The Incredible Power of Features

Most of the time, we make it too complicated for listeners.

Programmers and air personalities have a tendency to want to do more. We add more features. More games. More promotions. More contests. More topics. The problem is, listeners can’t sort it all, and as a result, they don’t get any of it.

Recently, my company (Tracy Johnson Media Group) presented a series of webinars that defined how real listeners actually use the radio. The project is a joint effort with Strategic Radio Solutions (U.S.-based research company). Our conclusions were based on responses to hundreds of pieces of personality content and tens of thousands of listeners. The results are a three part series called Content Superhero. The three “chapters” cover What Causes Tune Out, What Causes Tune In, and Content That Rocks, sharing how to apply these revolutionary findings on the air. Get details at

Perhaps the most important finding is a renewed power in benchmarked, branded on-air features. In a media world with seemingly endless entertainment options for shorter attention spans, creatively packaging great content is a critical key to success for air talent.

Here’s how powerful that can be: One of my clients programs a daily feature called Tough Love, starring Siri (the automated voice on your iPhone). The concept is simple: They ask a life advice question, and Siri answers in an unexpected, snarky personality. It’s brilliant. In fact, it’s probably the best thing on the station!

So we researched Tough Love, conducting a series of focus groups and auditorium tests in multiple markets using dial technology that measures moment-by-moment response to personality content.

Each piece of content results in a graph that looks like an EKG on a heart monitor. Here’s the EKG for an episode of Tough Love:

(Click to Enlarge)

Here’s what the graph means:

  • Mechanically, all dials start at 50 (the mid-point) on a 0-100 scale. Participants turn it UP if they like it, and DOWN if they don’t.
  • The colored lines represent different life groups and demographics in the sample
  • Notice how this leaps well above 70 in the first few seconds, then quickly (within 25 seconds) reaches 90 on the scale. That’s rare!
  • The interest level stays at this elite level throughout. It never fatigues. What’s more, only 1% (3 total respondents) press the “tired of” button that represents tune out.
  • How rare is a feature that researches this well? In nearly four decades, I’ve never seen a feature test this well, and with all audiences.

Here’s why it works:

  • It’s funny, written by one of the show’s cast members who is also a stand-up comic.
  • It’s easy to understand. Listeners know who Siri is, and most have tried to get her to answer their questions, so it’s highly relatable.
  • It’s short. Most questions and responses are about 40 seconds, so even running two in the same break keeps total length under 2 minutes.
  • It fits all formats. We’ve tested it in all demographics (age 6 to 64, both male and female) and it works with all.
  • It integrates into any station or personality profile. The star is Siri, but personalities are highly engaged with the feature, adding credit to the personality brand.
  • It creates talk. Tough Love is one of the first things listeners ask about.
  • It spreads virally via social media. We make it easy to share and spread, exposing the feature to a new audience, which leads to new tune in.
  • It’s sellable. Most clients airing this feature expand it to run every hour, which creates a powerful sponsor opportunity.

This is an example of a mini-brand that is a lightning rod for a personality. And radio needs more of those. We can’t keep doing things as we have in the past, hoping listeners find us because we’re so naturally funny. There has to be a reason to tune in. And the answer is usually a specific, branded feature. It’s the fastest way to get traction.

If you know me, you realize that I believe every market, radio station and personality are unique and there’s no such thing as “one size fits all”, but there are common elements that, when adapted into a personality’s culture, can propel a station’s performance.

A Feature’s Keys to Success

Following Tough Love’s initial success, I’ve recommended the feature to several other clients. All have had success, some more than others. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Features need to be on every day. Anything less is insufficient to create expectation, anticipation and tune-in. The audience doesn’t listen much, and they pay even less attention.
  • Most features should air multiple times each day. Most of the stations using Tough Love program it every hour. Those are the stations enjoying the most success. Don’t worry about burn-out. Worry about burn-in!
  • Surrounded with likable personalities delivering consistently well prepared content, one or two features like this may be all you need! Promote them well and make them famous. We have three clients that are building brand new shows around Tough Love and one other feature. All are experiencing rapid growth.
  • You have to promote it. Frequently. Don’t expect listeners to discover what you’re doing. They’ll never figure it out. Treat each feature as a mini-brand!

About Tough Love With Siri:

Want to see more about Tough Love? There are audio examples and you can watch the video of the EKG shown above here.

The points in this article have broad application, but most of the examples are about Tough Love. Is this a feature you’d like on your station? We’re helping the creator distribute it via syndication to radio stations worldwide.

For information, visit HERE.  Cost is just $79 USD per month for a new feature each weekday.

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