Fun Cannot Be Formatted

BFRFThis week, I came across an alarming number of people who talked about radio and the lack of fun, enjoyment and entertainment it brings to them. Some of the reaction was predictable. On the Radio Stuff podcast we talked to teens about radio.

“I don’t laugh to jokes on the radio,” one girl said.

Another guest talked about racing to turn off the car radio to avoid the onslaught of commercials and having to endure songs he “hates” to hopefully hear one he likes.

“I can pay $4.95 a month to Pandora avoid ads.” and skip songs.

What did surprise me was the conversation with a veteran radio host who had an epiphany when his own mom didn’t recognize him on the air, because he wasn’t having fun anymore.

What happened? Somewhere along the way radio lost its fun factor.

Paralysis by analysis.

Programmers, GMs, corporate VPs all meddling too much.

Too much focus on results and not enough on entertaining the listeners.

Yes, there is some science to radio, but there’s just as much art. And art is messy, unpredictable, and subjective.

“A leader is best

When people barely know he exists

Of a good leader, who talks little,

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

They will say, “We did this ourselves.”

― Lao TzuTao Te Ching

We all started in radio because we loved and enjoyed what we were doing. It seemed effortless. Now, somehow, it seems full of effort and struggle. Many radio execs are trying to “manage” their way to success instead of lead. “Say this. Don’t say that. Read this. Be out by this time. Don’t forget to tease, promote, do weather and traffic together. ” I’m as guilty as anyone, but I’m changing my tune.

 “The great Way is easy,

yet people prefer the side paths.

Be aware when things are out of balance.”

― Lao TzuTao Te Ching

I believe the key to bringing fun back to radio starts with building a trust between the programmers and talent. There needs to be room to create and permission to fail. Stations need to allow autonomy, personality, creativity, and unpredictability. Setting general guidelines for brand and success should allow the talent blossom. If you don’t trust your talent to deliver results then get new talent instead of programming them like robots.

A lot of radio people are over-thinking, over-directing, over-correcting, and over-reacting.

We need to get over it.

It’s time radio folk get back to enjoying ourselves, so listeners can experience the magic and joys of entertaining radio once again.

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  1. Birdy Song
    May 16, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    Well said, Larry. For 25 years talentless, scared PDs have been chasing some elusive magical radio formula, desperate to find some ultimate but rigid format, thinking they are baking fantastic fresh ciabatta, but actually serving stale, sliced bread, over and over.
    A quarter of a century of these overpaid idiots running scared of corporate management, locking everything down, transplanting original talent with cue-cards-and-four-in-a-row. Enough already!
    A highly respected PD once told me:
    “Research is like a lamppost – there to shed light, not to lean against.”
    Sadly, he – and so many others – didn’t remember this sensible advice, and merely copied the competition, analysing and copying everything they heard from the next clown on the dial, believing the other Charlie knew more than him, when in fact neither of them would know radio talent if it walked in to a room naked with a placard.
    And that’s why we have cookie-cutter radio.
    We’ve had Jack FM and Bob FM, now it’s time for Larry FM!

    • May 16, 2014 at 2:24 PM

      Thanks for the kind feedback. The frustration I read in your comments is too common in radio today. A shift is coming. It has to or we’re all doomed.

  2. May 16, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    Great post Larry!

    Fun can only happen in a culture that supports it – and for too many in Radio – the culture is fear based. Fear of “mic flight” fear of forcing a “tune out” – fear of not getting that “extra 5 minutes that’ll totally put us over the top!” Fear of mistakes. Fear of getting fired. Fear.

    Culture is the most important factor here. And that’s something that will require a new kind of leadership. We have a responsibility to point it out when we’re not seeing it – but also – when we do!

  3. Lou
    May 16, 2014 at 4:21 PM

    I found a station that let the host have it his way. I tuned in a sports talk show and this guy was shouting every word and ragging on about things even after some of his callers told him to get over. Turned out after 10 min. and cant belive I stayed on that long

    • May 16, 2014 at 6:21 PM

      Lo, the key is the mutual trust between PD and host to reflect the brand while entertaining…not just do whatever you want.

  4. May 17, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    Amateur radio is way more fun than any commercial advert with the odd bit of music between the sport, news n adz you’re better off turning off your transmitters and give thevremaining bandwidth to us , what a waste of electricity

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