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A Loyal Reader Writes:

Is it okay to say that you don’t like a song a listener called in and requested? I’m only asking because I have a fellow broadcaster who sees nothing wrong with this, and I see it as alienating your radio audience (or at least a small portion of it).

Dan Replies:

Lacking further details, let’s assume we’re talking about:

– A mainstream music station

– A show that’s part of the station’s overall music programming (not a specialty show)

– A jock whose primary job is to present the music show. To listeners, the music is the big draw…not that particular host.

At first I thought this was going to be the question I’ve been asked hundreds of time: “Is it okay to tell listeners you hate the song that you just played?”

This time, however, there are two actions being questioned.

1) Is it okay to intro or backsell a song on the station’s playlist by telling listeners you dislike it?

2) Is it okay to tell a listener that the song (presumably on the station’s playlist) they requested is bad?

Bad-Mouthing the Song the Listener Requested

Presumably the radio station has some sort of mechanism in place that either solicits or encourages people to call in and request songs.

When a member of your audience requests a particular song, that person is endorsing that song. They’re telling you they like it.

Remember, we’re assuming it’s a song that the station, too, has endorsed by having it on the playlist.

Under those circumstances, it’s a slap in the face to show disdain for the caller’s musical preference.

Bad-Mouthing a Song on Your Playlist

Here’s the argument some jocks make for telling listeners they dislike the song they’re about to play or the song they just played:

“I’m just being honest. I’m not going to be a phony and pretend to like a song that I hate.”

Not telling listeners you dislike that song isn’t being phony.

This is phony: “I like that song” (referring to a song you dislike).

This is honest: Saying anything else about that song that’s true.

Something about the artist. About the sound. Where it was recorded.

Who the singer was influenced by when growing up.

Something about the message the song is trying to communicate — even if you think the songwriter/artist/producer failed to communicate it well.

This Guy Walks into a Restaurant…

You go to a nice restaurant for dinner.

You select an entree from the menu.

When the waiter asks, “Are you ready to order?” you reply, “Yes, I’d like the trout almondine, please.”

As he makes note of your order the waiter mutters, “Good grief. How can anyone eat that crap?”

Is that waiter “just being honest,” or is he acting stupidly?

Couldn’t he honestly say, “That’s one of our most popular dishes” or perhaps simply, “Trout almondine…And to drink…?”



radio advertising sales tipsA Loyal Reader Writes:

“Previously I worked at a different AM station that subscribed to Arbitron (now Nielsen). The station I’m working at now doesn’t subscribe to any ratings service. So I don’t have any ‘numbers’ to prove. So it’s a challenge. Why are folks so biased against AM Radio stations?!”

Dan Replies:

It doesn’t sound as though you’re a victim of radio band discrimination.

You say you “don’t have any numbers” with which to prove the your station’s effectiveness.

With few exceptions, time buyers need ratings to help them get the lowest “cost per point” for their clients. “We need 18 to 34 year-old females.”

Whichever station or cluster can document their ability to deliver a large enough slice of that audience at a cost per point (aka cost per thousand) lower than their competitors wins.

Of course, not all 18-to-34-year-old-female cohorts are created equal.

“18-to-34-year-old-females” is a demographic…a limited demographic (gender, age) that doesn’t include variables such as ethnicity, educational level, income, Zip Code, marital status.

Psychographics — a listener’s values, habits, hobbies, etc. — are ignored completely.

I suspect there are significant behavioral differences between “18-to-34-year-old-females who voted for Trump” and “18-to-34-year-old-females who voted for Clinton.”

When you buy “18-to-34-year-old-females,” you get them all.

But…Those kinds of simplistic numbers are better than no numbers, and they make it easy for time buyers to buy “efficiently” (a bunch of them at a low price) rather than “effectively” (a bunch of well-targeted, well defined listeners).

What Is More Convincing to a Business Owner than “Numbers”?

If you’re a local business owner, probably you’re more concerned with “effectiveness” than a time buyer is. But without an objective measure of a station’s effectiveness, the local business owner, too, falls back on “the ratings.”

(Unless, of course, the business owner buys whatever station s/he listens to, assuming that the company’s customers share their own listening tastes and habits.)

