What's Your Story?
March 8, 2016
Every great radio show has a story to tell. A great show isn't just a collection of voices and a series of random breaks that appear on the same channel at roughly the same time each day. A great show stands for something far greater than what's unfolding in the moment. Great shows have a central theme - a storyline - that the audience is captivated by. It is the show's story that brings the audience back time after time.
Ever seen a movie that had a bunch of characters mindlessly interacting about meaningless events with no obvious correlation or conclusion? Ever read a book that was centered on a character that just led an ordinary life and nothing happened to them? The chances are you haven't. If you have I offer my sincere condolences; you won't get that time back! Great movies, books and TV shows always have a storyline running through them. It is the storyline that provides the structure for the characters and events to unfold within. Storylines give characters and events purpose. They helps us - the audience - understand what is important and why we should care.
Successful movies, TV shows and books always have a clear plot. It is the plot that gives meaning to the characters and their interactions. The plot gives permission for events to occur. The plot is the spine that holds everything together.
Consider these plots. I bet you can instantly recognize what movie or show they are referring to...
- Four women navigate sex and relationships in New York
- A boy wizard must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents
- A ruthless politician plots revenge on those who have thwarted him
- Married couples' lives intertwine when two people begin an affair
- FBI special agents probe cases involving phenomena that defy conventional explanations.
- Noble families in the seven kingdoms of Westeros vie for control of the Iron Throne
You got all of them, right?
The plot describes what the show is about. Everything that happens within the story happens within the context and confines of that storyline. Think back to the shows and movies above and you can easily appreciate that every scene or every episode was connected to the plot. It supported and added to the central theme. There was never an episode of Sex & the City where the cast had an in depth discussion about politics and world hunger. There was never an episode of the X Files in which Mulder & Scully were seconded to a different division to investigate corporate fraud. Nothing happens in these shows that would undermine the plot and violate the audience's expectations.
Think of the storyline as the framework. Everything that happens within a TV show, movie or book stands by the plot. It is the boundary that helps to keep things contained. Without this central theme there would be chaos. Every show, movie or book could be about everything and therefore would be about nothing. The plot is the core value of a story. It's what the whole thing is about. It explains why the story is different. It's also ultimately the reason why we remember the story!
Our minds are easily confused; we like context. We like to know how things fit together. We have to be able to make sense of what we're experiencing in order for us to be captivated by it. If we can't easily understand what is happening then our attention wanders, and as we all know once you've lost our attention you stand very little chance of getting it back! The plot helps us to make quick sense of what we're experiencing.
Great radio shows are no different than great movies, TV shows or books. They have a central theme. They stand for something that is far greater than each individual segment. Everything that happens on the show supports the central theme. Without a plot your listeners won't know what the show stands for, what to think about it or how to remember it.
Ask yourself... What is our show about? What do we stand for? What is our plot?
Is your show...
- Two single friends trying to make sense of the world and finding their own piece of happiness?
- Three fun loving friends talking about family life in (city) today?
- Married with microphones; a husband and wife welcome you into the happenings of their relationship?
- Two middle aged men rebel against the conformity and routine of everyday life?
- The show about sex and relationships?
Your show can be about anything!
The first task is to understand the show plots that already exist in your market; what are the other shows all about? We are all wired to notice things that are different. You need your show plot to be different from anything else available in the market. It is your plot that makes you stand out from the crowd.
Once you have worked out what you stand for you should ensure that every break and every show helps you to deliver on this promise. Use your plot to help filter the content that makes it onto your show; if it doesn't enhance the plot it shouldn't make it. Let the plot guide the choices you make in terms of contesting and guests. Everything that happens on the show should be in support of your plot.
One cautionary note... While your show can ultimately be about anything, you do need to make sure your plot has relevance to your target audience. It would be challenging to find success if your show was about "all things sex" but you're on a soft AC station targeting adults 35-54 with strong conservative values. Your target audience must relate to, be intrigued by, or interested in the story you are telling.
No business wins without a strong strategy. No movie or TV show excels without a clear storyline. Your radio show can't survive without a unique central theme. It is the story that provides the show's emotional appeal and if you have any desire to win you need to connect on a deep emotional level with your audience.
So, what is your show about?