Hey Radio: “The Shark is Not Working”


JAWS is a classic movie not because of its shark but because its shark is hardly in the movie.

Check out what the late producer Richard D. Zanuck told Rue Morgue about the shark that was, it seems, almost never working:

Steven [Spielberg] and I have often looked back and said, “You know, if we had all the tools that we have today, we wouldn’t have made as good a picture” because we would have overdone the shark, if we could have just digitally done whatever we wanted. The irony…is that the shark was in the script in the first scene. But it wasn’t working. So it inspired Steven and the writers and myself to come up with alternatives. You just see that girl being pulled back and forth in the water and then going down. You never see any sign of the shark because we didn’t have it, even though the script says it jumps out of the water and gets her. But [the shark] was on dry-dock.

The absence of the shark – but the fear that it could appear at any moment from the dark expanse of the deep – was what propelled a B-movie notion into JAWS.

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that scares you, intrigues you, and entices you. It’s what you can’t see or hear that sparks desire.

A tease. “Something worthwhile that you can’t see or hear yet – right after this.”

A story. Suspense builds from challenge, through struggle, to resolution – and from one day to the next.

An expectation yet to be satisfied. When a piece of news breaks, radio listeners ask “I wonder what Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern will say about this?”

Yet too much of radio has a “timeless” quality – there’s no past and no future, just an everlasting now. One great, familiar song after the next, punctuated with a minimum of production value and personality. No mystery, no suspense, no tease, no story, no expectation just beyond reach.

“Consistency” is what this used to be called. “Boring” is what it may best be called today, in an era when novelty and stimulation is as close as the nearest mobile device. Have you ever looked over someone’s shoulder as they’re flipping through their Facebook newsfeed? “Consistency” is not what they’re seeking, folks. A newsfeed is the channel-surf of the digital age.

Nothing about your audio brand should dwell in the “everlasting now.” There should always be something great just ahead, a surprise lurking around every corner, a suspenseful moment worth tuning in.

So keep that shark in dry-dock as often as possible.

And avoid the toxic and timeless “everlasting now.”

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  • Dave Newton

    You listening, radio?

  • Jeff Schmidt

    Avoid the “everlasting now” How incredibly un-zen, yet totally appropriate Mark!

    My PD at KFOG, Paul Marzalek used to say if listeners can tune away from your station for a week and not feel like they’ve missed anything you’re doing it wrong.

    I hear far too much radio that sounds exactly the same week in and week out – only the names on the standard weekly ticket giveaways change.

    We concoct great justifications for it too. “listeners only listen to 8 minutes at a stretch” or “most listeners aren’t really into music so… this is perfectly fine for them” etc…

    It’s why I turned on my Sirius again – I just wanted to grab a few minutes of that feeling you describe Mark, of not knowing what’s coming next – of being surprised.

    Some of my colleagues were offended by that.

    I’m offended they can’t hear there’s more possibility to radio than what’s presently on AM/FM.

  • Mark Ramsey

    Great comment, thanks Jeff!

    Mark Ramsey