(By Randy Lane) What causes top radio shows to fall into decline after years of rating dominance? The combination of complacency and new competition is almost always the two-pronged reason. The mindset is typically, “Let’s keep doing what we’re doing. After all, it got us to the top.”
Until it doesn’t. And ratings begin to fall. Do you have a comeback plan? When your show becomes predictable and listeners lose interest, it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and change things up.
The Dave & Carole Morning Show dominated the 25-54 demo during most of their 28-year run at WKLH Milwaukee. The show gradually fell from the top to below the station average. Several cast changes were made trying to stop the bleeding. It didn’t work.
When Saga VP Programming Bob Lawrence and I met with the team in October of 2017, the show had fallen to a 5.5 share, 6+ in Nielsen. Just seven months later in July 2018, the show scored a 10.7 share, #1 6+ in Milwaukee. It has remained number one through the September Nielsen.
The Comeback Story: Dave, Dorene, and Gino
The show was restructured to a three-person cast: host Dave Luczak with co-hosts Dorene Rinelli and Gino Salomone. Operations Manager Bob Bellini began focusing all the imaging on defining the roles and characters of the new cast.
New format clocks were implemented for today’s short attention span and short time-spent-listening. The song count was increased from two to five songs hourly, and the stop sets were made PPM friendly.
Bellini shared, “The show ruthlessly edits content segments and leaves all non-compelling content on the cutting-room floor.” Luczak added, “The turning point came when we heard with our own ears how much better Jason Wilde of the Packers sounded at four minutes rather than seven.”
We conducted the RLC Content Mapping Exercise to identify the A-Power benchmarks like Dairyland Dumbasses to anchor the show at appointment times to create tune-ins. B-level features were freshened with new twists, and C-level features were tossed out.
Saga corporate and Milwaukee VP/GM Annmarie Topel effectively managed sponsorships and reduced the commercial load. Annmarie found a different way to accommodate clients on features that were discontinued.
The cast became more authentic and vulnerable through personal storytelling. Dorene and Gino highlight their contrasting characters with friendly conflict and playful teasing. The show also did their own version of Mean Tweets, allowing listeners to complain about the changes.
Dave opens all content segments with a hook headline getting immediately into content. He says, “We get to the content immediately and inject audio disruptions throughout segments to maintain listener attention. We don’t read quotes, we find the audio.” All segments end with an engaging tease to maintain TSL.
Saga corporate and WKLH management decided not to invest in promotion and marketing. Instead, they invested in talent coaching to help turn the show around.
When I asked Dave if he was conflicted about making changes after being successful for so many years, he said, “I just wanted to win again. The biggest challenge was getting out of my comfort zone. The rules of the game have changed.” Comfort is not your friend when it comes to keeping your edge creatively.
The key to staying on top, or returning to the top, is to retain the essence of what made the show successful, evolve the characters or add new ones, and continue to create innovative content.