Be Better Than A Song


(By John Shomby) One short direction for on-air talent: BE BETTER THAN A SONG! Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Should be easy, right? But is it? Can you top Beyonce? Luke Combs? Jack Harlow? The Foo Fighters? For King and Country?

Not as “simple” as you think, huh?

Every time that mic is opened, on-air talent give the listener a choice between them and, most likely, a song on another station/DSP/playlist.

First, know what makes a song a hit and you may get an idea as to what you’re up against. Google it and you’ll get very consistent answers.

  1. Sound quality, which is obvious.
  2. Topicality – Does it address an issue of the day or tug at a heartstring?
  3. Memorability – Is it sing-along worthy?
  4. Artist Reputation – What does the body of work look like?
  5. Cultural Impact – Does the song address a new sound or new way of thinking?

Every song that gets on the air has some, or all, of the above and it’s the job of the on-air talent to consistently outdo that if you want success as an air personality. Add to that attributes an air personality can bring to the table that will never come from a song.

Real-time engagement – Successful shows can take advantage of current events, local and otherwise, and make them their own through personality and creativity. Many examples can be shown from the recent eclipse. A song’s message never changes giving the talent a decided edge here.

Personal connection – This is where air talent find ways to successfully entertain and/or motivate an audience through their own personal stories, anecdotes, and experiences. The scores of successful radiothons around the country are general examples. A song makes a connection based on a story that is always the same while successful personalities can gauge what’s on the listener’s mind at a moment in time and tailor that to what they say and do.

Entertainment – Whether it be storytelling, insightful commentary, or humor, on-air talent, at their best, can generate fun, information, and relevance, whether local or otherwise. Think of the most successful shows out there. They have all of that in common. Once again, a song is limited to its singular message.

With this in mind, we should be encouraging and coaching our air talent to always be “better than a song.” Research study after research study has determined that listeners are drawn to entertaining talent now more than ever since they have so many music-only choices of their own.

This all came to mind for me after a conversation with a PD where I must have heard the phrase “PPM Friendly” at least ten times when he referred to personality talk breaks. (Might as well say “ratings friendly” to include those in the diary realm, by the way.)

We’ve gotten so caught up in “how long” rather than “how good.” We all know that any well-done segment isn’t shackled by time but just by creativity. In other words, a really entertaining 2-minute bit most likely FEELS as if it’s just 30 seconds or less. It takes preparation, and attentive talent coaching, to learn this but, in my opinion, it’s crucial radio stays relevant and, heaven forbid, gets even more relevant in the future. 

A simple, but effective mantra: BE BETTER THAN A SONG – every break, every day.

Based in Nashville, TN, John Shomby is the owner and CEO of Country’s Radio Coach. He is focused on coaching and mentoring artists, radio programmers, and on-air talent to help them grow and develop inside the radio station and the industry. Reach John at [email protected] and 757-323-1460. Read John’s Radio Ink archives here.


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