How to Win the Ratings – The Breakfast Show Blueprint – Part 12

Greg Smith is a Director of Radio Today.

In this series of articles we have explored the key ingredients of a top rating breakfast show.

I’ve enlisted the help of prominent programmers & researchers, people much smarter than me, to tell you how to win the ratings in radio’s most important daypart.

You can read part 1 with Jon Coleman, part 2 with Todd Wallace, part 3 with Randy Lane, part 4 with Brad March, part 5 with Rad Messick, part 6 with Dave Charles, part 7 with Mark Ramsey part 8 with Tracy Johnson  part 9 with John Parikhal  part 10 with Steve Reynolds and part 11 with Tom Watson.

Today with our final in the series,  we learn about what makes great Breakfast radio from Valerie Geller 


VALERIE GELLER, president of Geller Media International Broadcast Consultants, trains broadcasters in 35 countries to be more effective, engaging and powerful communicators and to help grow their audiences.

Trained as a journalist for print, radio and television, she now works as a broadcast consultant, talent coach, trainer, speaker and seminar leader,  helping broadcasters become more effective storytellers across ALL platforms – 

She’s coached talent for both commercial and public radio including LBC & the BBC in the UK, CBC, CHFI, Q107 in Canada, in Australia she worked with the ABC coaching some of the top talent including Angela Catterns, Richard Glover, James Valentine, Jon Faine and more – plus Swedish Radio, Radio 538 in Holland, YLE in Finland, P-4 and the NRK Norway, and coaching hundreds of top personalities in the USA. She leads Powerful Radio seminars and workshops and is the author of four books about radio, she also programmed WABC in New York. Her work is based on three things: “Tell the truth, make it matter and NEVER be boring.”  

Geller has also served as a consultant for several TV documentary films including:  American Public Television’s: “Water Pressures” (on Global Water Sustainability) PBS TV Independent Lens: “Daisy Bates – The First Lady of LIttle Rock” and “ROTUNDA – 21 STORIES” – Nic & Becky Gaunt’s BBC award winning (2008) film.

Geller was named by Radio Ink Magazine as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Radio and was the recipient of the Conclave’s 2010 Rockwell Lifetime Achievement Award for Broadcasting, Her latest book from Focal Press “Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age” (2011), now in an eighth printing, is available in paperback, e-book and audio book (iTunes & coming in the fall of 2014


"Never Lose A Listener"

By Valerie Geller
Excerpted from "Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator's Guide to the Internet Age" (Focal Press 2011)
Copyrighted material, reprinted with permission

Engage Your Audience

Whether you broadcast or podcast, you already know—radio isn’t just “radio” anymore.  Your listening audience gets their entertainment, news, and information, from many other places and platforms.

Audiences have always been fickle, but now, with PPM measurement, they have a shorter attention span, and many multi-task as they listen.      Research bears this out.

And there’s a lot of “noise” out there competing for the time and attention of your listeners, so it's important to make sure that what comes out of the speaker (or mobile device) immediately engages with compelling, relevant content.

What can you do to grab their attention, grow your audience and keep your listeners listening longer? 

I coach talent all over the world and work one-on-one with air personalities—all want to know, "Is there a formula?”

Here it is: Listeners come when they are informed, entertained and engaged, but they will leave if they're bored. It works if you can engage your audience with these three proven “Powerful Radio” principles:

1. Tell the truth

2. Make it matter

3. Never be BORING.

How Do You “Never Lose A Listener?”

This is the question I'm asked all over our planet. The answer, whether I’m working with broadcasters in the United States, Canada, England, Australia, Europe and Africa, is always the same: Never Be Boring.

Boring is the kiss of death. In focus groups, listening audiences tell us they don't like it when it sounds like, "And now, another topic manufactured for the show" They love it when they feel like they are in the room with you and forget they're listening to radio.

Authenticity is key. Try to avoid “manufactured topics for air…” Before you put anything on the air, ask: “Would you talk about this off the air in normal conversation? If the answer is "no" ask: why are you talking about this on your show?”


Why Do Listeners Leave? What Makes ‘Em Go?

Think about it. Have you ever sat in your car, stuck in traffic waiting for the traffic report to come on? You work in radio. You know when that report is coming, so you wait. Or maybe you’re waiting to hear a specific headline or a song title. You want to find out the CD or the artist, but somehow you zone out…  the report came and went or the song title came and went, and you missed it? Why? Because the person on air did not make it matter.

A misconception: Pace and tempo do not equate energy. Nor does volume. "Energy" does not equate making it matter. Storytelling makes it matter.         A storyteller who cares about what he or she is presenting is what always works. This is not an acting job. If it means something to the person on air, it’ll matter more to the audience. Part of telling the truth is being authentic, and genuinely caring about what you are talking about on air.

Make the focus: What is in this for the listener?


What Are Listeners Not Getting From You?

When a listener leaves either mentally or physically, and actually switches off the station, here is what is not happening. That listener is not engaged. He or she is bored. Zoned out. Looking for another station or immersed in his or her own thoughts.


Try the following these proven Powerful Radio techniques to help engage your audience:

1. Use the word “You”

If there was a magic word to guarantee you could get the attention of a listener would you use it? Of course. And there is such a word. Radio’s Magic Word is: “YOU.” Always talk to the individual.

Logically and intellectually you know that when you are talking on the radio you are, in reality, talking to more than one person, but on the radio, the magic, the connection, the power of radio, is based on the feeling of intimacy between the host and each individual person listening. It never works as well on radio to talk to those “folks” or “people out there listening” or “all of you…”

2. Use “You” instead of “I”

Whenever you can, always try to talk to one individual. If you use YOU instead of We-Me-I or Us, listeners feel the deeper, and true connection. Think of the difference, “I have tickets to give away” or “You can win tickets.”

