One of the realities about the past 18 months is that for most of us, fun hasn't been in great abundance. In fact, the pressures of the world and the country, along with the pandemic and all its tentacles have made it challenging for so many people to smile in the face of darkness, tragedy, and disappointment.
That's often when we turn to entertainment media – to have a little fun, to get away from the stress, and to escape for awhile. Radio falls into this same category. Our Techsurveys have long pointed out the “emotional benefits” of listening to broadcast radio, and entertainment value is a key factor when a consumer chooses radio, whether it's music or hanging out with a favorite announcer or show.
It's also the #1 reason why radio personalities enjoy their jobs. In our most recent AQ3 study, we gave our more than 500 on-air hosts a list of possible reasons why they've chosen radio as a career, and look what bobbed to the top of the list:
Nearly eight of every ten say the “fun factor” is a main reason why they enjoy being on the airwaves. And our sample includes personalities in the biggest metros and working at mom & pop's, PPM and diary measured markets, and both music and spoken word stations. Sean Hannity, Elvis Duran, and Greg Beharrell may have little in common, but one thing they'd likely offer a collective nod to is this idea of having a good time when the on-air light goes on.
How has a year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic affected radio’s on-air talent? We surveyed over 600 personalities and producers. Watch our webinar to see the results.
That's why I was so intrigued when I read a profile of Survivor host Jeff Probst in the New York Times. Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of the show, never have been, and have probably watched it a couple times during its long, successful run.
That puts me in the minority, because the Survivor franchise has lived up to its name, surviving 21 years on CBS-TV. That's 41 seasons of contestants getting voted off various islands. And Probst is engaged and thoroughly invested in the ongoing success of the show.
Like the late, great Alex Trebek on Jeopardy, Probst is all in. He isn't just the host – he's Survivor‘s showrunner as well as an executive producer. (Oddly enough, he hosted Rock & Roll Jeopardy for three years.)
Similar to virtually every TV series, Survivor was sidelined for most of 2020, but that gave Probst an opportunity to think about the show's trajectory. His garage is his brainstorming center – the place where he “whiteboards” new ideas.
After a deep conversation with Mike White, the guy behind the terribly clever White Lotus (Netflix), Probst tore down all his previous Post-It sheets to boil Survivor down to one big idea – or rather, a simple question:
“IS IT FUN?”
And that's the litmus test Probst, his team, and Survivor‘s iconic creator, Mark Burnett, now use to hold up ideas, concepts, new wrinkles, and surprises.
When you think about it, it's the same standard radio programmers and their hosts should put into practice, whether a station is sports, country, hip-hop, rock, or yes, conservative talk.
Scanning radio's rich history of personalities, the best of the best have all brought certain qualities to the table, including shock, controversy, opinion, or slapstick. But the truly successful ones incorporated a sense of fun.
Howard Stern may have been bombastic and outrageous, but it was a fun show where humor – OK, irony and snark – was always present.
Rush Limbaugh – love him or loathe him – was at his core a Top 40 DJ, and his style, his bits, and his humor always included a fun element.
Now if you're in public radio, you might be thinking, “Oh yeah, what about us?”
And while most of the news magazines and interview shows don't exactly exude fun, some of the most successful programs in public radio history have all been…well, fun. Car Talk and Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me! (take a bow, Doug Berman) generate(d) lots of laughs, while A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor was all about whimsy, nostalgia, hokiness, and grins.
American Public Media's Marketplace is a show about business, and it's tons-o-fun thanks to its light-hearted host, Kai Ryssdal, who can make the Fed, the S&P 500, and Janet Yellen amusing. Kai brings his sense of humor, his wit, and his often raised eyebrow to a show that would otherwise be mundane at best, boring at worst.
When I listen to airchecks with Hubbard Radio's Greg Strassell, he frequently listens to morning shows with this question, front and center:
“Where's the funny?”
That's a good pressure test for many personalities and teams, but it's not everything. There's no requirement a show needs a standup comic in the studio in order to be entertaining and amusing. In fact, most hosts don't even need to make an audience laugh. Radio shows just have to be fun and make listeners feel good.
I would even go so far as to say the element of fun is often an instrumental ingredient in music, and the success – or failure – of many artists groups. I can only vouch for rock music, but would assert that while the bands of the past two decades have often been made up of accomplished and talented musicians, fun they are not. Many bands lack that memorable, identifiable, and outrageous front person who defines the band, adding elements of fun and irreverence.
A look back through rock's history reveals bands from the Beatles to Alice Cooper to KISS found a way to keep things amusing, often outrageously so. And the hardest rockers – AC/DC, Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne – had a definite sense of humor that served them well.
Whether it's Survivor or your radio station's morning show, success tends to be more fleeting when we take ourselves too seriously.
It's so easy to get caught up in the moroseness of our times when seemingly every “BREAKING NEWS” interruption is another reminder of how mired we are in unsettling, disheartening stories. Yes, 2021 has been better than the dumpster fire of last year, but only marginally so.
We are going through a rough patch to be sure, but that opens the door for talent that gets it. Movie theaters thrived during America's Depression Era in the 1930s, providing fun, escape, and even hope at a time when things couldn't have been bleaker. Radio could fill some of those same needs today.
When I review the responses of hundreds of air personalities in AQ3, or better yet, attend Morning Show Boot Camp – the last in-person conference until ??? – I am reminded of the value of the “fun factor.” Any radio personality – local or syndicated, major market or in a one-stoplight town – can make that difference.
You might want to take a listen to your show with that filter in place.
Are we having fun yet?
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