By Jeff McHugh
When I was operations manager at Clear Channel (now iHeart Media) in St Louis, I really believed in Mason and Remy, the upstart young Country morning show on 937 The Bull.
Mason and Remy were in an uphill battle against Cornbread, the funny and talented drive host with a long heritage of winning at WIL.
Bonneville owned WIL at that time. Bonneville had big budgets to give Cornbread advertising, producers, a big cast of co-hosts, and the nicest station vehicles in town.
We could provide Mason and Remy with, uh…. a willingness to take advantage of their habit of working unreasonably long hours, and their outstanding social media prowess.
Around that time I had just re-read “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, the ancient book on battle strategy, and one phrase stood out to me:
“If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win a hundred battles without jeopardy.”
I began to wonder what we might learn by studying our opponent. I invited Mason and Remy to air a recorded “best of” show for one day and to come over to my house for a big breakfast so we could spend the morning listening to Cornbread’s entire show live.
We took a lot of notes, made new realizations about what Cornbread was doing well and discovered some areas where we realized that his great show might be open to attack.
For instance, Cornbread had a habit of veering off on political tangents, and at times could rant his opinion on an issue quite negatively for an entire segment.
Also, while the show was energetic and executed well, Cornbread was the only person on the show who could be considered a “character.” The other folks on the show were likable enough but you really didn’t know much about them as real people.
Whatever Cornbread did, we did the opposite. Where Cornbread was strong, we didn’t compete. Where he was weak, we attacked.
“An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.”
Since there was only one strong character on the Cornbread Show, we gave listeners two characters. We emphasized the opposite personalities of Mason (somewhat cynical and a little grumpy) and Remy (overly soft-hearted and romantic) and built content around their authentic differences when possible.
We also stayed completely away from politics of any kind, focused on relationship-based content that would appeal to women who might be turned off by negativity. We also made it a goal to sound more fun, to laugh more, and keep things generally positive.
It worked. Within seven months Mason and Remy had beaten Cornbread in 18-34, and within a year, our show was #3 in the market with an 8.3 share.
What could you learn by studying your enemy? Consider taking a single day off the air and listening intently to your main competitor with your program director, producer, and others whose opinion you value. Where are they strong, where are they weak? How could you do something compelling that they are not doing?
“What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.”
Good luck in your attack. And, congratulations to Mason and Remy on their new gig in Chicago on Big 955 WNUA, just announced last week.
Jeff McHugh is a 30-year broadcaster with a background in marketing and talent coaching. Jeff works with radio and television personalities, public speakers and presenters to add storytelling, drama and character to their content.