Radio Personality Success Path: The Five Stages of Growth
by Tracy Johnson
Have you ever wondered why a highly successful personality or radio show moves from one market to another, then fails to duplicate their previous success? Or why that show that’s really not that good gets high ratings, while your great show just can’t get traction? Building a listener fanbase is a process, and every radio personality has to progress through five stages on their success path.
Each stage represents the relationship between the audience and talent. Being in synch with the Stage you’re in is the is key to growing from on stage to the next. When you’re in synch, great moments happen on the air. When you’re not, many of those moments fall flat, or completely fail.
Five Stages of Growth In Real Life
Think about it this way:
It’s 5am. You’re fast asleep. The phone rings.
There are many scenarios, and your reaction depends on who’s bothering you on the other end.
You answer the call.
It’s your mom. You’re worried. Is she okay? Did she fall?
It’s your boss. You’re annoyed. Again? Really? What is it this time? Can’t it wait until 8 when I come in anyway?
It’s your best friend. Then you realize he’s pranking you again, and you fell for it. You’re angry, but at yourself, as you laugh and vow to get back at him or her.
It’s your daughter calling from college. You panic. Is she hurt? Was there an accident? Did she get in trouble?
It’s a telemarketer with this week’s latest scam. At 5am. You’re outraged and demand to talk to her supervisor. It gets worse as she hangs up on you.
It’s a co-worker, calling to ask a simple question that they would know if they had paid attention in the meeting yesterday. You’re exasperated as you fix their problem, then tell them to never call before 6:30 again.
It’s your fiancee, waking you up just 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?
Your reaction depends on the relationship with the caller. Some can get away with interrupting that last hour or so of sleep, but others can’t. Some are welcome, others are infuriating.
Every time an air personality turns on a microphone, the listener experience is disrupted. They’re enjoying what was on, or they would have turned it off or tuned it out. You’re waking them up, shaking them out of 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, doesn’t it?
You have a relationship with listeners, and they accept or welcome you based on their perception of you in relation to them. Do you know where you are in the personality life stages? Are you married to your listeners? Or are you brand new, at the point where they’re just getting to know you?
Personality Success Path
This has a profound impact on how you present content.
If you’re not sure where you are in the air personality life stage, err on the side of caution. Be conservative. Don’t come on too strong.
Expectations develop over time, as relationships mature. With it comes acceptance. Your goal is the be the fiancee, not the telemarketer
The five stages of growth are universal. You can’t shortcut it. Trying to find a shortcut in the process is a recipe for frustration, delayed progress and perhaps even failure. Yet the natural tendency for most personalities is to try and do too 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!
Here’s an overview of the five stages of personality growth, along with a useful infographic that you can download and keep as a reference point
Stage 1: Introduction
The audience has just met you and not yet figured out if they’re interested in spending time with you. You have been introduced, but they don’t know much about you.
The goal here is to give them a sample. In this stage, you’re figuring out what they like and what they don’t so you can be more likable. Just get them to spend some time around you to give you a chance to get them to become interested.
This isn’t the time to come on too strong. You know the saying about only have one chance to make a first impression? With radio personalities, it’s true. You want to make an impression, but often, coming on too fast and too strong makes a negative first impression. 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 take into account that the audience has no history with them.
Your goal is to make a positive impression and get a first date. In Introduction, you’re trying to get them to like you by not screwing up.
Stage 2: Familiarity
As the audience spends time with you, they start to become familiar with your personality. This is the time to demonstrate that you like the things they love.
Prove that you’re a good match for them by showing you’re interested in the things they come to your station for. That could be music or sports or information, or just about anything. It could also be showing that you’re a fan of a local sports team.
To get to the next level of familiarity, you must understand the audience. This is the time to work on being the ultimate host. And while they enjoy what you do, they get to know you.
As you progress in the Familiarity Stage, introduce key benchmark features. You’ll be nurturing those things so they can be familiar as you mature toward Growth.
Hopefully, you can get through Stages 1 and 2 quickly. There are things you can do to accelerate the process (check out the infographic), but don’t rush it.
Stage 3: Growth
Over time, the audience will recognize things they like about you.
As listeners spend more time with you, they find ways to be with you more often. They set appointments to tune in when you’re on.
In this stage, they’re still coming to you because of the things you do, but they start loving 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,
Stage 4: Like
The more time spent, the more you 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 recognize and like who you are. If you say something amusing, they think it’s really funny. Because they like you.
Until this point, most of your content should start with the listener, entering through their interests first. but in the Like Stage, personal stories make more sense to introduce. You’re still being careful to avoid being self-absorbed (never a good idea), but your perspective and point-of-view is now more important to your fans.
In this stage, listeners know who you are, and clearly identify reasons they like the station better when you’re on it. And, this is the time to consider reducing the music count to feature more personality.
Over time, listeners may fall in love with you. Now it’s not at all about what you do. It’s all about who you are. Your character, your heart and your personality transcends things you do.
Once they become a fan, they can’t wait to tell others about you. You are a difference maker. You are the primary attraction. They’re loyal, in love and ready to live happily ever after.
In this stage, never take the audience for granted. It’s still important to innovate and surprise them regularly. And, your fans probably consider the station’s content (music, news, etc.) an intrusion. Why? They tune in for your show, not all that other stuff!
However, 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 The 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 talent coaches see is The Hump. Personalities and programmers work and work, but just can’t reach that next level. They grow to a point, then stall. It seems that they’re not moving forward.
It’s easy to get frustrated. Some even give up. Others accept that they’re never going to get past their current stage. Then they are doomed.
The Hump is a barrier, and it’s an important part of the creative process. Everyone goes through it. Even your kids go through The Hump. You think they’ll never figure out how to multiple or divide. Or how to read. Then all of a sudden, they do it. They break through. And rapid growth usually follows.
Creativity begins to flow naturally. And you wonder why it took so long!
Love the Hump
Most everything in life goes in cycles. There’s rapid growth. Everything is good. Then, it’s gone. You’re stuck on the uphill side of the hump again. And it’s time to start pushing that rock up the hill again.
Most of the time, you don’t recognize it until you’ve already stalled.
When you recognize it, it’s frustrating. You begin searching for ways to get over a new hump. Once again it seems out of reach, that it’s impossible to push past the obstacles.
This is where your talent coach or mentor can help. Change your approach. Learn to love the hump. Embrace the hump. It’s there for a reason. You may not know you’re growing, but the effort is what leads to reaching that next level.
The Creative Process
This is the entertainment industry, and creating is hard. Watch this short video with a powerful message from Ira Glass:
Those are the five stages of success. Everything about your performance is affected by which stage you’re in. Just because you’ve been at it at long time doesn’t mean you’re an established personality.
So what stage are you in? Introduction? Familiarity? Growth? Like? Love? You need to know, because your behavior on the air is a direct reflection of your stage.
Download the Personality Success Path Infographic here:
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