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First Radio Morning Show Success Strategy

When you are launching, relaunching, or trying to fix a radio morning show, this is where you begin.


Radio Morning Show Host Spooked by a Critic

Listener criticises radio morining showA Loyal Reader Writes:

We recently built our morning show on our AC station with me as the “driver” and a fairly old female friend of mine. She and I have always razzed each other and have a sarcastic friendship. Although she had some radio experience in another market in promotions, she had never been on the air. The plan was to find someone green and train her, at the same time present her character as experienced and an equal to my character. It would be a challenge, yet I knew she would be perfect based on our sarcastic friendship.   

We build the show largely following your training, in fact we continue to study since we started the show in April.   

Yesterday my office received the attached letter. No attention to, no name signed, no return address. On my ride home I heard you mention about ‘not removing the negatives’ in one of your trainings. I have also heard you several times speak of differing points of view of the characters on the show, and how that would allow different listeners to take the side of different characters.   

We are both well aware of our characters on air. We do razz each other often. She will often come across as less confident on some days and mispronounce artist or celebrity names that she really does know. I choose to call it a (Name)-ism based on her last name. Any teasing is not much more harsh than that, on both of our ends.   

In your opinion, is the attached letter a sign that our show and characters are working and nothing should change, or could she represent a good majority of the listeners and we should change our ways?  

You will read about our intern that started this week. He is new and his character wasn’t to be a part of the sarcasm. We used his young (17) age to our benefit, since my cohost and I are 44.

Here Is the Letter the Radio Station Received.

(Radio Station)
(City, State, Zip)

re: (Morning Host)

I listen to (Radio Station) in the morning and just cannot believe how RUDE (Morning Host) is to (Co-Host).

He obviously is unhappy with her as a co-host; constantly criticizing her every move and always making comments that are just RUDE. Most of the show (Morning Host) is just plain condescending; perhaps he was not in favor of a co-host?

I have to say (Co-Host) is a PRO; no matter what rude comment (Morning Host) throws at her she tries so hard to be professional about it. (Morning Host) on the other hand, acts out his comments on the air with a bit of immaturity.

I would venture to say (Morning Host) is purposely trying to make it uncomfortable for (Co-Host) and then she ends up leaving — or he does not like women, either way his behavior is negative.

This morning, he introduced his intern who is a “male” and lo and behold, he was super nice and complimentary. He also seems eager with (News Guy); does (Morning Host) only like men? Or is he just rude?

He speaks often of his daughter…would he appreciate someone like him speaking down to his daughter at some point in her life?

He also mentioned on air that he often gets “unfriended” on Facebook and admittedly said it may be because of his personality…well duh, time to get a mirror check (Morning Host)…you are not a nice person…you have a radio voice, but that’s about it…(Co-Host) has a radio voice, she’s nice, she’s funny, she’s got the whole package and I think you are just not happy that someone who shares your podium is better than you. True? You should ask yourself that question.

This letter is not intended to be mean, it is just wrong what (Morning Host) does every day. He needs a mirror check right away or you will lose your listeners.

Thank you,

Some General Observations (aka Assumptions) About the Letter

It’s written by a woman.

The writer is educated, and she’s intelligent. Clearly she misinterprets (more on that later) your on-air teasing, but she expresses herself clearly and articulately.

She’s not a habitual crank letter writer. This is evident from the tone of the letter, the relevance of her examples…and from the fact that she is aware enough to break up her letter into short paragraphs.

Why is “short paragraphs” relevant to my analysis of the letter writer? People who write complaint letters as part of their daily life do so out of a blind anger or hurt that renders them oblivious to the recipient’s experience. It doesn’t occur to them to stick to 2- and 3-line paragraphs, to maximize the ease with which the recipient can read the letter.

She’s writing not because she wants your radio show or your station to be better. She really dislikes you. That’s a good thing. It’s easier to convert someone who cares into a fan than someone who couldn’t care less.

What This Letter May Tell Us About Your Radio Program

We can safely deduce from this letter that:

• The writer doesn’t like you.

