Subtle Messages We Send The Audience

In radio everything that plays through the speakers sends a message to our audience. Some of those messages are pretty obvious, like our strategic imaging that clearly defines our point of difference from competitors and, on music stations, the tunes we choose to play that the audience is either into or not into. But, some of the things we do daily send subtler messages that are harder to pinpoint without a discerning ear or the help of research like focus groups or talking to hundreds of diverse listeners to see if a pattern emerges. If we’re not careful those subtle messages will work against the obvious ones we’re trying to send, tearing down our brands instead of reinforcing and building them up. Here are a few examples of those negative messages we can subtly send either consciously or subconsciously.This show or station isn’t for you. There are a few ways we can send this signal. One of them is being more exclusive than inclusive creating a ‘too cool for school’ vibe that insinuates to new listeners that they’re not part of that cool clique because they’re unfamiliar with all of the music, subject matter or even the lingo. This happens most often on unique formats like triple A, indie or hard rock, indie country (Texas/Red Dirt and Americana), jazz, blues or anything else outside of the mainstream. But, it also occasionally happens on mainstream formats and happens quite often on talk stations. Another example is show imaging or content selection that tells a portion of the audience a show isn’t for them. But, probably the most prevalent of these subtle signals is an on-air show that’s more internally focused than externally focused. These shows and talent choose topics based more on what they’re interested in than what they assume the audience is, include a ton of insider info about things happening at the station and even in their studio and almost always go longer than they should because they don’t mind wasting the listener’s time. This sends the message to the audience that the show is for us instead of for them.

We don’t want to interact with you. I used to say there are two types of on-air personalities and shows, ones that can only get calls on contests and ones that can get calls on their content as well. Recently I’ve had to amend that because there are now a fair amount of shows that can’t even get contesting calls. That’s because they’re subtly, but consistently, sending a message to their audience that they don’t actually want them to call. They do this first and foremost by rarely ever airing calls, consistently asking for calls and still not airing any and by overall sounding unwelcoming to the audience and backing that up by being short with the few brave souls who do choose to call. Yes, it’s significantly harder to get calls than it used to be because we’ve retrained our audiences not to call by rarely having a live body in the studio to answer those calls and the overall change in our culture that causes people to call everyone in their lives less. But, we’re an audio medium so it’s incredibly important to have that audio. Plus, there are still talent that get tons of great calls daily across all formats and market sizes. Here’s some tips on jump-starting engagement. If shows can not take and air calls it’s usually a sign that they’re not connecting with the target audience. This ‘we don’t want to interact with you’ message also extends to digital when we don’t respond to social and web comments, direct messages and emails.

We don’t respect your intelligence. When you dig in and do a little amateur psychology (unlicensed of course) to figure out why some on air talent don’t care to create content that’s for their audience the answer usually ends up being that they think their audience is stupid or at least a lot less intelligent than they are. As I’ve said before, regardless of the format, the audience in aggregate is never stupid. Yes, it’s true a really smart on-air talent may be more intelligent than most of their audience. But, it’s never a good idea to act like we’re the smartest person in the room because nobody likes that person, wants to have a beer with them or listen to them for their entire commute to work. Ironically, this trait is often prevalent with shows that run overly self-deprecating imaging that brands them as stupid because they assume that’s what will attract the audience that they clearly don’t respect.

We don’t like it here. There seems to be an epidemic of radio people thinking it’s funny to take shots at the station they work at, the town they live in and the radio industry as a whole. We’ve all been guilty of it from time to time but it’s a really bad idea to do any of this stuff consistently. First off, being someone who’s paid to talk into a microphone daily still seems like a dream job to many people and we shouldn’t do anything to shatter that image. Secondly, the majority of the people tuning in to us daily chose to live in the same area that we did and therefore one of the simplest ways to form a bond with them is by articulating a shared love for that area. As for disrespecting the station’s we work for, it’s never a good idea to fight against the platform we’ve been given because very rarely is the personality bigger than the platform and either way the platform almost always wins.

What do you think? What are some other ways we send subtle messages to our audiences? Comment below or email me at

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