The Brutal Truth – Part 5

Radio Consultancy

Ratings – and other forms of Extreme Heckling


“A drop in ratings is the equivalent to about a million people saying all at once,
‘Get off, you're not funny’”

“Everyone knows why ratings go up … but only after it happens”

“In radio, a man with tight jeans, cow boy boots and a pony tail
tells you whether or not you’re funny
based on the opinions of a focus group that he spoke to in the early 90’s”


Frank insights from the most stellar line-up of on-air talent ever assembled in one place
without mediation or the need to negotiate the release of hostages:

Tony Martin      Wendy Harmer      Marty Sheargold      Tom Gleeson      Mick Molloy
Tom Ballard      Amanda Keller      Rosso      Mikey Robins    Matt Tilley  Chrissie Swan
Lehmo       Akmal Saleh      Tim Smith      Jo Stanley     James O'Loghlin      Craig Annis
Dave O’Neil      Tim Blackwell     Robin Bailey      Simon Kennedy      Stav Davidson
Dave Thornton      Julian Schiller     Lisa Fernandez      Jamie Row      Ciel     Joel Creasey
Tommy Little      Natalie Locke     Steve Philp       Paul Hogan      Adam Richard

“Everyone knows why ratings go up … but only after it happens”
Tom Gleeson

“With radio you also get heckled …
A drop in ratings is the equivalent to about a million people saying all at once,
‘Get off, you're not funny’”

Akmal Saleh

 “In radio, a man with tight jeans, cowboy boots and a pony tail
tells you whether or not you’re funny
based on the opinions of a focus group that he spoke to in the early 90’s”

Anthony 'Lehmo' Lehmann

For the benefit of the radio man with cowboy boots and a pony tail who is feeling the pinch, to lead into “Ratings – and other forms of Extreme Heckling” we’ll briefly recap the impact of the comparatively sterile studio environment on the talent’s confidence. And performing on-air or on-stage is all about confidence.

Dave Thornton … having confidence in your creative ideas is something that helps in both endeavours.

In stand-up, the job is to “make ‘em laugh”. And you get instant feedback about how well you did your job. It either worked and, for tonight at least, you’re The God of Laughter … 

Sarah Levett There is nothing like the adrenalin burst you get when you can hear the buzz of a live crowd.

… or it didn’t work, and you’re standing there under a bright light, feeling as naked as the day you were born.

Natalie Locke There is nothing quite so crushing as a silent audience.

And every ego-boosting or ego-crushing variation in between – spanning the full laugh-o-meter spectrum… 

From the highs of a hilarity-induced pandemonium and side-splitting mass hysteria that you alone created – an unstoppable laugh-tsunami that keeps crashing down on the shores of your ego until it eventually starts roaring and foaming into a full-blown standing ovation. Right down to the other end of the scale – one lone clap in a big empty room, and a half-cackle cut short – from some bloke somewhere out there in the lonely, cavernous darkness, a bloke who probably only reacted that way because he’s still thinking about a joke told by the guy before you.

Or maybe he just administered the Heimlich maneuver. (During “dinner and show” gigs it’s hard to tell; those two things sound similar).

More to the point, such instant audience feedback is difficult to argue with. But by comparison, for stand-up comedians working in radio, the only feedback they get lies somewhere between the incredibly subjective – and therefore eminently refutable – and the extremely delayed. Like in 6 weeks, when the next ratings come out …

Tom Gleeson Strap yourself in for a lot of compromise and pseudo analysis. Everyone knows why ratings go up … but only after it happens.
Akmal Saleh With stand-up you know immediately if you're not doing well – you may get heckled. With radio you also get heckled, but it comes every 6 weeks or so in the shape of ratings. A drop in ratings is the equivalent to about a million people saying all at once, "Get off, you're not funny".
Tom Ballard I don't trust ratings as an indication of anything.

So, in the absence of the moment-by-moment feedback you get on-stage, and with a fair degree of skepticism about audience ratings, how do you gauge whether anyone – let alone everyone – likes what you’re doing on-air?

Natalie Locke Ultimately, "everyone" liking it really means your PD. Like every (radio presenter), I've had good ones, and bad ones – and a couple of staggeringly horrific ones. 
Lehmo In stand-up comedy, a live audience lets you know if you’re funny or not based on their laughter. In radio, a man with tight jeans, cowboy boots and a pony tail tells you whether or not you’re funny based on the opinions of a focus group that he spoke to in the early 90’s.

But what if you don’t agree with Mr Hungry Pants? Let’s face it, radio is full of programmers and management-types who are still ‘living the dream’ – still wearing cowboy boots and sporting pony tails, still ‘heading for the nineties, living in the Wild, Wild West’.

Tom Ballard I think ultimately with radio you just have to keep working on making a show that you think is half decent and that you'd enjoy listening to, it's really the only barometer you can rely on.

We’ll explore the talent-management relationship in brutal detail on Monday – and feature some disturbingly passionate opinions and horror stories about air-checks and their impact on the creative process. In the meantime, we’ll finish up with our panel’s views on another big difference between stand-up and on-air work: audience interaction.

In radio, the feedback that comes from the audience is in them wanting to be involved and have their say: the fact they have been moved enough to call – that your passion has touched them, that you have reached out and pulled them in.

