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HOW TO INTRODUCE A NEW RADIO CHARACTER TO YOUR SHOW

A member of our Radio Pro Facebook group asked a question about how to create and introduce a new character for his radio show.

“I have a character I have been playing with adding to the on-air line up — sort of the flip side of my own personality. I have tested the character on a few friends and everyone loves the idea.

“Planning on recording a couple dozen bits before adding it to the on-air side of things. Just not sure how to introduce the new person to the audience. Advice?”

One of our group members responded, “The best character is you.”

While I agree that to sustain an entire and recurring radio show “the best character is you,” for a peripheral character I would change that to “the best character means something to you.”

That might clearly be a facet of your true personality.

Or it might be your personal reaction to a type of person very unlike you — even a type of person you dislike.

When presenting a character who is fundamentally different from you, the key is to play it as honestly (even if exaggeratedly) as possible.

Rather than “Here’s me, mocking this kind of character” it should be, “Here’s me, doing my best to present this character just as he would present himself in real life.”

I have strong negative opinions about people who con other people by claiming to have “psychic powers.” But my “psychic” persona is one of my more popular “characters.”

The voice is pretty much just my regular ol’ voice. Having a fair knowledge of the mechanics of how they con people I simply create a fun situation, put the character in it, and let him react to it as he naturally would.

I don’t really have strong feelings about “self-help gurus” (some are good, some are terrible) but usually I find them funny-to-ludicrous. I also have a strong background in psychology. So I find it easy to adapt that persona when that character can serve a scene.

I suspect that character doesn’t resonate with my audience as much as my “psychic,” simply because I have stronger feelings about the “psychic.” But it’s still entertaining, probably because I’m able to bring in my psychology background to help inform the bit.

Your Character

What is the character like? What will he be bringing to your show?

(Injection of outrageous P.O.V.? Unique perspective based upon his profession, geographic or family background, etc.?)

There’s no “right” way to introduce a character. But if you give us some information about your guy, perhaps we can suggest a few different approaches.

His response:

The character is “Edward” who is more or less the flip side of me. The stuff I would not say, Edward would be able to voice a little better.

I don’t hunt or fish — he could talk about those for example, but with a humorous caricature type voice and let Edward have the punchline while I play dumb.

Examples…

Edward giving a review of “What The Fox Say” and explaining that they actually make a bark or yip like a dog

Me asking if that means my neighbors might be housing one and calling it a chihuahua.

Edward explaining that the better question in our area is “What The Deer Say”

Me asking what that might be

Edward saying “damn a bumper!”

(We have a lot of deer/vehicle accidents in our rural area.)

For some reason trying to explain it doesn’t seem as funny as it actually plays out when joking around….

Well, going from “seems like a funny idea” to “here’s the fully realized funny piece” is where the work lies.

But the structure you’re suggesting has a lot of promise. It’s a way for you to bring in a broad topic in which much of your audience is interested but about which you know nothing.

Rather than faking a personal interest or pretending to know about the topic, you’re acknowledging and using that local topic to add relevant entertainment value to your radio show.

Being willing to give “Edward” the punchline is smart. Too many radio DJs think they themselves need to “get the laughs.” But it’s their show. If the audience laughs at their show, the host gets the credit.

You also have a good ear for material:

What The Deer Say: “Damn, a bumper” — that’s a solid joke that fits the character and the topic.

How To Introduce A New Character

You don’t need to make a big deal about the introduction of a new character to your radio show. And you don’t need to indicate it’s the introduction of a new “running” character or cast member. Instead, just do the bit.

Example

You might casually remark about “What Does The Fox Say?”:

“Actually, around here it might be more appropriate to ask what does the deer say.” Just drop it in there as an amusing little aside, and move on.

Then you take a phone call.

YOU:  Hi, (Radio X).

EDWARD: Yeah, this is Edward (Surname). I’m a (      ) here in (      ). I’m what you’d call an outdoorsman.

YOU:  Ah, yessir…?

EDWARD: I can tell you exactly “what the deer” say.

YOU:  What would that be?

EDWARD:  Damn, a bumper!

