He presents the most popular morning show in American radio. Why? Partly because Elvis Duran shares a particular success factor with TV sitcom host Jerry Seinfeld.
Elvis Duran and his team not only traveled to Manchester for a great morning show masterclass. The day after, he was interviewed by UK radio personality Steve Wright during the Radio Festival 2011. Elvis revealed that he influenced the career of another American media personality. And that he is a real person on-air – but not a real radio geek.
Hearing UK & USA radio differences
“I’ve always been impressed how many people from the UK came to New York as visitors and just had to see Z100“, Elvis Duran recalls. “Every time I’ve met anyone from UK radio, the excitement that they had was just mind-blowing.” Differences that he sees between Top 40 radio in the Kingdom and States are the British vs. American humor, and what you can say on the air. He thinks the UK has been influenced by the BBC. “We’re a bunch of party mouths where we are. What you get away with on TV, we get away with on radio.”
Working around FCC rules
A question from the audience: how close did he get to FCC fines? “I’ve been so close that I’ve paid a few.” Duran speaks of “a couple of slight brushes” with the Federal Communications Commission, and thinks that some rules are antiquated. “You can’t record someone on the phone, unless they know it beforehand. But that’s only for radio air; for TV and Internet air it doesn’t matter.” Duran says that they’ve found “ways to get around” of these rules now by “eventually getting permission”, but he doesn’t wish to go into details.
“Ryan Seacrest as a child used to come out
and watch me do remotes”
Having life outside radio
As a kid, Elvis Duran was “a loner, like most radio people”. But surprisingly enough he is “not a big radio geek”. He doesn’t visit radio stations while he’s on holiday (“I don’t want to think about the business then”) and the only UK radio stars that he knows top of mind are “Chris from Radio 1” and Chris Evans. “I don’t even know radio people in America. I’m not a student of radio.” Still he had passion enough to infect another nationally syndicated morning show host with the radio virus.
Inspiring Ryan Seacrest’s career
“I used to do afternoons in Atlanta years ago. Ryan Seacrest as a child used to come out and watch me do remotes; he was born and raised there. He says that I’m the reason he’s in radio. Ryan could easily leave this morning madness. He is overly paid on TV and not quite as much, but very well compensated on radio. But he still insists on doing it; it’s his home base. I think he’s afraid to let it go. He’s a very hard working guy.” Duran co-owns a company that tries to get TV productions off the ground, but sees radio as his base, too.
“I’ve said many bad things,
but it never made it on – we just push the button!”
Focusing on mass entertainment
Can they give political opinions? “We are free to say whatever we want. But it’s not something people turn our show on for. They turn it on for fun; for people who are plugged into gossip, relationship and sex talk. We are definitely a left wing leaning show, but we don’t talk about the candidates. We keep in mind that we have all types of people listening to our show. The last thing I want to do is turn off an entire shrunk of people. I give them enough to know where we’re coming from, but not enough to piss them off.”
Pleading for media pluralism
What does he think of right-wing radio, the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannities of this world who seem to be influential? Elvis Duran has thoughts about it: “The conservatives really get into conservative radio more than liberals get into liberal radio.” He would like to hear more balance between the political powers on the air, and thinks that digital radio could be the answer to that prayer; the call for more variety of opinions:
Admiring Howard Stern’s principles
Speaking about radio personalities, what’s his opinion about Howard Stern? [book] “He has revolutionized being honest on the radio. I’m a huge fan of Howard. I’m not a very good friend of his, but I love that he was never afraid to keep on being honest. Actually to the point where he didn’t care what his managers said. He knew that in order to survive and win, he had to be himself – or partly himself, and partly the character that he portraits. I appreciate that very much of him.”
Pushing buttons, avoiding boundaries
Steve Wright says that Stern uses many “four letter words”. Should FM radio be more like satellite radio, or less? “It’s legal on satellite bands to say what you want. As long as kids aren’t there, it’s fine. We push the boundaries ourselves, but we never go that far. If you have a show going on and everyone’s relaxed, you forget there’s a mic. Every once in a while an explosive will come out. I’ve said many bad things, but it never made it on – we just push the button! (He revealed earlier that he’s broadcasting on a delay.)
“Everything we do is driven
by this core within ourselves”
Acting between automated stopsets
That button is pushed 3 times an hour, when Z100 and (currently 41) affiliate radio stations all over the nation stop down for a set of local commercials, news, weather, traffic, and their own song. “In essence, radio stations in smaller markets are just computers in a closet; there’s no-one there.” How does he keep the mood, flow and enthusiasm going in this syndication clock full of breaks? “It’s like being on West End when the curtain opens during a show. It opens three times an hour for us, and we’re doing our thing.”
Catering drivetime radio listeners
How does his audience use radio? Do they watch TV at home, and tune in when they jump in the car and drive to work? “What we know through statistics is that our most compassionate listener is stuck in a car, or on the rail listening through headphones. Second is getting ready for work.” Elvis Duran knows that most of his listeners are people traveling alone. “We’re their companion; it’s that radio one-on-one thing. We’re in the car with them.”
Extending on-air content online
Elvis Duran And The Morning Show are using the Internet to build a brand beyond the radio show. They’re basically training listeners to follow them online. The team is using social media like Twitter and Facebook for more than just teasing on-air content. A recent survey revealed that 20 percent of the show’s audience listens online. At the moment, it’s still a challenge to get broadband Internet into every American car.
Positioning inside relevant formats
How important is Top 40 radio anyway, in a world of reality TV, Internet, and iTunes? Duran thinks that CHR‘s upbeat, current and topical style fits right in. He adds that the stations where the morning show is syndicated, all have a contemporary music format – just the music styles can be different. The show can be broadcast on an Urban leaning CHR station in one market, and a Hot AC based format in another. “But they understand the rhythm of our show. If they were playing Oldies, it just wouldn’t fit.”
Keeping personal & brand credibility
Ken Benson of P1 Research poses an interesting question. Personalities sell a format to the listener, so can format changes affect radio and talent credibility? When Z100 flipped to Modern Rock, did the Top 40 audience leave the station until it finally went back to Contemporary Hit Radio? And was there an erosion of trust in him personally or in the station brand? Duran says he doesn’t expect audiences to perceive radio this way:
“You can only fool the audience so long“
Leaving when it’s time
Interviewer Steve Wright (photo) did mornings on BBC Radio 1 until the format became younger. He was 40 and decided to leave rather than “to stay and pretend that I’m cool” – implicitly questioning why Duran (47) is still on-air at Z100 and similar stations. Elvis replies that it depends on the format and ratings: Z100 is also successful in women 25-54. But he realizes that he “would have to leave” after a drastic format change:
Programming radio benchmarks strategically
Speaking about ratings: benchmarks are important. The daily Phone Taps always go on the air at the same time (7:20 and 9:20). It helps listeners coming back every day around the same time – boosting PPM ratings. “It measures in 15 minute increments and you have to be on at least 5 minutes to get this quarter hour. It’s a mean mother, but much more accurate than trusting someone to write down who they were listening to.” He suggests that Arbitron could increase the Portable People Meter sample rate, though.
Coaching winning radio team
What’s his best characteristic? “Surrounding myself with people who I love very much, and who I know love me and take good care of me – they are the show.” He compares it to Seinfeld. Jerry was the leading person, but for most viewers not their favorite character. “I have truly the most inspirational, wonderful people to work with every day. Blowing my own horn, I think I’m pretty real.”
- Elvis Duran About Personality Radio: “Let It All Out”
- Elvis Duran: “Radio Feels Like Sitting In An Electric Chair”
- Interview Elvis Duran: “I’m Just Into My Own Thing”
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