Are You Performing a Show or a Shift?

Are You Performing a Show or a Shift?

by Tracy Johnson

There are two types of radio personalities. Those who are in the entertainment business and those who are fulfilling their job requirements on the air. There is nothing wrong with either. But one is more valuable. If you’re okay working a shift, fine. But the future belongs to those performing a show. So which is it? Are you performing a show or a shift?

The difference is intent, importance and how stations build a personality presence. That has nothing to do with the amount of music played. Smart programmers develop shows over time, gradually increasing talk content while reducing song count as the show evolves.

This is a natural progression in the Personality Success Path.

A personality performing a show is designed with the goal of becoming the primary reason to tune in, attracting listeners beyond the format’s appeal. They attract listeners because of who they are (Stage 5, the Love Stage in the Personality Success Path).

Shift workers are designed to enhance the listening experience for the audience tuned in for other primary purposes.

Are You A Show Or A Shift

Here are some of the signs of whether you’re working a shift or performing a show:

Frequent Personality Presence

Shows are on the air frequently. The personalities don’t disappear for 10-15 minutes to make way for music, commercials and information elements.

The average tune in occasion now around 7 minutes. Many listeners can tune in and out and never even hear personalities on many stations. Without frequent presence, a show will never develop. The talent will always be performing a shift.

Maintaining a presence doesn’t require long talk segments. In fact, it doesn’t need to replace songs at all. Just be there! If the audience doesn’t hear talent, how can they get to know them? And if they don’t get to know them, they’ll never become fans.

This means:

  • Talk on all possible song intros.
  • Introduce (into and out of) locked in feature elements like news and traffic.
  • Embrace each element of the show as part of their personality brand and sell it!

Stop Sets & Imaging

Shows don’t segue into and out of commercial sets.

I understand the programming strategy to get into commercials without talk. But if a programmer considers personality talk into spots a barrier to listening, the personalities are working a shift. Not a show.

Another symptom of a station with a shift, not a show: Playing produced imaging between songs that references the personalities but doesn’t demonstrate their character.

It makes no sense to just say the names of air talent without showing off their character.

Make Every Moment Count

Perhaps the most obvious indicator of a show or a shift is how personalities treat each opportunity to entertain the audience.

Artists create art, regardless of the size of their canvas. Personalities performing a shift see a 7 second intro, shrug their shoulders as if there’s nothing they can do in such a short amount of time.

Personalities performing a show figure out how to turn that into entertainment.

Format restrictions are not an excuse to not produce art. A barrier? Sure. Performing a show in shorter breaks is more difficult in some ways. It takes more discipline and requires more preparation.

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Personalities performing a show figure out how to get it done, like Broadway Bill Lee.

Over time, the canvas gets larger as the fan base grows.


Radio stations truly committed to developing on-air stars promote the personalities.

Promotion can be as simple as using them as spokespeople for the brand. A morning show promoting the at-work music mix or building their names into a major station contest is an effective way to accelerate familiarity (Stage 2 in the Personality Success Path).

Similarly, personalities should understand the value of connecting with things the audience loves. This was (and continues to be) a key factor in Ryan Seacrest’s growth as one of the most popular personalities in radio history.

Demonstrate Character Traits

Personalities on a show are bold, revealing character through content.

This starts with building a dynamic Personality Profile, then executing a strategy that allows the audience to get to know them through presentation.

Talent executing a shift are happy talking up ramps of songs, and saying their name, but remain basically invisible. They may sound great hitting that post, but they don’t allow listeners to know them enough to become interested.

Broadcasters: Invest in a Show

Many broadcasters are making financial mistakes in one of three ways:

  1. They invest resources in talent, but don’t provide the platform to perform a show. They’re afraid, tentative and lack conviction. Then wonder why the show fails to make an impact. Essentially, they hire a show, but only allow a shift.
  2. Some broadcasters limit investment in talent and hire shift workers, but expect a show. The emphasis on reducing costs results in a total loss of investment. It won’t grow into anything significant.
  3. The third mistake is hiring a show and providing the platform, but failing to provide support, training, patience, coaching and input to grow the show.

There’s nothing wrong with a  strategy for either a show or a shift.

But here’s the thing: Radio’s future belongs to the show.

The Future Of Radio Is Developing Shows

There’s mounting evidence of radio’s declining influence. Broadcasters know it, even if they pretend it’s not happening:

  • Average TSL per tune in occasion has declined from 10 minutes to 9 and now to 7 minutes.
  • Weekly and daily cume has plummeted, particularly with younger listeners. Don’t believe it? Dig deep into Nielsen reports and badger your ratings rep for detailed information. It’s alarming. Spoiler alert: We aren’t really reaching 93% of the audience each week.
  • P1 listening is declining. Sit in on focus groups with “fans” of a radio station without strong personalities. They may have a favorite station, but it’s not nearly as “favorite” as you think.
  • Stations hoping to survive based on music presence are fooling themselves. Listeners in all demographics are fleeing for streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Prime. Do you really think this trend will reverse?
  • Look at the raw AQH trend at your station, competitors and in the market over the last five years. It’s going down.
  • And when radio is hit with a performance fee for artists the songs on top of paying the publishers, cost of programming music will skyrocket.
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Unless (or until) radio is re-imagined, there is one solution. Personality.

Shows that drive listening as a primary reason to tune in will thrive. It’s the key to radio’s ability to remain relevant. And if done right, it’s the one thing that can reverse declining quarter hours. It’s entertainment that can’t be duplicated.


This article is targeted to multiple subsets of the radio industry.

Upper Management: Think about the future, and how to revive a declining audience base. What will sustain a revenue stream?

It’s no longer about getting a larger percentage of radio listening. That’s fighting a battle where every broadcaster eventually loses. Change the game. Fight for a larger share of attention.

That’s going to come from personalities that can command attention, hold audiences and build a fan base. We can help you with that.

Programmers: If you’re counting on talent that performs a shift to be “good enough”, rethink your position.

It’s not going to work. Many stations are getting caught in the middle, between show and shift. If you don’t have the talent that can get you there, find them. We can help you with the Media Talent Pool.

Air Talent: Stop thinking about how to sound better while working a shift. Start thinking about how to become personalities that perform a show, even if that means starting in small ways on a small canvas. Our air check coaching services can help with that.

And that’s what the Audience Magnet course is for.But if you’re in a dead end shift that can’t get you where you want and need to be, maybe it’s time for a change. Check out our Radio Talent Pool.

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