Questions & Answers

Answers to Your Questions About Personality Radio and More from Tracy Johnson

Have a question? Ask anything and I’ll answer it here. To send a question, click here.

TOPIC: Localizing a Voice-Tracked Show

Question: I have a 5 hour Drive Home show that is voice tracked to play in multiple regions. Other than the 2-3 hours a day I’m live in my own market it is difficult to localize? What tips can you offer to compensate for this?

Answer: I love voice-tracking, when the air talent takes it seriously and puts effort into preparing the content. When you do, it’s as good as, if not better than, live! Watch the webinar on demand How to IZE Your Personality. It’s loaded with tips on how to make local reference points that connect your content to the audience’s world. It’s not hard to do, but it makes a huge difference in how your audience hears it.


TOPIC: Making Content More Important

Question: Every day, we spend hours in show prep creating content that we think is pretty good. But it doesn’t often get the traction we think it should. Is there a trick to getting more attention for what we’re cranking out?

Answer: Your question doesn’t say so specifically, but I assume you’re talking about on-air content as opposed to online material. But either way the answer is similar. First, congratulations on your work ethic. Investing time in preparation is important. But, like many shows, it could be that you’re generating more content than you need. Instead, spend your prep time developing less content, but prepare that content deeper. Then, practice recycling techniques to get more mileage from your “A” material.

Now, I’ll surprise you with a statement that you probably haven’t considered. You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule, where 20% of effort produces 80% of your results. It’s true. But there’s a new way to look at it. If you apply that rule to your content, spend 20% of your time creating the content and 80% of your time promoting it.

How should you promote? Start with what you do on the air. Write creative teases for each segment. For your best moments, generate promos that drive traffic to your website or social media page. And don’t forget to promote the content via social media.

A sharper focus on fewer things almost always produces greater impact. Leverage your strengths of promotion to make content stand out.

TOPIC: Perfection vs. Excellence

Question: I’m an air personality in a medium market trying to get my break into the big-time. I work hard seeking perfection in my show, but not matter what I do, I can’t seem to get my big break. It’s so frustrating. Help me out?

Answer: Your priorities are wrong. Don’t worry about being perfect. Instead, seek excellence. You’ll never be perfect. As Michael J. Foxx says, that’s in God’s hands.

In fact, the more you try to achieve perfection, the weaker the audience reaction. Listeners relate when we accept our quirks and flaws. Personality radio can be sloppy. Don’t seek sloppy, but accept it when things aren’t perfect. Lori Lewis calls it being flawsome. 

Your best route is to learn who you are and who you aren’t, then be the best version of you possible.

TOPIC: Air Personality Isn’t Motivated.

Question: I have a personality who just doesn’t seem motivated. He acts like he’s bored all the time. There’s just no energy. What can I do?

Answer: Well, it could be that they are bored. Managing air talent is a lot like raising puppies. They need to be stimulated and constantly challenged. Puppies need new toys.

If they start feeling that they’re not moving forward, there are some things you can do. Start by giving them a new goal to work toward or a skill to master. Make it performance based (like developing new ways to create daily show promos), not ratings based goals. Or, engage them in a zero-based analysis of the show.

Another tactic is to archive audio of their show regularly. Sometimes talent feels they’re not improving, because they don’t have a perspective of growth. Bring out old air checks when you need to, and let them hear how they’ve grown.

When comparing old audio to current, focus the attention on current goals. If you’re working on teases, play audio of weak tease segments from the past, then play what they sound like now. Play recent breaks that sound great, pointing out things they’ve learned. This builds confidence and keeps them upbeat, and reinforces their training.

It’s the coach’s job to inspire talent to get the best from them. However, while you can inspire those who are already motivated, it’s not possible to motivate someone who’s not. Motivation comes from within.

TOPIC: Station Sounds Great, Why No Ratings?

Question: We launched our music-based station, are directly attacking competitive weaknesses in the market and are playing less than half the commercial load of the format leader. We’ve marketed it pretty well and have a high cume, but no traction in AQH or share. What do you think may be wrong?

