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Personality Radio

Music-based formats on terrestrial radio are in a losing fight, and many are reluctant to use the biggest weapon available – personality.

In a world filled with a myriad of musical sources – iPods, satellite, streaming audio – terrestrial radio will lose every single time if it’s just about the music. There will be excuses – “but they don’t have to play commercials!” It doesn’t matter. It matters what you CAN offer that they CAN’T. Again, you’ll never beat them with music. The way you can win is with content, but more specifically talented personalities.

One problem is that truly talented radio entertainers are a rare commodity, and often programmers will settle for mediocre. Occasionally, there’s talent to be found outside of radio that can make the transition, and have IT, and programmers should constantly be on the lookout for potential diamonds. You can’t teach talent, though. You have it, or you don’t. No matter how much time spent coaching or bringing in consultants, if the host doesn’t have it, you’re just making average performers only slightly less so. Lately there’s been a trend toward stunt-casting – bringing in someone with notoriety from another medium. On a short-term (week or two) basis it can bring a station some temporary buzz, be it a star musician, actor, internet sensation, or politician. In the longer term it’s a disservice to the listener, as once the short-lived attention goes away, you’re dealing with a middling talent. You owe your listeners the best host you can find. It’s also a bit of a slight to radio talent, as the impression left is that any old Joe can host a radio show.

So what makes a great radio personality? Intelligence, honesty, empathy, humor, innovation…and IT; that indefinable quality that keeps people sitting in their cars long after they’ve arrived at their destination, that grows a large and loyal following, and above all entertains. An ability to make it personal. Again, it’s something you can’t teach.

You can image the hell out of a station or tweak the music as much as is humanly possible, but without strong personalities, it’s akin to riding a stationary bike.

I believe some programmers are mis-reading the PPMs. The fact is, when the music stops, people tune away. A common interpretation is that people want less talk, more music. First off, listeners have been conditioned since the dawn of commercial broadcasting to change the station (channel) when the commercials come on. To all of a sudden attribute this attrition to lack of music is erroneous. You’ll always lose some listeners when the music stops. The question becomes, how to reduce the number of tune-outs.? Not less talk. You’ve still got commercials. If you have a compelling host, people will stick around to hear what they have to say. The listeners will feel a part of the experience and that they’re listening to a show, not just a bunch of music with the occasional break for advertising. If you have boring personalities without the ability to entertain or offer compelling content, why should the listener stick around when the music stops?

Two of my favorite articles on the topic come from personality radio advocates Bill McMahon and Doug Erickson:

The Problem With Ryan Seacrest

Shut Up and Play the Music

(Feel free to share this with anyone passionate about radio, and link please)

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