There are a lot of reasons why live radio shows should work the phones. It makes the audience feel like they are part of the show, plays to an advantage live shows have over tracked shows, crowdsources content creation and makes the show much more entertaining. That’s why I’m always encouraging the talent I coach to find strategic ways to get listeners to call their shows and how to use the calls they get. The best way for a show that’s not getting any calls to start lighting up the phones is to use a variety of ringers. Just to clarify, ringers are people we know that we tell to call or we record ahead of time (friends, family, coworkers, etc). Here are the two main reasons ringers are so valuable in radio.
1) Most people are VERY UNLIKELY to call a radio station anymore unless they’re regularly hearing listener voices on the air. Unfortunately radio has worked hard in recent years to give listeners the impression that we don’t actually want them to call, most of our hours are unmanned, some stations allow their voicetracked talent to solicit calls when they can’t physically answer them (to make it sound like they’re there) and some stations still employ live talent who have zero interest in talking to any listener because they think it’s beneath them. Plus, listener habits have changed dramatically in recent years (we all call each other less than we used to, opting instead to text). Using ringers will give us the volume needed to get those listener voices on the air consistently every day for a few weeks. No one wants to be the first person on the dance floor. Once listeners hear people chiming in, they will start calling, but it takes time and consistency. If ringers don’t jumpstart engagement on the phones then we’ve identified other issues. Either A) the on-air content, features and contests our on-air talent are delivering are off the mark or B) hardly anyone is listening to the station because our music mix is off or we’re losing a head-to-head programming battle with a competitor.
2) Ringers don’t only train listeners to call again, they also train them on what kind of call we want. That’s because we shouldn’t just be telling someone we know to call in, we should be directing them on what to say. Good on-air talent know what their strengths are and they know what brings out the best sides of their personalities, especially if they’ve been well coached to identify those and how to use them. That skillset allows them to tell a ringer exactly what they need from them to create the most entertaining interaction. Hearing those fun interactions naturally leads real callers to lean into those kinds of calls. After all, most of the people calling in are doing so because they actually want their voice on the radio, so their goal to get on will consciously or subconsciously lead them in the right direction. Personalities and stations with well trained listeners can use them to sell a contest, setup a feature, lead them into a break, provide the out for a break or even tease an upcoming break.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for surrounding the listener on every digital platform we’re on and getting interaction and engagement on social media, texts into our texting platform, and comments on website blogs and the station app. But, at the end of the day we’re an audio medium first so phones have to be a BIG part of that equation during any live hours.