Why Do Radio Personalities Exist?


It’s not about how little you talk, it’s about how much you say.

Granted, the ratings generally show that less talk is better on music-oriented stations.

Except, that is, when the talk is compelling and the person talking is someone listeners want to hear from. In other words, when the DJ is part of the brand rather than in the brand’s way, he or she is as much a part of what listeners look forward to as any song.

You become worth hearing when you have forged a relationship with listeners over time. Do you tell your friends to shut up while you’re listening to music? Or do you hear them out because they’re your friends and the things they are saying matter to you?

If your boss won’t let your audience get to know you (and you them), then maybe it’s time to find a new job with a broadcaster who wants to be more than a lowest common denominator version of Pandora.

Fundamentally, radio personalities and the folks who hire you need to recognize that your job is not to spin tunes. You are not an organic iPod, a playlist with a heart. No, no.

Here is why you exist:

  1. To be in the moment, “live” with us
  2. To tell us things we didn’t know, but are glad we do now
  3. To lift our mood
  4. To be a spokesperson for the culture that you share with us
  5. To tell stories that fascinate or move us
  6. To be a friend when we need one
  7. To be that mirror that our best friends are
  8. To anchor an experience we all share together
  9. To help make our lives better in tangible ways
  10. To make us laugh or cry or spend precious extra minutes in our driveway
  11. To inform, educate, and entertain us
  12. To be the part of our family that never lets us down
  13. To share your musical enthusiasm with us, if the brand is build on music enthusiasts
  14. To share your memories with us, if the brand is built on music with a history
  15. To reveal your soul to us and show us your humanity
  16. To know what we care about and care back

(What did I leave out?)

Note that I didn’t mention “local,” since “local” is where you are, not why it matters.

Nor did I mention service elements and time checks and telling the names of songs and all that other utilitarian stuff that is begging to be one-upped on the digital dashboard near you. All that stuff that crowds out the reasons why humans belong in front of a microphone in the first place, assuming they do.

If a new generation is to awaken to the magic of that voice in the air, it will be for these reasons.

Not because that voice talks for seven seconds or less.

* = required field
  • What I love about this is that it’s aspirational – instead of the typical check box to-do list many jocks are expected to do – every break / hour / shift.

    Reading this reminds me of the dignity the role of Radio Personality can possess.

    Our industry still likes to talk about “personalities” in press releases – but how many fully embrace it as a competitive advantage on the Radio?

    Too few for my ears.

    Great stuff, Mark!

  • Hey thanks Jeff! Great addition to the tone of the piece.

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  • Bryan O’Neal

    Great article Mark, That’s what we strive for! Thanks for posting.

  • Thank YOU!

    Mark Ramsey

  • Don Anthony

    To paraphrase: “Be interesting.” Qualities aside, if you aren’t interesting, it’s all for naught. Nice piece.

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  • Keith James Jr

    As always, I appreciate and get your point, Mark. However it occurs to me that the job of ‘radio personalities’ on a music oriented station was ALWAYS to ‘spin tunes’. If that is what they were allowed to do today (meaning, at the very least, ‘telling the names of songs and all that other utilitarian stuff’) they WOULD ‘be more than the lowest common denominator version of Pandora.’ Compared to the tack most music oriented stations are on today, to an ‘organic iPod, a playlist with a heart’ – I would say “YES,YES!”

    Break a leg with Hivio!

  • mike summers

    Long Live the Radio Personality….Be yourself and be True to your audience.

  • Josh Holliday

    Another spot-on article about the power of Personality Radio. In a world of MD-programmed music with commercials, versus user-programmed commercial free music, radio loses. Strong personalities tip the scale in radio’s favor.

  • Thanks Keith,

    I have to say I think I disagree.

    That may have been their original “job,” but they quickly distinguished themselves because they did and were more than that job. Casey Kasem was no DJ, after all.

    I would say personalities should never aspire to be an LCD version of Pandora because music fans repeatedly show that a station bent on being music-only can never shut up enough. This doesn’t leverage radio’s competitive advantage in a world full of streaming-only options.

    Thanks for the thinking and the best wishes!

  • fantastic article!! Its what I have been trying to do all along…

  • Mark, excellent piece. I especially like #12. I think I’ll forward this to some friends who need to read it.

  • Pagsvox

    The toughest thing any personality does (or should do) is to
    reveal their soul and show humanity…

    I’m not certain that can be taught. It’s either innate (or not.) This I do know for certain: It takes a secure individual to show their vulnerability.