• The writer doesn’t like your show.

Additionally, one of the following deductions probably is accurate.

1.  Her reaction to your morning show isn’t representative of your target audience.

She may be outside your target demo. If she’s 85 (or 15) years old and your target is 35-to-49 year old females, why worry?

She may be hypersensitive to our culture’s male-female dynamic.

2.  Your show isn’t very good…yet. You said it’s a new show. Maybe it hasn’t yet found its rhythm.

3.  Your show sucks. Period.

4.  Because your partner is new to the on-air side of the biz, perhaps she hasn’t yet learned to react appropriately when you tease her.

Does she just sit there and take it, saying nothing?

Does she get flustered, not knowing what to say?

Does her reaction sound angry?

Or does she react in a way that acknowledges the “fun-sarcastic” relationship while at the same time moving the show forward?

5.  You and your partner haven’t yet clicked as a team.

In radio, the successful team shows “work” from the very beginning. Either that magical “I know exactly what she’s about to say” connection is there…or it isn’t.

Still, you said your partner is a beginner, while you’re an experienced pro. Perhaps she has a little catching up to do before you guys fall into a natural rhythm that reflects your personalities and your relationship while entertaining your audience.

You said you’re both well aware of your on-air characters. Have you discussed the roles each of you is there to fill? Have you agreed upon what each of your characters is supposed to bring to the show?

(Note to the uninitiated: “Character” doesn’t mean “fake persona.” Your on-air character is the parts of your personality that you deliberately choose to share with your audience.)

You describe your friendship as “sarcastic.” Have the two of you had a conversation about how to be sarcastic with each other on-air without coming off as unpleasant people?

Have you structured your program in a manner that allows your sarcasm to be perceived by listeners as good natured, rather than mean spirited?

When you’re sarcastic with your partner in real life, she knows you’re being playful, not nasty. You guys have a long friendship to draw upon. But your listeners aren’t privy to that long relationship. All they know is what they hear on the radio. What is there in your presentation styles that lets listeners recognize you’re having fun with each other?

You Might Have Misunderstood My View on “Removing Negatives.”

Most radio program directors think if they can just eliminate all the purported “negatives” they hear about from listeners, they’ll improve their ratings.

“They talk too much” — PD reacts, “Don’t talk longer
than 7 seconds.”

“They’re too silly” — PD reacts, “Cut out any silliness.”

“They’re not funny” — PD reacts, “No comedy or humor.”

What you’ve heard me say is, “In radio, you don’t win by removing negatives. You win by giving people a reason to listen.”

You know the program director who jumps on the hotline and screams at the jock because he just heard 2 seconds of dead air? Yes, we should avoid unnecessary dead air. No, making sure there’s never any dead air on your station will not increase your ratings.

But replacing a boring radio host with one who is entertaining, provocative, or otherwise engaging may increase your ratings…even if that air personality has exactly the same amount and frequency of dead air as the previous guy.

That doesn’t mean negatives, therefore, are good. It simply means that the more compelling the program, the less important “talking up the vocal” becomes.

An Example of a General Manager Who Thought “Removing Negatives” Was the Key

This might be the most memorable line I ever heard during my on-air radio career. It requires a little bit of a back story.

I was a jock in San Francisco.

I had some sort of temporary foot problem; I have no memory of exactly what the problem was.

I decided to consult a podiatrist.

To find a podiatrist, I grabbed the Yellow Pages (remember them?) and turned to the “Physicians” section, where all the medical specialities were listed in alphabetical order.

From anesthesiologists to urologists, they were all there.

Except for podiatrists.

I double-checked and triple-checked. The “Physicians” section of the Yellow Pages did not include “podiatrists.”

So I turned to the “P” section of the phone book, and there it was, all by itself: “Podiatrists.”

Because the best source of fresh material for my radio show was my daily life, the next day I shared that experience with my listeners.

“How dare the phone company discriminate against podiatrists?? It’s an outrage….”