In stand-up, too, some great moments can come from crowd interaction – though you have to be careful not to leave the rest of the crowd out when interacting with other audience members. And for the most part people in the audience are there to be entertained – they are definitely not wanting to be part of the show. Which is the reason the front row of a comedy show is often empty.

And naturally, in both, you sometimes get hecklers. When doing stand-up, occasionally you just have to acknowledge the heckler in the crowd was funny. (Mostly you can just put them in their place, as it is rare that they are funny – and usually they are just annoying).

Craig Annis On stage – my favourite moments are when the audience come up with something funnier than me – as long as it’s not a heckle.
Steve Philp Best thing about radio compared to stand-up is you can hang up on the hecklers!
Tom Ballard A major advantage of radio though is that you can control the heckling. If someone don’t like you, they ain’t going to air.
Tim Smith Radio listeners can only shout and throw things at their own fridge after you have upset them. Stand-up audiences can dislike you so much they can become “Actively Involved”.
Sarah Levett A big difference is that in radio, when you invite callers into the show, you want them to interact – and you also want them to shine.
Brad March With stand-up the audience interaction is often hecklers, and great stand-up comedians master the art of putting them in their place, in a way that’s true to their act and on-stage persona. In radio, the interaction is completely different, and the great talent quickly learn to make callers the star of the moment.

Monday in 'The Brutal Truth' on Radio Today

Who's the Boss ?

“The happiest moment … listening to some Program Director
who came from the Sales Department tell you why you weren’t funny”

“Radio is run by failed jocks hell bent on making the industry that shunned them pay”

“It was like being held at gunpoint and told
‘The person who is sadly no longer here failed to sound fun, so enjoy yourselves …
…or else!’”

“Air-checks … my favourite ever was when a senior (group) manager swooped in …
… gave us a whole lot of direction about how to change our show …
… and then our local PD pulled us aside and said
‘Ignore everything he just said’!”

(On the difference between radio and stand-up comedy)
“Radio exposes you to knuckleheads in management who
… want to argue about the trivial points of something you said at an ungodly hour
… to prove to you that they were up and listening.
Stand-up has hecklers”

Brad March is a former CEO of the Austereo Network and is Managing Director of Marchmedia.

Sarah Levett is a successful standup comedian, writer, MC, co-host of the New FM Breakfast Show.  

Scott Muller is Director of MBOS Consulting Group, a media management and consulting firm. Click here to contact him.


Who They Are (our stellar panel of experts):

Craig Annis – comedian and host of Star 104.5 breakfast show on Central Coast
Robin Bailey – breakfast host of 97.3fm Brisbane
Tom Ballard – comedian and host of triple j breakfast
Tim Blackwell – host of Nova’s national drive show
Ciel – comedian and on-air personality, previously at Sea FM Central Coast
Joel Creasey – comedian and regularly appears on 92.9 Perth + other stations across Australia
Stav Davidson – comedian and host of B105 breakfast
Lisa Fernandez – host of 92.9 breakfast in Perth
Tom Gleeson – comedian and previous host of Mix 101.1 breakfast
Wendy Harmer – comedian, ex-host of 2Day FM Morning Crew, now Editor in Chief of The Hoopla
Paul Hogan – comedian and host of 92.9 breakfast in Perth
Amanda Keller – hosted Triple M Syd bfst with Andrew Denton, now on WSFM with Jonesy
Simon Kennedy – comedian and former host of weekend breakfast on Nova 96.9
Lehmo – comedian, TV personality and host of breakfast on Gold FM in Melbourne
Tommy Little – comedian and weekend breakfast host on Nova 100
Natalie Locke – host of Nova 937 breakfast in Perth and former stand-up comedian
Tony Martin – comedian, famous for Martin / Molloy, Get This, and the D-Generation. Currently a writer/director of ABC's Upper Middle Bogan
Mick Molloy – comedian, famous for Martin / Molloy, the D-Generation, and currently hosts breakfast on Triple M Melbourne
James O’Loghlin – comedian, TV personality and ABC radio host
Dave O’Neil – comedian and founding member of the Nova 100 breakfast show
Steve Philp – comedian and former host of weekend breakfast on Nova 96.9
Adam Richard – comedian who has worked at triple j and for the Today network
Mikey Robins – comedian who has worked on breakfast at triple j and Triple M Sydney
Tim 'Rosso' Ross – comedian and host of Mix drive in Sydney and Melbourne
Jamie Row – comedian and host of Mix 101.1 breakfast with Chrissie & Jane
Akmal Saleh – comedian and former host of Nova national drive show
Julian Schiller – comedy writer and host of Merrick & The Highway Patrol
Marty Sheargold – comedian and host of Nova’s national drive show
Tim Smith – worked on The Richard Stubbs Breakfast Show, Timbo & Bedder’s, and on Mix 101.1
Jo Stanley – host of breakfast on Fox FM Melbourne
Chrissie Swan – host of Mix 101.1 breakfast in Melbourne
Dave Thornton – comedian, host of Mamamia Today and current weekend show with Sophie Monk
Matt Tilley – host of breakfast on Fox FM Melbourne

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