Answer: There’s no way to know for sure without a deeper dive into the situation, but I suspect the lack of response has to do with failing to provide a reason for listeners to love you. It sounds like you’re giving them many reasons to not dislike you and maybe even some strong hooks for attracting a few likes. But habits change when they fall in love with you. What are you doing that causes passionate response?

Combine an appealing format offering with a competitive advantage (far fewer commercials) is great. But only when you inject it with a powerful driving force will the market take notice.

TOPIC: Breaking News

Question: My PD thinks we should hold off on topics that pop up during the show so we can spend more time preparing them. I say we should jump on them immediately to be current and topical. Who’s right?

Answer: With rare exceptions, I’m with your PD on this one. With few exceptions, you’re always better when you think about it, brainstorm it and take the time to curate content. It’s highly unlikely that you’re used for breaking news. Save that great topic for another day. Just because it happened today doesn’t mean you have to talk about it today. In fact, I could make the case that waiting until tomorrow not only will sound better (because it’s prepared in greater depth), it will be more topical (since more listeners will be familiar with it).

Isaiah Twitty, producer of Pat & JT Show on KQKQ/Omaha once played cornerback on his college football team. His defensive back coach taught him to be patient, and not go after after the first thing he sees when covering a receiver. By waiting for the right moment, he’d have the chance to make a big play, perhaps an interception.

The exception would be a major event that affects the lives of your listener right now. For example, a natural disaster or emergency. Other than that, you’ll be well-served to be patient and make a big play.

TOPIC: A Balanced Show

Question: It feels like our show is really different from one day to the next. Some days it’s funny, some days serious. How important is it to mix things up?

Answer: Balance is very important on the air. If you change from one day to the next, listeners will have a hard time figuring out how to use you.

Strategically, some shows find it useful to identify three key attributes of their brand. Think of it like a stool with three legs. They seek to represent each of those legs appropriately. Otherwise the stool tips or breaks. That doesn’t mean each leg is equal.

For instance, if your recipe is Relationships, Personal Stories and Relatable Humor, you may strive for: 50% relationships, 25% pop culture and 25% personal stories. This gives you a target to strive for. To find your three legs, consider what is your show is known for and what you want it to become. Make a list, then narrow it into your three things.

By the way, achieving balance is another reason features are important. Locking in high-profile benchmark features gives your show a foundation and consistency that helps keep everything in balance.

TOPIC: Where’s the Growth?

Question: (From a Market Manager): My new PD has been here for four months, and is working with the morning show every day, but I don’t hear any changes. Where’s the growth? What should I expect?

Answer: It would be wonderful if we could identify a problem, discuss it, flip a switch and have the problem fixed in a day or two. But that’s not how it works when people are involved. It’s like improving your golf game. You spend hours and hours in lessons, working on your driving range and making adjustments. When the skills become muscle memory, your game reaches the next level. Training air talent is creating muscle memory for performance.

It could also be that they are improving, but you just don’t recognize it. If you have a young niece or nephew that you see a couple of times a year, you’re probably amazed at how much they’ve grown since you last saw them. Yet their parents, who are with them every day, don’t notice it. Change is gradual.

A great way to gain a perspective on this is archiving air checks of each air personality at least once a month. Over time, you can go back and compare how we sound now to any point in the past. It’s like taking snapshots at various times in the life cycle of the brand.

On the other hand, just because the PD is spending time with the talent doesn’t mean it’s effective coaching. It could very well be that they’re really not getting better. If you need some help with that, let me know!

TOPIC: Format Clock Restrictions

Question: I really want to be great on the air, and I’m doing my best to be a personality, not a DJ. But how can  I do it on a station that restricts the amount of time they’ll let me talk? My breaks are limited to a maximum of 90 seconds twice an hour and four talk-over positions.

