You know the routine.
Your radio station introduces a new morning show and you sit back and wait for the magic to happen. And you wait…and you wait. Still, the audience doesn’t know them, doesn’t care about them, or knows them and still doesn’t care about them.
Why is this happening?
Because they’re just not that good
It’s true. Radio managers are not famous for spotting and nurturing talent.
And a corollary: Being good is hard.
There’s a reason why Howard Stern was fired all the way to the top. There’s a reason why it’s a safer bet to plug in Ryan Seacrest than to take a chance on somebody nobody knows (for better or worse). There’s a reason why the freshest young voice with the most unique point of view prefers to launch a YouTube channel rather than work their way up the long, hard slog of the radio ladder.
Radio fans know what they like and what they don’t like, and everything else is likely to fall in the vast, bland, vanilla middle. And while that vast, bland, vanilla middle can be tweaked with a bit of coaching or a new producer, there’s an old saying: “You can’t polish a turd.”
Because they’re not meaningfully different in a crowded field
Guy’s name and Gal’s name in show title? Check.
Impeccable technical execution? Check.
Show producer/board op? Check.
What about plugging in all the radio morning show best practices? Check.
The problem with formulas for what makes a great morning show is that every station has access to the same formulas. And when every radio station is playing the same morning show game for the same audience at the same time using versions of the same bits, the audience will default to the show they’ve listened to longest, even if it’s not necessarily the best, because it takes a lot of time and effort to find the “best” and no time or effort at all to succumb to habit.
So why should I change my listening behavior that has served me well for years to sample your show?
Because listeners are barely exposed to them
It’s not only about how long a show has been on the air but also about how much exposure that show has had while it has been on.
I have a saying: Listeners don’t listen to your morning show today; they listen to every episode of your morning show they have ever heard – today.
In other words, listeners bring their relationships with the talent to each listening occasion. This is what makes strong morning shows so powerful: They have a longstanding relationship with their fans. It’s also why you can fly into a market and listen to the dominant morning show and have no clue as to why it’s so successful.
So when you envelop your show in music, or the host opens the mic to announce a song or do a live read or announce another contest winner or check the weather or emote some breezy phrase that dissipates into the radio ether within seven seconds, then the audience has less to know and fewer opportunities to know it.
Because they’re DJs and not humans
While there’s something comforting about a human voice on the radio, not every human voice appears to be actually human. I’m not talking about voice-tracking here, I’m talking about content.
Humans are beings with three dimensions – strengths and weaknesses, flaws, and blemishes. All on display.
When those dimensions are not on display in a movie, we call the character “shallow.” And nobody (willingly) makes friends with shallow beings (although we’re happy to laugh at their expense in reality TV).
Because management doesn’t want a great morning show, they want a cheap morning show to be great
Too often, we’re not aiming for greatness; we’re aiming for great cheapness.
Well, that’s not how Jimmy Fallon got the Tonight Show gig and that’s not how great radio talent is born. We fool ourselves into thinking that the cheap voice can be the better voice if only the audience catches on. And then we are disappointed when they never do.
This is not to say you always get what you pay for, but you certainly never get what you don’t pay for.
I recently ran into an old radio friend – a former morning host – now long out of the business. He was approached by a station in his market to do a weekend gig – live. And for this he would be paid what he described as “the kind of money I made just out of school.”
Either he will say “no,” or the station will get from him what it’s paying for, which is exactly what it wants and much less than it pretends it wants.
Because “liking them” and “listening to them” are two different things
Your new morning host may be a great guy and a model citizen, but if I’ve got 20 minutes of drive-time, I intend to spend it with the most compelling, entertaining, or informative morning show I can find, not with an audio Boy Scout.