Radio Show Prep & The Low Hanging Fruit

Radio Show Prep & The Low Hanging Fruit

by Tracy Johnson

Radio personalities are taught the importance of keeping their show simple and easy to interact with, and that’s sound advice.  Listeners aren’t paying that much attention. A basic premise in working with clients is to treat each break as if you’re explaining it to a third grader. But simplifying content requires more time in preparation. It’s not as simple as grabbing the low hanging fruit and slapping a phone topic on the air.

Low hanging fruit is applying an obvious response to a topic. It usually happens with topics designed to attract phone calls.

You know the drill:

Hey, Kim Kardashian is allergic to peanuts. That would be annoying because I love peanut butter, and eat it every day. What food do you love and couldn’t imagine being allergic to it? Here’s our number.

That’s low hanging fruit.

Sometimes this happens because shows are pressed for time. A story happens, and we think it has to be on the air immediately, so we rush to get it on this morning “while it’s hot”. That may apply in some situations, but nearly every topic can wait a day or two.

Wait Until Tomorrow And Get It Right

Just because something happens today doesn’t mean it has to be on the air tomorrow morning. Most of the time, it’ll be just as relevant the next day. Waiting 24 hours actually allows time for more of your audience to hear about it, so it could be argued that it’s actually more timely. In fact, I could make the case that waiting until tomorrow not only will sound better (because it’s prepared in greater depth), it will be more topical, since more listeners will be familiar with the topic.

One morning, a news alert came out that Janet Jackson had a baby at age 51. My client put it on their entertainment report, which was appropriate. But they tried to develop a storyline about the topic spontaneously, without preparing the content or thinking through the possibilities. The break was fine, but it didn’t really go anywhere.

After the show, I asked what they would have done differently with the topic. They had several great ideas, and admitted they wish they had thought of that. Here’s the thing: The next day, Janet still was a 51-year old mom. And in a few days, when she’s home with the baby, she still is a 51-year old mom. The topic would still be relevant.

To their credit, they got back into the topic the next day, and it was a terrific segment about how Janet would be nearly 70 when her child graduates from high school. This led to a discussion about the best age to have kids. That’s a lot sticker than the low hanging fruit of “Hey, how about that? Janet had a baby.” The point is, they almost missed a great opportunity by rushing a break to the air thinking they would miss it if they didn’t do it immediately.

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Don’t Jump The Route

Isaiah Twitty, producer of Pat & JT Show on Sweet 98.5/Omaha once played cornerback on his college football team. His defensive back coach taught him to be patient, and not go after after the first thing he sees when covering a receiver. He called it “Jumping the Route”. By waiting for the right moment, he’d have the chance to make a bigger play, perhaps an interception.

The passage of time affects your feelings about the piece. You’re much more likely to have an original idea when reacting to a detail about the topic, not the immediate news when it breaks.

The exception would be a major event that affects the lives of your listener right now. For example, a natural disaster or emergency. Other than that, you’ll be well-served to be patient and make a big play.

Get Past Low Hanging Fruit

The low hanging fruit syndrome happens all the time. When the topic is “table”, you think “chair”. When it’s “salt”, you think “pepper”. But that doesn’t turn the content into a story. It’s just a topic. The content has to be curated if it’s going to be sticky.

Here’s a different approach that can get you to a better place:

  1. Put the content through the TESOP filter. TESOP is Topic, Execution, Story, Observation and Perspective. As you work through each step, more angles will emerge. Pick one of those angles to build a story.
  2. Plan every break to be self contained. Don’t jump to the “call us now” solution. You don’t need listeners to participate to have a successful break. There’s nothing wrong with phone calls, and they can add to a break. But don’t build it expecting listeners to carry the segment.
  3. Start with a premise, then build the show backward from the pay off.  This is a common technique used by stand up comics. If you have a strong pay off and hook, the pieces that connect the two are much easier.

2 Ways To Get Deeper

Here are a couple of ways you can get past the low hanging fruit to find the sweeter, more productive stories in a topic.

First, challenge yourself to find an emotional connection in the content. If you have a story about a high school kid finding out her uncle is actual her biological father, don’t settle for “Wow, that’s messed up. What did you find out by accident?”. Put yourself in the situation. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you want to know? Then dig a little deeper into why. Chances are, you’ll find a more relatable observation.

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Another technique is to ask two questions:

  1. What else could happen? Take the topic further to explore more possibilities. You’ll probably find a more interesting angle.
  2. What should happen? In other words, what would you want to happen? This can lead you  a break with more potential.

Mine Your Life

Another technique is to brainstorm a topic for unique material by mining you life by asking yourself questions.

For instance, if the topic is the first day of school, don’t settle for “Memories of your first day of school” or “Tell us what it was like taking your kid to school for the first time”. That’s low hanging fruit.

Take it deeper by probing associated ideas from your life to find stories related to the topic.  Here are a few examples:

  • Who was the meanest teacher you had? Why?
  • What did you dread about going back to school as a kid? Why?
  • When did have to move to a new school?
  • Why did you get suspended, expelled or sent home from school?
  • What did you do when you played hooky? Did your parents find out?

Then, in a brainstorming meeting, each person writes down their responses. Not every question will trigger a memory, of course. This is just a place to start, but as you go through the exercise, you’ll find personal content that could become a much more interesting (and sticky) story.

It could be where the break starts, or your could use the original topic as an entry point to share your story.


Turning generic content, the low hanging fruit, into entertainment isn’t difficult. It just takes time in the prep process. Think it through and find unique, exciting ways to connect with listeners.

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