Answer: The first thing is to adjust the way you look at the opportunities to create content. Don’t look at it as restrictions on creativity, but as a chance to tell eight 90-second stories every day (assuming you’re on a four-hour show). This changes how you approach the show, doesn’t it? When you’re a “glass-half-full” personality, you start seeing possibilities in content rather than why you can’t do something more.

Then, view each break as a challenge to find ways to deliver great entertainment. You’re an artist, and artists create on many different canvases. Some are as large as a full wall, while others may be the size of a postage stamp. Your canvas (format clock) may be small, but it doesn’t remove your responsibility to create great art.

And, over time, you’ll find something interesting happen: Your popularity will increase and the PD will start relaxing those clock restrictions. Let me know how I can help you out!

TOPIC: The PD is Now My Co-Host!

Question: I’ve been morning show host for 17 years. Now our station has a new program director, and he’s insisting on being my co-host. What do I do?

Answer: Good one! Whenever there’s a significant change in programming management, there’s an adjustment period for the station, the talent and the PD. A new PD has a lot on their plate, and integrating into a long-term show only adds to the complexity of getting established.

There are several considerations here:

For the PD: Hopefully, joining the show isn’t happening immediately after coming on board. A new programmer must gain trust and respect. Coaching talent is more art than science, and the most important objective should be to demonstrate that the PD is the show’s biggest fan. That takes time. The PD should also respect the track record of the existing show. 17 years can build a lot of equity in the market, and abruptly (or significantly) changing a show could disrupt valuable listening habits that have been established. And, it’s critical to evaluate the show strategically and objectively. Adding a new personality to the show could change roles, confuse the audience and cause significant damage if it is not handled properly.

On the other hand, talent must be open to coaching, adapting and trying new things. A new perspective can be valuable. And, just because you’ve been on for 17 years doesn’t necessarily make you a dominant personality. Your on-air personality brand could be in any of the personality life stages. This is a product of effectiveness, not longevity.

For the talent: Be open and honest. If you truly don’t feel that a partner will improve the show, make your case. But do so in the best interests of the show, not from your ego or just protecting your turf. Learn the strategy for adding to the show, and the PD’s motivation that the addition should be him or her. This imposed marriage may not be your preference, but it may be good for you!

Good luck! This can be a time of great angst or it could be the best thing that ever happened to you. Let me know how ti goes and if I can help.

TOPIC: A funny break or being funny?

Question: I read an article on your website that making listeners laugh is the most important aspect of a morning show, but then read another article that says it’s more important to have a great sense of humor than it is to be funny. Which is it?

Answer: Great question! First, let me qualify my general comments a bit to be clearer: Being funny is not a requirement to be successul, nor is success guaranteed if you’re funny! But for most radio stations that rely on personality, nothing is better than the ability to make listeners laugh. Or at least smile! Putting them in a good mood should a primary goal.

That leads to an interesting discussion, though, because there are few genuinely funny people. There are many who think they’re funny, and quite a few who are occasionally funny. But personalities with the ability to make you laugh consistently are rare. So don’t worry too much about being funny constantly. Instead, focus on creating a situation that can make for a funny break.

Now I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. There’s a major difference in a funny break and a personality that’s funny. It comes from creating a scene that leads to funny things happening naturally and organically. This is what happens when you see a good Improvisational theater team perform. Each actor’s goal is to advance the scene by setting up their partners.By creating an environment filled with surprises, funny things happen.

That happens when the performers listen and respond naturally, but when one or two actors are focused more on delivering their own funny line, the scene often falls flat.

Of course, this applies more to multi-personality shows than to solo performers. If you’re a solo act, you have to work a little harder to use your tools and resources to create a funny (and fun) show.


TOPIC: Programming Automation vs. Live

Question: My station (AC) has more listeners at 5am than we do at 8pm, yet we are live at night and automated in the early morning. Am I making a mistake?

Answer: You’re thinking about it the right way, for sure. Radio needs to start getting creative in how it approaches programming by addressing listener needs rather than setting up our programming schedule based on how the ratings services break down the dayparts (6-10, 10-3, etc.). As the audience’s lives are getting earlier and earlier. Don’t believe it? Check the highways at 5am. It’s a lot busier than it used to be.

