Escape The Radio Zone of Mediocrity to Launch Your Career

Escape The Radio Zone of Mediocrity to Launch Your Career

by Tracy Johnson

Radio personalities are either making an impact, or not. They’re either true personalities or just announcers. There’s nothing in between. But there’s a problem, because almost all human being want to be special, but few are bold enough or committed enough to stand out. Nobody wants to be average. But most are afraid to be different. That’s why s many are trapped in the zone of mediocrity.

Personalities that stand out – the elite 1% – are almost all hated by a percentage of the audience. And that makes many personalities uncomfortable.

But personalities that build loyal followings are almost always polarizing. Every talent who is able to recruit and lead a fan base comes with baggage. The very things that cause listeners to fall in love with them also cause others to dislike them.

They are polarizing.

The Zone of Mediocrity

At many, perhaps most, radio stations, programmers work so hard to avoid negatives that they scrub the very character traits that attract fans. Talent becomes cautious, worried about offending their listeners to the point they aren’t able to demonstrate those attractive traits. As a result, nobody dislikes you. Some like you. But nobody loves you. And that’s sad.

To become an on-air superstar, and not just an announcer or DJ, we simply must focus on the things that will cause listeners to love us. We can’t win fans by removing things that may be offensive to some.

That’s what puts talent in the Zone of Mediocrity:


zone of mediocrity large


I get it. Those complaints are loud, and dealing with them isn’t fun.

Most media personalities share a point of view cautiously, timidly and politely. They are afraid of upsetting someone, and hate it when complaints come in.

A radio show is a story with characters that plays out each break, each day.

For a story to be compelling, there must be friction. Some call it conflict. And a story must have compelling characters an audience identifies with. They may rally around and cheer for some, and root against another. But only strong characters inspire passion.

The stronger a character’s point of view, the greater the friction. And the stronger the attraction.

In the book, Story by Robert McKee, the author makes this point:
A protagonist and his or her story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.

Another way to put it is that love doesn’t exist without hate. 

But too many on-air talent are afraid to be personalities. Because they are afraid to be criticized.

And that’s a problem because of managers, PD’s and talent coaches.

Making adjustments to personalities and their content by over-reacting to a handful of complaints is dangerous. And in the process, they prevent listeners from connecting with those traits they could be attracted to.


This is happening at way too many stations and it’s killing personality.

Difference-making talent is being replaced with generic solutions.

Here’s a comment from a programmer who eliminated a high profile air personality from the lineup at his station and replaced the show with all music:

(Personality) was a home run for many years, but, unfortunately, the PPM methodology doesn’t seem to reflect the strength of the show.

Seriously? The ratings methodology doesn’t reflect the strength of the show? How does that work?

Removing personality in favor of all music/no talk is going to make the station more popular? Does it add meaning? Is it more relevant? More unique? Will it be more remarkable?

No. It becomes disposable

Let me get this straight: A programming change was made because ratings methodology doesn’t reflect an admittedly strong, and to this point, successful show?

Shouldn’t the real question be:

  • Does this personality command a fan base?
  • How does the personality create a unique reason to listen?
  • When he/she speaks, does the personality cause the audience to react emotionally?

Maybe the proper response would be to figure out how to position, promote and market the show to address the ratings issue.

Great Personalities Are Irreplaceable

Replacing air personalities that attract and lead communities of listeners with more music (a commodity) because PPM rewards it will help only if our goal is to win the race to irrelevance.

Instead of silencing personality, let’s celebrate it by building a true fan base.

It is more important than ever to stand for something!

Broadcasters spend a lot of time and money on research to get rid of things listeners say they don’t like rather than investing in creating things they love.

For personalities, here are a few ways to do it:

Take a Side: The middle of the road is for road kill. Get out of the middle. Tolerance is great in real life. It’s a problem on the air.

Speak in Absolutes: Prefacing comments with, “I think” or “It seems to me” or “In my opinion” weaken personality.   Taking a stance as fact is more powerful and entertaining.

Build Suspense: Pausing for effect can add drama and emphasis.

Great personalities build fans. And in the process, they accept the detractors.

Staying in the Zone of Mediocrity always results in a product that is tolerated, but lacks passion.

It’s like being a good football team because they play the game NOT to LOSE. That’s a sure strategy that usually results in average seasons, but will never win the Super Bowl.

That’s the very definition of the Zone of Mediocrity.


In the entertainment business, the opposite of love isn’t hate. It‘s apathy. If listeners don’t care, you don’t count.

Ask yourself: If you were to go off the air tomorrow, never to return, what would listeners miss? This is a scary question that takes time to answer. And it demands soul-searching.

Most personalities don’t know how to answer that question. And if you can’t answer it, there’s a problem.

In my Audience Magnet course, I show you how to build a personality brand that matters and truly resonates with listeners. You’ll learn how to do it by developing a unique personality brand.

Personalities: Have a point of view. Have an opinion. Make a difference. Don’t be mediocre. Because the opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.

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