It Is Not The Thing


(By Jeff McHugh) Comedian Jay Leno collects cars. Here are three cars that Leno owns today. Which will you remember three weeks from now?

  • 1968 Mercedes
  • 1933 Bugatti
  • 1955 Buick Roadmaster — the car Jay lived in when he was poor and took his now-wife on dates in as he started his comedy career. Now restored like brand-new.

A car is a thing. As content, physical items do not often evoke emotion and audiences do not find them compelling. Great content involves storytelling, and it is difficult to tell a story about a thing.

A grilled cheese sandwich is a thing. Last Tuesday, I heard numerous broadcasters exclaim, “Happy National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day!” Some devoted whole segments to it. If you can think of a blockbuster story about a grilled cheese sandwich you are better than any of the shows I heard.

Generic content like grilled cheese sandwich day may have been OK for filler long ago, but when today’s audience is splitting their morning commute between Apple Music, Sirius XM, their favorite podcast, and you, your content has to be about more than a thing.

A sport is a thing. Ted Lasso is not about sports. That hit comedy/drama is about an inexperienced coach who was expected to fail but who succeeds through positivity. If Ted Lasso were about soccer, it would have bombed.

  • An Oscar is a thing. Will Smith assaulting Chris Rock is a story.
  • The Masters is a thing. Tiger Wood’s recovery and return is a story.
  • Ukraine is a thing. Comedian-turned-President Volodymyr Zelenskyy humiliating Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a story.

This week, country music star Luke Combs announced he has a new album coming out on June 24th. An album is a thing. How could country radio hosts turn an announcement about a thing into memorable content?

A search just now for “Luke Combs” turns up how Luke once worked as a bar bouncer, but his boss would not let Luke perform. Luke then got an OK at the bar across the street and made $200 ($1 per person) for his first-ever concert. An album announcement provides a reason to tell a good story.

I created a goofy catchphrase to coach storytellers: “Go long on stories, short on stuff.”

When discussing a “thing,” limit airtime to a sentence or two. This includes:

  • Physical items
  • Announcements
  • Opinion
  • Issues and concepts (politics, religion)
  • Any “there’s an app for that” content like weather, traffic, and scores

Use things as a jumping-off point to tell stories about human conflicts, relationships, motivations, actions, and behavior — and go big.

A story is worth paragraphs, several minutes of airtime, and sometimes multiple segments. A good story tells one person’s struggle, victory, or drama. Stories can come from:

  • Your life
  • Your co-host’s life
  • A listener
  • The lives of others (news, pop culture, history)

Another indicator of content quality is when you feel emotion. Things tend to be unemotional. Where there is emotion, there is a story.

Jeff McHugh is known for developing remarkable talent for both morning and afternoon drive. He brings an uncommon mix of positivity, creativity, and strategy to the shows that he coaches. He is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company. Reach Jeff at [email protected]


  1. This is a painful reality that consultants are truly saying the same thing, over and over and radio talent isn’t responding. Literally, Morning Show’s are doing this list backwards because the old fat PD’s, who are just trying to save their jobs, want to hear “Things” because things are safe.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here