What You Want Determines Ratings

There is an old rule on Broadway: In shows like Wicked or Hamilton it is always around the third song in the show when the main character must sing about what they want.

What does theater have to do with you in radio? You are going to have to learn to sing! I’m kidding. Actually, listeners in the digital age crave emotion and humanity in all entertainment including radio.

All entertainment starts with want.

For example, what do you notice about these “this day in history” items from Denny Johnson aired recently on KNOX Grand Forks?

  • 1958: The Smurfs appeared for the first time.
  • 2001: Apple unveiled the iPod — went on sale for $399.
  • 1998: a Danish man said goodbye to his 86-year old father by taking his corpse for a motorcycle ride and a beer and cigar. The fellow dressed dad’s corpse in leather, a helmet, dark glasses and boots. He strapped his father to his Harley Davidson and rode around Copenhagen for three hours visiting his father’s favorite places.

The item about the Smurfs is an announcement. Dry information.

The second item about the iPod is about a thing. It is just “stuff.”

Neither item involves want. No heart’s desire, drive, longing or wishes. No emotion.

The last item, however is the one people will remember. It is a story, not stuff.

This Danish man wanted to honor his father so much that he did something unusual, took extreme measures and acted on strong emotion. (Note how expertly Denny gave more airtime to the best story, lessening the weak ones to a sentence each.)

Content involving want evokes emotion from the audience, and what a character wants helps us connect with them emotionally.

In films, Dorothy wants to leave Oz and go back home to Kansas. On TV, American Idol contestants want fame and recognition. On radio, successful on-air characters reveal their wants too.

Howard Stern was authentic about his poor self-esteem and his dream to overcome it by becoming the “King of all Media.” Howard’s quest to be #1 was just like a Broadway drama – in fact, they made a movie about it.

At The Bert Show, the motto is “Real. Funny.” Listeners laugh with Bert Weiss, Davi Crimmins, Kristin Klingshirn and Moe Mitchell but what the show wants is to be real.

Listeners and cast share their lives like an on-air therapy session. The players engage in friendly conflict, they reveal every emotion and they do not tolerate fake. The Bert Show once blew off Mariah Carey when she was late for an interview.

To want is human. Listeners crave radio’s human connection in a normal year but in socially distanced 2020, real, flawed, passionate humanity is even more important. Generic, surface-level radio does not cut it anymore.

  • Choose content that includes a person’s wants. Stories, not “stuff.”
  • Have on-air players filter all content through what their character wants.
  • Identify what your show wants – what it is known for and what it takes a stand for.
  • Craft a station mission statement and make clear what your brand wants.