Use The Difficulty


(By Jeff McHugh) If you have worked with me or read my writings, you know how fond I am of show business lessons that apply to creating great radio and podcasts. Film actor Michael Caine tells a story from his early theatre days any audio presenter can use.

Caine was supposed to enter a scene through a door, but on that night, the other actor spontaneously threw a chair against it, jamming it. When he said, “I can’t get in; there’s a chair there,” another actor said, “Use the difficulty!

“If it’s a comedy, fall over it,” the actor explained. “If it’s a drama, pick it up and smash it. Use the difficulty.”

Broadcast media is full of difficulties, and the best players improvise through, past, or around those challenges, both on and off the air.

Use the difficulty applies to other businesses too. If you have ever chowed down on free unlimited breadsticks and salad at Olive Garden, you have experienced the difficulty being used at your table.

According to the TV show The Food That Built America, opening night at the very first Olive Garden location in Orlando was going horribly. The place was packed, the kitchen got way behind on orders, and hangry diners were furious.

A desperate manager ordered the wait staff to rush bread sticks and salad to tables at no charge, and suddenly, diner perception shifted from very negative to “this is the best restaurant ever!”

Free breadsticks and unlimited salad – which are very low cost to the restaurant – are still served at every Olive Garden location.

A great Hollywood difficulty occurred during the filming of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the script called for an extended fight scene between Harrison Ford’s character and a bad guy with a large sword. But that day, the production was hopelessly behind schedule and Harrison Ford had dysentery, which meant he could not be far from the bathroom for long.

Producer Frank Marshall decided to cut the scene and have Indiana Jones unexpectedly pull out a pistol and shoot the swordsman. The difficulty transformed that moment into one of Hollywood’s most iconic moments.

In the 1980s, I witnessed a major difficulty involving a profane caller on Jonathon Rush’s new morning show at WNOK Columbia, SC. As a young midday host, I admired Jonathon’s creativity, edginess, and humor.

But that morning, the switchboard was jammed with complaints; everyone was upset, and I feared Jonathon might be terminated. Just then, our General Manager Fleetwood Gruver strolled calmly through the lobby, saying, “Maybe we can make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

At Fleetwood’s direction, we repeated a vague recorded statement for the next 24 hours apologizing “for what was said today on the Jonathon Rush morning show.”

Many thousands heard the apology, while only a few heard the actual snafu. Still, the mystery and controversy became a turning point in branding Jonathon as Columbia’s premiere radio star, and he remains unrivaled in that market on WCOS to this day.

Not long ago, I was coaching a three-person morning show that was unfortunately RIFfed to a two-person show. There were big feelings, more behind-the-scenes workload for the remaining players, and a new on-air dynamic.

Unexpectedly, the show improved.

With a less crowded mic balance, conversations had more natural breathing room, the two players brought humor out of each other, and the segments were more focused.

In improvisational theatre, the rule is, “Yes, and.” Whenever an unexpected event happens, you accept it rather than block it and think, “How can I make something out of this?”

How might you use a difficulty this week in your life, work, or home?

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] and read his Radio Ink archives here.


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