6 Reasons Radio Listeners IGNORE Your Morning Show


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?

Six reasons:

1. 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.”

2. 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?

3. Because listeners are barely exposed to them

It’s not only about how long a show has been on the air but also about 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.

Why bother?

4. Because they’re DJ’s 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).

5. 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.

6. 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 twenty 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.

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  • pmsimon

    Yup. Especially numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5, stuff I’ve been screaming for over 25 years. It’s not that radio isn’t developing talent, it’s that the people charged with developing radio talent have no idea what talent sounds like. All they know is what they’ve been serving up for decades, and there’s a comfort zone in that. So unique, interesting talent will gravitate to other media, because why go where you’re not appreciated?

  • Thanks Perry!

  • Pingback: Vanilla Radio | Josh Holliday()

  • Josh Holliday

    Great article Mark! I’m sure a lot of programmers will read it and take the message to heart, while others will think “he must be talking about other shows”, oblivious to their own vanilla radio programming.

  • johnford

    Yup, What PMS Said

  • DougMcI

    You’re so right about this.

  • Thanks Josh. Great email address, by the way.

    Mark Ramsey

  • Thanks Doug!

    Mark Ramsey

  • Richard Dean MacLean

    Sooooo…. not so much #3 then?

  • Ben Maxwell

    Great post, Mark.

  • Thanks Ben!

  • I had done morning radio for 10 yrs. We broke all the rules, talked too long, had fresh comedy every day – and were wildly popular with our audience (even with guys, though we were told it was a totally female market) Then the PD (who was also my partner and the bigger and better rule-breaker, until… ) he got his head turned by a consultant. The result: I was told to “do what I had always done – just do it in :20 or less and get in 11 songs/hour – oh and point everything at a woman named Becky.” Within 4 months the show was no more. Now I’m completely out of radio – seems no one wants what I have to offer – a comedy writer, character actor, and well, a personality. So reason 5 suddenly precipitated reasons 2,3,4, and 6.

  • Lu Valentino

    …..ooooooh but #5….Good gawd I love you.

  • Daniel Amsler

    Here’s one comment regarding #3, I’ve listened to local radio (Toronto, Canada) for decades and what they always do to “introduce the new on air staff” is get them a slot on an existing show, hoping to use the current hosts “chumminess” with the new folks as a reason to get them to try the new product at the other time slot.

    I know why it’s done, but part of me screams: if I’m listening at time “X” why are you assuming that I’ll ever be a listener at time “Y” to try the new product?

  • That’s a good point, Daniel.

    On one hand, of course, you can’t begrudge them trying to introduce new talent across dayparts to existing listeners. This is common practice across all media, of course.
    But I understand it presumes something that for you may not apply.

    But consider this: What if you really liked the guy? Maybe you would actually change your habits 🙂

  • Daniel Amsler

    This is certainly true but it’s often painfully clear that the established host is doing it only because they have to (or worse yet liked the staffer that was dismissed) so it’s often the audio equivalent of “watching a car crash in slow motion”

    I’m sure its tough on everyone in the studio, never mind the listeners.

  • Anita, this is almost a Zen question and it deserves almost a Zen answer 🙂
    You’re asking a question that on-air careers and off-air consulting practices are based on. I wouldn’t presume to give you an answer that fits here and satisfies your question. What I can tell you as a student of amazing shows and amazing talent is that every single one is immensely curious and every single one works very hard. They don’t settle for solutions from other shows in other markets, and they don’t do “War of the Roses”.

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