The Second Law of (Entertainment) Thermodynamics

Comparing NBC’s New Celebrity Apprentice host, Arnold Schwarzenegger, with the former Celebrity Apprentice host, (now POTUS) Donald Trump, Time magazine observed, “Trump, in his ability to get attention for himself, seems to understand something NBC does not: that as much as the audience may want to see real, authentically flawed people, it demands above all to be kept in suspense, to be tantalized with the promise (or threat) of things veering off script.”

In other words, our expectations about being surprised or even shocked about plot twists and developments in entertainment vehicles have increased. As it applies to radio programming and promotion, the liner or promo or bit or playlist or billboard or stunt that might have gotten audience reaction a few years ago, now feels tame. It’s the entertainment world’s version of the second law of thermodynamics: that entropy (which for these purposes can be defined as a lack of order or predictability) is ever increasing.

The music mix on Jack FM and other variety hits stations that sounded brazen and outlandish to some listeners not that many years ago, now seems tame. Foreground morning shows that would have been labeled CHR-only are now showing up on AC stations. Hot AC’s that position as hits “without the rap” are rethinking the value of that positioning. Contests and stunts that would have gotten news coverage years ago, are mere blips today.

Before writing another promo script or advising talent on what’s appropriate on the air, audit the language used in primetime TV scripts airing during the “safe harbor” in the earlier part of the evening. In many cases, radio has fallen far behind what even TV networks consider safe for children. While there’s no need to be profane for the sake of being profane, there’s also no need to veer away from the way people speak to one another in day-to-day conversation.

More importantly, consider all the things that regularly happen on the air – and what you could change to enhance the possibility that things could go off script. A thousand-dollar contest prize is great and has strong promotional value. Imagine, however, the reaction you could get from the winner when you explain that they get the check backstage while they’re having pizza with some major touring act before next week’s show, etc. Imagine the promos and Social Media assets you could build from such an encounter. Let your imagination run wild and build something memorable, outside-the-box and off-script for your station.

In terms of “what are you doing differently in 2017,” one answer could be that you’re recalibrating yourself to the new reality of entertainment: that the audience “demands above all to be kept in suspense, to be tantalized with the promise (or threat) of things veering off script.” We’re not suggesting that you do intentionally dumb things, like playing The Turtles on your CHR or Kendrick Lamar on your Country station. But, when looking for ways to “shake things up,” we need to realize that we must shake a lot harder than we did before.