How to Win the Ratings – The Breakfast Show Blueprint – Part 6

Greg Smith is a Director of Radio Today.

In this series of articles I wanted to explore 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 and part 5 with Rad Messick.

Today we get insights from Dave Charles (left) – President of MRI-Media RESULTS International who shares his secrets of breakfast radio.

Today we get insights from Rad Messick (left) – Regional Programming Manager at Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. – See more at:
Today we get insights from Rad Messick (left) – Regional Programming Manager at Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. – See more at:
Today we get insights from Rad Messick (left) – Regional Programming Manager at Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. – See more at:

The essential ‘must haves’ for a great breakfast show

I’ve lived in the radio talent development arena for over 40 years.  These are some of the ingredients that I’ve found work the best for my clients and the many Breakfast Talents I’ve helped realize their potentials.

Talent Yin & Yang.  You’ve got to have personalities that are different and not afraid to talk about anything and everything.  Life is complex.  Your talent must be able to talk about it, live and love it!

Primal instincts.  The emotions that make us laugh, cry, hate, love, care.  This is essential in developing the ‘soul’ and ‘heart’ of your Breakfast talent.  Good talent can connect the head with the heart in such a way that makes you respond in some way.

Make me feel something.  If you don’t feel something about what you hear from the Breakfast show, then you need to find new talent.  When you add the platforms of social media – Facebook, Twitter, Texting, Pinterest – you need to know that you’ve got to be connected to these active P1s (preferential listeners) or be left out of the conversation.   When you hear a great song with lyrics that resonate with you….you get the idea.  My favourite song that I can’t get out of my head is ‘HAPPY’ by Pharrell Williams. It does make me happy and want to turn up the radio.

Information currency.  Is it worth repeating, tweeting, or telling a friend? Everyone is on their Smart Phones.  Your audience is now texting you.  They should have a say in what you talk about.  Invite your audience to participate in that conversation.  Quote them.  Give them credit and “think like a fan and make your listeners the star.”

Likeability.  We choose to hang out with people we like. Who do you hang out with at a party?  Usually the funniest or weirdest person in the room right?  So it goes for a Breakfast Show.  If you like what they say and what they talk about, they will become essential sources of life to your morning listeners.  In TV, they call it the Q factor.  Do you like Kochie on Sunrise? He’s got a very high Q score.  Do you like Eddie McGuire?  Kinda.  Did you like Doug Mulray?  Hell yes.  In his heyday he was the master of controversy.  Did you like Jamie Dunn and Agro?  Yup. Very funny, cartoonish and human. Andrew Denton.  Absolutely likeable, very intelligent and funny.  Do you remember how he handled the 9/11 disaster.  He opened the phones up and let his listeners express their grief. That’s what intelligence is. It’s the ability to resound and seize the moment.  Good talent is able to make that happen.

Intelligence.  There’s a great line in retail: “no brains, no service.” This means if you’re not an intelligent and informed consumer you’ll get left behind.  It’s true for Breakfast radio too.  Your talent must be able to handle serious issues as well as the fun things in life.  This is vital to your shows longevity and appeal.

Sharing their lives and the human experience.  Breakfast talent must be able to talk about their lives.  This is where the word ‘commonality’ comes to mind.  What does your talent have in common with their listeners?  This is where you create personal appeal.  You’ve got to feel like you could walk up to Merrick and Rosso and talk to them about what they said and what they did. You could certainly do that with Wendy Harmer.  She was always curious about what people were thinking, doing and feeling.  That’s what made her great.

Compelling hooks that drive TSL.  This is a typical formatic that you would think is a no brainer and obvious yet it’s a forgotten art form of Breakfast radio.  You’ve got to keep listeners longer. You must develop great hooks into spots sets, News and Entertainment elements.  Compelling hooks are an art form.  If you hook properly, you must pay off that hook ASAP or lose the audience.  TV is guilty of hooking too far ahead of the payoff.  TV News does this all the time to their detriment.

