Oops, Gotta Run
June 1, 2012
"Hey, uh, we gotta get going," your party guest says. "It's late, and we, um, gotta go, you know, pay the babysitter." He awkwardly looks at his watch as if to convey his sincerity. He really DOES have to go, because he's bored, but he's not going to tell YOU that. He'll just make up an excuse and back away towards the door.
Radio shows have the same problem, only that when people leave, they don't have to make up an excuse. They just go. With PPM measurement, that's even more obvious; A diary-keeper might not remember bailing on his or her favorite show, but the meters do.
I was thinking about that the other day while driving, idly punching the scan button from talk show to talk show. It came up again when I thought about how I listen to podcasts and when my thumb instinctively heads for the button to bail from a show. What keeps someone listening, and what sends them packing?
I can't speak for the entire audience, and people who analyze PPM data might be able to add to the list, but these things are what make me hit the button on a show:
1. Same old thing. Some shows repeat the same thing every day, and I suppose someone thinks it's like "playing the hits." But if I feel deja vu coming on, I'm gone. I don't have enough time to waste hearing an argument beaten into the ground. There IS a way around that: stop telling me what I already know about the subject and tell me something new. You CAN go back to the same topic over and over if, each time, a listener feels like you're adding to what he or she knows about it. That takes work, research, and diligence, but that's what you should be doing.
2. Boring interviews. Interviews are traps; Too many are pointless time-fillers. I'm always amazed that some shows even tease really boring interviews in promos. I heard one prominent show do a promo that trumpeted that the next edition would feature an interview with an editor from some obscure political journal. Really? You're promoting that? The sad part is that I hear some great interviews with subjects in whom I was initially not at all interested, but if I was a casual listener, I would have punched out long before the interview even started. But, in general, if you must do interviews, being selective is a smart idea. Unless it's a big name or a topic in which I'm interested, I won't stick around for interviews. Neither will a lot of your audience.
3. Untimely. If news is breaking and you're not talking about it, why would I listen to you? Stations that tape-delay shows are always playing with fire when stuff happens, and you don't want to set yourself in listeners' minds as the station that isn't reliable when things happen. Do you think I'll rely on the all-News station that didn't report the brush fire a half-mile from my house because it was Saturday and, obviously, nobody was manning the police and fire scanners in the newsroom? Do you think I'm going to rely on ANY station that's not paying attention to breaking news when I'm looking for it? That used to be an advantage of radio, able to jump on breaking stories both in news coverage and in taking reaction calls. I'm fearful that all the financial cutbacks have left radio unable or unwilling to do that anymore. (Oh, and that fire? We did find coverage -- on the Internet. Not on radio. Kinda puts the NAB push for FM chips in cellphones "for emergencies" in an interesting light, doesn't it?)
4. No entertainment value. Too serious? Too monotone? Too predictable? I'm not looking for a radio show to bore me or depress me. You can have the most valuable content, but deliver it poorly and it doesn't matter. Radio, believe it or not, is a show business medium. Put on a show.
The most prominent reason that people have for bailing on a show isn't on my list. I don't immediately bail for commercials... UNLESS the show's lost me. If I'm engaged and entertained and interested, I'm willing to sit through a few spots. It's when I'm already wavering about the show itself that the commercials offer a handy reminder to change the station. "Oh, yeah," they tell me. "You don't have to listen to this." And I'm gone.
I'm sure you can think of other things that will turn you off from a show. Make your own list. And then don't do any of that stuff. The idea is to keep people listening for as long as possible, right?
Keeping people listening with compelling topics is easier when you have someone feeding you all sorts of ideas, and that's the concept behind Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports -- you'll find it by clicking here; all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. Don't forget the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess. And this week, it's "10 Questions With..." Mark Elliott, who talks about his journey from high-profile radio personality to addiction to recovery, and how that resulted in the long-running "People Helping People" show on CFRB in Toronto.
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook with my personal accounts at @pmsimon and www.facebook.com/pmsimon, read the pop culture stuff I write and edit over at Nerdist.com, and watch the videos on the Nerdist Channel at YouTube.
I will be off duty this week, starting... well, like, right now (it's Friday as I write this). While I may be posting a few Talk Topics here and there, I won't be doing it on the regular schedule, and there may or may not be a Letter column next week. We'll see. So I'll be back either next week or the following week; We'll meet here then, okay?