    Thanks for an excellent article, Mark.

  • Keith Connors


  • LouPerry

    Well written and informative. But the assumption that there are radio personalities that exist today with these qualifications is a long shoot.
    On the music side talent isn’t doing what your 16 points state. As I travel the country I hear the same morning-drive program in every market. Male DJ saying a few witty things that he might be buying from a service, time and temp – Maybe a local TV weathercaster and the sidekick woman who laughs and giggles at anything.
    When I started in radio along with Marconi I was assistant to Rick Sklar at WABC. The station 24/7 was focus on metro New York while each talent had a highly identifiable personality.

    Moreover strong radio talent is the differentiator v. other music sources. Entertaining talent
    make the difference.

  • Chris

    Mark, Your insights into the role of the music radio host are spot on. I once worked for a Philadelphia station that proudly states , “More music, less talk!” Now, the edict is to get in your rap in under 15 seconds. OK. Glad I’m no longer working under a stopwatch. Keep up the inspiration.

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  • Bill M

    Good stuff but you write this with the premise that Pandora and the others are as ubiquitous and easily flipped on as a radio station is in the car. The masses aren’t using iTunes and Pandora in the car and these entities aren’t truly competing. Not yet anyway. There are too many steps and hoops to go through, not to mention subscriptions and data charges in the case of Pandora for the short attention span public to deal with. The one constant that remains in every automobile on the road is simple, FREE AM/FM radio that can be turned on instantly. But even with all of that said, all of the qualities on this list are important and helpful and we all need to use these points to exploit the conveniences of terrestrial radio. Good read.

  • Thanks for the note, Bill!

    My contention is that those advantages you speak of will diminish more rapidly than we might imagine. Then we’ll have to be famous for something other than habit and ease of use. And that’s why I wrote the piece!

  • Larry “The Stache” Barter

    I have been a radio personality since 1972. It has always been my objective to be the listeners best friend for the few minutes ( on average) that they are tuned into my program.

    Beginning in the 1980’s “Line Reading” was a popular way for program directors to limit us to say only what was on the liner card. Man! Did that get old fast! It drove me to get a “real job” for 10 years.

    Today, it is still somewhat difficult to get my true personality across due to time constraints or station formats.

    Oh, what I would give to be able to push a magic button and be back in the 70’s. 😉

    The Stache

  • flirtsy

    As a consumer who has zero exposure to the inner workings of radio, my preference is to actually have a station or two WITHOUT the predictable witty DJ interludes or lasers-scratchin-explosions between each tune. Sure, some stations might need those to keep the audience engaged, but a lot of more “mature” listeners just want to hear music and the occasional commercial/weather/traffic report.

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but couldn’t there be a place on the dial for a pandora-style format, i.e., just a lot of music and NO radio personality?

  • That exists by the truckload, I can tell you.

    And it’s completely preemtable by Pandora.

  • Randy LA Steel

    Every weekday I wake at 6AM regardless of when I get to sleep. Why? I listen to BBC Outside Source. It’s real and in realtime. Granted, they do not have the flexibility I allow on my stations, but it’s in the now and I like that. So many stations are in the can from a remote location.

  • Rick Casey

    Why Do Radio Personalities Exist? – In my opinion – Radio Personalities exist as entertainers to the general public because who else would bring the latest gossip, news, weather and traffic to everyone. I’ve seen automated radio stations and they are quite boring and hopeless. We are an important piece of the puzzle and without radio personalities radio stations would just not be the same. 🙂 …R.Casey @ Iheart Radio

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  • Tom Watson told me one time: Say interesting things about interesting people, that make non interesting people seem more interesting. I have been using that for 20 plus years. Thanks TOM.

  • Andy McNabb

    Question re separate Facebook pages for station personalities and major station events. Some would say that they each need their own identity, some would say that having the separate pages fractures the attention paid to the station itself. There are plenty of opinions on this. Any specific parameters and proof as to the solution? My guess is that if the event/personality is big/unique enough, go separate, but maintain the station branding throughout.

  • Dave

    “Flirtsy” is okay in my book. She already explained the value of someone to deliver the “occasional commercial…etc.”. That would be a personality. Or an announcer. Or an intern to open the mic. 16.37 million people this city’s “greater area”. Not all of them feel the same. They will have trouble telling you exactly what they mean, however. That’s displayed here.

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