Winning breakfast shows have radio personalties who know what their audience really wants, and (are not afraid to) show their listeners who they really are.
That’s still the universal law of being #1 at Breakfast – title of a session at the Radio Festival 2012 (see also part 1). The panel of UK radio personalities also talked about how to use social media for show prep and program promotion, and discussed whether a successful morning show is based on pre-scheduled format clocks or totally blank canvas.
“You have to put up with this sh*t for half an hour,
because we’re running down the clock on it”
Mirror people’s current mood
How important are morning show benchmarks and fixed running orders? “I haven’t got one”, Capital FM Yorkshire presenter Simon Hirst says. “I see every show like I feel there won’t be clouds.” He adds that they do include a couple of features in the morning show between 6 and 7 AM, which they call “the warm-up hour” on the air. “I’m honest with the audience; I’m tired! Six ‘o clock in the morning… I’m not gonna’ be uppy, and jipper, and jolly! If you’ve been on the night shift, you’ll be nacked… I try and reflect how the audience is feeling.” Most regular features in Hirsty’s Daily Dose are not being used over and over; they sort of rotate, as he explains: “They’ll be on for a few months, then they’re binned of – they’re good features and I don’t want to burn them out. That’s the only running order there is on the show; everything else is a bit ad hoc.”
Organize radio topic ideas
The fact that JoJo, Hirsty and Danny (photo) basically go with the flow doesn’t mean that they don’t collect and organize ideas. “I always think of stuff to talk about“, Hirst says about show prep.“I love to sit in the office, typing up stuff.” What they almost never do, is schedule topics to cover them at a certain time. “It’s a very organic show, and I like that. “I like it to sound like it’s got three wheels, and one’s a little bit wonky… but polished.”
Drop benchmarks in time
Having a format clock can help to achieve content balance and program structure – especially for a news-driven morning show. “We have a quite rigid running order”, Graham Liver of BBC Radio Lancashire says about fixed positions for news, sports, traffic, and weather. Juice FM Breakfast with Adam & Leanne is also using a format grid where bits and benchmarks find a place. Leanne Campbell adds that some bits last for years; others for a week – this is a matter of “build, peak, and let go”. Session host and Absolute Radio morning jock Christian O’Connell compares storytelling on a show with conversations in a pub. “Sometimes there’s an energy from the audience. They would actually dictate the best running orders, rather than you saying: you have to put up with this sh*t for half an hour, because we’re running down the clock on it.”
“I’m making the listener the star”
Develop social media strategy
How did social media change the way we do morning radio? BBC Radio Lancashire presenter Graham Liver feels like their postings are being put under a microscope, for a simple reason – they’re a public broadcaster. “Everyone’s crapping themselves about what we say on Twitter.” Clyde 1 also has to be careful with social media postings, as especially in Glasgow, Scottish football fans are dominating social media. “You have Rangers fans and Celtic fans. You’ve got to get in between that and try to avoid that, so you’re very conscious of what you post”, breakfast show presenter George Bowie explains.
Find content ideas online
Producers find inspiration for program content in social media comments from the station’s online friends and followers. “I like the fact that the audience is throwing ideas at you”, George Bowie says. When a Clyde 1 listener noticed that nineties pop star Samantha Mumba (photo) had less Twitter followers than the morning show host, the station got her 10,000 more fans… overnight. The surprised singer called in, and ended up being live on Bowie @Breakfast.
Avoid social media ‘promotion’
Being a morning show personality nowadays also means that your workday doesn’t end when you’ve done your show – even not when you’ve prepared the next one. Capital FM Yorkshire’s Simon Hirst is “constantly” checking his Facebook page and doing postings at night, usually not related to the morning show. He likes to share something personal without promoting anything – like a picture of his cat; something he’s had for dinner. “You’ll get lots of comments, and you’re in their mind there. Hopefully, when they wake up, they put you on.” Hirst once mentioned a funny Twitter account on the air, and got the author many new fans. She sent him several ‘thank you’ messages. “I’m making the listener the star.”
“Just keep the f *ck out of the way…”
Earn program director’s trust
“I have always found it slightly insulting that we presume the very best talent is inside the M25 corridor”, says Absolute Radio’s Evel Knievel Christian O’Connell. In his opinion, personality radio is more alive outside the UK radio’s epic center, “due to bosses and program directors in London being slightly more controlling.” How do local presenters get along with the PD? During his long career, Clyde 1 morning man George Bowie has seen several PDs come and go. His experience is that what one head of programming finds great, another one might change completely. “That’s the worry with radio; that something like that can happen. You can be off in a row.” What’s the best thing that a program director can do for him? Bowie chuckles, and says: “Just keep the f*ck out of the way…” (audience laughs). He thinks that when a morning personality is successful, he or she should be given creative freedom. Simon Hirst adds that you first have earn that position.
Improve yourself through critique
“If you don’t want to be constantly critiqued and reviewed, don’t do a BBC local radio breakfast show”, Graham Liver reveals, saying that he always tries to be open for constructive feedback. 107.6 Juice FM‘s Leanne Campbell and her co-host Adam do everything themselves – from producing the show to sending out prizes. “We’re responsible for 100% of what goes on. I don’t think anyone is allowed to interfere with us! So they leave us be, unless there is a complaint.”
Share personal life details
In closing, Christian O’Connell is asking the DJ panel for one piece of advice for radio people with an ambition to present a breakfast show. Leanne Campbell’s takeaway is to “use the listeners” for inspiration. Simon Hirst adds that you should be transparent and share your life experience on air. “Tell them everything; leave yourself wide open. I’ll tell the audience anything. I’ve got to stop myself sometimes.” Graham Liver’s advice is to “get used to always feeling like you’ve been on a very long flight”. And more serious: “Be honest. Don’t lie.” George Bowie says it’s valuable to meet listeners personally. “I think it’s really important to just find out what people want and relay that to your audience.” He likes to talk with people in ordinary places, such as bars. Christian O’Connell replies: “I’m actually going to use that, and have a drunken focus group…”
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