July 23, 2013
This time we're going to look at a few afternoon drive-time "secrets" and the developing role for the programmer in crafting a "killer" drive-time show. We're going to assume that you may already have a syndicated morning show in place. If not, many of these secrets can apply to your live local morning show as well.
First, one of the secrets of a great afternoon show is still quick phone bits. These killer calls don't just happen. Sometimes they can be spontaneous, but most of the time, they're the result of preparation, effort and ingenuity. One of the best ways to encourage listeners is to always try to air well-executed calls from other listeners. Many of your regular listeners, especially, would love to participate and they need to know it's safe to call. And when they call, the phone must be answered promptly, hopefully by one of the key talents, but if not, certainly by the show producer.
This is one of the vital jobs of any good show producer. Even if they started off as "go-fors" they can wind up being the missing ingredient in making the show work. These regulars need encouragement. You want your passive listeners as well as your actives to call. So send them a message on your website that if they call, they might get to talk to one of the anchors and even end up on the air.
If you play two or three commercials in a row in the afternoon -- and lots of us do, particularly in the fourth quarter-hour -- it registers like being hit in the head with a hammer. The audience is more tuned in the afternoon. So if you do something they don't like, they will respond faster than if it was in another part of the day.
The above applies to the early nighttime audience too, but there are different characteristics that come into play at night. In the afternoon, we're talking about a great deal of mathematics. As mornings would carry information and middays would carry familiarity, then afternoons would carry image.
Afternoons are when a station can develop an image of being hip, through association with artists such as Ciara, Robin Thicke, Jay Z, French Montana and Chris Brown. After 3p, image music becomes very important. With the morning audience you can get away with something that is not hip, just uptempo, familiar and relevant. But when you get to afternoons the nature and needs of the audience change so that you have to help the drivers with up-to-the-minute traffic and build an image to sell those 18-49 demographics. By promoting hip groups and artists and being involved in the hip things happening in the market, the afternoon show becomes very important in establishing an image for the entire radio station.
What is hip? Hip is whatever is going on in the street that is important to the audience at that time. It's a combination of the trends and the language of street. You have to take what's happening in the streets and make that come through the speakers. If the afternoon personality is not tuned into the street of the city, then a huge mistake has been made. It's not so much what is said, it's the feel. It's the awareness. Bottom line is developing an image. The afternoon jock has a power of audience that the station can apply to make things happen.
A great source of potentially clever callers is still the request line. Answer and record all incoming calls, and if you've got the digital 360, that's even better because it's faster. Answer the request lines actively. If a listener, who represents your target demo, calls your request lines and asks for Alicia Keys, for example, don't simply say, "I'll try to get it on for you as soon as I can." Talk to them and keep asking questions until you get a response you can use. "Did you see Beyonce on the BET Awards Show?" "Why do you want to hear this particular song? What is the best thing about her?" If you can't get a paragraph, get a sentence. If you can't get a sentence, get a thought or a phrase or even just one word.
An edited version of this call, as played on the air, might go like this: "So baby girl from the south side, what do you think about Beyonce's latest video?" Caller: "Outrageous! Awesome!" (Hit the next element, stager, drop or even a commercial that can act as a punctuator.) It's also important to know that bits have to be punctuated to be most effective. Your jock can't come back after that caller and say anything. That's not only anti-climatic, it weakens the bit.
The listener is not a professional entertainer. It's the air talent or producer's job to make sure the caller says something worth airing. The most important element from talent who deliver great phones is control. Listeners must be managed, directed and guided.
The vast majority of folks who come into radio these days are usually people who are into the music, not high-powered personalities. The ability to be funny and do phone bits wasn't what lured them to this profession. The legendary jocks who inspired us were not clever comedians and actors with a battalion of writers and producers. So it's entirely logical that a format that always stresses music as its message should experience such growing pains.
The problem is the programmers and consultants. The talent's there. It's always been there. Programmers just don't know how to find and develop talent; just as many don't know how to find and hear the music or use their callout research to make better, informed decisions. Many of them grew up in the age of "less talk-more music," syndicated morning shows or heritage morning shows that were already in place. Callout research can't help you here. But before we attack the programmers and consultants, let's look at reality. Many programmers weren't trained to recognize and develop talent, especially if they came from the clubs, the streets, off the van or even straight from college radio.
Given the current state of affairs, the programmer's role as a show coach has become crucial. It's become even more crucial because the show producer is a role that has seldom been properly filled, even on many major market stations. So, without a trained, experienced producer - in whom the team can trust and place complete confidence, that is a role that needs to be shared with the program director. Today's program directors and consultants must play a large role in the development and evolution of the morning show. It's not going to get better on its own and it's just as important as getting the music right.
Another one of the basic goals of the afternoon show is to make people listen to the night show, if it's working properly. The afternoon-drive jock has the opportunity to build the night show and its host into a star because they usually deal with a pretty similar audience. If they listen to the afternoon show, they will probably listen to the night show and vice-versa.
Both the afternoon and the night jocks must be teamed in their effort to build one another. It's much like professional sports. In the NBA sometimes it's more important to pass off to the open man than to make a slam dunk with no possibility of follow through or rebounding in case the play goes bust.
Another basic function of the afternoon show is to create the proper image for the station and deliver recall audience for the night show. So afternoons and nights should be very involved in "recall audience efforts." A contest that requires a listener to tune back in to win the prize employs the recall method.
