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Radio’s Crisis of Personality

One of radio’s greatest advantages relative to competing media are its personalities – or at least that could be an advantage.

But a “personality” isn’t simply a voice on the air. For a personality to matter he or she must be a genuine talent, someone with “star power” who magnetizes an audience because he or she is just that good. Anything less is just a voice.

So what personalities do consumers think of when they think of radio?

I thought I’d find out. I did a flash study with 1,000 consumers in the U.S. aged 18-54 and I asked this question:

What are the names of the THREE most famous DJ’s, hosts, or shows you can think of from radio, online radio, satellite radio, or podcasting?

Obviously this question favors personalities who are more nationally known, better established, famous for multiple media, etc. But what’s wrong with that? If radio has stars shouldn’t at least some of those be nationally known, famous for multiple media, and established in their careers?

If, as I often argue, “star talent” is one of the key differentiators and attractions for radio content, who are those stars in the minds of consumers?

The answer is in the word cloud below – the larger words were mentioned most frequently (although you should keep in mind that the #1 response is not shown here: “I don’t know”):


(Double-click to enlarge the image)

As you can see (and unsurprisingly), Howard Stern is, by far, #1.

Casey Kasem and Ryan Seacrest are roughly tied at #2.

Wolfman Jack, Rush Limbaugh, and Bob & Tom are roughly tied at #4

And Dick Clark and Elvis Duran come in next at #7.

So for a survey among all persons 18-54, the most famous DJ’s, hosts, or shows in the audio space include one talent teetering on age 40, another who is 50, four who are 60 or older, and three who are dead.

Does that sound healthy for radio’s long-term prospects to you?

Suppose I ask the same question about the movies: There, for every Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman there’s a Jennifer Lawrence or a Ryan Gosling.

The funnel fills from the top or – demographically speaking – from the bottom. But the funnel doesn’t fill by itself. Somebody has to do the hard work of finding, nurturing, exposing, and promoting talent.

Allow me to paraphrase the great Charlton Heston in the classic sci-fi motion picture Soylent Green:

“Radio is people.”

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