Why morning shows fail in five easy steps [op-ed]

Senior Consultant

You have spent months meeting with the talent, their managers, getting everyone to sign on the dotted line……then the planning starts…. the benchmarks…..the roles each player has.

Then you launch the new breakfast/morning show and sit back and wait for the magic to happen.

You wait very patiently as it turns out. Patience has been defined as a person’s ability to wait something out or endure something tedious, without getting riled up.

Well you’re just about to get riled up!

The audience isn’t aware of them and doesn’t care about them.

But why is this happening…..to me?

Here are five reasons:

  1. Because they just aren’t very good

Let’s be honest….many radio executives are not always great at spotting and nurturing talent.

Reality TV shows have become the source of many new radio “talent”. Often what is seen on TV in a heavily edited format is difficult to replicate on live radio.

Some talent sound great on the demo but they struggle producing three to four hours of compelling content each day, five days a week.

Other shows have good individual players but together they lack the all important chemistry to take the show to the next level.

Listeners know who they love and who they don’t and everybody else is likely to fall in the middle, known as mediocrity.

And while mediocrity can be improved with coaching, there comes a time when you have to face the facts and realise that as talented as you, the program director are: “You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse”. Insert alternative saying as you see fit!

  1. Because they don’t stand out in a competitive landscape

The Morning Show “secret formula”:

His name and Her name in show title? Tick.

Technical execution-100%? Tick

Show producer/call screeners? Tick.

Great benchmarks? Tick.

The problem with the “secret” formula for what makes a great morning show is that every station anywhere in the world has access to the same formula. And when every radio station is playing The Secret Sound for the same target audience at the same time, the listeners will default to their favourite show or the one they’ve listened to longest, even if it’s not necessarily the best – because humans take a lot of time and effort to find the “best” and its easier for humans to succumb to habit.

So why should the listener change their listening behaviour that has served them well for years to sample your new show?

Equally as bad is the “me too” personality who tries to emulate the big star in the market but is the second cab off the rank. Who cares?

  1. Because listeners don’t really get to know the personalities.

This is what makes strong morning shows so powerful: they have an exceptionally strong relationship with their fans. The personalities talk about their colourful, interesting, exciting lives and the audience either relates to it or is fascinated by it. The listener knows the talent.

Have a listen to any Kyle & Jackie O morning show on KIIS 106.5 in Sydney, Australia and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

Kyle…bland? Not in a million years.  For a music station, he is a personality with very strong opinions and often controversial comments. And they resonate with his audience.

  1. Because they’re “announcers” and not real people

“Real people” have dimensions – strengths and weaknesses, flaws and blemishes. And they’re all on display.

Again, listen to Kyle on KIIS 106.5…….he lays it all out there. He’s overweight and refers to himself on-air as “fat”. He loves animals and shares the experiences with the audience. He discusses his sex life on air.

However, a character in a movie lacking those dimensions would be described as “shallow.”

And let’s face it, if you’re on a Tinder date, and your outtake is “shallow” I bet there isn’t a follow-up date.

  1. Because “liking them” and “loving them” are two different things

Your new morning host may be a great person and a model citizen. They give back to the community in their spare time. They’re “lovely”. They’re “nice”.

But when a listener gets in the car in the morning for that commute to work, are they the first and sometimes only choice to get that listener through peak hour?

As with songs, there are personalities that score well in research with a good “like” score. But what about the “killer” songs, the “star” personalities (I’ll avoid using the term “killer” in connection with personalities) whose research scores are through the roof not due to the “like” score but through their “favourite” or “love score. Remember, love = passion.

Always look at the research……. the scores will tell you what the listener thinks. Do they love them….or just like them?

One final note. When you have a great show or personality that captures the attention of the market, do everything in your power to keep them.

In Australia, there is the famous story of the CEO of a network telling the press, in words to the effect of, there was only one star on his Sydney Talk station 2UE and it wasn’t the #1 rating breakfast show host, Alan Jones.

Well, not long after this comment, Alan was out of contract and accepted a job at the direct competitor, 2GB. Alan Jones has just celebrated his 221st survey win (there are eight surveys a year in Sydney)….that’s over 27 years at #1!  2UE became a ratings bottom-dweller losing millions of dollars in every one of those 17 years since Alan’s departure.

Remember, great talent is hard to find!

This article was originally appeared on BPR and is republished on Radio Today with permission.

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Recent comments (8)
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22 Jan 2020 - 4:18 pm

When it comes to research i’ll never forget Doug Mulrays comments re the demise of the once great Triple M Sydney..”they researched themselves up their arse “

23 Jan 2020 - 1:18 pm

Nail on head.

23 Jan 2020 - 8:21 pm

You forgot number six: over bearing content director micro managing every single decision and not letting people do their job; and being completely reactionary to the ratings rather than picking a direction and committing to it. Sometimes breakfast shows fail because of the people behind the scenes, not just because of the ones on air.

24 Jan 2020 - 8:05 am

You forget one magic ingredient – time. These new shows need the first year to bed in and a second year to get good.
New shows need two years to develop, networks axing shows after just a year and usually suffering from premature eject syndrome.

Neil Docherty
25 Jan 2020 - 5:11 pm

Thanks Dave good analysis and your experience in the area really shines thru.

I believe its not about the known personality but more about the personality and the ability to relate to people on a human & emotional level.

Take the following as an example:
Ronie Sparx……Doug Mulray….The Moon Man…..Steve Fitton…..Bob Peter’s….Sturat Cranney…..Club Veg….Ian Mcrae…..Tim Webster.

29 Jan 2020 - 7:20 pm

Hey Neil, you forgot Wendy Harmer, Amanda Keller, Fifi Box, Em Rusciano, Chrissie Swan you know.. Anyone that’s not a straight, white, middle aged dude. Can you feel my eyes rolling Neil, can you feel it?SMH. This discussion is pointless anyway, Radio is dying a slow death and the institutionalised white male radio exec, whose risen from thunder driver to content director, will soon be no more.. Bring it on. Podcasts and Streaming services for ever!

Neil Docherty
30 Jan 2020 - 8:51 am

I hear you Melissa, Yes you are right you may have had that connection with the great female broadcasters where I had that connection with the great male broadcasters…..either way we experienced radio at it’s best.

Steve Bedwell
31 Mar 2020 - 9:51 am

It’s 22 years ago but Tim Smith and Steve Bedwell had the morning snow on Triple M Melbourne as the Squirrel Grippers, with a show that fits all of your criteria and on more that one occasion had ratings leaps of more than 3 percent. Forgive me for my bias (lock down will do that) but there has never been a comedy morning show to backend breakfast like them. We were lucky we followed Stubbsy. SB


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