How To Corral Your Characters
April 6, 2016
One of my many favorite things to do is to coach ensemble entertainment shows. I don't use the term morning show because these days some stations have expanded their thought process and you can hear the same personality approach in other dayparts.
These days the various syndication companies offer entertainment shows as "content only," so stations can air them at any time of the day with their playlist. For example, Ryan Seacrest, John Tesh, and Big Boy's Neighborhood are offered this way.
Where was I? Oh yeah working with ensemble entertainment shows. It takes a coordinated effort by everyone on the show to make things sound natural and in sync. There is a lot of work that goes into the process of creating a cast of characters with verbal commitments to stay in their lane.
The key to any of these ensemble situations is the group leader who is in charge of keeping the team on track. That one person who has to be objective and has the final word for what goes out over the airwaves.
The best advice I ever heard for coaching a morning show/ensemble entertainment show did not come from radio. It came basketball's Zen Master and President of the New York Knicks, Phil Jackson:
"The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team."
Jackson's philosophy with the Triangle offense is what every radio entertainment ensemble should use as a guide.
Jackson said, "What attracted me to it was the way it empowers players and offers each a vital role to play as well as a high level of creativity within a clear well-defined structure. For it to work, all five players must be fully engaged every second or the system will fail."
The leader of a current syndicated entertainment radio show asked for a critique of his ensemble radio show. My e-mailed review lead to phone conversation between the two of us.
Coach: The recorded opening of your show is topical, concise and funny. Based on the things I heard, I am assuming you update to stay fresh with your daily audience.
Jock: We update as often as possible
Coach: I was glad to hear you promote what was coming up within the next 20 minutes and not a rundown of the entire four-hour show. This is the smart approach. It was also nice to hear a group of individuals emphasize how great the music is on your show.
It really is all about the music and the way you accessorize it with the various ways you try and entertain your audience. I realize you do a live show and offer it as content only for those affiliates who want to edit in the music, which does the best with their audience. Because of this, you cannot front or back-sell.
Jock: I have never sent you the content-only version we send to those stations that request it. I took to heart what you told me about how important it is to let the audience know what we are playing. On our live broadcasts we do back-sell artist and title, but I position it so my producer can edit it out for the content-only stations.
Coach: Thanks for letting me know that. The freestyle rap thing was a great idea, but I was a bit confused with your approach. First of all, your new cast member is energetic, quick on her feet, and naturally funny. With that said, what was the thought process of having her and D#### both do a freestyle rap during each talk break of the hour? You did an excellent job concisely resetting the stage each time, but the execution was off.
She was not as good at freestyling and would have been more effective just commenting on D####'s witty stuff. A leader has to distribute and highlight the strengths of individual cast members. That leader is you, my friend.
You are so good with phone calls; why wasn't this audience participation, with your cast giving the word and the situation? All I could think of was that you either had technical difficulties or you were busy recording and editing something else off-air at the same time. The listener should always be the focus.
Jock: The truth of the matter is we didn't ever consider doing it that way. The concept is there for fun, but if I do it again I will get the audience involved. And if I had to do it over, I would have let the two alternate their freestyle at breaks instead of having them both do one. It would have shortened things and made it tighter.
Coach: The whole thing is funny; you turned right around and redeemed yourself during the same show with the "I Love You" bit. It involved the audience and was funny to listen to. I loved the concept, in order for the caller to win concert tickets, H#### had to get one of her randomly selected friends from her cell directory to say "I Love You" back to her on the air during a brief casual call. That was hilarious and you plugged in the other way to win on your Facebook page. Your constant integration of social media is outstanding. Now this sort of thing plays to your team's strength.
Jock: Thanks, it worked so well, we plan on doing this game again. The listeners seemed to get a kick out of it and we had a lot of fun with it. I still cannot believe he did not say back to her, "I love you, too" at the end of the conversation ... how funny was that?
Coach: With the bit, you found a way to incorporate your crew and still make the listener the star. That was wonderful. By the way, I noticed your new person occasionally sounds like she is shouting into the mic; have her levels checked. I thought your show sounded great before your new arrival; I think she takes the show to an even higher level. As you prep and plan shows, always keep in mind the listener is your extra cast member ... involve them as often as possible.
Jock: I know you will find this hard to believe but with the exception of one mic in the room, the rest do not have processing. So with the way she works the mic sometimes, it sounds horrible. I have talked to the engineers three times and they keep telling me it is in the works. It has been several weeks now.
Coach: That is not good; this should go to the top of the priority list to fix. You guys do such great content, the last thing you need is for the show not to sound great. You don't need affiliates to notice; most PDs would make you think they have an ear for technical, but unless it is blatant, the average OM or PD can't tell. But shouting into the mic makes it obvious something is wrong. I suggest you go to a higher authority and have them get with the engineers to do it ASAP!
Jock: Thanks man, I needed this. I am going to go relax and have some ice cream. Talk to you next week! I will let my new member know how much you like what she is doing.
Ensemble Entertainment Suggestions:
- Let the listeners in on the personal lives of the crew
- Reflect the lifestyle of the target audience
- Conduct interviews with timely and timeless guests
- Learn to present content without fluffy or inside humor.
- Talk to the audience and not at them
- Stay in perspective character lanes
- If you are a music station, talk about the music
- Always let the listener know the artist and title of songs
- Have fun and never take yourself too seriously
- Over-prep and observe life 24 hour a day
It takes a lot of practice on and off the air to execute successfully with a team of individuals. If your cast can work hard and lay aside egos, you could have a profitable outcome.