What Taylor Swift Can Teach You About Radio Performance

What Taylor Swift Can Teach You About Radio Performance

by Tracy Johnson

She’s obviously wildly successful, wealthy and a household word. You may not like her music, but regardless of your opinion, Taylor Swift sets examples for radio performance.

Hard work and innovation are at the heart of success in any field, and this is no exception. Taylor has developed an influential presence through an amazing work ethic.

But she has also been smart.

Performing a radio show is hard, and many personalities tend to fall into a pattern. Soon a radio show becomes a production line as one day blends into another.

It’s okay, but it’s not delighting fans.

Taylor Swift can’t get away with mediocre work. Her fans expect more from her, and she expects more from herself.

Here’s what you can adapt from her example to energize your show.

Stop Playing It Safe

Listeners don’t respond to ordinary. Being good is the price of admission.

Fans demand excellence.

Radio personalities tend to follow the leader. They hear shows producing certain types of material, so they go along with what seems popular.

Don’t believe it? Why does virtually every show in existence carry an entertainment report? Why does everyone run the same features?

Great shows innovate and take chances. They stand up for the art of the performance. If you’re afraid of scrutiny, how will you grow?

In 2015, Taylor Swift took issue with Apple’s decision to allow free trials of Apple Music. During those trials, artists wouldn’t be paid royalties for songs played. She called out Apple on its decision and stated that she would not be releasing her album through the service.

Apple quickly changed. Eddy Cue, Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, tweeted, saying Apple “will pay artists for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period.”


Other artists didn’t speak out, probably because from fear of going against Apple, but Swift wasn’t having it. Her actions influenced change. That’s leadership, and leaders get attention.

I’m not saying you need to pick fights and burn bridge. But step outside the comfort zone. Stop creating the same content, playing follow the leader, and settling for acceptable.

Innovate, come up with new ways to bring value to listeners, and be willing to take risks-just a little.


Swift has developed impressive connections and learned that relationships increase creativity and introduce her to a wider audience.

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Taylor is no stranger to collaboration, and she took it to a whole new level on Bad Blood. The video features Kendrick Lamar, Jessica Alba, Lena Dunham, Lily Aldridge, and Selena Gomez.

As an air personality, there are countless ways to entertain through the contributions of others. Set up partners to deliver a great line. If working solo, use listeners as a co-host.

The listener doesn’t care who delivers the entertaining moment, but they do remember where they get it. Sometimes sharing control creates more attention.

Be Flexible

Taylor Swift launched her music career as a country singer in 2006, and a few years later slid into pop crossovers. Her transition from country star to pop sensation was complete.

It was a smart move that has earned an impressive collection of awards.

Her success has also earned her a spot in Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. It’s not just talent. It’s also achieved through a willingness to reinvent herself.

A common mistake in radio programming and performance is relying past formulas without adjusting to a changing environment. It’s amazing that air talent still basically “does their four and hits the door”.

If audience engagement is limited to creating a decent radio show and maybe tweeting a couple of messages during your time slot, you’re missing opportunities.

To win today, personalities must be active on and off air. How can you create a video presence for your brand? Are you using social media to lead the audience to a deeper relationship? And, perhaps even more importantly, do all social platforms point back to the radio show?

We don’t know what Taylor Swift’s career would look like if she hadn’t adapted, but there’s no doubt that she wouldn’t be the celebrity she is now.

Emotional Connections

Brands are evolving past telling a corporate story. They now focus on telling great stories that lead to their brand. It’s about using storytelling to make an emotional connection.

Taylor Swift’s greatest skill is writing and sharing relatable stories from her heart, through her music. The emotional connections through writing is sticky

Taylor’s storytelling reminds us of the experience of being human, our own thoughts, and our own emotions. It also helps to know that others feel the same so we don’t quite so alone.

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That requires a certain amount of vulnerability. The ability to open up your heart and share emotionally is a key trait for radio personalities.

Using storytelling skills is more than just a few words worked into a break as a point of reference. It’s about sharing what people actually relate (and react) to.

She’s In The Moment

Ever been to a Taylor Swift concert? A funny thing happens there. She’s not on her phone. Taylor isn’t surfing the internet or texting her friends. She isn’t checking YouTube, responding to a tweet, posting on Facebook or adding pictures on Instagram.

She’s performing. She’s in the moment with the audience.

You owe it to co-hosts, the station and listeners to do the same. Focus on every detail of your show. Plan. Prepare. Stay in the moment. You may think it doesn’t matter, that there’s plenty of time to set a massage appointment during the commercials. That can wait.

This matters. It’s about being invested in your art and being 100% present in the moment.


Just doing these things won’t turn you into the Taylor Swift of radio. Talent matters, too. But applying these lessons are some of the small things that lead to excellence.

And doesn’t your career deserve that?

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