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Here’s What Radio Will Learn from This Week’s Republican Debates


So all the leading (and not so leading) Republican presidential contenders will be stretched across two stages at the end of this week in the first official debate of the election season.

So what can radio learn from this political extravaganza?

Well, consider what you will and won’t see.

You’ll see little of any depth or seriousness. That’s because time is so short.

You’ll see that there is no “winning” or “losing” of the debate on the power of argument or the weight of issues. Instead, the “winning” will come from memorable moments that result in “oohs” and “aahs” and cheers and jeers – moments that echo and reverberate through social media – moments that are run and re-run and re-run again on every TV news (and entertainment) program for the next 24-hour news cycle.

According to the New York Times, most campaigns estimate that their candidate will have a total time to answer questions and make rebuttals of ten minutes.

Ten minutes – total.

You’ll see that severe constraints of time and attention reinforce the advantage of the primal, the outrageous, the entertaining, and the clever. When it comes to thoughtful substance, brevity is not your friend. You’ll see that the candidate with the most “hits” wins over the candidates that are only consistently good but ultimately forgettable.

The large number of choices on that debate stage are similar to the large number of choices each of your fans faces every single day. And how do they make those choices? Unless they can lean on habit, they make them because a small number of memorable moments break the ties.

As a result, a great morning show isn’t the show that holds listeners longer, it’s the show that has the winning moments that compel listeners to come back later or tomorrow.

A great radio station isn’t simply the one with the fewest tune-outs, it’s the one with the turn-ons listeners want to experience again and again – the moments that remind you to come back and listen again for more moments just like them.

These moments – like the highlights of Saturday Night Live – are the ones shared like crazy online – the ones plucked from the show every week and re-aired on a wide variety of TV shows that share “what everyone’s talking about” from the weekend. Indeed, most people don’t see Saturday Night Live. Instead, they see the highlights of Saturday Night Live online and elsewhere. But those highlights are sufficient to bring enough viewers to the show that it continues to make money for NBC and continues to be a cult and prestige hit for the network, even in an age of universal distractions and funny content everywhere and all the time.

This week at the Republican debates you’ll see the “winners” are the candidates who create the most remarkable moments, the moments we all want to share and watch and watch again.

Moments are what win debates.

Moments are what make great TV shows.

Moments are what listeners remember.

Moments are what listeners are tuning you in for.

What are your moments?

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