by Tracy Johnson
Personality or content? Relevant or relatable? Structure or style? Art or science? These are difficult questions. But in the end, what causes more listener reaction? What is more important on the air?
Usually, a radio show is one of two things:
If forced to choose one or the other, which would it be? Great content delivered by average talent? Or great personality with weaker content?
Here’s data that answers the personality or content question. You’ll see which wins, and it wins every time.
Before revealing what research tells us, let’s discuss the relationship between personality and content. Think of it the way a contractor builds a house.
The first things built are structural. The lot is prepared, a foundation poured and the load-bearing walls established. Then the home is framed, wired and plumbing is added.
On the radio, think of content as structural. It includes building clocks, scheduling promos, establishing talk limits and other format elements that are fundamental ingredients for success.
The show prep process of gathering and preparing content is part of this foundation.
The finished, framed house is livable, but it looks and functions like every other house on the block. It’s not a home. That happens when the homeowner adds personality to the house.
They choose colors, floor coverings, window treatments, furniture and hundreds of other details that add charater.
Personalities delivering content inside the structure set the house apart from all others.
As you probably have already concluded, both are critical.
A home that’s all personality and style without a firm foundation will fall apart. Then what happens? Reconstruction. Call the insurance company and start planning the new house. Yet a house without personality is bland, ordinary and boring. It’s not warm and inviting. It needs style.
So what is the most important quality of the two?
We researched it and have the answer.
Obviously, talking about the most relevant topics each day is part of a solid foundation for every air personality.
But just having the right topics is not enough. Nobody wants to live in a boring house, and nobody wants to listen to a cold, sterile radio show.
It’s far more important to deliver entertainment with charisma and impact. In the Content Superhero seminar series, I teamed with Strategic Solutions Research to study the actual behavior of thousands of listeners reacting in real time to hundreds of air personality breaks.
Using advanced research techniques using dial technology, audiences were asked to respond to spoken word segments of on-air content.
Each response was measured moment-by-moment. We could then analyze exactly what works-and what doesn’t-on the air.
One conclusion was clear:
Personality is far more valuable than the topic.
Here’s a break that demonstrates this fact perfectly. It came from CHUM-FM/Toronto’s legendary morning show, Roger & Marilyn. This segment was from a period when Darren B. Lamb was part of the show.
Listen and watch what happens during an entertainment report by tracking the lines on the graph:
Notice how the break starts slowly. I mean, it’s a story about a celebrity (Fred Willard) that nobody cares about. Based on content alone, this should not even be on the air. It’s not relevant.
The first part of the break is informational. Listeners are just not invested in it. But in this case, a weak hook was a worthwhile investment because it set up the essence of the storyline to come.
Notice how the audience response takes off when the talent interacts and Darren surprises Roger after setting him up.
When Roger responds with authentic, genuine surprise, the audience reacts with him. And they continue to love it as Marilyn and Darren tease him about it.
It’s easy to conclude from that break that topics are irrelevant as long as the banter is relatable. That’s not entirely true, but as long as the foundation (content) is solid, what you talk about isn’t nearly as important as how you talk about it.
Here’s another example from Peter, Moya & JC Douglas on C100/Halifax:
The first thing that jumps out in the break is how much fun they’re having.
It’s a good topic, but nothing that’s going to change the world. It’s mildly amusing, but not something listeners would think, “I have to tune in to hear them talk about these names”.
What makes it work is how they play together. How they talk about it makes this content leap out of the speakers!
Content is important. It’s part of the structure. Even the best personalities can’t just turn on the mic and start talking about whatever comes to mind.
But personality success is not just about content. Content is a prop for the the fun they have with each other. And that fun is contagious.
The personality or content question will continue to be asked because it’s easier to improve content than develop personality. Just as it’s easier for a good crew to build a solid house than design and decorate a home.
It’s those pesky air personalities that are hard to coach.
While the conclusion that personality wins over content applies to virtually all shows, there is an asterisk in a claim that it’s all about personality.
The more the audience cares about the cast members, the more certain this is. Every personality is in a relationship with listeners, and it’s important to know where you are in the air talent’s Personality Success Path.
But at the end of the day, it’s not about personality or content. It’s both. But you probably guessed that. Still, if you had to choose just one, the listener experience is all about how much fun listeners have with the talent. It’s best if personality is delivered in the context of a topic they care about. But it’s more important that the talent makes the story come alive.
It’s about personality.
And that goes for multi-personality shows and solo shows alike.
Storytelling is the single most important thing for air personalities to master. Learn the fundamental steps of telling stories that keep listeners glued to the radio.
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