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. Managers and bean counters would love it if more music morning shows worked. It’s cheap, easy and fast.

Come to think of it, many programmers would like it, too. It would eliminate air check meetings. But is this an effective way to program?

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 the 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 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 is passionate. And I get it. When an established brand is attacked by a competitor, the natural reaction is to retrench. But replacing the main reason listeners love you (personality) with content that causes them to simply like you (music) is a bad move.

There are certain situations it may make sense, but it’s not a long term solution.

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.

It may not be reflected in next month’s PPM results, but without personalities listeners love, the audience is hard to defend. It’s too easy to steal listeners with music alone.

Why More Music Is Wrong (Usually)

Some broadcasters remove fun from 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 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.

You might also like:  The Science Of Why Listeners Reject Talk

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 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.

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 ratings service.

This NuVooDoo study clearly show 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 ratings respondents. And likely respondents are much more involved with radio shows than non ratings respondents. Here’s the detail from a different NuVooDoo study:

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.

What To Do 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 generally, make the transition slowly.

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

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 length of each break. Suddenly changing the mix of personality and music would likely 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?

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

You might also like:  6 Ways to Determine Talk Break Length

Respect The Music

Keep the music flow going 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

In music oriented shows, break length is a concern, and clutter is more noticable.

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, talk gets 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 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 ratings 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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