Radio Personality Success Path: The Five Stages of Growth

Radio Personality Success Path: The Five Stages of Growth

by Tracy Johnson

Radio personalities and programmers are impatient. We all want instant results, but that’s not how it works. Each air talent pases through 5 stages of growth. I call it the Personality Success Path. Some stages can be accelerated, but none can be skipped.

Understanding each stage explains why and how shows succeed over the long term.

Have you wondered why highly successful personalities move to a new market, then fail? Or why a show that’s really not that good gets high ratings, while a great show just can’t get traction?

Building a fanbase is a process. Each stage is a necessary step in building a relationship listeners. When performance is in synch with the stage, progress happens.

Five Stages of Growth

Here’s why the Personality Success Path is important:

Imagine it’s 4am. You’re fast asleep. The phone rings. Scenarios immediately flash through your mind. But your reaction depends on who’s calling. You answer the call.

  • It’s your mom. You’re worried. Is she okay? Did she fall?
  • It’s the boss. You’re annoyed. Again? Really? What is it this time? Can’t it wait until 8 when I come in anyway?
  • It’s a friend. Then you realize he’s pranking you again. You’re angry, but at yourself. It ends in a good laugh and a vow to get revenge.
  • Your daughter calls from college. You panic. Is she hurt? Was there an accident? Is she in trouble?
  • It’s a telemarketer with this week’s scam. At 4am. You’re outraged and demand to talk to a supervisor. It gets worse as she hangs up on you.
  • It’s a coworker, with  a simple question they would know if they paid attention in yesterday’s meeting. You’re exasperated as you fix their problem, then tell them to never call before 6:30 again.
  • It’s your fiance’, calling because he misses you, and wants to say “I love you”. You have warm feelings, smile and know it’s going to be a great day.

What’s the Point?

In each scenario, the reaction depends on the relationship with the caller. Some are welcome, others are infuriating, depending on how you feel about the caller. And that feeling is based on history.

Here’s the point:

Every time an air personality turns on a microphone, the listener experience is disrupted. They’re enjoying what was on, or they would have already tuned out. You’re waking them up, interrupting a happy, enjoyable moment.

Is it a welcome disturbance or does it anger them?

Of course, it depends on the content, the presentation and your ability to deliver the break. But it’s goes deeper.

Each personality has a relationship with listeners, depending on perceptions in relation to them.

That’s why knowing your Stage is critical. It’s like being in a romance. Are you married to the listener with a close, intimate relationship? Or are you brand new, at the point where they’re just being introduced?

Personality Success Path

This has a profound impact on how you present content.

Expectations develop over time, as relationships mature. The goal is to be welcomed as a fiance’ or close family member, not an unfamiliar, unwelcome telemarketer

The five stages of growth are universal. There are no shortcuts. Trying to leap over a stage is a recipe for frustration, delayed progress and probably failure.

Yet the natural tendency for most personalities is to come on too strong at first. They do much too soon. That’s a huge mistake. If you’re new to an audience, you can’t behave as if you’ve been there forever. It will push them away!

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Here’s an overview of the Personality Success Path and the five stages of growth.

Stage 1: Introduction

The audience has just met you and not yet figured out how interested they are.

You have been introduced, but they don’t know much about you.

The goal is to give them a delicious sample. Figure out what they like and what they don’t to be more likable. Just get them to spend time to give you a chance to get them interested.

This isn’t the time to come on strong. You want to make a great first impression, but coming on too fast mcan push them away. And that’s hard to recover from.

This is hard for personalities that have moved to a new station or market because they often don’t realize the audience has no history.

In Stage 1, the only goal is to make a positive impression and get a first date. Focus on not screwing up the relationship.

 Stage 2: Familiarity

As the audience spends more time, they become familiar with personality traits. Just as in a real life relationship, demonstrate common interests. Show that you like the things they love.

That could be music or sports or information. It could also be showing a shared interest in a local sports team.

This is the time to work on being the ultimate on-air party host. Create an environment so listeners enjoy what you do. As a result, they start to get to know who you are.

This is the ideal time to introduce key locked in features. Nurture those branded elements to make them familiar as the relationship matures. It will be the primary driver in Stage 3 (Growth).

Try to get through Stages 1 and 2 as quickly as possible. There are techniques to accelerate the process (check out the infographic).

But don’t rush it.

Stage 3: Growth

Over time, the audience recognizes things they like about radio personalities and will find ways to listen more often.

In Stage 3, they’re still attracted because of the things you do, but they start recognizing personality in the way you do those things.

They’re forming habits.

Imagine them saying,

I really like this personality because they do this ___________.

What would that thing be? In the growth stage, listeners identify exactly why they like the show. The One Thing feature becomes more popular. This is the time to promote that feature aggressively, while showing off character traits through the presentation.

Need a One Thing Feature? A full library of ideas available here.

Stage 4: Like

The more listeners are exposed to a personality, the deeper the bond. As growth continues, air personalities become an important part of their life.

They start to realize that they really like you, regardless of what you’re doing. It’s no longer only about what you do. They’re starting to like who you are. If you say something amusing, they think it’s funny.

Because they like you.

Until this point, most content should start with the listener, entering through their interests first. But in the Stage 4, personal stories should be more frequent. Continue to avoid being self-absorbed (never a good idea), but perspective and point-of-view is now more important to the growing fanbase.

In this stage, listeners know who you are, and clearly identify reasons they like the station better when you’re on.

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This is the time to consider reducing the music count to feature more personality.

Stage 5: Love

The ultimate goal is for listeners to fall in love. Now it’s not at all about what you do and all about who you are. Character, heart and personality are more important than the things you do.

Fans can’t wait to tell others about the show. You are a difference maker and the primary attraction to the radio station. They’re loyal, in love and ready to live happily ever after.

In Stage 5, never take the audience for granted. It’s still important to innovate and surprise them.

And though they tune in primarily for personality, it’s still important to maintain balance. After all, you may be in Stage 5 with some listeners, but others are still in Stage 1 or 2.

Growing Through Stages

Every personality must pass through the five stages in the Personality Success Path. Some move through faster than others, and some get stuck in a stage for extended periods.

One of the most common problems I see is called The Hump. Personalities work and work, but struggle to reach the next stage. They grow, then stall.

It’s easy to get frustrated. Some give up. Others are convinced they’re never getting past the current stage.

Creating is hard. Watch this short video with a powerful message from Ira Glass:

The Hump is a barrier, and everyone goes through it. Even kids go through The Hump. It seems they’ll never figure out how to multiply or divide. Then suddenly, they get it. And rapid growth follows.

It’s frustrating. Search for ways to get over the hump. This is where a talent coach, strong PD or mentor can provide big picture perspective to keep reaching for the next Stage.


Everything about radio performance is affected by the Personality Success Path.

What stage are you in? Introduction? Familiarity? Growth? Like? Love? It’s important to objectively analyze and evaluate status. Success on the air is directly related to that stage.

Download the Personality Success Path Infographic here:

Download “Personality Success Path Infographic” Success-Path-Infographic-TJMG.pdf – Downloaded 534 times – 135 KB

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