Mad Scientists Of Broadcasting


(By Jeff McHugh) As a media entertainer, you can learn a lot from a recent experiment involving sex robots.

Whitney Cummings’ told a lot of jokes about sex robots during her recent standup show here in Portland. Her set was hilarious overall, but towards the end Whitney began riffing on sex robots and kept going and going and going. She lingered longer than the topic was worth, scraping bottom with dud jokes.

I found out Whitney was testing material for her TV special. She planned to review show recordings to judge what connected. All good comics test material like this. If you see Whitney Cumming’s special, I am sure that she will use only the finest quality sex robot jokes.

Like standup comics testing material, successful broadcasters experiment as well. My friend, Randy Lane, once tested two total strangers on the air at midnight in Birmingham. They became the successful syndicated show Mark And Brian.

Think of yourself as a mad scientist. Throw some things at the wall to see what sticks using the scientific method:

1 Think of an idea.
2 Gather information.
3 Make a hypothesis and guess how it would work.
4 Experiment and test it.
5 Analyze your results.
6 Decide if it is a good idea or bad idea.

For example, I once had an idea that we should replace an under-performing iHeartMedia syndicated talk show with local hosts. 

After noticing how ratings rose after the show each day when the station aired music, we experimented when the show went on vacation.  Instead of the usual “best of,” we played more music in mornings. 

That week, PPM went up 27%. VPs noticed and the syndication went away. The station now has excellent local hosts with good content and eight songs an hour. Nothing would have changed without our experiment.  

As a host, you may have encountered managers and consultants who shoot ideas like skeet on a shooting range. Not us! The more crazy ideas you try and fail  — safely — the better.

• Post topics on social media in advance of the show to measure response. The topic that gets more interaction might be the best one for the show.

• Save one segment every two weeks for a content experiment. Tell listeners you are trying something new. If it fails, use the failure for laughs.

• Have a crazy new benchmark idea? Try it on your podcast first and, if it hits, put it on radio.

• Does your station run stream fill during commercials on FM? Produce your idea and test it in that space to see what reacts.

• Got a risky joke that is close to the edge? Try it with listeners on the phone or on location before airing.

• If your show is on at 5:00 a.m., unleash your Frankenstein idea on that relatively small audience. If they flee in terror, do not worry, they will come back.

Jeff McHugh is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company.


  1. Other organizations do, indeed, invite and support experimentation and innovation.
    Radio, however, tends to treat such behaviour as that of someone “stepping out of line”.
    For that, the offending individuals are taken out behind the shed for a severe application of a strong, stout and worn hickory switch.

  2. This is the future of radio – every smaller market (especially) station manager, PD and group exec needs to read and heed. If nothing else, invite local “creative types” to submit a recording of a morning show bit, a community issue analysis report, whatever, that they believe would make sense to air. Then, when a few arrive, assemble a group and have a listening session.

    Back in the 1990’s, when I was seeking to return to radio after retiring too soon, I approached several AM station in the New Jersey/eastern Pennsylvania region … all exhibiting no evidence of having any listeners or revenue. I presented concepts for programming, promoting and sales that would have cost them little more than what they were presently doing. None would even have a meaningful conversation, as they were “doing fine.”

    Keep in mind, I was not an unknown … years earlier I had gone into NYC and taken a dead FM to #5 in the market in seven months. We did it with programming, a “near-zero” ad/promotions budget and word-of-mouth … yes, innovation thinking and being willing to take a risk, and adding a little “hustle” to the effort as well!

    Are owners and managers any more open to help today?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here