03/16

How to Transform your Morning Show into Superstars

Morning Show superstars are something almost every broadcaster wants and only a precious few have.  So how do you get from here to there?  How do transform a show from “good” to “great”?

I can’t think of anyone better suited to answer this question than Tracy Johnson.

Tracy has a long history as a programmer, manager, talent coach and author of several books on developing radio talent.  His brand new book, Morning Radio Revisited: A Guide to Developing On-Air Superstars has just been published and it is a potent gem that every morning show, programmer, and manager should read and heed.

It was with great joy that I sat down with Tracy to discuss some of the themes of his new book.  This is must-see viewing for you radio talents out there:

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  • http://twitter.com/dmr_radio Andrew Curran

    We've been having really insightful conversations and planning sessions with stations and broadcast groups about how to deepen the connection with listeners. The interview with Tracy really resonated. Thanks Mark.

    Andrew Curran, drm

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Terrific! Thank you! And thanks to Tracy, too.

  • Bill McMahon

    Here's the problem with Tracy Johnson's advice. It assumes that remarkable radio personalities and shows can be manufactured. What you get with Tracy's approach is an ordinary, slightly better than average show that sounds manufactured because it is. That worked pretty well back in the day when radio had little or no competition for its listeners' attention, particularly in cars. Art and creativity cannot be manufactured. Each comes from the heart, the unconscious, somewhere deep inside the artist. It's not a product of the conscious mind. If a radio personality has to think about or define his or her “character”, unless he or she is creating an imaginary character, the radio personality has a big problem. He or she is not truly an artist. Creating something distinctive and original doesn't come from studying your audience. It comes from living your life, like your listeners do, and sharing with them the stuff that rings your emotional bell along the way. One of the most difficult things for an artist is giving him or herself permission just to be… be who they are because who they are is a little bit or a lot unusual. That's why listeners are drawn to the radio to listen to them each day. The most important thing you can do as an aspiring radio personality is get to know yourself. A good way to start this journey is to begin recording your thoughts and feelings as you live your life. Pay attention to what you value and believe. This is the stuff that makes a remarkable radio show. If you want to hear what listeners truly value in a radio personality and more about where the stuff they create comes from, listen to Mark's conversation with Guy Kawasaki right here on this blog. It's really good. This is not to say that there is not great value in Tracy's advice. It does provide some wonderful ideas for creating effective marketing for a remarkable radio show.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    For those who haven't watched it yet (and shame on you), what Guy talked about is the authenticity of a talent coming through the speakers, and that being a key ingredient to their enchantment.

    Thanks Bill!

  • WadeCollins

    Bill, hit it on the head. Tracy's model works for a certain demo and user, however if I'm looking for a morning talent or talk show host I want that person or team to be genuinely entertaining and real, not working from a “let see, my 35 year old target female would be interested in this..” , Bill-you should write a book!.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Anybody who thinks these ideas are mutually exclusive should ask the great radio talents if they are deaf to the interests of their audience.

  • Bill McMahon

    I've been studying successful artists of all kinds, including radio personalities, for over 25 years. I have yet to find one who studied the “market” or surveyed the hoped-for “target audience” before beginning to create. Not one conducted a focus group or “format opportunity” study. They began by creating stuff for an audience of one, themselves. Songs that spoke to them. Books they'd enjoy reading. Movies and TV shows they wanted to see. Radio shows they wanted to hear. JK Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, describes it this way: “I set out to write something I knew I would enjoy reading. I was 25 when I had the idea and I thought I would enjoy reading it at 25. I knew I would've enjoyed reading at 12.” The truth is, if it was so damn easy to predict what the “market” wants, every song would be a hit, every book would be a bestseller, every movie and TV show would be a blockbuster, and of course every radio show would be killing it in the PPM. You see the only audience an artist knows he can satisfy for sure is himself. And, it turns out, the stuff an artist creates that truly excites him is also the artist's most distinctive, appealing, and best work. The bad news is there are no guarantees that the artist's best work will attract an audience that is large enough or valuable enough to be commercially viable. The good news is it will attract a group of people that are like the artist, like the artist, and like his work well enough to want more so the artist will always have a “market” for what he creates even if it may not pay the bills.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    So Rush Limbaugh doesn't care what his audience thinks?

    I've seen Sean Hannity talk about the critical role PPM information plays in his show. Does he not care about what his audience thinks either?

    Some of the talents you're talking about are the same people I personally have done research for, Bill. So I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it.

  • http://billmcmahonblog.blogspot.com/2008/02/force-that-guides-successful-radio.html Bill McMahon

    We’re goin’ deep here, Mark. Without Rush Limbaugh, there would not be Sean Hannity. Rush is an artist, an original. Sean is a copy, an imitator. Rush does care about his audience. He frequently refers to his show as the “Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies.” He cares about informing them, inspiring them, and persuading them about his conservative values and beliefs. He cares about entertaining them. He doesn’t survey them to decide what to talk about. Rush’s process for picking his subjects is simple. Here’s how he describes it: “I have to be the most interesting I can be. And, for me to be the most interesting I can be, I’ve got to talk about those things that interest me.” As for research, I’m a fan. It’s great for measuring how people feel about stuff they know about and use. It’s not so good at figuring out how people will respond to stuff they haven’t used or things that have yet to be created. Think “New Coke”.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    “New Coke” is everyone’s favorite example of bad research. Nobody ever seems to ask why one needs to go back 30 years to find such a good one.

    Bill, your advice seems to be that to be a great talent you should be a great talent. That leaves out almost everyone in front of a mic.

    Tracy’s book (which is really good, by the way) is a manual of strategy and tactics to make talent more effective at what they do. It is not a substitute for God-given skill. It’s a coaching tool for those talents interested in developing their skills.

    As for research, mine is not about asking people how they feel about stuff that hasn’t been heard yet. It’s about how they feel about stuff that HAS been heard. And that’s called “listening,” which gets back to Tracy’s point.

    I would hate to think we’re having a discussion about whether or not its worth lt for a great talent to pay attention to the interests of their audience. That strikes me as extraordinarily regressive.

    Chalking up Hannity as an “imitator” suggests that every great talent must be unique to be truly great. In that world, there would be Carson, but no Leno or Letterman. There would be Madonna, but no Gaga. There would be Lopez, but no Beyonce. There would be Jerry Lewis, but no Jim Carrey. I don’t think that’s the world we live in.

  • http://twitter.com/fransorin Fran Sorin

    I couldn't agree with you Mark more. Having had a gardening radio talk show at the CBS affiliate, TheBigTalker1210, in Philadelphia for several years, I can only tell you that I observed one talent in particular (who has probably become the biggest right wing radio and TV personality today), get his feet wet in his first 'big' market back then. IT was make it or break it time for him. From my perspective, he crafted and still does (on Fox) everything that comes out of his mouth. Like Rush Limbaugh, he is a showman extraordinaire with a charismatic, almost evangelical personality and is an extremely astute business man as well….Do I fault him for it? Absolutely not…

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Thanks. Of course, Bill is right that God-given talent matters. But the line between hustle and talent is a fuzzy one!

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