How To Be The Underdog


(By Jeff McHugh) In sports, films, books, TV shows, and business, audiences love to root for the underdog. Some of our biggest media stars found success by presenting themselves as long-shots.

On FM radio, a theme of The Howard Stern Show was the threat of cancellation from station management and the FCC.

On AM radio, Rush Limbaugh proclaimed himself the lone conservative facing overwhelming odds against liberal media.

In 1983, Scott Shannon’s Morning Zoo joked about Z100’s studio location in a not-very-glamorous Secaucus, NJ, swamp.

For some radio shows and podcasts, presenting yourself as the underdog can be a winning strategy. Here’s how…

• Point out your obstacles. Highlight that your show has fewer players, more personal quirks and flaws, or a weaker signal. If you are female, non-white, or gay, audiences love a win for any disenfranchised group because you worked harder for it.

• Create a strong enemy. Remember Rocky with Sylvester Stallone? A boxing nobody took on the heavyweight champ. The bigger your foe, the more audiences will root for you.

• Avoid smack talk. Female audiences are turned off by it. This is why you do not see late night TV foes Fallon, Colbert, and Kimmel denigrating each other. Give competitors praise instead.

• Weave the underdog theme throughout the show. Blame on-air snafus on how your studios are not as nice as your competitors’. When you stumble, mention how your superior competitor would never make such a mistake.

• When you are #1, continue to be the underdog. The haters come out of the woodwork when anyone reaches the top. Present your show as the scrappy alternative threatened by Spotify, syndicated national shows, or corporate pressure.


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