by Tracy Johnson
In working with air talent, no two shows are created equal. Every personality has strengths and weaknesses. That’s part of what makes this such an exciting and interesting business. Each show is unique. Though there’s no such thing as the perfect air talent, there are 5 key personality traits every air talent needs to win.
Here’s are the traits:
Winning air personalities take an interest in the audience. They may not live the same lifestyle as the listener but they understand what is happening in their lives. One of my coaching philosophies is that a radio show is Not About You…Yet It’s All About You. Great personalities understand this and use it to their advantage. It’s one of the things that made Oprah such a magical personality for so long. She understood, related to, and took an interest in, her audience.
Great personalities are also interested. They are curious, and genuinely like to learn more about their listeners, callers, and how things work. They ask questions and engage their community of fans around topics that the audience cares about, both on and off the air.
And, they are interesting. Personalities are unique, one-of-a-kind characters that cannot be replaced easily. They have a distinct perspective, a point of view that is shared through effective story-telling. DJ’s talk about topics. Personalities relate stories and reveal their character through content.
The second trait is to be likable. Of course, everyone wants to think they are a likable person. We all have characteristics that friends, family and even some co-workers find attractive! In this sense, likability is a little bit more.
Sarcasm and cynicism have a place on some shows, just as they do in everyday life. However, this rarely is the basis of a personality’s character, or the core attribute of a show.
If a listener can’t like you, how do you expect them to fall in love with you and make you part of their daily habit? Most personalities in the study have perfected humor that is victimless or self-deprecating. There are exceptions, of course. Some talk show hosts, like Michael Savage and Bill O’Reilly, make a living being bombastic, outrageous and generally difficult.
One of the fastest growing talk shows in radio history is Sean Hannity. It’s not his content that makes him as appealing as he is, but his personality. Even if you disagree with his point of view, Sean is genuinely easy to like.
Great air personalities change a room when they enter. They make people feel good about being in their presence. Magnetic personalities that attracts a crowd is a charming attribute that can be improved, but can’t be taught. You’ve met folks in your life with that endearing charisma.
Great air personalities have it, too. WZPL/Indianapolis morning host Dave Smiley has that “it” factor. He simply makes people feel good.
Likable people are generally upbeat, positive, full of energy and spirit. They brighten the day of those around them. Personalities come across as genuine, natural and authentic. When there’s an opportunity to meet people, they are outgoing and welcoming. They exude warmth, intimacy and make you feel they care.
Listeners begin the process of becoming a loyal, devoted fan of the show in steps. The goal is to cause them to become an evangelist for your brand, telling all their friends about you! But before they can fall in love with you, they have to like you. And before they like you they have to know something about you. They’ll only learn about you through the things you do.
How hard do you work? Probably harder than ever, and yet you feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day or resources at the station to do what you should do. There is always more that needs to be done. Great performers find a way to get it done.
When suggesting new ideas, promotions or tactics to most radio shows, the #1 response is usually one or more of the following:
There’s not enough time.
We don’t have a team of writers and producers that can crank out content or jokes like Fallon or Kimmel.
Yeah, we set up a Facebook page but don’t do much because the station won’t provide an intern to update it.
That tease wasn’t creative because we were editing a phone call we recorded yesterday and had to hurry to get it on the air this morning.
The excuses are endless. And some are valid.
Look, it’s hard. I get it. You’re busy. But being a celebrity is a full time job. Being a DJ is part-time. Leading a community of listeners is a commitment. It’s 24/7. It demands that you constantly prepare, plan, edit, adjust, and mine your life for content. You’re always promoting, marketing, interacting.
It means tweeting, hosting a conversation on Facebook, sharing relevant content and engaging with the audience even after your show ends.
Do you say “yes” to every opportunity to meet listeners? Are you active in the community, speaking at events and making appearances? Sometimes they pay you, but many times they don’t. It’s part of the price you pay to be famous. A funny thing happens as you build your celebrity status, though. After awhile, they’ll all pay you.
Being a celebrity comes with a price in time, effort and lost sleep. It takes commitment and discipline to schedule a show prep meeting on Friday morning when you’d like to get out the door and on the course. Texting the show with updates for the next day is a pain. But it’s important because every detail is important.
