Why Do Stunts?

Why Do Stunts?

by Tracy Johnson

Stunts are an easy and fast method of creating word of mouth, and if you do it right, you can generate viral spread beyond your audience. But pulling of stunts is harder than ever. So why do stunts at all? When most everyone has a smartphone with a video camera and endless ideas for capturing attention on YouTube, can you stand out at all?

Then there’s liability. Since the ill-fated Hold Your Wee For a Wii stunt has caused many managers to step away from outrageous stunts, and for good reason. That station eventually had to go off the air. It got a lot of attention, but not the kind the station wanted. This has led many broadcasters to reconsider why do stunts at all?


The fact that there’s so many others doing anything possible to get attention today means one thing: You have to be great or your stunts won’t be noticed. It doesn’t have to be a completely original idea, though. You could rework something that’s already been done.

Should You Do Stunts?

When deciding whether or not to make stunts a part of your character mix, remember that everything you do contributes to your personality brand. Too many could lead to an image you don’t really want.

Use stunts to gain attention, but most personalities should be careful to avoid letting them become the primary reason to listen to the show. They can, and often do, become habit forming. Many shows have started a downward spiral trying to think of new, outrageous ways to shock the audience instead of focusing on how to entertain them.

Think of stunts as a marketing function, not a core part of your content. They’re like a weekend sale. It may spike traffic to the store for a few days, but when prices return to normal, you have to have a strong customer base to survive.

Stunts are more suited for some formats than others. Edgy rock shows and CHR stations tend to lead the way. Other formats, like AC and Urban stations, tend to shy away.

Legendary morning personality Russ Parr explains:

Stunts don’t work in urban radio because the audience thinks it’s corny. It’s the same reason you don’t see us bungee jumping or showing up on reality TV shows doing something embarrassing. We have to be careful because our listeners will call us out and hold us more accountable for setting a moral tone.

Programmer Sam Weaver adds:

Stations targeting females tend to avoid stunts because it doesn’t fit the image. That’s why you don’t see them on many AC stations.

Who Should Do Stunts? And When Should They Do Them?

When considering the Why Do Stunts question, another factor is where you are in the audience engagement cycle. Every personality goes through five phases, as described in our webinar on demand, It’s Supposed To Suck at First. Even if stunts are good for your personality brand, it’s a good idea to take this in to account:

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Phase 1: Introduction: You’re new to the market. Stunts can be used to gain attention and make a statement that you’ve arrived. But be very careful that they fit your desired personality brand. First impressions are important, and a stunt that doesn’t fit who you want to be can be hard to overcome.

Phase 2: Familiarity: This phase is a great time to stunt, but it may be even more critical to choose the right stunts in this phase. The audience is starting to recognize your name, and impressions you make will stick with you more.

Phase 3: Growth: As you build momentum, a stunt can put you over the top. In this phase, your audience is becoming more excited about your show, and it’ll be easier to get participation, if it’s a public stunt.

Phase 4: Like: As they begin to like you, be very careful to nurture the audience relationship. In this phase, you’ll probably stunt less, but each should be higher impact. And you may want to create stunts that have different goals or outcomes.

Phase 5: Love: Stunts aren’t necessary in this phase, even if it’s something you’ve built your brand around. This is the time many shows introduce new characters to become the risk-takers while the main personalities act as ringmasters.

Why Do Stunts? For Character Branding

There’s nothing quite as exciting as when a well-planned stunt gets your audience excited. it takes on a life of it’s own. And, when powered by social media, it can spread quickly. But it’s important that the stunt contributes to your brand and station image.

To illustrate, let’s say you’re going to do a Holiday Toy Drive. This is obviously a popular campaign. You probably have even been involved in one at one point.

Typically, this promotion would tug on the heart-strings of listeners. That may be great for some shows. But with a little creativity, you can adapt it to fit just about any brand image.

One Stunt, 3 Applications

For example:

#1: Your personality is a “good neighbor” show that relies on warmth and traditional family values. A part of your personality is nostalgia and memories of growing up. Your approach might be to tell a story about hard times when young, and your family couldn’t afford many gifts. And all you wanted was a bicycle. This becomes the angle for a Bike Drive, so every kid in your city can have what you couldn’t, a bike. This story leads to a campaign that ends in a one-day event at a public location. You could even build Bicycle Mountain!

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#2: Your personality is outrageous. You’re a rebel, always living on the edge and pushing the envelope of good taste. You’re the kind of show that does things listeners wish they could get away with. Your approach is to invite your listeners to a live show at a bar in the morning. To get in, they have to bring Toys for Ta-tas. There are dancers and a morning of debauchery, but you’re doing it all “for the kids”.

#3: The playful, fun show that’s a little immature and always doing things that you never expect would take a different angle. This show might take on personal risk, involving the audience to participate vicariously through their experience until a goal is reached for a certain number of toys. You may sit on a billboard in the freezing cold for several days. Or create a giant mountain of snow, carved out in the middle. With every toy donated, you’re closer to getting out.

Each of these stunts showcases a different characteristic. Make sure yours matches your personality.


Why do stunts? Because they work, if you are creative and put the time and energy into it. But you can’t just repeat the same stunts in the same way as you may have done in the past.

Only perform stunts that you will be proud of for years to come. They are building blocks for your future image as much as they are attention for your current profile.


Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

For more than 30 years, Johnson has been developing on-air superstars that attract fans, retain audiences and generate revenue.

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