And it’s not just radio. I went with a friend looking at houses—they’d just had twins and needed more space. The estate agent said: “Now, this would be your kitchen over here. The bedrooms are upstairs, the guest room is in the back. Here, you could knock out a wall and make this an open plan. Your garden would be here, in the back…” This really, really works.

Replacing you for "We, Me. I and Us" takes a little time but it is worth the effort, as long as you have patience, and understand that, as human beings, it is hard to change old habits.         

Perhaps you are familiar with the work of Australian based brain researcher Dr. Evian Gordon? ( If so, you may already know that according to the research, it takes a 1,000 times of repeated behavior before you rewire your brain to change a habit, so keep trying. Try a stack of bright yellow “Post-it” notes. Put them everywhere and write the word 'you' on them. It helps.


What Else Makes A Listener Leave?

3. Boring breaks (for commercials, public service or ANYTHING boring…)

If you have commercials in your show, ask: Are your commercials causing a listener to tune out because a break is too long, or is the spot simply bad—boring, noisy, off message, or a wrong format fit? The same goes for branding elements and features like event calendars that “sound” like commercials!


4. Never be boring.

Getting the listeners you have to stay 

While, there’s been so much emphasis on developing and getting new listeners, don’t forget that we also need to pay attention to keeping the audience you’ve already got on board. Again, with the amount of choices people have for their time and attention, listeners are easily distracted. So how do you get a listener to listen longer?

5. Avoiding the "manufactured topic"

As mentioned above, this is important. Try to think about your listener before you put anything on air. Avoid “manufactured topics.” Listeners feel it when it sounds like: “And now here is another topic manufactured to fill a bit on radio!” When they hear that, listeners tend to tune out. Ask yourself: If you are not talking about this off air, why is it on the air?


6. WIFM?

Always ask: What is in this for the listener? What’s in it for me if I give you my time? A quick checklist: Is it interesting? Are they talking to me?        Describing things visually? Is there humor?

New information? Talkable topics? Would you talk about this off air in normal conversation if you did not have a radio show?

Some hosts get confused and think 'personality' means it’s all about you.    But audiences care about themselves, not necessarily you. In personality radio, many personalities get confused and think if they talk about themselves it will be interesting. But powerful radio is not about you, it’s about the listener. The personal is universal, but the private tends to be boring.


7. What do listeners want?

Your listeners want to be informed and entertained and have fun. They want new knowledge. If they are alone in a room or alone in a car maybe they just do not want to feel alone. Listeners are hungry to feel connected in a somewhat isolated world that they find themselves in. A listener wants a connection, or to “feel at home” with or comfortable with the person on air. They like to feel they “know” the person on air.  

Sometimes listeners like a little help in making up their minds. Say theyare not completely certain of what they may think about a subject or topic, here they can get enough information or opinion or viewpoints to make up their minds. And in commercial radio, when the spots are effective, listeners say they like to learn about bargains, new products or services.

And if a listener is having a down or despairing black moment, he or she wants to be lifted out of that mood.


8. Give them “Talkable Topics”

We are lucky. Most people out there listening do not have exciting lives or careers. Because of this, listeners also desire “talkable topics.” They want to be able to turn the radio off and have ideas and interesting new things to say to people.


9. Make them laugh

Listeners also want vicarious experiences. They like to be taken on journeys they cannot get to on their own.

And everybody loves to laugh. If you can make a listener laugh, it’s like handing them a solid chunk of gold.


10. Tell them something new

Listeners to your station like to be in the know, they like learning new things. (They also appreciate help with their “show prep” for dinner, just in case they don’t have anything interesting to say to the people in their lives.)

It works if you can give them material they can talk about. Listeners also want you to get ahead and lead them and give them ideas, things to think about.


11. Speak visually

Radio is an imagination medium. Even with photos and video on the internet, the spoken word can create powerful word pictures. Use these “colors” in your paint box to engage listeners. Remember to use details to speak visually and to paint word pictures. Imagine you are talking to one person, and that person is a blind man or woman! How would you describe what you are talking about so the listener can “see" it?


12. Topic selections: Health, Heart and Money (Pocketbook)

What are audiences interested in? For years, the Frank Magid study of “health, heart, pocketbook” rules of topic selection applied.  

Today there is a new one.

In addition to health, (personal safety) heart(touching emotion of any kind) and money stories, the new category is transformation:

How your life as a listener can be better tomorrow than it was or is today because of what you’ve heard on air. Radio stories and topics showing a listener what is possible. You don’t have to settle for the life you have. It can get better. This rivets audiences. (Think Oprah, "Extreme Makeover," DIY fix it shows, etc.)


13. Err on the side of brevity

This is hard. (But anything that goes too long is likely boring.)


14. Inspire

Finally, listeners ALL want to feel good. If you can do that, you have that audience completely with you. And if you don’t care, they don’t care.        Make it matter!


Valerie Geller’s Powerful Communicator Principles

1. Speak visually, in terms your listener can “picture
2. Find, and start with, your best material.
3. Tell the truth.
4. Never be boring.
5. Listen.
6. Make it matter.
7. Always address the individual, use “You.” Talk to one listener at a time.
8. Do smooth and engaging transitions and handoffs.
9. Promote, brag about your stuff.
10. Brag about other people’s stuff.
11. Be who you are.
12. Take risks. Dare to be great.

* Excerpted with permission from
Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age for Broadcast, Podcast, Internet & Radio (Focal Press 2011) by Valerie Geller.


For more info:


To contact Valerie Geller for workshops/seminars or one-on-one coaching or consulting – email: [email protected] Twitter or you can call the landline at Geller Media International's offices at: +1 212 580-3385



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