Given that, it makes sense to start your morning show when the audience is waking up and on the road, doesn’t it? Personality oriented television stations are starting their morning shows as early as 4am now!  But so many programmers are stuck in the traditional world that defines morning drive as 6-10am.

Since you’re an AC station, it’s safe to assume the workday is your most valuable depart, followed by a high profile personality oriented morning show. Examine your audience: What time do they start work? And what time are they available to listen to your morning show? Adjust your schedule to fit.

I’m pretty sure you’ll find that it makes more sense to put more resources into 5-6am, and get that show off the air by 9am (at the latest). In fact, I could make a case for a full-service, high profile show to be on from 5-8am. But then you get the sales department complaining about “losing two hours of morning drive rates”…and so it goes.



TOPIC: Are My Ratings Being Cannibalized?

How does online listening, on-demand audio and podcast listening compromise over-the-air listening?

While there’s no definitive study that I know of that’s examined this question, there’s evidence that supports the idea that engagement tends to moves in step in all forms of listening. As one goes up, the others also rise. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it really does make sense. As your content is made available online, it’s exposed to a new, broader audience. As they are exposed to more content, your brand becomes more significant, increasing the urgency to listen to the live show.

Of course, there are many variables that affect online success: How easy is it to find and access the content? Is it easy to share with others, which spreads exposure even more? Is there a promotional strategy to invite live tune in?

Some personalities fear that if they make too much content available, the incentive to listen live is lowered. If that bothers you, it’s worth considering limiting your archives, making only recent shows available. Or, you could at a pay-gate to your content, similar to the VIP club created by personalities like Rush LimbaughFree Beer & Hot Wings and Phil Hendrie. They have developed a successful revenue stream from previous audio.

Overall, however, indications are that making your audio more accessible builds momentum, and engagement in online content is often a leading indicator for increased over-the-air listening,



TOPIC: Fixing My Teases

Question: Why is that some of my teases just come off as flat? Is it because of weaker content that isn’t tease-able, or is it because I haven’t found the right point in the break to tease?

Answer: Talk about chicken or the egg! There are so many things that go into effective teases that it’s impossible to answer this definitively. But there are two things that cause most teases to fail.

One is when the content itself is vague, generic or too broad. If the topic is weak, it’s very difficult to craft a tease that causes listeners to care. This is usually a flaw in the show prep process. If the topic is “What’s your favorite vacation ever?”, how can you create a compelling, dramatic tease?

The other common problem is when talent hasn’t taken the time to plan or prepare the tease. Often, we think too literally, connecting the tease directly to the topic. Remember, the goal of each tease is getting listeners to the topic. It doesn’t have to have a direct connection.

For instance, a client was planning to talk about Wendy’s promo offer of a Frosty every day for a year with a $1 contribution. The tease: “Wendy’s has ruined your New Year’s resolution more than two weeks before you even make it. I’ll tell you what they’ve done in four minutes”. This is a compelling, interesting tease that causes intrigue. There’s a very good chance of getting one more quarter hour to find out about it.

Jeff Dauler

Jeff Dauler
Morning Show Host, Entercom
Star 94/Atlanta

I've worked with a lot of radio consultants in my 20+ years doing morning radio. Tracy did more to help me find and use my skills than all of the others. I'm a better storyteller, I'm funnier, and my shows are better because of his input

Robin Farrel

Robin Farrel
Morning Show Host , KOOL 107.3
Victoria, British Columbia

Tracy's help is pretty much 24/7. If we struggle with a topic or show idea, we send it to him and he gets back to us right away... usually with a better idea. :)

Sophie Moroz

Sophie Moroz
Morning Personality, New Country 94
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Tracy has given me such valuable advice. I’m not sure I would have survived this business without it. I’ve learned so much from the presentations and workshops and have become a better broadcaster because of it.