Finally a listener called in to explain that a podiatrist isn’t an MD (Doctor of Medicine); a podiatrist is a DPM (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine). Hence, podiatrists aren’t listed among MDs.

Oh. Huh. I didn’t know that. Thanks for explaining it.

The next day I was summoned to the General Manager’s office. He was livid.

Apparently he had heard from a woman who was engaged to guy who was studying podiatry, and she was deeply offended.

And the GM of this radio station in a Top 5 market got right in my face, nose to nose, and vigorously wagged a finger as he declared, “You’ll never be successful in radio if you go around offending podiatrists!”

I can’t make this stuff up, folks.

The Value of Different Points of View

Yes, each team member should bring to the show a different point of view. That point of view, that perspective, comes from each player’s own background.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they disagree on any particular issue. But their different backgrounds and life experiences cause them to see things at least somewhat differently.

Your being sarcastic toward your partner and her not being sarcastic isn’t an example of different points of view. It’s an example of different styles.

The Sure-Fire Way for Any Radio Personality to Drive Himself/Herself Crazy

“You can’t please everybody.”

“When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.”

You’ve heard the platitudes.

You can’t please everyone.

Despite your knowing that you’re a kind, sensitive, generous, fair-minded soul, some people — including some listeners — will dislike you.

Welcome to the world.

The more visible you become, the more you’ll hear from people who not only dislike you but also have so little to do in life that they spend inordinate amounts of time telling you and the rest of the world about your nasty, brutish, selfish, bullying ways.

Being attacked by strangers who know nothing about you comes with the territory. If you become publicly successful, it’s unavoidable.

Being attacked shouldn’t be your goal. But the greater the degree to which your personality plays a significant part of your success, the more you should expect to polarize your audience.

With a hugely successful radio show, 25% of of the target audience loves the star. 25% of the target audience hates the star. Fifty per cent enjoy the show but don’t feel as strongly about it as the people who either love it or hate it.

When you have a show that nobody loves and nobody hates, what do you have? A low-rated program.

The polarization of a radio audience shouldn’t be your goal. But it’s an unavoidable by-product of doing good radio.

Is That Angry Letter Really a Problem?

“I listen to (Radio Station) in the morning.”

“He’s constantly criticizing her every move and always making comments…”

“No matter what rude comment (Morning Host) throws at her she tries so hard to be professional about it.”

“He speaks often of his daughter.”

 Do you notice the common thread among her comments?

She regularly listens to your morning show.

So other than her thinking you’re a jerk, what’s the problem? She regularly listens to your morning show.

Should You Consider Changing Your Show Because of this One Letter?

Of course not.

Not even if you receive 10 or 100 such letters.

Here’s one of the things they’ll never teach you in radio school:

Truly successful air personalities stubbornly go by their instincts.

They listen to criticism. They welcome suggestions.

But ultimately it’s their gut instinct that delivers them to the promised land of radio stardom.

Right now, you’re following your instincts and you have only one complaining listener to suggest those instincts are wrong.

How Can You Turn This Personal Attack into a Positive?

Unfortunately, the letter was sent anonymously, so you can’t take the one action that’s virtually guaranteed to convert her from an angry critic into a fan:

Call her on the phone. Not as part of your show. Call her after your shift is over.

Thank her for taking the time to share her views with you.

Tell her you’re very sorry if the way you talk to your partner offends her, especially because you hold your partner in such high regard.

Explain that the two of you have known each other for many years, and that style of sarcastic teasing is the way each of you shows affection for the other.

You realize that people who aren’t aware of that strong bond of friendship might, understandably, misinterpret affectionate playfulness as mean spiritedness.

Invite her to come to the station one morning next week, to be your special behind-the-scenes guest. She can meet your partner, she can see how the show is put together, and you’re pretty sure you can score some Morning Show Java Jugs from the prize closet for her to take home with her.

Regardless of whether she accepts your invitation, your phone call will turn her around. There’s a good chance she’ll become one of your most loyal fans.

Note that I don’t recommend this response to vitriolic letters from crazed, hate filled, emotionally unstable individuals. When you get hate mail from a hater, the best way for you to respond is:

Not at all.

