We get questions. Boy do we get questions. With the amount of managers, executives, and hosts we talk to on a daily basis, great questions pop up from the people in the field doing radio’s heavy lifting all the time. And when that happens we turn to the experts, those who have a proven track record of success in our industry, who we know are going to give us the best advice possible.
Today we are lucky enough to have Tracy Johnson from the Tracy Johnson Media Group as our expert. So we stockpiled your questions, shipped them off to Tracy, and he delivered the kind of information you are going to want to print out and tape to your studio window.
Radio Ink: What’s the biggest mistake you hear new hosts doing and why should they avoid it?
Tracy Johnson: Brand new personalities face many challenges on the air, mostly dealing with the basics, but overall, the most common problem I hear with air talent is finding a proper way to bring their character to life without coming off as self-absorbed or egotistical. This often happens when relating personal stories or observations from their off-air lives. I call it the principle of “It’s Not About You, Yet It’s All About You.” Talent must understand and respect the listener’s experience, yet command attention to draw the audience in to their unique personality. This is a delicate balance. Unfortunately, I hear far more personalities on the wrong side of the equation. Listeners are immediately turned off when the talk turns to being “all about them, not about me.”
Radio Ink: How would you describe the perfect relationship between the PD and on-air talent?
Tracy Johnson: It should be a partnership built on communication and respect. Think of it the way Patriots Coach Bill Bellichick and Tom Brady work together. There’s a relationship built on trust and understanding. That doesn’t happen by dictating policy, issuing orders, or working behind one another’s back. Radio talent — at least the good ones — are highly sensitive, and usually inspired by positive feedback. A psychological study showed that it takes nine compliments to offset each critical remark. So, while it shouldn’t be a relationship built on false praise, the tone must be upbeat. Talent should feel that their PD is their number one fan, always in their corner. The moment that trust is broken, bad things usually start to happen on the air and off.
Radio Ink: How would you advise a market manager to handle a hot-head on-air (star) talent?
Tracy Johnson: With patience and an open door! In my seminar “Treat Them Like Dogs: The Care and Feeding Of Air Talent,” I compare the management of personalities to raising a puppy. A puppy is impulsive, full of energy and emotion. They want to make you happy but don’t have the maturity or experience to control themselves. They have outbursts. There are accidents. In radio, management needs to understand that great personalities aren’t wired like executives. They must be handled differently. They need constant (daily) attention, regular (consistent) feedback. Building that relationship won’t eliminate problems, but will establish a bond that makes it much easier to deal with issues when they come up.
Radio Ink: Other than News/Talk stations, should music hosts avoid discussing national politics and giving their views? Why or why not?
Tracy Johnson: As with all content-oriented questions, the answer is, “It depends.” That’s not a cop out, it’s for real. Every personality should be talking about this election in some fashion, filtered through: a) the audience expectation of that station and personality, b) the brand values of the station, c) if it fits the personality’s character profile, and d) the angle or entry point of the content.
For the most part, talking about the issues and candidates doesn’t make sense for most air personalities, but talking about the events surrounding the election and reflecting the audience’s attention does. This requires a great deal of thought, preparation, and expertise from both the PD and the talent. Unfortunately, many PDs or managers have found it easier to issue a direct order of “no politics” at the very time it’s the number one topic for almost everyone in the U.S., and many other countries. A better policy is “take no sides” but allow personality to connect with listeners on this topic that is so top-of-mind. However, that takes discipline, coaching, and an investment in time and resources many stations aren’t able (or willing) to provide.
Radio Ink: What are the five traits a perfect on-air host has to have today?
Tracy Johnson: There’s no such thing as a perfect on-air host! And, honestly, that’s a good thing. Everyone has flaws or quirks, and those quirks are often the most relatable things in a personality’s brand profile. But to me, the five most important attributes of air talent are:
- Curiosity, or interest. Great talent is interested in life, other people, and the have a natural curiosity that helps them project their personality through a broad variety of topics.
- Likeability. Some people have a natural ability to change the room when they come in. Great talent does this. They brighten those around them. Likeability traits can be learned, but for the most part, either you have it or you don’t.
- Work Ethic. Talent that is driven by a passion for excellence and will stop at nothing to get there will find a way to succeed. Ryan Seacrest is a great example. It’s no accident that he’s had so much success in his career. He works harder than almost anyone else.
- A Sense of Show Biz. Personality radio is show business. It’s not real life. A great air talent knows how to dress up content and turn ordinary material into something extra-ordinary. This happens through exaggeration, enhancement, and embellishment.
- Balance. Keeping a healthy balance both on and off the air is important. To reflect real life, talent must experience life. Yet to master their craft, they must also make a commitment to excellence. The same is true in content selection, building a consistent, yet unpredictable show. Balance is important.
Radio Ink: Do you worry the industry is not developing future stars?
Tracy Johnson: I used to, but don’t now. It’s true that radio is not developing new on-air stars. Part of the reason is because we restrict talent from expressing themselves and building an audience around their personality. They can’t get traction because we don’t (or can’t) coach it properly. The opportunities aren’t there, and the expertise (and time) to coach it isn’t there. The problem is that talented young folks are able to express themselves without radio! They can launch a podcast or a YouTube channel or blog and build their own audiences through social media. That’s powerful. And you know what? They’re really doing radio a favor. All we have to do is identify the talent and recruit it. But nurture it, don’t suppress it. That takes an investment of time and resources. The opportunity is enormous. Adding truly entertaining and creative personalities on a radio brand that reaches a large cume can ignite a fan base and revitalize radio. And that’s what my company specializes in. That’s why our positioning statement is “Developing On-Air Superstars.”