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How to create a hit

I’m not talking about music here. I’m talking about non-music programming, or – as some folks refer to it in lifeless, lethargy-inducing tones – “spoken word radio.”

Besides play-by-play and all news, commercial broadcasters generally know one “spoken word” formula, the Talk one. Tweaked towards politics or sports or relationships or business or, occasionally, that most mysterious of all topics: so-called “Females.”

But all of these are variations on the same “talk radio” theme. So how do we explore other more novel themes that fit this category of non-music programming?

Two ways, I think.

1. Your anchor is a star

Stars get star money because they are magnets for attention. Now, just because a star hosts a show doesn’t mean that show will become a “hit,” but in a world where attention is the scarcest of resources, a “star” is worth his or her weight in gold.

Take two shows, one with a “star” and another with a non-star. Let’s say both are of equal quality – let’s even say the non-star show is better. Which show will generate the most attention and attract the most sampling? No question about it, the one with the name and face listeners already know.

Dennis Miller or Joe Blow? Whose show are you going to try first?

2. Your concept is high, clear, and unique

A “high concept” is a central idea that can be expressed in just a few words. It is, in effect, an “elevator pitch” for your show.

If I describe a show as “a talk show about politics,” the concept is high, to be sure, and clear – but I’ve just described any one of a hundred shows on the air right now. And why, exactly, should the audience get excited about THIS one? Because the host is “local”? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Compare that to a show concept which is unique. For example, “the first talk show focused on the paranormal.” Now you’ve got a concept.

In general, a compelling and unique concept doesn’t need a star (but may create one over time). And a star-driven show doesn’t necessarily need a compelling concept, but would be better off if it had one.

And, needless to say, both approaches will fail miserably unless the show is actually good and delivers on its promise.

But great shows fail every day in this country because listeners don’t have a relationship with the hosts (i.e., they’re not “stars”), listeners don’t get the uniqueness of the concept, or – worse – there’s nothing unique about the concept.

Food for thought as you build future programs in radio.

This post has been addressed to those of you in our industry who still do.

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