Can the recall method be used effectively in all dayparts? No, but it can be very effective if you match up the proper dayparts. Before you can ask someone to do something, you have to know if they're susceptible to doing it.
The other thing that isn't the programmer's fault is management's inability to understand how crucial the afternoon show is to winning, especially in the PPM world. Many are unwilling to financially support a top afternoon show. A few, who have been around for a while, think it's still a one-man band, or no more than a two-person band. They (the owners and managers) don't want to pay a producer, do perception studies, subscribe to any comedy services, or even run any syndicated short-form program aids unless they come with compensation.
Some of these guys are reluctant to wait for a show to develop once it's in place. Part of this is understandable. There are tremendous financial pressures, but such impatience can stifle the nurturing of many truly gifted performers. So pulling the plug prematurely on a developing show has cost us potential talent. Couple this with the fact that these shows often were not given enough time or support to jell and you have one of the best reasons for mediocre talent.
The spontaneity and intimacy of radio are important, but making people feel good really is the key. Music tastes may change, so it's important to know about the hot artists hitting your format along with the big TV shows and the latest movies. You should also "pepper your playlist" with the correct amount of retro. Music in the afternoon, even for Urban AC stations for the most part, should be uptempo and familiar.
Be sure to zero in on the topics your target audience finds entertaining. After you've researched the topics, edit yourself by eliminating repeated information and hone in on what you think is the most usable and important subject matter to the audience.
Keep your information easy to digest, with a single thought or topic. Then, after you've edited your material down, edit it again to get to the real meat of the subject. Use drops from TV shows and movies to help accentuate your point, if at all possible, be sure to put a local twist on a national story. Just remember to get to the point while informing and entertaining.
Word economy and mass appeal are important. Use the record ramp or intro to paint a picture with the fewest possible words and make certain each listener will see that same picture in their heads. Also, tying in the experiences that we have all had, such as a great kiss, a new ride, a great club or concert experience, or being cold after getting out of the pool, can really bring the listener to your side of the board. You have to assume that somebody listening to your afternoon show also has an Arbitron diary or meter. Being relatable means being remembered. Being remembered means getting written down in their diary, or being carried in an encoded signal in the PPM world.
You are a mirror on the radio and you reflect back what most people feel by being yourself. If you don't want the listeners to say you talk too much, say something that makes them laugh, think or chuckle and captures their attention.
Chemistry & Relatables
Chemistry and relatables can make or break a show. Some programmers think an afternoon show can be instantly created by pairing a male and a female or putting together a cast of characters - a throwback to the zoo concept. Then they'll sit back and watch, totally bummed by seeing their custom-built show fall apart. Why? Because the chemistry just isn't there. Chemistry, like attraction, can't be forced. It either exists or it doesn't. And no amount of threatening or cajoling can change this simple truth. Chemistry is wild and unpredictable.
The other problem is "relatables," which require writing abilities. The decline in writing skills as part of show prep coincides with that of the personality who had what I like to call "over the intros content" - the ability to rap for 17-20 seconds over the song intro. Relatables are often prone to abuse. Nothing is more painful that hearing the afternoon jock read the same story from the daily paper or USA Today that the morning jock had already used twice. Just as you don't want music rotations that are time repetitive, you don't want jocks doing repeats either.
On the other hand, merely saying, "Chris Brown is next" won't cut it, nor will long-winded breaks that don't offer a compelling benefit or interesting content. Strategically, teasing to create real TSL is more important that it's ever been. Today's radio has the reach and the new media tools are in place. The coaching and management direction may be in shorter supply, but there's never been a better time for talent to take control of their careers, their brand and become more valuable to themselves and their stations.
The most likely candidates often refuse to be compatible, while the oddest pairings occasionally turn into successful, winning partnerships. But when it works, there's nothing better. When the chemistry is there, your audience feels it. And when they feel it, it's much easier for that show to develop as a habit for the audience. And when your "chemistried" afternoon show goes on vacation, you don't have to always substitute "an alien from another shift" or a part-timer. Give the audience what they want and deserve -- the best of your afternoon shows from the past three months.
Another secret to successful afternoon shows is treating listeners like "users." It starts with hosts who never get a caller's name, who make smart-ass, often embarrassing remarks and then hang up without ever saying goodbye or thanking them. Even if they're funny, nobody likes "rude boys" on the radio. Even if these "insult jocks" seem to work, there are a lot of people turned off by them.
It may work for a while with some Top 40s, but the females who make Urban formats work won't stand for much of it. Your afternoon team doesn't have to do that to score. Remember how you treat the person on the phones is how everyone listening feels treated by you. Ideally, listeners should be treated as teammates and stars. Otherwise your show and station may be perceived as arrogant, self-involved and uncaring.
You want the people in your afternoon show to sound like they care. Although caring talent is, and will remain, a crucial question, hopefully, there will still be at least a few of these funky, funny folks who will continue to make sure some fickle fingers find your frequency. Turn them into humans worth hearing. And when they score and the ratings come in, pay them. \
Management also needs a wake-up call. They need to be made to understand that they can't just take high ratings for granted. Just like they need to understand why there isn't mouse-flavored cat food and why Noah didn't swat those two mosquitoes.