Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Killing The Clutter

When you stand back and break down the content of so much of radio's non music areas you can see the big blocks of clutter we so often have in our breaks.

The information segments are filled with it. Look at the extra words we often see in weather, the long winded descriptions around traffic reports, the waste in our music sells, or all the extra words in any news story. It's not that we need to come up with some kind of text message code here to tighten it up, but do we really need all the details we usually include to get the message across?

Also look at where we put content in breaks. How many times do we hear a backsell where the jock has 'forced' some trivial music info into it, then rolls a liner for a bar night filled with extra plugs and finally we get to a great call from the audience? All the extra dancing before we hit the real 'punch line-caller' that was the real entertainment in the break.

Sometimes it sounds like we are talking just to hear our voices in the headphones. Hyping it up and giving that extra sell is also a test on the audience's patience and time. Make that liner extra special, sell those concert tickets for the promoter - our name is on that show, last week's wet t-shirt contest at Woody's was down give it the extra sell. We've all heard it and so has the audience.

Or we fall victim to the 'formatics' of the break. A contest is set up in the backsell and then we go to the phones while the spots run. After 5 minutes of spots we finally have the pay off and a caller on the phone with an entertaining bit - is there anyone left that's really paying attention?

Then there is the billboard or tease. Just because you have AC/DC on the way is that enough motivation to stay. We often cite the great Casey Kasem set ups as examples, but even those don't often carry the weight to get the audience to hang in there anymore - there are just too many other options at the press of a button.

The more we look at the tune out by studying the audience's reaction with the People Meters the more we see that they don't have much patience when the music stops. They know the spots are coming and your break is really more like a time bomb waiting to go off in just a few seconds with them. You have to get the MEAT or most entertaining part of the break out in front and try to hold them as long as you can. The longer you hold them the more likely they are to pass that urge to tune out.

Look at it much like a comedian who opens his slot with a joke about an Englishman, Irishman and a Scotsman - you know the joke is going to wander around a bit till you finally get to that entertaining/funny punch line. In the comedy club you can't flip the switch and jump to another comedian so you hang in there.

Also look at the practice we often see to build the break and finish with a big laugh or moment as we wrap it up. Leave them laughing. Run off the stage with the audience demanding more - a standing ovation. Again that works on a stage where the audience has to get up to find the exit. In our world - punch - you're gone.

We've seen a number of stories that radio programmers are pushing the talent to 'shut up.' Even the most recognized terrestrial radio jock, Ryan Seacrest, is under the gun to keep it quick according to his comments on The Kevin and Bean Show.

We all know the reality is that just being a jukebox won't do anything for radio to survive an a new media sea of jukebox options. We need the personality, entertaining elements and the information to build the unique product that broadcast radio is. Now that we can see what the audience does with the meter we also see that we have to be more focused. If we can learn to value their time and patience a lot more we can still deliver content that holds and entertains the audience. Sticking to this basic tenant of radio will turn out to be the real magic of our medium.

Perhaps a few lessons from SNL's MacGruber will illustrate it in an entertaining way.