But You Can’t Call Her, Because She’s Anonymous.

Not knowing her identity, you can’t contact her to initiate a dialogue.

Still, you can communicate with her within the one arena you know she frequents: your show.

YOUR PARTNER: What’s the matter? You seem kind of down this morning.

YOU: Hmm? Oh, well…Our station manager received an angry letter from someone who thinks I resent you…and that maybe I resent women in general.


YOU: She thinks I’m very condescending toward you and that maybe I don’t want you to be on the show and I’m trying to make you feel uncomfortable.

YOUR PARTNER: But…It was your idea to have me as your partner on the Radio X Morning Show. I had never been on the air before, and you went to bat for me with the station management. I love doing this show with you!

YOU: (unsurely) I don’t know….

YOUR PARTNER: Can I see the letter? I’d like to see what she actually said.

YOU: Well, okay…

Your partner reads the letter aloud, reacting with ever increasing surprise.

She defends you.

She sings your praises.

She does not attack or try to embarrass the person who wrote the letter. But by golly, this person has got you so wrong…!

YOU: So…It doesn’t feel like I’m being mean to you? I mean, maybe it’s some sort of passive-aggressive behavior on my part, pretending to be joking when in fact I’m —

YOUR PARTNER: No! God knows you have many, many flaws… But passive-aggressiveness isn’t among them.

YOU: Well, in that case….(Funny insult goes here)


YOU: Too soon?

This Was One of My Secret Weapons as a Radio Personality.

Occasionally someone would call me up during my show and verbally attack me because I mispronounced a word or made a joke the caller didn’t find funny.

When the caller really was reacting way out of proportion to my supposed infraction, I’d put that person on the air and let them rant and vent and attack until they ran out of steam.

Then I’d say, “I’m really sorry you feel that way, but I appreciate your calling to let me know.”

What do you think would dominate the rest of my show (or, at least, the rest of that hour)?

Unasked, unbidden, the 25% of my audience who loved me would flood the phone lines, leaping to my defense and attacking my over-the-top critic.

One after another, callers would lambast that critic. “No sense of humor…” “Can’t take a joke…” “Sounds like she has emotional problems…”

And I?

I’d respond, “Well, wait; she’s entitled to her opinion. I mean, I was just making a joke, but if she really was offended by it…Well, she’s entitled to her opinion.”

And yet…

Somehow I always let those listeners who called in rant & rave against my critic as much as they wanted. It was only when they finished that I’d give my tolerant response and tepid defense of the original caller’s right to her opinion.

Funny how it always worked out that way.



selling radio spec spotsA Loyal Reader Writes:

“A new spec initiative with our radio group prompted me to go back and re-read your Radio Advertising Letter where you address the topic of ‘cold calling with spec spots.’ In general, I would agree that it’s a bad idea, but I was wondering if your view would change, based on the manner in which we are using them. 

“You talked about how an account representative should not approach a prospect with commercials that have been made for them without first ascertaining their business goals. But what if you’re getting that information from a current print ad?  

“For example, let’s say an account rep sees a newspaper ad for a potential client.  The rep then has a compelling spec spot produced, based on the information in said ad (not just holding the newspaper ad up to the mic) assuming the newspaper rep has already ascertained the advertiser’s business goals.  

“The radio rep then visits the prospect and says something like, ‘Mr. Business Owner, for the amount of money you spent on your newspaper ad, you could get X number of commercials on (radio station). Our production team came up with a great idea based on your newspaper ad. If you’ll give me 30 seconds I can play an example of what your commercial would sound like.’    

“What are your thoughts on cold calling with spec spots in this way?”

There really are two questions being asked.

1) Could this be an effective selling tool for the radio salesperson?

2) Is this a good way to approach creating a radio campaign?

Could This Be an Effective Selling Tool for the Radio Salesperson?

It certainly should be more effective than creating a spec spot based solely upon your assumptions about a business and regardless of whether they’re already advertising elsewhere.

