

Low-Hanging Fruit: What does your partner do that drives you crazy? (Call now…here’s our number).

The problem is that we’ve heard this topic a million times. So the challenge was how to gain attention without being obvious.

We found a different entry point that led to Jenn’s quirky idea of how teeth should be brushed and it led to the punchline (Pay Off) for a relationship story.

Start With The Pay Off, Then The Hook

Once a Pay Off is identified, figure out the entry point (Hook). So we started with an observation about a friend’s boyfriend. He eats cereal without milk, and uses a spoon!

To launch the break, we started by turning up the volume on the situation.

Jeff thinks his friend is making a huge mistake getting married, given what he just learned about her fiance. He is a MONSTER. He eats cereal without milk…but still uses a spoon. What does he need a spoon for? What a freak.

As this is discussed briefly, Kelly (cohost) points out that the weird part is,

Who eats cereal without milk? She should dump him for that.

This purposeful meandering continues, and builds. Jenn shoots back that Kelly doesn’t have any room to comment because her relationships never make it past three dates (character defining comment).

Kelly then says,

I have the happiest relationship in this room

She then lists petty arguments Jeff and Jenn are having with partners.

When talking about Jenn, she says,

And you are fighting with your husband because he doesn’t brush his teeth the way you think he should.

And there they are. They’ve arrived at the destination, exploring Jenn’s wacky idea that there’s a right and wrong way to brush teeth.

Sure, it’s the long way around in some ways. Why not just start with the topic? The answer: It’s too obvious. Stories must have a surprise.

Purposeful meandering doesn’t happen by accident. It happens through preparation. It takes personalities past the low hanging fruit.


Turning generic content into entertainment isn’t difficult. It just takes time in the prep process. Think it through and find unique, exciting ways to connect with listeners.


TESOP Show Prep Process

Putting Show Prep In Perspective

The Science of Show Prep

How To Brainstorm Deeper Topics


It’s All About The Hook ebook

Show Prep Techniques

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