If the audience responds — or if in your gut you feel it worked — do two or three more similar calls. If the character clicks with the audience, then you can simply continue to feature him as a regular.

If it flops…Don’t worry. People don’t remember your failures.

Here’s the first on-air appearance of one of the best radio characters ever — Howard Hoffman’s “Mr. Stress” on Z-100/New York.

Note how the jock (Ross Brittain) simply takes a phone call from a listener. There’s no signaling to the audience, “Hey, here’s a new character!”

Inside Story

Ross was in charge of the Z Morning Zoo’s comedy. But Scott Shannon (his on-air partner and Z-100 program director) didn’t like the bit.

So Ross did what any self-respecting morning jock would do: He waited for the PD (Scott) to go on vacation, and then he played the bit. (You’ll hear Mr. Stress refer to Shannon’s absence from the show.)

By the time Scott returned, Mr. Stress was a hit.

Questions to Jump Start a New Character

What does he care about?

What is he passionate about?

What gets him angry?

What makes him deliriously happy?

Whom does he view as the world’s “villain”?

Who is his all-time hero?

What secret is he trying to hide? (Mr. Stress, for example, might be hiding the fact that deep down he’s insecure, and he tries to cover that up with his bluster.)

The Character’s Catch Phrase

Most attempts at manufacturing “catch phrases” fail. Usually you discover the catch phrase only after the character has been introduced.

The ones that “go viral” somehow represent the core of the character.

For example, “Answer me!” immediately became Mr. Stress’s catch phrase. But why? “Answer me!” isn’t funny…at least, not without the right context.

But this character is a guy who is so stressed out that he doesn’t have the patience to answer a question that he just asked. That’s why “Answer me!” caught on; it expressed his core character.

By the way, “What Does The Fox Say?” was:

1.  A hit record in 2013.

2.  YouTube’s fastest trending video for 2013. (As I write this, it has 321,742,665 views.)

3.  The creation of a couple of friends of ours, the Ylvis Brothers. If you haven’t already heard it, check out this wonderfully good radio bit of theirs from several years ago.

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  • Michael Cook January 6, 2014, 8:34 am

    I’m with Scott Shannon. I don’t see the humor or the value of Mr. Stress. It’s grating. Of course, if it was a hit, who cares what I think? That said, when creating a character, I think (Yes, we’ve already established that no one cares), it’s important to decide whether it will be a temporary thing, or a permanent addition to your arsenal. Of course, sometimes a temporary thing can become permanent, but each character should be analyzed in regards to the possibilities…and re-analyzed as time goes by. This is the sort of thing that was done in vaudeville and old time radio. Gracie Allen’s “illogical logic” is a good example. Originally, George Burns was the comic and Gracie was the “straight woman.” But after playing a few live dates, George analyzed where Gracie’s character could go if they flipped roles, and that led to a 40 year career for Gracie that ended only with her death. (And yes, the famous Gracie Allen was nothing like the REAL Gracie Allen.) And when Gracie passed, George analyzed his own straight man character and morphed into the “cigar smoking, womanizing senior citizen we all grew to love. But George was also cautious. One of his philosophies was, “If you do something outrageous once, it has to be more outrageous the next time, and the next time, and the next time, so be careful not to burn out the bit.” Be smart. Create, analyze, and go for it…then analyze again…and again. My 2 cents and a bargain at half the price.

  • Theycallmescot January 6, 2014, 8:34 am

    Fantastic article, especially the questions to jump start a new character. That is so crucial. If you want to learn more, read “The Comic Toolbox,” by John Vorhaus. It’s a must read for any radio jock even if it’s for better developing their own on-air personality.

  • Tom Darren January 6, 2014, 11:45 am

    Back in the stone age when I was at WDAE/Tampa I had a character named Johnny Walker. He was a drunk (would not be PC today) who would call me on irregular occasions and comment on….whatever. The best part was he could say stuff I wouldn’t dare say because he was just a silly drunk. The voice came off a bit like Foster Brooks.