Relevance is critical.  Inform, entertain, engage and tell me something they need to know.   

Contexting is also a lost art.  Your talent must be able to make sense of something.  In most cases, the audience is hearing something for the very first time OR they don’t understand it.  Restatement is also important for stories and events that are episodic.  EG Sydney bush fires that threaten life, property and ones work. Here’s the latest on the source of the fire in the Western Suburbs.  

Creativity. Where do I start?  Australian radio stations have created memorable jaw dropping event promotions.  ‘The Fugitive’ comes to mind.  The ‘Lie Detector’ was a radio classic and compelling listening.

Freedom to try new things. To make mistakes.  You’ve got to allow your talent to experiment.  Cast their creative net widely and look to exploit and capture new ideas.  I used to jump all over mistakes.  I was wrong.  Mistakes help your talent grow their ‘confidence’. If you are the kind of PD that beats up your talent by rubbing their nose in their mistakes, then you need to rethink your approach.  You’ll never realize the growth and development of your talent if you don’t let them have room to experiment with their ideas.  We all make mistakes and have bad days.  That’s life mate.  Live it or let it go.

Longevity equals audience comfort.  This is very important.  If you find great talent and invest in them, you need to treat them right.  Good Breakfast talent is the engine that drives the train.

Resources to respond and be out there. There are tried and true concepts like ‘Breakfast show to the rescue’ that brings the audience directly into your show in a very active way.  Pay it forward. Do something nice for someone who deserves it and watch the phones light up.  Watch the social media activity go through the roof.  Stations who don’t invest in their Breakfast shows will lose.  The problem with the sales driven radio management is that they starve the baby.  You can’t do that if you want to have a great Breakfast show.

A great Breakfast show captures the heartbeat of the community.  Caring to tackle something that will resonant with their audience. Blood donor drive that’s critical to human life in their community. Human tragedy that touches all of us to the core of our being.  Radio can rally support quickly.  The Breakfast show must always take the lead on this.  I remember Eddie McGuire flying into Brisbane for the flood relief marathon.  He not only did TV but used radio to rally support.  They’re not fans of Eddie in Queensland BUT loved him for what he did for them.  He used his celebrity power to make a difference.  Eddie McGuire is very smart about who he is and what he’s all about.  I remember when his house burned to the ground in Melbourne.  It was his listeners who rallied around him. It works both ways when you’ve earned the trust and respect of your audience.

Flexibility to change.  Lead, follow or get out of the way. You’ve got to crack some eggs to make a good frittata.  Don’t allow your Breakfast show to fall into a rut and the same old ways.  Brad March was a master at directing the Breakfast teams to victory in Brisbane (Jamie Dunn) and in Sydney with (Wendy Harmer, Jamie and Paul Holmes).  He made the changes in their approach to the Breakfast show that made them winners.

Fixed time elements.  The audience sets their routine by your Breakfast show.  This is the framework that holds your show together.  They are vital to maintain.    

Ambition to be successful. 

Unless you have a killer instinct and a relentless attitude about performing a top Breakfast show, you’ll never be successful.   E.g., Kyle Sandilands came to the attention of Greg Smith and me from his work on HOT FM in Darwin.  He was raw, relentless, crazy, vulnerable and rude, BUT had a sense for how to turn the audience upside down.  You had to listen to Kyle because you never knew what he was going to say next.  He made lots of mistakes.  However he got the audience’s attention.  He was real!  Vulnerable, Scary!  Rude! But always on the edge. Kyle Sandilands was compelling to listen to. He was never afraid to put it out there. Add Jackie O to the mix and you had the combination.  The Yin and Yang to command a Breakfast audience in the largest market in Australia…Sydney.  Now 2DAY.FM has been hit hard in the ratings.  The longevity and equity in Kyle and Jackie O had been established.  Questionable move by SCA management and it will cost them revenue.  That’s another story.

Email Dave:  [email protected]


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