It’s Time For a Softer, Gentler Touch On The Air


(By Mike McVay) A week doesn’t go by when I am not talking to friends and colleagues that are on both sides of the political aisle and as diverse with their opinions as they are diverse members of society. There is the optimist who believes we’ll have a vaccine before December 31st. There are those that think it will be no sooner than summer 2021. “Kids need to return to school.” “Kids should continue to be home schooled.” 

Pick a topic, any topic, and those that are most vocal are extreme to one-side or the other. The majority of America, validated in the same research that I have seen for years, are somewhere in the middle between the two extremes. We all want a better world and a better nation within which we live and raise our children. That’s what most listeners want. 

It’s time for a softer, kinder, gentler touch, and more understanding approach on the air. Many among your audience are looking for a break from the bad news, a chance to forget about the situation we find ourselves in and a break from what has become a new obsession with “Doomscrolling and Doomsurfing.” 

Doomscrolling and Doomsurfing are new terms referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. Many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news about COVID-19 or social unrest without the ability to stop or step back.

That isn’t to say that your station or your personality needs to change who they are or the way in which they deliver content, alter their sound, or become someone that they aren’t. It does mean that we need to accept that most people are just plain tired. Tired of the argument between political parties. Tired of air-talent who lack a medical degree spouting off on their thoughts about this pandemic. Tired of personalities who are screaming at callers and hanging-up on anyone who disagrees with them. When did we become so angry? How did we let these negative feelings bleed through the studio door, into the microphone and over the airwaves? 

Those listeners who desire talk radio, and want validation, will listen to conservative-talk radio (which is found mostly on commercial stations) or liberal-talk radio (which is found mostly on non-commercial stations), and they’ll also flip between news channels on TV. They need a break, too. Television ratings spiked when the Pandemic first hit. There was another spike with the riots following the killing of George Floyd. The ratings have settled back to almost normal viewing levels.

My belief is that most talent should be encouraged to look for Good News stories, create features like Random Acts of Kindness, continue to salute First Responders & Health Care Heroes, identify individuals who are spreading positivity in the lives of your listeners and within your local community. They should avoid rumormongering, meanspirited dialogue and provide us with an escape. Even for a moment … give us a distraction. 

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all recommendation, but it is an encouragement to pause for an assessment of the talent and their content on your station, and stop doing what you’ve always done “because we’ve always done it that way.”  We need a softer, kinder, gentler touch. 

Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]



  1. I think most owners/corporations agree with McVay, and most air personalities agree with (Truckin’!) Tom… and there’s the problem. Just read a great article on the always socially aware Ben & Jerry in the NYT. You may piss off a few people along the way, but remember, you don’t need a 100-share to win. If the phone’s not ringing and/or you’re not getting complaint letters & emails, you ain’t tryin’ hard enough. When my grandkids ask “what did you do during the Great Pandemic?”, I don’t want to say: “played Air Supply records”.

  2. Great insight, Mike. You continue to be one of the best because you always try to reflect the listener’s point of view and have that guide your direction. Maybe that’s why you’re still one of the best in my book ! Thanks for sharing with us. I have been moving in that direction with my Flashback Top 40 24/7 format and doing some non-traditional type promotion geared to reach the COVID-19 saturated listener. People want an escape now. The bombardment of doom and gloom is relentless. It’s time for radio to connect, be sensitive, and help them smile. Jay Cook used to put a mirror in the announce booth when he detected one or two of us were getting too cynical. He’d ask us to look in the mirror when talking, and try to crack even the slightest smile. It really made a difference. I know it was a different time, but we need to realize why many people turn on a music station. To lift them up!

  3. Couldn’t disagree more. There’s an old adage in radio that’s always true. When you’re sick of hearing it, the audience is just getting used to it.

  4. In the early 90’s I was running two stations in Montreal. One a talk station, the other a Hot AC. It was during the referendum. For those who don’t know, it was a vote in the province of Quebec to pull out of Canada and be its own country. VERY heavy stuff. Every possible outlet was banging the crap out of it. I had our Newstalk super weigh into it. For our music station…other than the news itself, jocks were banned from saying anything about it. Zero. Ratings result? Huge spike in both stations, big drops in the other music stations. The reason? People just get sick of it all and want a respite. Flash forward to now and Covid. Same basic thing with a Jazz station I’m helping with their programming. Not a total ban, but definitely a ‘less…way less, is better’. An oasis of sorts. Same outcome. PPM TSL tripled. If memory serves me, the only station in the market where TSL jumped. So yeah, a good rule of thumb is, if YOU are sick of hearing about stuff, so is the audience. Back away. Mike’s on the right track.

    • Couldn’t disagree more. There’s an old adage in radio that’s always true. When you’re sick of hearing it, the audience is just getting used to it.

  5. “Softer, kinder, gentler touch.” BORING, is what I read. In a real-time ratings environment, this is no time for a vanilla approach. When people want peace, or feelings of kindness or gentleness, why would we be so arrogant to think they need a Radio DJ to find that? They have their own families, pets, religious groups, etc. Have you heard the topics/lyrics of recent Top 40 or Country songs? I wouldn’t say kind or gentle is an accurate description. They’re entertainers. They entertain. If radio personalities want to be entertainers, then make that decision and follow it up. Want to be known for reading the community hero of the day, cool, do that, but expect to labeled as someone who does what anyone else can do. The hallmark card approach is politically correct and reads really nice, yet we are in the entertainment business. This is about inspiring an audience to continue consuming by presenting content that can’t be found anywhere else. Stop trying to water down the environment. The environment is created by the audience, and steering them away from hot button issues and conversations is simply a decision to be average and forgettable. Could you imagine these consultants giving Starbucks this advice? Do not take a political/social stand! They wouldn’t listen. The NFL, or MLB? Nope, They’ve all taken a stand on hot button issues. Known brands are digging in! So, dig in! Serve your audience. Stop pretending you’re the United Nations of Media and actually do something that matters.

  6. I agree with Mike… There’s a significant difference between presenting disturbing information with reasonable frequency, balanced with positive (but not necessarily happy) news, as opposed to a constant diet of repeating bad news, especially if it’s biased by editorial opinion to foster an agenda. The latter is far more apt to distort perception for many, leading to feelings of doom, hopelessness or rage. Sensational, shocking, or frightening information may initially attract attention and generate ratings, but in large amounts will most likely become just a downer. Like many addicting substances it may start out feeling pretty good but overdosing usually doesn’t end well.

  7. Music formatted radio stations should engage their audience with entertainment. That means pressing ALL the emotional buttons. The old adage to “make them laugh, make them think, and make them cry” should be the mantra of every personality that seeks to entertain an audience. The idea that one-size-fits-all for that particular style of content is ludicrous. Music personalities are becoming a dying breed because they’ve been shut down for the most part to the basics and in many cases have been eliminated all together from the hours of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.. My personal opinion is that this lack of engagement is one of the reasons music radio is dying.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here