Advice for Morning Talent

Smiling young businessman changing music stations while driving

During our session at Morning Show Boot Camp last week, we were asked what advice we have for morning talent. Carolyn and I answered off the cuff, but thought we’d take this opportunity to write a complete answer to the question, “What are the most important things morning shows should be doing today?”

Stay relevant and remember that we’re not all in it together. While we’re all straddling an earthquake fault over quicksand, some people are on the front lines and haven’t been able to adjust their routines at all – it’s just scarier. Others are trying to adjust to working from home. Many aren’t working at all. And those who are working don’t know whether they’ll have a job next week.

We know from our Zoom calls that there are dogs and cats and KIDS everywhere. The one thing we have in common? Everyone would love to hug again. You can be the hug: relating and reacting to what’s happening today. You can be that audio hug that we ALL need.

Be responsible for your own fame. Morning personalities who are able to rise to market fame on the basis of their daily appearance on a radio station in the morning alone are increasingly rare. With more media channels clamoring for attention every day and consumer habits increasingly atomized, it’s incumbent upon morning personalities to work to build their own fame. The more famous you are personally, the more indispensable you become to the station.

Causes are often a good place to start. What causes do you care about (paying close attention to causes that align with the targeting of your station)? Pets, children, community history, health, environment are but a few possibilities. Try to align with something you really CARE about – that’ll make it easier to keep going if the going gets tough. Even if you have start at the community level and expand from there, your outreach will pay dividends. If your station will allow you to talk about your efforts a little bit on the air, you’ll become even more valuable to community organizers.

Always entertain. The stakes have never been higher and the competition has never been fiercer. Network TV morning shows spend per day what your station likely spends per year (or per every several years) researching topics and consumer preferences. You need to plan every encounter with the audience to make sure everything you do is on point. Every break is opportunity to distinguish yourself – which doesn’t mean to make everything longer.

Think about this question: with more people working from home and fewer people commuting, what should you be directing your traffic person to be doing with reports? Just doing a shorter report? Or taking the opportunity to think about how the reports might relate to someone who’s NOT out there on the road? How can you make something as simple as traffic be as entertaining as possible?

Work to have a great relationship with your PD. There are some great PDs out there. The great ones will hear your ideas, objectively critique your show and work with you to create radio magic. A great PD is a great teacher and guides the whole ship and everything in it. A great PD can be your advocate and your best friend. Listen. Learn. And contribute.

In movies and plays, actors rely on the director to pull them back from performances gone awry. Directors in those cases WANT talent to push the envelope – to make bold choices. Ideally, it’s the same at the station: if the PD could think of what to do every minute of the morning show, they wouldn’t need you.

PD’s are also overwhelmed these days, many managing multiple stations while dealing with the demands from above them. If you can HELP your PD, foster the relationship and show how much you care, you can improve a relationship. Asking, “How can I help?” can work wonders. Try to bring them solutions instead of new problems.

Remember that PD’s ego is at stake for the overall performance of the station. Your PD should understand that your ego is at stake as you reveal part of yourself in your performance every day both have egos on the line. When the audience responds to you, it’s thrilling – when they don’t, you’re likely to need someone there to offer support.

Work with sales. “It feels like sales wants to turn our show into an infomercial; how do I handle that?” We’ve heard this more than a few times. Stations were under huge pressure to make aggressive budgets before the pandemic. Since COVID hit, we have to do as much as we can to help sales.

Offer to go on sales calls, and explain that relatable copy and the personal touch is what radio advertising should be about. Explain that if the breaks are as entertaining as the rest of the content, we keep listeners longer and the ratings go up and the rates go up. By making the advertising BETTER, and using your creativity to pitch that, you can create better results for the client, make the show better and create a win/win for everyone.

It’s well known that product endorsements from beloved personalities are highly effective advertising. If you’re a beloved personality, you’ll have more leverage. If AE’s know you’re a willing accomplice, you’ll set yourself in a stronger role to say when they’re proposing something that’s a bit too much. If you have a strong relationship with your PD, you have an ally in pushing back on ridiculous requests.

Start early (even if PPM says that people are getting up later). Respondents picking up their meters later and actually getting up later are different things. We’ve seen lots of research, including from Nielsen, and we’ve conducted our own research telling us that overall, people are up at about the same time and listening at the same time. No matter what the meters say, the PEOPLE, in bigger numbers than the PPM sample are saying, “We’re here – we’re listening – we’re depending on you to take us through yet another morning.”

What we CAN all agree on is that what many people are doing in the morning is different than it was before. Some folks are heading to work as they did before … but maybe their kids aren’t heading off to school. Lots of folks are working from home now and may feel isolated and cut off from the world during their workday. Others are sidelined – laid off or furloughed – and are dealing with all the stresses that brings. The adjustment has more to do with people doing a wider array of things while they’re listening and less to do with a mass shift 30 minutes later in the morning.

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