Tracy Johnson: What’s more important, personality or content?

Personality or content? Relevant or relatable? Structure or style?

What is more important on the air? It’s ideal to have both, of course. And we should always strive to have a relevant show with the best prepared content delivered by interesting, provocative air personalities.

It’s common to hear great talent having a good time on the air, but with little to say. And it’s not unusual to hear personalties deliver great information but without a sense of humour or personality that engages the audience.

But what is most important? If you could choose one, which would it be? Great content delivered by average talent? Or great personality with weak content?

Here’s data that answers the personality or content question. You’ll see which wins, and it wins every time.

Content: Laying The Foundation

Before revealing what the research says, let’s discuss the relationship between personality and content. Think of it the way a contractor builds a house.

The first things that happen are structural. The lot is prepared, the foundation is poured and the load-bearing walls are established. The home is framed, wired and the plumbing is put in first.

On the radio, think of content as part of the structure. It includes building the clocks, scheduling promos, establishing talk limits and other format elements that are fundamental ingredients for success.  And the show prep process of gathering and preparing content is part of the foundation.

A finished house is livable, but it looks and functions like every other house on the block. It’s not become a home. That happens when the homeowner adds their personality to the house. They choose the colors, floor coverings, window treatments, furniture and hundreds of other details that personalize the house. That’s when it becomes a home.

Personalities delivering content inside the structure set the house apart from all others.

As you probably have already concluded, both are critical. A home that’s all personality and style without a firm foundation will fall apart. Then what happens? Reconstruction. And a house without personality is bland, ordinary and boring. It’s not warm and inviting. It needs style.

Personality Or Content: What Research Says

So what is the most important quality between the two? We researched it and have the answer.

Obviously, talking about the most important topics each day is the foundation for every air personality.

But just having the right topics simply is not enough.

It’s far more important to deliver it with charisma and impact. In the Content Superhero seminar series, I teamed with Strategic Solutions Research to study the actual behaviour of thousands of listeners reacting in real time to hundreds of air personality breaks.

Using advanced research techniques using dial technology, audiences were asked to respond to spoken word segments of on-air content.

Their responses were measured moment-by-moment. We could then analyze exactly what works-and what doesn’t-on the air.

One of the conclusions was clear:

Personality is far more valuable than the topic.

One of the breaks tested demonstrates this fact perfectly.

It came from CHUM-FM/Toronto’s legendary morning show, Roger & Marilyn. This segment was from a period when Darren B. Lamb was part of the show.

Listen and watch what happens during an entertainment report.

Notice how the break starts slowly. I mean, it’s a story that nobody cares about. Based on content alone, this should not even be on the air. It’s not relevant.

The first part of the break is also informational. Listeners are just not invested in it. But in this case, a weak hook was a worthwhile investment because it set up the essence of the break.

Notice how the audience response takes off when the talent interacts.

When Roger responds with authentic, genuine surprise, the audience reacts with him. And they continue to love it as Marilyn and Darren tease him about it.

Do Topics Even Matter-Really?

It’s easy to conclude from that break that topics are irrelevant. That’s not entirely true, but what you talk about isn’t nearly as important as how you talk about it.

The story in the entertainment update is common. In fact, it’s not even interesting. It’s about Fred Willard! On most days, it wouldn’t even make the report.

But that doesn’t matter nearly as much as how the show plays with the story to turn it into entertainment.

Here’s another example from Peter, Moya & JC Douglas on C100/Halifax:

The first thing that jumps out in the break is how much fun they’re having.

It’s a good topic, but nothing that’s going to change the world on it’s own. It’s mildly amusing, but not something that listeners would think, “I have to turn in to hear them talk about names”.

What makes it work is how they play together. The way they talk about it makes this content leap out of the speakers!

Content is important. It’s part of the structure of the home. Even the best personalities can’t just turn on the mic and start talking about whatever comes to mind.

But personality success is not just about the content. Content is just a prop for the the fun they have with each other. And that fun is contagious.


The personality or content question will continue to be asked because it’s easier to improve content than develop personality. Just as it’s easier for a good crew to build a solid house than design and decorate a home.

It’s those pesky air personalities that are hard to coach.

While the conclusion that personality wins over content applies to virtually all shows, there is an asterisk in the claim that it’s all about personality.

The more the audience cares about the cast members, the more certain this is. Every personality is in a relationship with listeners, and it’s important to know where you are in the air talent’s Personality Success Path.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about personality or content. It’s both. But you probably guessed that. Still, if you had to choose just one, the listener experience is all about how much fun they have with the talent. It’s best if it’s in the context of a topic they care about. But it’s more important that the talent makes the story come alive.

It’s about personality.

And that goes for multi-personality shows and solo shows alike.

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