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6 Lessons for Radio from Game of Thrones


There’s a lot any radio brand can learn from watching TV, especially good TV.

Take Game of Thrones, for example. Almost 7 million viewers watched last Sunday night, topping the series’ previous viewing record.

There are at least 6 lessons for radio brands from Game of Thrones:

1. Build for Quality

Yes, talent is expensive. Yes, great talent is greatly expensive. But nothing great happens without great source material and talented custodians of that material.

At any point we have a choice: Make it good or make it cheap. The opportunities to do both at the same time are few and far between. That’s why each episode of GoT reportedly costs $6 million to produce.

But with quality comes audience attention and, quite often, slavish devotion. The name of the game is developing a loyal following, and radio – like TV – is competing with too many channels of distribution to count on history and habit to win the day.

You actually have to be great.

How great is your radio brand?

2. Let there be Mystery

J.J. Abrams memorably illustrated the story of “the mystery box” in his now classic 2007 TED talk, and he continues to place “mystery” at the core of many of his movie and TV projects (perhaps most notably with TV’s Lost).

In GoT all is not what it seems and puzzles are presented with the intention of resolution episodes – perhaps seasons – from now.

All that intrigue inspires conversation and an ever-deeper viewer engagement.

What mysteries lurk inside your radio brand? What have you given the audience to speculate and guess about? What drama have you created?

3. Stories Unfold over Time

Each episode of GoT is a chapter in a larger saga.

What about your radio brand? Is each day a new day? Does today’s show make tomorrow’s show must-listening in order for the listener to experience the “rest” of the story?

Is there a story that builds from one day to the next? Or is every day the same – the same bits, the same segments, day after day after day?

Isn’t that like watching the same episode of Game of Thrones over and over?

4. Give Fans an Experience from Another World

Game of Thrones creates a new world of humans and beasts and beastly humans.

Screenwriters will tell you that “creating a world” is one of the first steps in their process.

Giving fans an experience “from another world” means making audio magic that takes them out of their own lives for the length of a morning drive. What is the “world” of your morning show and how is it more than a slice of the same life I lead myself.

Sometimes, I think, we get stuck in the rut of “relevance” when we should aspire instead to creating an “experience.”

Making listeners laugh is much easier than creating a “funny world.” Yet the benefits of the latter are much longer-lasting.

5. Not “Roles,” but “Characters”

Game of Thrones is infamous for a deep bench of colorful characters.

In radio we tend to obsess on the “roles” of each player on a morning show, for example. But people are not widgets – they are people. They are characters first, and the roles are defined by the characters, not vice versa (and if they’re not “characters” why are they on your air?).

As USA Network says, “Characters Welcome.” They don’t say “Roles Welcome.”

And by the way, not all “characters” are likable. Many of our biggest heroes in TV and film are fundamentally unlikable. Tony Soprano, Gordon Gekko, Frank Underwood, Walter White. And a guy named Howard Stern.

Are you casting “roles” or “characters” on your radio brand?

6. Surprise Me

Barely a week goes by without some buzz-worthy surprise from Game of Thrones, whether it’s the sudden, violent assassination of some of the series’ best-loved characters or something very creepy happening to a helpless, tiny baby.

In every case, these surprises catapult the show’s story lines along an exciting and unpredictable new trajectory, one that glues us to our seats.

That’s the beauty of “surprise.”

Yet “can you believe it?” moments are all too uncommon on the radio.

What will your morning show do that surprises me tomorrow?

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