There’s no perfect formula for what works when we put multiple people together in a room, turn on some mics and ask them to perform on the radio. I can’t count how many shows I’ve seen over the years that looked great on paper, but never found their footing on-air. Nor can I put a number on the amount of shows I’ve known that seemed like a terrible fit and yet it worked. After all, Neil Simon wrote The Odd Couple for a reason. Few things are more compelling than two drastically different personality types being paired together. However, most of those pairings blow up before they get off the launchpad. There are also multiple examples of shows with two fairly similar people who find a way to each carve out their own lane and use other characters (paid or unpaid) to broaden their appeal. Either way, here are five pretty universal steps for creating a successful team show.
1) Assign and define each team member’s role so everyone understands it. Most shows that fail were either miscast from the beginning or the roles were never defined. There are plenty of two person shows where each one of them thinks they’re the host and the other person is the co-host because that conversation never happened. Imagine if we fielded a football team without telling any of the players what position they were playing, it would be utter chaos and not only would we never win, we’d be lucky to come out of the first game without any major injuries. Designating someone as the co-host doesn’t mean they’ll never lead the content on any breaks, nor will they have no role in selecting the content that makes it on-air, but someone in the room has to keep the trains running on time and make the final call when there are in-studio disagreements. When I’m working with a show I always have the host/co-host discussion early on and I follow it up with a document that clearly defines each of those roles and why they’re important.
2) Develop each team member’s on-air persona. This is the fun part. Once the business of assigning and defining roles is out of the way we can start working on developing everyone on the cast’s individual on-air personas to help them find their voice. Most great on-air personalities aren’t 100% themselves on the air, that’s a myth perpetuated by the terrible advice we all get to ‘just be ourselves’ early in our career. They say that so we loosen up and our delivery sounds more natural. In truth, most on-air personalities should turn up certain parts of their real-life personality while turning down other parts. Doing so endears them to the station’s target audience and makes them more likely to be likeable on a daily basis. They also all have to embrace exaggerating and embellishing in the name of entertainment.
3) Work ahead as much as possible. Rarely do we need to rush to put anything on air. Sure, there are timely and topical things we want to touch on immediately. But, content breaks where we’re doing a little deeper dive into something need to be developed and that takes time, strategy, thought and feedback from others. Plus, once we get in the habit of it, developing our content in advance puts us in a more manageable spot when we walk into the studio. I’ve never seen a successful show that does everything day of, the vast majority of what they put on the air was developed a day or more prior.
4) Working together on content, features and benchmarks. It’s called a team show for a reason. While the host and the Program Director have the final say what content makes it on the air and what gets left for later, everyone involved in the show should bring content to the table. But, it’s critical that shows go over that content together to put each person in a better position to add to that content without derailing it and causing a detour that takes the break in the wrong direction. There are rare occasions where it’s ok to leave a certain cast member in the dark to get their organic reaction live on the air, but it’s not a good idea to do that with the second position (co-host role) because they’re the main person tasked with helping the host move a break forward.
5) Focus on the show during the show. Typically, the modern radio on-air talent is either A) being asked to wear a ton of other hats within the building or B) working a second job to supplement their income so they’re making a livable wage. Because of that, it’s mission critical that shows eliminate the distractions for the few hours they’re on-air each day and hyper-focus on their shows. Avoid answering emails that aren’t related to the show, engage with the audience and other members of the show but no one else, shut the studio door and let other staff know not to come in unless it’s an emergency, and only leave the studio during the show to go to the bathroom.
Following these steps ourselves is a good idea, and I’m a big advocate of self-analysis and self-coaching, but implementing them will go a lot smoother with an on-air coach. That could be me, another consultant or someone in-house with experience coaching talent. Groups that are lucky enough to have that locally, or regionally, could still use an unbiased outside opinion. Ones that don’t should definitely think about making the investment. As I’ve said before, everyone needs a coach regardless of how long they’ve been doing this (even the coaches!)
What do you think? Did I get a step wrong or leave one out? Comment below or email me at Andy@RadioStationConsultant.com.
Pic designed by rawpixel for www.freepik.com.