Good to Great

Hosting Breakfast radio, irrespective of market size or format, is a tough gig.

As the on-air figureheads of the radio station the talent obviously carry enormous influence over the success, or otherwise, of the station.

Breakfast is a trade-off. On the positive side the talent, certainly in metropolitan markets, are paid exceptionally well and they enjoy the side benefits that the significant boost to their profile brings.

However, they are expected to handle the pressure of being that figurehead, perform at optimum level with ‘permanent jetlag’, deal with the unsociable hours; and contribute to ratings and revenue results by delivering a program that is compelling for, and resonates with, the listener.

A fortnight ago, heading to a meeting, I arrived about 7.45am and sat in the car (for longer than I should have) listening to a couple of excerpts from Meshel Laurie’s interview with Tina Hutchence on Nova 100.

The content was topical, airing during the week of the TV special, it was new information given it was a rare interview with Tina, and she didn’t hold back with her views on the show and the band.

It was compelling content that resonated with me, as a listener, at that time.

Resonating with the listener will mean different things for different shows, and formats, at different times; however it does mean ensuring that the listener ‘feels’ something when they listen to the show. Whilst often it is entertainment-based, like the Hutchence interview, other times it will be more emotionally driven content.

To generate ’emotional content’ means understanding that listeners are not one-dimensional, and that as important as ‘fun and entertaining’ is, the listeners lives, interests and drivers go beyond that. 

To genuinely and consistently connect and engage with the listener means having a capacity, an understanding and a process within the show structure to reflect those dimensions.

Dean Buchanan uses the phrase ‘holding a mirror to the listeners world’, and it is an apt description.

The challenge is that much of what occurs in the world, and therefore is going on in listeners lives is not fun, light, or conducive to what might be regarded stereotypically as traditional Breakfast radio content; at least not in the FM music format world.

However, the great shows know that even if the content is challenging, they have an obligation to the listener to find a way to address it; and in doing so the presenters have to be prepared to show their emotional personality.

The best Breakfast presenter at this that I ever worked with was Kate Langbroek.

No content was too difficult for Kate, there were no boundaries, her emotions and reactions on-air were human, raw and engaging. It was never fake or forced.

With emotionally challenging content, Kate was completely honest and open, and this was one of the (many) reasons why listeners loved her.

Generally, and perhaps unsurprisingly, female broadcasters are far better at this than males; Kate, Meshel, Amanda Keller, Chrissie Swan, Polly Gillespie come to mind as broadcasters who are often excellent at this.

That said, it isn’t exclusive to gender; Triple M Brisbane’s Marto delivered a powerful piece of content (here), and Triple M Melbourne’s Breakfast show has never seemed to shy from challenging content. 

So how do you deal with those emotionally charged moments?

Those moments when listeners are feeling something, talking with their friends or family about a news story, feeling emotionally engaged with, or touched by, an event?

On Thursday 12 February, the day after young Luke Batty was killed, how did your show deal with such a dreadful story?

Did you address it, or was it too hard, too dark, too sad, and therefore you left it for the news bulletins to cover?

On Monday, did your show address Charlotte Dawson’s death, or leave it for the news bulletins?

Listening to the audio from Wave FM in Wollongong yesterday, it was impossible not to hear the emotional vulnerability shown by Breakfast host Emma Bennett on the air (here); and this from someone who is, as I understand, new to radio. 

Perhaps, paradoxically, that is why she did it.

I didn’t hear 3MMM or Nova 100 this Monday, or on February 12; but I am sure that 3MMM’s Breakfast show, Nova’s Meshel Laurie, and were she still on the air, Kate Langbroek, would each have addressed those stories in an engaging, sensitive, emotional and appropriate manner.

To be clear, I’m not advocating ‘milking’ tragedy for content, to read that into my comments would miss the point.

These two examples are stories that have an importance in, and relevance to, peoples lives. They touched the listener emotionally, and therefore are important to reflect as we hold a mirror to the listeners lives.

If your listener is talking about something with their family or friends, is feeling something, is upset, angry, ecstatic or intrigued over something, then you have a responsibility to address it.

It can be hard to do. It’s often the darker side of life, it is not stereotypically ‘fun’ Breakfast content, which quite rightly is a key focus of most shows.

However it is only when a good show engages with its listener emotionally, and doesn’t shy away from ‘challenging’ content, that it has the potential to be a great show.


Dan Bradley is Executive Director of Kaizen Media; a boutique international radio consulting and artist management company, working with radio stations, media talent and music artists. 

You can contact Dan here.



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