That’s because you’d be targeting business owners who have proven a willingness to pay to advertise. You wouldn’t be futilely pitching to the “word of mouth is my best advertising” crowd.

Is This a Good Way to Approach Creating a Radio Campaign?


The weakness is evident in your assumption that “the newspaper rep has already ascertained the advertiser’s business goals.”

90% of advertising in every medium is wasted.

Just as with most radio commercials, most newspaper ads don’t reflect the advertiser’s business goals. They reflect either

    a) what the advertiser said he wanted to be in the ad (“family owned & operated”)


    b) the newspaper’s cookie cutter copywriter’s ineptitude at creating effective advertising. “Just leave it to us,” the account exec assured the business owner.

As a result, your spec spot probably will be influenced not by the advertiser’s business goals but, rather, by a poor ad.

If the advertisement’s desired consumer response is clear, your uninvited spec spot is more likely to succeed.

Summing Up

Selling via spec spots based on newspaper advertisements is likely to result in more ad sales than pitching sec spots based on only conjecture and guesswork.

But it still can’t compare with a well-structured campaign based upon a deep understanding of the client’s most vital business objectives.

Recommended Resource

Radio Advertising: A Crash Course for Salespeople


Obviously, these tips presume that at your radio station, the program director and the imaging director are not the same person.

1.  Don’t Write the Promos, Liners, etc.

Yeah, I know why you want to write them. It’s because:

A)  You’re a “hands on” program director.

That’s a poor excuse. If you have time to write station liners, you’re neglecting some of the other duties that only the PD should be doing.

B)  It’s easier for you to write them than to figure out what you want and then explain it to the person who should write them.

That’s true.

So you’ve chosen the easy way, not the best way.

If you can’t express your vision to your imaging director, either you don’t have a vision or you’re a poor communicator.

Either way, that’s a problem for your station.

C)  It’s fun.

Of course it is. You sit around and brainstorm what you think are witty liners.

Maybe they’re witty, maybe not.

Maybe they’re witty but they don’t communicate what the listener needs to hear.

Maybe they’re witty but they’re impossible to perform and produce in the time frame allocated to your imaging messages.

Why should you have all the fun?

2.  Give Them a Vision.

PROGRAM DIRECTOR:  “We need something for Wham-A-Rama.”

IMAGING DIRECTOR:  “What’s the feeling we’re trying to communicate?”

PD:  “Oh, you’ll come up with something.”

ID:  “What do we need to say?”

PD:  “Just make sure you get the sponsor names in there.”


PD:  “What the heck is this piece of garbage?? Why didn’t you include artist drops? And there should be listener reactions; it’s a contest, for crying out loud!”

A program manager who tells the imaging director, “I can’t really tell you what I want, but I’ll know it when I hear it” is either incompetent, lazy, or scared.

Incompetent = not able to crystalize a vision.

Lazy = not disciplined enough to sit down and figure out what the message should be.

Scared = afraid to try, for fear they won’t be able to come up with a helpful description for the producer.

“I’ll know it when I hear it” without any type of guidance or inspiration is the hallmark of an amateur.

3.  Give Them Time.

If you need a 30-second promo 30 minutes from now, any producer can give you just that: a 30-second promo.





Any of those will be a pleasant surprise.

4.  Figure Out What You Want the Promo to Accomplish, and Then Communicate That to Them.

“We want to build anticipation so that when we finally announce that tickets are available, everyone rushes to their computers or their telephones or the sponsor locations to get them.”

“The advertisers get 30 weekly promos as part of the package. We’re an edgy station, so make them edgy. Just be sure to mention the advertisers.”

“This goes between two songs. We want to make sure people know what station they’re listening to, and we want to do it in a way that reinforces our family image.”

5.  Don’t Copy Other Radio Stations.

Here’s why….

Wait, never mind. If I need to explain why you shouldn’t copy your station’s imaging from other stations, you won’t listen to me anyway.

6.  Don’t Underestimate the Intelligence or Awareness of Your Audience.

“Great promo, but our audience wouldn’t ‘get’ it.”

