Do More Music Morning Shows Work?

Do More Music Morning Shows Work?

by Tracy Johnson

Throw this question out to a group of broadcasters, then sit back and be entertained. The debate over more music or more personality is a passionate one. And the battle rages on. Managers and bean counters would love it if more music morning shows worked. It’s cheap, easy, and fast. Personalities would love for all the music to come off the air. More time to entertain. But more music morning shows will fail.

Some music-intensive shows can win a direct battle for a share of radio listening. But in the long run, it’s a race to the bottom as stations see the overall music-listening “pie” shrink.

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 best thing is the established competitor’s reaction to our new show. Almost immediately, the station tightened the format, reduced talk breaks, and began promoting, “Now with more music and less talk in the morning.”

It’s almost too perfect. We couldn’t have scripted promos any better. They’re competing by changing an established (and well-loved) radio show as a more music morning show. It won’t work.

The debate over more music in the morning has been around for years. And I get it. When an established brand is attacked by a competitor, the natural reaction is to retrench. But reducing the main reason listeners love a station (personality) with content that causes them to simply like the brand (music) is a bad move.

It’s not a long term solution.

Why More Music Is Wrong (Usually)

Long-term, stations don’t win in the morning without a personality-driven show. Radio’s future belongs to personalities that command attention and leads a loyal fan base.

It may not be reflected in next month’s PPM results, but without personalities, defending audience share is near impossible. It’s too easy to steal listeners with music alone.

Some broadcasters remove the fun because rating services don’t seem to reward it. When the music stops, meter carries leave, or so they think.

I’ll leave the rating rant for another day. Wait, no I won’t. I’ll link to it here.

The Big Picture vs. Smaller Picture

The bigger picture is that short-term decisions (and budget cuts) are partly responsible. And so is poorly designed research or the misinterpretation of 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 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.

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Interpret strategic projects literally, and the audience’s ideal hour would include:

  • 55 minutes of music
  • 40 minutes of fun and information.

Add 18 minutes of commercials and a couple of minutes of traffic, news, and service information. That hour is as hard to program (sarcasm intended) as McDonald’s 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 a response, not merely what listeners say they want.

Why More Music Is the Wrong Approach

The reason more music in the morning doesn’t work is that it can’t gain 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 rating service.

This NuVooDoo study clearly shows how heavy radio users are significantly more interested in personality.

44.6% of all Superfans say all-talk, or almost all talk is their preference. Isn’t that who we should be trying to engage the most? The heavy users of radio?

Furthermore, those heavy radio users are also much more likely to be rating respondents. And likely respondents are much more involved with radio shows than non-rating respondents. Here’s the detail:

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 personality to earn a connection with the audience.

If You’re On A Show Playing More Music

So what is the proper recipe? How much talk is appropriate for your radio show? I answer this question in detail here. But here’s the short summary:

Unless rated 25% higher than the other dayparts on the rest of your station, don’t even suggest management allow less music and more talk. They’ll think you’re completely nuts. On the other hand, many managers think outperforming shows are popular because of the music. Frustrating.

It’s true that personalities 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 increase the number of talk opportunities first. Then expand the length of each break. Changing the mix of personality and music too quickly would confuse the 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.

Crossing the Bridge To More Personality

So what can a personality on a station that plays a lot of music do to gain an advantage through content?

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Here are 5 easy-to-follow guidelines that will help programmers win share against a More Music Morning Show:

Respect The Music: Maintain the music flow and maintain balance in clocks. However, have a personality presence between every song and element as much as the format allows. This builds a personality brand. There are tips on how to achieve this here.

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: For music-oriented shows, break length is a concern, and clutter is more noticeable. Be Long In/Short out in every stop set. Coming out of music is a time of heightened attention. This is the place to hook the audience on personality. After a group of commercials, the talk can get lost in the clutter. Stacking too much chatter after the break adds listener fatigue and can contribute to a “too much talk” perception from music fans.

Music Content: Create features around music. Find ways to add personality 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. Stop reading liner cards and promos. 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 an audience, but personality will emerge as a champion. More music can’t hold an audience’s attention. Broadcasters counting on a music base to power future engagement will ultimately be disappointed with the results.

Stations with high profile personalities that command attention are less likely to experience wild rating fluctuations. Are you interested in bullet-proofing your radio station with a high profile, personality-oriented morning show? We develop on-air superstars. Find out how we can help you here.


How Much Should Your Show Talk?

Tracy Johnson’s Audience Magnet Blueprint eBook (free)

The Science Behind Why Listeners Reject Talk

Radio Personality Success Path: The Five Stages of Growth

Tracy Johnson’s Audience Magnet Course

The Value of Fans

How To IZE Your Radio Show


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