The Winning Show Prep Formula: TSP = TSL

The Winning Show Prep Formula: TSP = TSL

by Tracy Johnson

Everybody loves shortcuts. They save time and energy. But cutting corners isn’t always a good idea. Especially in Show Prep. But TSP = TSL is  a Show Prep formula that works: TSP = TSL.

TSP is Time Spent Preparing. TSL is Time Spent Listening. TSP = TSL in radio. Time spent in show prep is directly related to the time spent listening ratings.

The formula has nothing to do with gathering topics. That’s easy. I’m talking about converting ideas to entertainment.

Great art takes time. And TSP is always a good investment in your art.

The Show Prep Formula

Dan Wylie is group PD for Blackburn Radio in Canada. He shared a remarkable comparison that emphasizes the commitment required to excel on the air.

Dan said:

An NFL football game lasts about 3.5 hours, but there’s only about 12 minutes of action in each game.

Most of the game time is spent planning, preparing, organizing and reacting to current circumstances. Huddles, time-outs and adjustments at the line of scrimmage make up over 95% of the game.

And that’s just the game itself. NFL players spend the rest of the week reviewing performance, analyzing competition, learning new plays and studying a game plan.

The off-season is spent conditioning, learning new skills and staying in peak condition for next year.

The NFL Way

Let’s break it down, and place a value on the actual action.

Tom Brady makes nearly $200,000 per minute (based on 12 minutes of action) for time he’s involved.

But there’s more to it.

Watch a game and it doesn’t always look like there’s a plan.

He exits the huddle and looks at the defense. The play clock ticks down. A frantic series of adjustments at the line of scrimmage makes it seem they’re making it up as they go.

But each adjustment is based on deep preparation. TSP permits informed spontaneous decisions.

Great quarterbacks spend 60 hours a week watching video of the opponent, studying tendencies and looking for an edge.

The coaching staff prepares a game plan. A play is called in the huddle. Everyone on the team knows what is supposed to happen. Then, everything changes.

That’s what it’s like on a radio show.

Focus On Show Prep

Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers on the keys to winning the a championship:

The key is to be able to focus on preparation. You can’t let the distractions take you away from what you need to do next. You need to show up prepared to play, expect the unexpected, and know exactly what you are going to do.

Rodgers knows which play to run against each defense because he goes into a game mentally prepared.

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From there, it’s just execution.

Visualize and Adjust

Invest more time in preparation for a more spontaneous and effective response. Visualize each segment to create clear, detailed and accurate images of how a break will sound.

I often hear talent claim that the best shows are spontaneous, just “living my life on the air.” I’ve actually heard personalities say,

Don’t talk about that now, save it for the air.

These shows may have the right idea, but need a plan to succeed. Spontaneity can lead to great moments, but only if visualized in advance.

The difference between winning and losing is often the result of instant decisions. Spontaneous decisions are the product of information and preparation for every possible outcome.

Yet most preparation is never actually used.

Discarding Content

Sportscaster Joe Buck says it’s frustrating to spend so much time getting ready for an event, only to discard most of the material:

Everybody over-prepares out of insecurity. Then I walk out of the booth and realize I used only 10% of it.

Yet if the time and effort was not invested, performance would suffer. When unexpected circumstances arise, a prepared performer takes it in stride, able to adapt to changes.

That’s why TSP equals TSL.

Radio shows are surprised every day. A caller takes a topic down a different path. A local news story breaks. A cast member is having a bad day. Unexpected disruptions require adjustments.

Adjustments are easier when prepared.

12 Minutes of Content

A personality oriented morning show is on the air for an average of 3.5 hours per day.

Shows on a music station typically execute four breaks per hour, each 3-4 minutes long. That’s around 12 minutes of content per hour.

That doesn’t seem like much, does it? It’s about as much action per hour as an NFL game per hour. How much time are you investing to make those 12 minutes awesome?

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The morning show on Virgin 101.3 in Halifax is Turk, Rachel & Alex. Entertainment News is a key feature. They call it Hollywood Flash.

The feature is Rachel’s “baby”, but it doesn’t happen by ripping and reading the latest headlines and hoping Turk & Alex respond. Meticulous planning and preparation goes into making it great.

I love what Rachel told me about her daily show prep:

I spend two hours a day preparing the Hollywood information,, I have to understand it, digest it and know to tell it without sounding like I’m reading it. It’s a lot of work to sound spontaneous and fresh.

Her Show Prep Formula is TSP = TSL.


How much time and effort goes into your show? Do you have a show prep formula?

A radio show should be in a constant state of preparation, planning and adjustment. Be alert for content. Obsess about how it will be presented. Plan the break for maximum impact.

Every day is game day. You can’t win by making it up as you go.

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