Ryan Seacrest earns a gazillion dollars a year working about 100 full-time jobs. Yes, he now has a full entourage to support his empire. But it wasn’t always like that. When Ryan worked afternoons at Star 98.7 in Los Angeles, he spent many mornings in San Diego.
He watched Jeff & Jer, asked questions and learned how to create connections with the audience. He spent hours with producer Tommy Sablan, learning how to work with listeners. Nobody paid him for it. It was an investment in his career. His success didn’t just happen. He earned his fame by making it happen.
Every job has obstacles. Don’t let them become barriers. Knock down the obstacles, face the challenges and invest time and resources in the one sure thing: yourself. Nobody said it would be easy. If it was it wouldn’t be fun. And this business is fun. You’ve heard the saying, “There’s no business like show business?” That’s this business.
Radio has accepted a bad rap. Detractors are quick to point out the shortcomings. It’s old technology. There’s too many commercials. The first time radio heard that the industry’s days were numbered was around 1922. A fella by the name of Thomas Edison said that radio would never last, that it would just fade away when something new came along.
Well, Tom… it lasted. But we had to adjust. Radio has weathered the storm through the introduction of countless new technologies. And it will continue to survive, and could once again thrive if we remember that this is show biz.
Promotion: Historically, this has been a strength. Great personalities are able to hook the audience on an idea, tease them to listen longer and use the amazing reach to expand reach.
Exaggeration: One of the most misunderstood (and mis-applied) concepts is the concept of “living your life on the air.” Your real life is not that interesting. It needs to be enhanced. Hollywood takes good stories, dramatizes them and makes them great. Your task is to use your daily life as a basis for creating entertainment.
Excitement: Larger than life promotion is about building buzz. A motion picture is pre-sold, marketed, promoted and teased for months before it’s release. They use resources to create anticipation… and they treat each movie as a separate product. Find your “hits” and promote them to build excitement and create a meaningful connection with your audience.
Every break is important. A typical morning show on a music oriented station is on the air for four hours a day. It’s normal to have four “talk” breaks per hour. That’s 16 opportunities a day to entertain the audience. Don’t waste them . Build them up, support them, develop content to make every minute matter.
This topic has many complexions. It could be about offering a range of emotions, a blend of music and personality or any number of other options.
Consistency is a virtue, but listeners fatigue of a steady diet of the same type of material. Building multiple dimensions of entertainment helps protect against audience boredom. Great shows offer diversity within the personality that is central to their core appeal. They present a variety of material consistent with audience interests and their persona.
Balance is also managing yourself with a mix of both humility and ego.
Most great air personalities have a huge ego. That’s not a criticism. It’s a good thing. They seek the spotlight and crave stardom. The burning desire to be a celebrity motivates them to achieve levels that mere others only dream of.
This must be balanced by a humility that recognizes the value of a fan. It’s all about the audience. Like a host of a party, a great personality obsesses about ensuring that each guest has a great time at their event. They balance their natural tendency to share their point of view with the understanding that the audience is listening to get, not so you can give.
It’s a delicate balance. There’s a fine line between telling a story about yourself and about something that happens to you. The former is self-indulgent and egotistical. The latter is relevant and interactive. The great ones understand how this balance works.
Great air personalities are authentic with an aura of honesty in their presentation.
A standup comedian can play a role for a 20-minute set, performing the same routine night after night. An actor can make you believe in his or her character for a short time. In radio, it’s 3-4 hours a day, 5 days a week. That’s over 240 shows a year, about 1,000 hours of original material.
Listeners feel authenticity, and they know when you’re faking it. This is particularly true of the most active and engaged listeners, who also happen to be the biggest fans and those most likely to participate in a ratings survey. You can’t fool them by pretending to care about something you don’t.
Your strategy and content can be perfect, but will fail unless delivered by real, genuine and honest personalities. Authentic personalities care about their audience, and the audience rewards them with attention.
How many of these traits do you have? All five? If so, you’re probably a dominant personality. Or maybe you have the talent and the skills but need to polish them. There’s help available. Get a talent coach or find a mentor to help. Or become a member of Insiders, which is like a Virtual Talent Coach for less than $1 a day. But start today. Your career hangs in the balance.
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