Many conversations with our consulting team encourage personalities to be more provocative. That is a frightening concept for some because it’s easily misunderstood. Provocative and shocking are forms of media designed to elicit a strong emotional response from their audience, but they are not at all the same thing.

Provocative content is meant to stir up debate or conversation. It is designed to provoke a response. Maybe it challenges previously-held beliefs, causes the listener to think, or, inspires them to start a conversation with a friend, family member, or coworker. Provocative content can be political, controversial, and commentary on pop culture. It could come from an interesting or outrageous story or listener situation. . However, the goal of provocative content is not to simply shock or offend, but to engage audiences to get them emotionally involved in what they hear.

The problem is most personalities and programmers confuse provocative with shocking.


Shocking content, on the other hand, is designed to disturb or offend. It is often graphic, violent, or disturbing in nature, and is intended to elicit a strong emotional response such as disgust, horror, or fear. Examples of shocking content include horror movies, graphic news footage, and content that simply titillates. The goal of shocking content is to cause the audience to be controversial to the point of causing a visceral reaction simply for the sake of shock value.

Shocking the audience can be effective at times, but it has a numbing effect. Shows that rely on shock value usually have to become more and more shocking to produce the desired result. Over time, those attracted by the shock are no longer as titillated while the nature of the shocking content repulses a large percentage of the audience. The result is a very small but usually loyal core audience that demands more and more shock. Ratings tend to spiral if the show is built on shock alone.

Provocative Has A Purpose

Provocative content is created to stand out by being more interesting. It applies to all formats, personalities, and talk segments. Provocative content is meant to be thought-provoking, while shocking content is meant to be disturbing. Think of it as “turning up the volume” on otherwise ordinary show prep material by injecting excitement. We coach several tactics in prep:

  • If you heard another personality execute this break, would it make you jealous?
  • In what ways can you “juice” the content by turning up the volume to make it more exciting and enticing?
  • How can you push this segment to the extremes by going for something bigger, bolder, and more surprising?

Provocative content is created for a specific audience, exploring the full range of emotions in storytelling, humor, and other content. Every show should strive to be provocative, from Christian AC to Active Rock. Without it, shows are stuck in the dreaded Zone of Mediocrity.

Shocking Can Be Provocative

Some personalities have successfully used shock to establish an audience and use the resulting publicity to evolve into an edgy, provocative show. Howard Stern managed to become a mass-appeal audience with a most provocative presentation after growing an audience base from shock. He used shock to start a war against government restrictions on speech and content, station management, and even listeners and organizations protesting what they considered harmful speech. The battle lines organized his fans to support him as he migrated from traditional terrestrial radio to satellite radio. Some credit Stern with saving Sirius XM. Simultaneously, the show was constantly evolving from a series of simply shocking content to a more mature, yet always provocative show. It was brilliant in strategy, design, and execution.

Shocking and provocative content both elicit a strong emotional response, but they are not the same thing. Shocking can be provocative and provocative is often shocking, but the purpose is unique. Provocative content is designed to provoke emotions and engage listeners. shocking content is designed to surprise them to the point of disturbing or appalling some of them.

Programming Guru Lee Abrams describes it as causing the audience to take notice:

Radio has fallen off the top of mind awareness cliff and it’s time to get that back. Now I’m not talking about SHOCK JOCKS that default to the lowest common denominator just to get attention. I’m talking about being more provocative and mnore interesting by turning up the volume on content to get attention.

He goes on to say that listeners need to be surprised to the point of being shocked into taking action:

Shock wakes listeners up and t happens in small ways and large: You can do it by being authentic and personal, saying things that cause the audience to nod their head and say, Yeah, me too.

Or how about with more creative and colorful language that cuts through all the other mundane, ordinary, predictable banter?

Being though provoking to enlighten listeners with a n interesting perspective or point of view that causes them to think about something in a new way is another fomr of waking up listeners.

How To Be Provocative

Prep With A Purpose:  Provocative content has a purpose. The topic may be ordinary but the performance is injected with personality, point-of-view, and character traits that make it stand out. We coach personalities to reject low-hanging fruit ideas that are ordinary and instead dig deeper for remarkable moments. Open your mind to “juicing” content. Instead of: “Katy’s three-year-old accidentally ordered some stuff on Amazon and now she has to return it”, turn up the volume:

Katy’s Three year old daughter Lindsey got a hold of her ipad and ordered ovder $7,000 of sex toys from her Amazon account. Now Katy has some explaining to do and needs your help.

Use Colorful, Powerful Language: There are so many techniques to make personalities more enjoyable just by pumping up the volume in how you speak. Start with juicing the way you speak by following the tips in our Powerful Language seminar or in this insider’s Article.

Being provocative doesn’t mean changing who you are as a radio personality. It is all about becoming a more interesting, exciting version of yourself to allow your character to come through with bold colors.


Provocative and shocking content are both forms of media that are designed to elicit a strong emotional response from their audience, but they are not the same thing.

Provocative content is meant to stir emotions. The goal of provocative content is not to shock or offend, but to make people think about and actually care about what they hear on the radio. It is meant to be taken seriously, whether presented as a prank call, phone topic, relationship feature, personal story, or a newscast.

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