    As I said this was the stone age, so carting these bits up was a process. I would write a script, go into the production room and call myself on the phone and record the character voice on a reel to reel machine, mouthing my lines so that I would have space for me on the finished product. I would then roll that back, hit play, roll another tape and speak my lines. That way I could interrupt “ him” or talk over him so the conversation sounded pretty normal.

    Do that enough times and pretty soon you’re like a very good ventriloquist who acts like he’s talking to a real person (and sometimes thinks he is!)

    It was a lot of work, but it sure was fun!

  • Ric Mitchell January 6, 2014, 4:12 pm

    Back in the 70s in Albany, NY, I had a traffic reporter guy who never actually did the traffic. Just stupid jokes and observations and mispronunciations of area towns. He was a hayseed but, with the help of a helicopter sound effect became very popular. We’d dress up the guy (goggles and leather flight jacket) who did the voice and have him play on our softball and basketball and the response to him was amazing. People still ask me about him to this day and how much they remember his “reports”. But, we fleshed him out…name (Fred Peabody), wife’s name, his kid’s names, where he was from…and he never called me Ric…always Mr. Mitchell, gotta respect the host…..I listen to old tapes now and I sometimes
    cringe but it ran for a good 5 years…….

  • Ed Kelly January 7, 2014, 10:30 pm

    On Characters
    When there is still a highly produced morning show that isn’t “shut up and play the tunes,” that uses characters in the market, the biggest mistake I hear, by far, is having those characters overstay their welcome. In the PPM era, it had better be an entertaining character with good jokes. If you use the “B.C.A.” formula like some stand-ups do, with three good “lines”, and then get OUT, you’re more likely to end ahead of the game, with more “promo worthy” audio, and a happier P.D. as well. B.C.A.? Open with your “B” grade joke, “middle” (v.) with, or give your real self, the “C” grade joke, (An opportunity for you to self deprecatingly have the character come back and humble you, the host, for your “C grade” attempt to one-up him) and “kick” with your “A” grade line. That’s if you script your character bits. In syndication, (ACN, now UCN,) obviously that’s what we have to do. If you find yourself getting to a second and/or third page, as far as writing the script goes, that should be a clue for you to try to find an “out.” There are obviously exceptions. Longer established shows and hosts can and do take more liberties. On news/talk stations, you can go longer because you don’t have songs, but in the “Hits and Bits” game, better to “hit it and quit it,’ and get to the tunes.
    Pat Fraley in L.A. offers excellent character development courses, online, and around the country, and you can never go wrong listening to Billy West, one of the best. Tech tip: An old school handset wired to plug into an XLR mic connection, brought through the board on a seperate fader, allows realistic “call and response” interactives in real time, and adds to the illusion by virtue of the differing e.q. Use an old school handset and not a cell. And, you don’t have to pot down when you’re on the phone either. Just talk behind the “pattern” of the mic. (Yeah, lean forward) Much higher quality with this set up. You can e.q. the character voice in Adobe to sound like a phone, but you don’t get the handset noise, or muffle noises handing off, or hanging up, dropping of a landline style phone etc. So if you haven’t been “Doug’d, or Bob’d” or syndicated, automated, or voice tracked out of a creative time slot by a ghetto’d game, make it your best and you can outshine the rest. Character driven, topical, preferably local laughs CAN win, if presented with polish.

    A NOTE ABOUT PARODY SONGS….

    “Staying too long” is the cardinal sin for parody songs as well. Bob Rivers, in my mind, is the master. However, the most common mistake made by Wierd Al “Wanna’-Be’s” (Not Bob) is trying to make a parody song the same length as the original and matching ALL the original lyrics Too long. Shorten the run up to the post, shorten the bed, lose a verse or three, Listen to what they do to the Who songs on CSI. Same approach. It can be done, but it takes discipline and time, and brevity remains the soul of wit. Also, as Bob always said at Boot Camp each year, the song should have some “tie-in” to the topic it is spoofing. Twisted Christmas tune, “Walkin’ Round in Women’s Underwear” is still a masterpiece! And Bob’s partner, Spike is one of the most talented character voice guys in the country. i tunes and karaoke beds for non musicians have made this an easier game, but Adobe Audition now has a Center Channel Extractor for stereo recordings that can erase many mono vocals as well.

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