Over the years, I’ve worked with lots of morning radio shows. All over the world.
(To my surprise, working with a non-English speaking morning show produces the same ratings-elevating results as with an English speaking show. It requires a lot more work on my part, because — with perhaps a couple of exceptions — I don’t have the luxury of illustrating the principles I teach with audio examples. But, happily, the principles themselves translate quite easily.)
Sometimes I find myself working with a show that has suffered through a “formula” taught to them by some consultant — someone who, invariably, never has been a morning host (or, often, has never been an air personality at all).
For a show that has been a victim of “consultant abuse,” my first task is to assure them that I am not peddling a by-the-numbers formula and that I do not believe there is “only one way” to produce a successful radio show.
Formula vs. Structure
There’s a world of difference between formula and structure.
“Structure” refers to an understanding of how things work, so that you can create, recreate or fix something.
The WORLD BOOK DICTIONARY, on the other hand, defines formula as “a rule or method for doing something, especially when followed slavishly, unintelligently, or mechanically.”
What’s Wrong With Formulas?
The more talented the jock, the less effective the formula.
If you’re a beginner, a by-the-numbers formula might help you produce a better program than you would otherwise.
A toddler who has absolutely no concept of “drawing” can paint by numbers and end up with something that recognizably is a representation of a flower, a house, a fire engine.
It won’t be a very good picture. No one who views it will become inspired or moved emotionally. But if the sole goal is produce something that resembles a flower, a house, or a fire engine then this method works.
It also might delight the toddler, who produced something without having any idea what he was doing. But it won’t enable the toddler to create a drawing by himself.
The novice jock who follows a formula might sound better than she would as a raw beginner. But it won’t help her become better. In fact, it will impede her attempts to improve her craft — because “by the numbers” doesn’t involve craft.
The intermediate radio talent — someone who is beyond beginner stage but hasn’t yet established a distinctive style that resonates with the target audience — will be hampered.
It’s like attaching training wheels to the bike of someone who already knows how to ride. No, they won’t fall over. Neither will they be able ride fast or maneuver easily.
The radio personality — someone who has achieved and maintained high ratings in a competitive market over time and who outperforms his station overall (thereby knowing that his success isn’t entirely due to the station’s programming) — already has acquired a certain understanding of structure.
He might not devote much conscious thought to “structure.” But if his show is a long-term success, it’s there.
When I coach or help develop morning radio shows, I teach people principles of morning show communication combined with a structural understanding of how to apply those principles in their station, in their market, for their target audience — and with an understanding of their own relative strengths and weaknesses.
Following cookie cutter formulas? Bad.
Understanding the structure of a successful radio program? Good.