Unless you’re using insiders’ radio jargon, what makes you think the audience won’t understand?

Someone please remind me what intelligence test we had to pass before we were allowed to become disc jockeys (and then program directors).

You’re a Country station and you don’t think your listeners know who Kim Kardashian is? You’re engaging in Ostrich Programming.

You might consider taking your head out of the sand.

In truth, many radio programmers are less aware of the culture at large because part of The Radio Disease is we tend to live radio 24/7.

7.  Do Share with Them the Emotional Response You Want to Elicit.

The most important question is not, “What do we want to say?”

It’s “What do we want them to feel?” (Thanks, Chuck Blore.)

8.  Treat Them Special.

With networking and satellites and syndication, often the imaging guy is the only truly local person whose work consistently is heard on your radio station.

You want that person to be happy.

Don’t you?

9.  Give Them the Tools They Need.

We radio people have a long and proud history of “making do” with what we have.

But that’s part of the industry’s youthful stage, and radio now is a mature business.

“There’s lots of free software out there. Use some of that. And your Kaypro 64 is a real workhorse.”

In a mature, intensely competitive market, forcing your production people to create your station’s imaging with antiquated or amateur tools isn’t “making do”; it’s “making doo.”

Not all tools, by the way, revolve around work stations.

For example:

If your Imaging Director (or Production Director or Creative Services Director) spends more than 36 hours a week in the production studio, install a mini-refrigerator in that studio.

She can stock it with her own refreshments, but every time she opens it during yet another marathon production session, she’ll silently thank you.

10. Give Them Deadlines.

Give them deadlines not as a whip, but as a gauge.

Your Imaging Director is overworked. Every 10 minutes someone drops something new in his inbox.

Tell him when each project is due, so he can prioritize his workload.

It’s discouraging to stay up half the night, trying to perfect a piece, only to be told the next day, “Oh, it was just an idea I had. Let’s put that one on the shelf and maybe one day we’ll look at it again.”

Recommended Resource for Radio Program Directors

The Program Director’s Radio Imaging Survival Guide




The Southern California Toyota Dealers present “How to Fail to Advertise Effectively on the Radio in 15 Easy Steps.”

As you’ll hear, this radio commercial aired in Los Angles a few months ago.


1. Start with bad generic music that no listener, in any format, will respond to positively.

2. Mix the music and voice so that the message carried by the female announcer can be heard only if listeners stop whatever else they might be doing and focus all their energy on deciphering her words.

3. Begin your commercial copy with the name of the advertiser.

4. Begin your ad copy with a brain-dead cliché.

5. Have the announcer deliver a brochure-style description of one of the models that are on sale.

6.  Describe the advertised model with limp, lifeless language, e.g., “luxurious interior!”

7.  Try to sell cars by referring to the vehicle’s “innovative technology.”

8.  Give an example of the “innovative technology” that is so buried by the music that the audience can only guess at the actual words.

9.  Boast that “now you can get low financing and great lease offers.” One logically can infer that until now, Toyota offered high financing financing and mediocre lease terms.

10.  End the first half of the radio spot with the advertiser’s lame jingle liner.

11. Put two different 30-second spots together, call it a :60, and tell yourself you’re maximizing your ad dollar.

12. Have the second half of the commercial be about something entirely different from the first half.

13.  Tell us it’s the only official site for the Southern California Toyota dealers…without offering a benefit for patronizing only the “official” website.

14.  Wow consumers by telling them that at the only official Southern California Toyota Dealers website, “you can locate a dealer.” Whoa! Talk about innovative technology!

15.  Be blissfully ignorant of the fact that when the second 30 seconds of your radio advertisement carry a different message than the first 30 seconds, no one remembers the first of the two messages.
    Hint: They began by talking about Toyota’s Presidents’ Day Sales Event…remember?

Bonus Step: Assign all of your ad agency’s radio copyrighting jobs to a receptionist, bookkeeper or intern. After all, anyone can create an ineffective radio ad.

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