If your station is worthy of advertisers’ business, it should be able to provide prospects with documented results.

The “professional” term for that is “case studies.”

The business owner isn’t interested in the full color charts, graphs and illustrations in an account exec’s “sales kit.”

Q: “Would you like to hear some of our case studies?”

A: “No. But if you can give me the details of how businesses like mine made money by advertising on your station, I’ll give you a couple of minutes.

If you can show one local retailer how another local retailer earned a positive ROI on its advertising investment, you’re halfway to a sale.

If you can show one local retailer how six different local retailers generated a net profit by advertising with your station, you’re more than halfway there.

But What if Your Station Doesn’t Have Any Advertiser Success Stories to Share?

If you can’t present a track record of helping local businesses succeed, why should they gamble their money on your station?

If you can’t present a track record of helping local businesses succeed, how can you look that business owner in the eye and say, “Buy an advertising schedule with us, because it’ll help your business”?


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increasing radio time spent listeningOne difference between a “radio announcer” and a “radio personality”:

The job of a radio announcer is to do what they’re supposed to do, efficiently and correctly.

The job of a radio personality is to keep people listening longer than they intended.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Two “Usual Alternatives”

Once when working out the story of a movie, Alfred Hitchcock said to his collaborator, “In other words, we’re back to our usual alternatives: Do we want suspense or surprise?”   

Hitchcock believed that suspense “is the most powerful means of holding onto the viewer’s attention.”

Both Suspense and Surprise are crucial to the programming of a successful “live” radio station.

Radio Suspense

When does suspense exist on the radio? Whenever the audience is wondering what’s going to happen next.  

That can occur in the space between your asking a provocative question of a guest and the guest’s response.

One common example of Radio Suspense is the Tease:    

“In just a moment, we’re going to hear the Beatles song that they left until the very end of the recording session…because they knew it would completely ruin John Lennon’s voice for the day and they’d only be able to give it one take.”

Radio Involvement

Another famous film director, Francois Truffaut, declared,  “The art of creating suspense is also the art of involving the audience.”   

It’s not enough to say, “We’ve got something interesting coming up but we’re not going to tell you what it is.”      

You’ve got to involve your audience. They’ve got to actively want to hear what’s coming next.

This Card Magician Has the Secret Formula for Increased Time Spent Listening

There’s a well-known card magician named Darwin Ortiz, who has coined Darwin’s Suspense Formula:

“Make them care, then make them wait.”  

That’s how you build suspense. Make them care….And then make them wait. 

The Structure of Surprise

Remember, Hitchcock had two choices when he wanted to move the story along: Suspense…and Surprise.  

Surprise is something happening in the wrong context

Without context, there can be no surprise.

But when something happens in the wrong context, it can be both surprising and hilarious.

On the off chance that you’re not among the 80 million people who already have seen this short video, here’s an example of something completely unremarkable occurring in the “the wrong context.”

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Greaseman aircheckIn my radio talent seminars, I stress the importance of a personality on a music station “making everything his own.”

Even though you don’t select the music, even if everything you do on-the-air is prescribed by your program log, if you’re a personality and not just an announcer you need to infuse those elements with enough of your own unique style to “make it your own.”

If you do everything exactly as everyone else on your station and on your competitors’ stations do, what’s the point of having a live jock in the studio? Why not just have one person voice track everything?

I’m not advising you to break format. I’m encouraging you to do what you’re supposed to do, but to do it your way.

Here’s an example from many years ago. If you’re not old enough to be familiar with “Late in the Evening” by Paul Simon, here’s a line from the song:


Here’s The Greaseman, coming out of that record a long time ago, on a less than digital quality rendering of an AM signal in Jacksonville, Florida. (You’ll want to crank up the volume first.)

As with many exceptional radio personalities, lots of people love The Greaseman; lots don’t. I’m among the people who “do.”

But “do you like this jock or not?” isn’t the point of this piece.

I heard him outro that record 3 decades ago. And to this day, every time I hear “Late in the Evening,” in my mind I hear “Grease”’s voice saying, “The next time you step outside to light yourself a ‘J,’ as you so quaintly put it, you’ll be looking at the back of a squad car….”

That is an example of a jock making something as basic as a song outro his own.