by Tracy Johnson
I recently began working with a new radio show that is going to be wildly successful. They have a great attitude, are full of ideas and are exceptionally well cast. But the biggest thing going from us is the the established competitor’s reaction to our new show. Almost immediately, the station tightened their format, reduced talk breaks and began positioning as “now with more music and less talk in the morning.” It’s almost too perfect. We couldn’t have scripted the promos any better. They’re competing by re-trenching an established (and well loved) radio show as a more music morning show. It won’t work.
The debate over more music or more personality in the morning is passionate. And I get it. When an established brand position is attacked by a new competitor, the natural reaction is to evaluate and re-trench. But replacing the reason listeners love you (personality) with content that causes them to simply like you (music) is a bad move.
There are certain situations when de-emphasizing personality may make sense, at least in the short term. But it’s not a long-term solution.
Regardless of what research reports indicate, most stations won’t win in the morning without a personality driven show. Radio’s future belongs to personalities able to command attention and lead a loyal fan base.
Stations that rely exclusively on music to win, not just in mornings, but in all dayparts, will be left behind by stations that offer compelling entertainment beyond the songs.
It may not be reflected in next month’s PPM results, but if you don’t have personalities listeners love, you don’t have a defendable audience. It’s too easy to steal listeners with music alone.
Some broadcasters remove fun from their stations because ratings services don’t seem to reward it in PPM. When the music stops, meter carries leave, or so they think.
I’ll leave the ratings rant for another day. Wait, no I won’t. I’ll link to it here. The bigger picture is that short-sighted decisions (and budget cuts) are partly responsible. And so is poorly designed research. Or more accurately, the misinterpretation of information gathered in research.
Mark Ramsey points out:
There are two kinds of answers to research questions: true answers and right answers. True answers reflect the real opinions and behaviors of our audience. “Right” answers are those that are socially correct.
For example, some questions have “right” answers such as “Do you spank your kids?” But these questions are rarely answered truthfully. The same is true in many radio research projects.
Listeners will always say you play too many commercials, talk too much and repeat songs too often. But these are “right” answers, not necessarily “true” answers.
In other words, listeners don’t know how to tell us what they’ll listen to. Research reports often reveal that DJ’s talk too much, and they tune in for music. These are “right” answers. But they also say they love personalities who are fun, funny and engaging.
Interpret strategic projects literally, and the audience’s ideal hour would include:
Plus, we have to play 18 minutes of commercials, and then there’s a couple of minutes of traffic, news and service information. That hour is hard to program (sarcasm intended). It’s like McDonalds finding a way to serve a fat-free Big Mac without sacrificing taste. It doesn’t work.
There are compromises. To win, programmers must dig deeper to understand what causes response, not merely what listeners say they want.
The reason more music in the morning doesn’t work is that it can’t gather momentum. There’s rarely a water cooler discussion about the station who plays the new (your format’s hottest artist here) song first.
And listeners who are attracted most to air talent? They’re the most important of all listeners. They listen to more radio, and are far more likely to engage with a ratings service.
This NuVooDoo study clearly show how heavy radio users are significantly more interested in personality.
Superfans are the heaviest users of radio. And isn’t that who we should be trying to engage the most? The heavy users of radio who will carry a meter or fill out a diary?
Radio accelerates it’s journey to irrelevance against other music services when we focus on music at the expense of personality.
Listeners seek humor, companionship and conversation to get going. Give them a smile or a laugh to start the day. Fulfilling the “most music” promise doesn’t leave room for a enough personality to earn a connection with the audience.
Unless you’re rated 25% higher than the other dayparts on the rest of your station, don’t even suggest that management allow you to play less music and talk more. They’ll think you’re completely nuts. On the other hand, if you do outperform the station, many managers think the reason is because of the music.
It’s true that personalities must earn the right to talk more by demonstrating an ability to attract an audience to your personality.
The best approach is to gradually expand the amount of personality within a music oriented format. That’s our plan with the new show that will soon be winning market share from the more music morning show. We’ll be doing it by increasing the number of talk opportunities first. Then expanding he length of each break. Over time. Suddenly changing the mix of personality and music on your show will likely confuse your audience and drive away those that liked the show as it was.
This builds a bridge from current audience expectations (music) as audiences learn new reasons to listen (personality). It’s pretty simple, really. I call it building relationships through the Personality Success Path.
So what can a personality on a station that plays a lot of music do to gain an advantage through content?
Here are 5 easy-to-follow guidelines that will help programmers win share against a More Music Morning Show:
Respect The Music
Showcase the music you play by promoting and embracing it. Integrate personality presence between as many songs and elements as possible. It doesn’t have to be long, just be present. Use every opportunity to promote and tease highlighted features and content.
Practice Word Economy
Master the art of personality over song introductions. If the song intro is 7 seconds, sound great and entertain in 7 seconds. Don’t waste opportunities. Study how great talent like JoJo Kincaid and Broadway Bill Lee master the art of entertaining listeners within the format with an economy of words.
Long In/Short Out
In music oriented shows, length of breaks is a greater concern, and clutter is more likely to be obvious. Be Long In/Short out” in most stop sets. Out of music is a time of heightened attention. After a group of commercials, talk gets lost in the clutter. Stacking too much chatter after a break creates listener fatigue and contributes to talk perception from music fans. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a presence out of the breaks. Just be tighter.
Create features around music. Find ways to add personality-oriented entertainment that supports and showcases music, spotlighting your personality and involvement with the songs and artists like this one.
Relate In Every Break
Don’t waste opportunities to impact the audience and truly entertain. Are you reading a liner card? Stop it. Relate it. Entertain with it. Weather? Inject personality into it. I call it ize-ing your show with content additives.
There are many ways to win, but in the long run, personality will emerge as the champion. More music morning shows can’t hold an audience’s attention. Not long-term, anyway.
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