Here’s a break I bet you can’t do. When there is a topic as large as the coronavirus leaning on shows, it’s more important now than ever to remember two things: how listeners use us (the average P1 comes in twice per week for no longer than fifteen minutes) so they hear relatively little of your show. And that listeners are drawn to us, in large part, for relevance so you must do lots of it to affirm that image. We must avoid breaks right now with topics that are evergreen hold no space in the listeners’ lives. Christine from Christine and Salt, 965, TIC-FM, Hartford, speaks fluent Italian. So, they called Italy to check on how things are with the coronoavirus with the entire country on lock down. This ends up being a fun break around the biggest topic of the day that listeners would lean into, because it’s different and highlights an attribute of a cast member.
High level performers can creatively bring two Hot Topics together for presentation. Enter Two Men and a Mom, WRAL-FM, Raleigh who recognized something must be done with girl scout cookie sales, given they’re hanging out at the entrance to every grocery store. Often, we default to the standard ideas we’ve done before. If fun and focused on one scout and her story, that can actually work. These guys always push themselves for some new angle. So, they brought together that topic along with listeners knowledge of the TV show Shark Tank. They invited one girl scout to come on and pitch her cookies (that’s the standard idea) by placing her in The Cookie Tank to do the same (fresh angle). There’s nothing revolutionary about this break, but it’s an interesting frame because it leads to a production value that starts things that repositions it as fresh, fun, and real – the show plot – and sets us apart in the market from all the same old ideas being done by everyone else.
It’s important to understand and own a brand of humor – and one that is reflective of the cast on the show. Where Gallagher smashes watermelons and Chris Rock focuses on black culture and Jerry Seinfeld is the great observationalist, what is your brand of humor and how do you reinforce it around your plot? Mark and NeanderPaul, KSLX, Phoenix bill themselves on-air as “smart guys, stupid show”. That’s their plot. The humor is heady, but dumb, communicating that they truly do operate on a different level. There was a local story about the Mesa library and their late fees for overdue books. Add in that weekend’s Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and they mashed the two for a silly phone in bit that had those laughing feeling like they were the only ones getting the joke. Make sure your humor is on-brand to what your show is about.
Back when I was on the air, our station consultant impressed upon me how important it was that I love the same TV shows as the audience. So he suggested that I gush about Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 each week. We know that that’s bullshit, right? Why can’t I just be me, I would always ask. The audience knows if you’re faking it so your job each show is to just be yourself, hoping the audience falls in love with that person! TJ from The TJ Show, AMP 103.3, Boston doesn’t much care for The Bachelor. He certainly has a working knowledge of it, but we never, ever, ever ask him to fake a love for a show (or anything) that isn’t really there. A few Sundays ago at church, while in conversation, he found out that his pastor is off-the-charts in love with the program. Seeing the opportunity in this, TJ put his pastor on to get all of that energy, which allowed TJ to stake his spot in the conversation while grounded in authenticity. You cannot question one’s honest take on a topic – you can just explore it and look for the opposite (i.e. his pastor’s love of the show) that allows you to stay true to who you are.
I can’t emphasize enough that if you have fun with a topic, especially one cut from today’s headlines, that it opens the break up to the person least interested in the topic you’re discussing. The Super Bowl was a quite universal topic two weeks ago. And there were lots of angles, as I am sure you approached it. Hawkeye from Hawkeye in the Morning, KSCS, Dallas has a most entertaining wife who is as comfortable being honest on the show as he and his partner, Connect K, are. Madeline knows little about football and knew not much more about the Super Bowl. So instead of the typical diet of sub-topics, one that they did was playing audio of Hawkeye talking with her about the game. Listeners are draw to honesty and inside honesty is the most natural sense of humor. Hear his effortless back and forth with her on this break and then see your relationship in their relationship. This hits many levels: character development, a reflection of a topic of the day, and it’s fun.
Your win is bigger when the audience knows you – and connects with your life and is moved to feel something. The audience for Karson and Kennedy, MIX 104.1, Boston knows that Karson’s wife, Lana, plays an on-going role in the show (she is quite funny and always puts him in check, which is endearing). So it was appropriate months ago that they also learned that Lana had been diagnosed with breast cancer. They have been involved along every step so they can root for both of them. On Lana’s last day of radiation, she came on the show so all could celebrate the moment. This could be serious and even one-dimensional without prep. But this show knows it can play with multiple emotions, especially given their deep history on the station and their significant relationship with their audience. It’s quite touching and celebratory – but…listen to the mischief Karson and the team introduce to also make it fun with some audio Lana had no idea would be played. This break is an A+ for all those reasons, and many more.
Who has A.D.D.? I hope all of our hands went up! We all want to be entertained and for it to happen quickly. The team at Two Men and a Mom, WRAL-FM, Raleigh spend extra time designing breaks with this in mind. It’s not necessarily about break length (although shorter is better than longer, the design of what you’re going to do is paramount). Listen to this relatable content and then hear how the break is designed so the listener never gets bored. There was a big local story where the coach of UNC basketball publicly dissed his team. Coming out of music, they got right to content with the audio clip of the coach everyone had heard. No fluff up front – content first! Then reflection conversation from the cast where you will hear the anchor pivot away from sports to the more relatable topic of disrespecting those you work with. Then, a call from a listener telling a very passionate story about a co-worker she thought was worthless. All of it fun. What helps this even further is that in their allotted time, the break had great pacing and never rested in one spot for too long because they prepped it that way.
How do you do the topic of sports on a female targeted radio show? By using the same technique we do with all other topics – by creating laughter and fun. No doubt the topic of the Dallas Cowboys can drive that market. But we know that chatter about X’s and O’s is a turnoff to even sports fans. With the news that the Cowboys would probably be hiring its new coach, Mike McCarthy, Hawkeye in the Morning, KSCS, Dallas, pulled from its archives this fun produced piece from the past. They took the stereotype of Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones as a meddler to an absurd level by putting together this bit with Jerry calling the new coach during the game, asking that Deon Sanders be put in to impress the sponsors at Pepsi. Want men, women, and all the lifestyles that exist in your target demo to lean in when you do content? Choose the biggest topics of the day and have fun with them, as is done here.
What you can do on your show is correlated to how deep the relationship is with your audience. Those shows that are well-defined and have been on-the-air longer can go places newer shows can’t and shouldn’t. Mojo in the Morning, Channel 955, Detroit has been part of listeners’ lives for twenty years. They have a huge number of fans who come each day for companionship and entertainment. That they have spent so much time defining themselves and creating laughter, the audience will allow them to do the unthinkable for most programs – do Trump-oriented content. Enter Mojo show alum Eric Harthen, who does an amazing Trump. He calls the show each week to mock the cast. There’s no desire to convince listeners this is real (this is part how you do something like this in 2020). The character is there to create relevancy and humor by making fun of those on the show the audience already knows and adores.
The best breaks on a show happen when a character has a story to tell, along with an emotion, and then we figure out what to do besides just telling the story that isn’t only opening the phones. Enter AJ and Sara, Sunny 98.1, San Diego, who presented just such as opportunity. Before the holidays, on one of our regular calls, we were talking about the Christmas cards many people send out when Sara admitted she has the best of intentions each year, but never has time to do one. She admitted an embarrassment that people keep sending them to her, along with a fear that at some point they will stop, angry because she never does. Great, relatable story, right? What happens when we capitalize on her embarrassment and fear? We asked her to call someone who keeps sending her their card to apologize and check if she’ll always be on the list. The call elevated the bit and made it more fun and memorable.