by Tracy Johnson
Many broadcasters agonize over on-air features. They love adding new ones, but often fail to move out the old. To stay out of programming ruts, PD’s must manage radio features the way Disneyland manages rides and attractions.
One reason radio stations end up keeping old, worn out show segments is simply because they’ve been doing them a long time. They figure that since it worked once, it’s still valid. Maybe true. After all, the classics never get old, do they? Maybe.
Here’s the problem: When new features are added to keep a station fresh, the clocks get really crowded. There’s not enough room for them to breathe. Soon, the show becomes a jungle of too many “things”.
Features need to be pruned on occasion.
There’s a simple way to manage radio features.
At Disneyland, they protect against becoming predictable and boring by forcing reinvention. It’s a concept called the “Weakest Ride Out.”
The Anaheim, California park has limited real estate. They can’t just expand. Yet the brand is constantly introducing new characters and attractions. If they were to shoehorn new features into existing space, it would soon be a crowded mess. Something has to give.
Weakest Ride Out means that no matter how popular it is, the poorest performing attraction is replaced with something new.
That doesn’t mean the oldest feature, nor the one the staff is most tired of. The weakest.
Over time, the park constantly evolves, updating to reflect a changing demographic.
So if you haven’t been to Disneyland in the last 3-4 years, you haven’t been to Disneyland.
Here’s how to apply this to your station.
First, mentally strip away all preconceived notions. This is zero-based programming.
Examine everything on your station and your show:
The bumper music, the production elements, regular features, jingles, stop set placement, promos, traffic, weather, music. Every detail. Be objective. Don’t protect your content because you are attached to them.
If you can’t justify a good reason for it to exist, dump it. If you can’t defend how each element is performed, drop it or update it. And when you decide that something needs to go, don’t wait for a replacement.
Get rid of the Weakest Rides to clear the way for new growth. This alone will give you a fresh perspective. You’ll hear it with fresh ears, and creativity will be unleashed.
This will keep the station fresh, yet familiar. Consistent, yet updated.
Basic learning theory proves that humans understand sequentially. Each thing builds on something learned in the past.
That’s why kids can’t learn advanced calculus until they know the basics. First they learn to count. Then add or subtract. Once that’s learned, they are ready for multiplication and division, then geometry, etc. Each builds on previous knowledge.
The familiarity of one lesson adds to the understanding and appreciation of the new concept.
So how can broadcasters decide which features are useful and which should be pruned?
Here’s a quick and easy way to find out:
Would listeners miss it if it weren’t there?
You can test this.
Start by skipping a day. Or a week. Did you get any response? Any at all? If you didn’t, or if it was minor, you face a decision:
Because it’s not helping you. It’s dead wood. Replace it with something fresh and new or let the station breathe a bit more.
You have a good idea, but it’s not being executed properly. Can you dress it up differently? Add some drama? This is like adding fertilizer to the plant to nurse it back to health.
Maybe the feature is great, but nobody knows about it. Perhaps you should do it more often. Maybe every day. Maybe several times a day. Try to make it a meaningful mini-brand and see if it helps to make it more prominent.
Listeners will actually miss very few things. You’ll be shocked. And you’ll likely conclude that you don’t need more features. You need less features. But they need to be great. And with more room in the “park”, you can do them more often and promote them more aggressively.
Think how disappointing it would be if Disneyland neve changed. Tea Cups, Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World are great, but if it’s locked in a time warp, there’s no reason to go back.
Take the same approach to your radio station. Keep it fresh and exciting, ye familiar.
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