Fix Radio Traffic Reports in 4 Easy Steps
by Tracy Johnson
There’s no doubt that many (most?) of us get traffic information from a smartphone or navigation screen in our vehicles, rendering radio traffic reports far less valuable than in the past.
In fact, an argument can be made to drop traffic reports entirely on all stations except those that specialize in news and local information. But as long as those reports have revenue attached, a programmer’s appeal management will likely fall on deaf ears.
Since it’s on your station, embrace it and make it the best it can possibly be. That means coaching the talent on how to deliver better reports, even if you have to work through a third party service provider. Programmers may have limited time, and this task tends to fall down the list of priorities, but a session or two could have a dramatic effect on your effectiveness.
Step 1: Traffic Reporters Are Storytellers
Realize that traffic reports on the radio can’t compete with instantly updated apps and services that provide traffic information in real time. But you can change the game to play to your strengths.
It doesn’t matter how often you deliver an updated report. In an “always on” world, listeners want the information when they need it, and won’t wait to hear your “traffic on the 10s” to get it. Not when they can get it instantly.
That’s why your traffic must be unique, and your traffic reporters are story tellers. Add some humanity and personality to your report instead of just rattling off information with streets, routes and freeways.
Every traffic reporter should either rewrite or at least interpret the information they get from the traffic service to make it relatable to the listener. Injecting your report by making it a shared experience can humanize your reports and set you apart. Put it in listener terms.
Get rid of all the “traffic-ese”. Terms like vehicle, rubber-necking and clearing a crash add a feeling of formality. Replace that language with real listener descriptions like car are backed up, everybody’s slowing down to have a look and the cops are cleaning it up now to get you on your way.
By adding personality to the report can be more important than the information delivered. Say what they’re thinking: “What a morning out on the 90 West. It’s really backed up because of….” or, “You may want to call in late this morning if you’re on the 90 West…”
Another technique is using landmarks as reference points in reports. Painting a picture can make your traffic stand out and add to a local feel for your brand. For example:
There’s a problem on the corner of First and Springfield Avenue, across from the McDonald’s….
Step 2: Traffic Reporters and Content Relevance
Traffic and other information elements are programming elements, and should be programmed with care. That means knowing what fits your station and what doesn’t.
Most programmers know the most highly populated areas for their most loyal listeners (P1s) and also know where the major employers are located. Combining that information to make sure your traffic coverage focuses on the most traveled routes makes sense.
It also makes sense to take into account where you signal is strongest. If you’re not able to reach certain areas of the metro well, it makes sense to de-emphasize those areas. This information should be shared with the traffic talent and traffic service.
Step 3: Always Have Something to Say
Every traffic reporter should add to the sound of the station by matching the station’s personality. If the talent doesn’t fit the station profile, get someone else in place. It makes a statement about your brand.
Then, coach each traffic personality to fit the sound of the station. Do they have the right pace, rhythm and overall feel for the brand? Do they know what just happened on the air before they came on? It sounds great to reference a topic, caller or song that has just been on:
Maybe (air talent) can get another Beyonce song going because you’re gonna have plenty of time to listen today because (freeway) is at a standstill.
Most of all, traffic reporters should always have a story. Even if nothing is happening in traffic, there should be a story to tell. Much of the value of providing reports is to provide assurance that all is normal. This may task the creativity of the reporter, but a message of “We’re off to a great start on the commute” is far more positive than, “No news on the roads today”.
Step 4: Traffic Reporters Should Have Fun (Yes, Fun)
The last thing you’d expect from a traffic report is a sense of fun, but it is important to be upbeat, positive and sound like you’re having a good time.
You can deliver a more relevant report by:
- Providing an alternative route when traffic is backed up on a main road.
- Give an estimate of expected time to get to a destination. For example, “It’ll take about 40 minutes from (Point A) to (Point B).
As it’s typically presented, traffic is a tune-out. But it doesn’t have to be. If it’s on your show, it’s part of your programming and needs to be curated as an important element. Invest some time into coaching and improving the sound of your traffic reports to turn a potential negative into a positive.
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.