John Parikhal – Lessons from a Master – Part 2

 One of the most important principles I’ve learnt over the years is to surround yourself with smart people.

John Parikhal is very smart.

In Part 2 with Lessons from a Master with John Parikhal, we step through some cases studies beyond positioning. Greg and John talk about the creation of the MIX format andsome of the key ingredients that programmers should keep in mind for making great radio.

John Parikhal

Greg: Take us through some client case studies & the strategy used to build ratings success. What are some of your best outcomes?

John: There are so many. We helped stations in Australia, Germany, Canada, and the U.S. to increase ratings by… tightening playlists, keeping enough “spice” in the music so that it didn’t get boring, writing great slogans, and creating a personality for each station and its market. For example, we made the MIX format famous starting in Houston with “More music, more variety, a better mix”. We helped Antenne Bayern in Germany come up with the winning name for their morning show, even though we didn’t speak German, simply by collaborating and working together.

In 1992, we helped VH1 reinvent by combining smart management strategy (led by my current partner in Breakthrough Management, Philippe Denichaud) with Imaginative programming such as Pop-Up Videos and Behind the Music.

One of my favourite stories is recent. My brilliant advertising partner, Perry Goldberg, and I were asked to re-invent an Oldies franchise in Chicago, WLS-FM. Ratings were down, the station sounded stale and predictable. We freshened the music, getting rid of all the “downer” war songs from the Vietnam era because listeners said that those tunes brought back bad memories. Then, we remarketed, focusing on the benefit of Oldies music – it makes you happy. Our slogan “Stay Happy” really worked. Ratings went up significantly.

It was such a contrast to another huge success in Chicago ten years earlier when we helped create The Drive, a station that featured only three things – older music (including the Vietnam era songs), very knowledgeable DJs, and brilliant on-air imaging, created by Nick Michaels.

GS: What are some of the key ingredients that programmers should keep in mind for making great radio?

JP: Number one. It’s all about the listener. Never about you. So, listen to them. Understand them. Be empathetic and put yourself in their shoes. Try and figure out how to give them what they ask for, even if your “formula” says you can’t.

Number two. It’s about focus. Do a map of your market. Who is competing with you? Where? Which part of the market is most lucrative or most available? Go after it.

Number three. Listen to your station. At least once a month, turn off your phone and your email for a day, get out of the office, and listen to your station. And, to the competition. Don’t do anything else! Including check e-mail. Take along a few different team members each time. Make notes. What worked, what was getting tired, and what did you brainstorm that could be exciting and, most important, engaging? Listen to your digital competition too.

Number four. Buy and read Valerie Geller’s “Beyond Powerful Radio: A Communicators Guide to the Internet Age”. Study it. Use her principles.

Number five. Get some help with marketing (including slogans, on-air imaging, etc.). Most programmers aren’t good at this but think they are. Steve Jobs knew how important it was and he always hired the best, even though he himself was a marketing genius.

GS: What are the most important ingredients that make up a successful breakfast show. 

JP: After thinking about it and looking at the greatest breakfast shows, here’s what I think makes the best…

Number 1 is STORIES. The way they are told, the subject matter, the humour, and the characters. It permeates all the best shows. If you don’t tell stories, people don’t REMEMBER anything about the show – which makes them less likely to tune in the next day.

The best show reflects the listeners’ morning experiences through ‘empathetic’ comments, relevant stories and music that helps generate energy.

For different audiences, these mean different things.

For example, when Howard Stern is “empathetic”, it’s with his male listeners – about how they don’t get enough sex, how they fantasize about their “wild” side, want to hear the very personal side of their favourite “stars”, etc.

Elvis DuranFor Elvis Duran, it’s with his 18-44-year-old females. It’s about gossip, giving friends advice (that they don’t want), awkward social situations, etc.

For a News show, it’s about up-to-date, very topical, slightly contexted “stories” to start the day.

In all 3 cases, it’s the STORIES that make it great. The way the narrative is spun, developed, and paid off. The better it’s done, the more memorable. And music (as ‘bumpers’ or as songs) is an essential part.

A great show also reflects and relates to the listeners ‘anticipation’ of the day ahead as well as their ‘waking up’ experience.

It incorporates features and stories that you’ll be able to talk about or remember later in the day – to tell a friend or just chuckle to yourself.

The best have ‘fixed time’ features that encourage tune-in and recall. Traffic and Weather on the 8s. The morning prank phone call. The lost Beatle song. There are so many ways to do this.

The host(s) will have proven ability to make listeners laugh and brighten their morning, and will engage the audience through stories.

If the show plays a lot of music, the criteria are the same.

The best shows usually have a Trio at the centre – we used to call them a Dick, Dork, and Dear.  One is the ‘straight man’ – he (or she) really controls the show’s flow and can often be funny or witty.

The “Dork” is the ordinary one. He’s the butt of the jokes but never really backs down, glad to be on the team and filling an important role as either Generator or Reactor.

The “Dear” keeps everyone on an even keel, provides the female point of view (although some Dears are men in bigger teams), and provides great comic relief at the expense of the other two.

A note about Generators and Reactors – Valerie Geller brilliantly identified this point (it’s covered in the latest version of her book).

One (or more) people are Generating. The others are Reacting to them. It’s the dynamic that always works. If you don’t have it, the show goes flat.

In Part 3 with Lessons from a Master with John Parikhal, we discuss the Product Pyramid and is it still relevant today? Greg get’s John’s perspective on the challenges and opportunities he see’s for radio in this world of social media.And how can radio today be more relevant to its listeners?

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