Matty Siegal & How To Talk About Difficult Topics

Matty Siegal & How To Talk About Difficult Topics

by Tracy Johnson

You probably heard about Matty Siegal “quitting” on Wednesday morning, only to return Thursday. The trigger for the KISS 108/Boston morning legend’s short retirement was a mandate from management to stop talking about Demi Lovato’s announcement of her binary identity. Discussing difficult topics is a challenge for many radio shows.

I have many thoughts on the Matty In the Morning topic.

Matty’s Rant

For those that didn’t hear it, here’s the entire break:

 

First, it’s important to understand some background about Matty and his radio show:

He has equity in the market that has been earned over his four decades of winning ratings in a very competitive market. He has a large, loyal fan base. Just as some baseball fans may not like every trade the Red Sox makes, they are still loyal fans because they care about the team. Listeners care about Matty.

Matty has a relationship with the audience that transcends “what he says” and “what he believes”. Fans love him for “who he is”. He is one of the rare personalities in Stage 5 (Love) in his Personality Success Path.

Next, consider the audience’s attitude today. The public is hyper-sensitive to thoughts, opinions, and comments that don’t align with their personal sense of what is right or wrong. The Cancel Culture is quick to attack anything that violates their personal opinions.

And third, consider the consequences of managing from a position of fear. High-profile personalities with a large fan base should talk about things that affect listeners.

Avoiding topics the audience is thinking about will lead to declining relevance. The result will be a largely apathetic fan base. This is one reason many (most) radio talent today is stuck in the Zone of Mediocrity.

And that’s worse than a relatively small percentage of listeners (and many or most of the complaints are likely not even from fans or listeners) complaining about a personality’s perspective on a topic.

What This Means To You

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.

Personalities should be held responsible to perform within boundaries based on the relationship he or she has with the audience.

But management that over-reacts to complaints by simply issuing orders to “stop talking about it” is making a huge mistake. More and more stations are issuing orders to stay away from anything controversial, sensitive, or perspectives a listener could perceive as negative.

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This is one of the reasons radio shows are not as connected to listeners as they could (and should) be.

But don’t be reckless.

Matt Siegal and other dominant shows that have a deep audience relationship can be more outspoken than a new or developing show.

But every show can talk about difficult topics by developing content through the show’s character brand filter.

Here’s an example.

How To Talk About Difficult Topics

Mental health is one of those difficult topics. Recently, Lizzo announced that she suffers from depression and is struggling with mental health. She sent a heartfelt message on Tik Tok about how she feels alone and has nowhere to turn.
This is a difficult topic. Most personalities stayed away from it. If they talked about it, most mentioned it in an Entertainment Report or a casual “thinking about you with our best wishes, Lizzo”.
But not Mookie & Billie Jo, the morning team on CHFM/Calgary. They recognized that many listeners can relate to people who are dealing with these issues, particularly through the pandemic.
Listen to what they do with this story. I give my analysis of the break at the end of this video.

Why This Works

There are several important reasons this break worked so well for the show.

Here are the key takeaways that apply to dealing with difficult topics:

  • The personalities have to be invested. If you don’t care about it, it’s not going to come off as authentic and relatable. You can hear how Mookie and Billie Jo cared about this message. Billie Jo’s reaction after playing the Lizzo audio demonstrates her heart and how this story resonated with her. If you don’t care about it, it would be better to skip it. There are plenty of other things to talk about.
  • Preparation is a must! Success depends on planning how the story will be told.
  • Own the story. The topic of this break was Lizzo and mental health. But the story was unique to Mookie and Billy Jo. This started with Lizzo, but that’s not what the story was really all about. That’s what it means to Prep Like a Pro.
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Conclusion

Talking about difficult topics on the air is challenging for most personalities. But it’s also a key to forming an authentic, relatable bond with the audience.

Please understand the point of this article. It’s not to encourage shows to talk about mental health. I’m not saying every personality should talk about every controversial or sensitive topic.

The point is that becoming a difference-making radio show demands stretching beyond the ordinary. Be willing to explore the boundaries of your personality and get out of your comfort zone.

And for managers and programmers: Have the courage to develop, encourage, and support talent. It’s the only way your stations will survive in the future…let alone thrive.

 

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