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May
16
Tracy Johnson
3 Programming Rules That Make No Sense
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Program Directors are notorious for establishing rules for their air staff. Programmers love to make programming rules. It makes things easier to manage, but they can suck the life out of the sound of a radio station.

Things like:

  • Talk into the stop set only. Never out of the stop set.
  • Always promote what is coming up after the commercials.
  • And on and on…

Having been a PD for more than 25 years, I understand how these rules come about. It’s easier and faster to lay down rigid guidelines than navigate the nuances of effective entertainment. It’s an end to a means. Lay down the law and the station will sound better.

But many times, it prevents the station from sounding great. From being special. That’s because entertainment isn’t black and white, but many shades of grey.

Let’s examine these programming examples and the goal behind three of them.

3 Programming Rules That Make No Sense

Of course, there are dozens of ridiculous rules PD’s make, but here are three that drive me crazy:

Talk Over Song Intros, Not Fades

The goal is to establish forward momentum and keep the station’s moving. PD’s often cite research (especially the dial technology music tests) that prove when personalities talk on the fade of a just-played song, audience interest declines.

But if they establish the next song first, interest remains consistent. So the rule is put in place. And it’s for a good reason. Because it’s true that listeners tune out if the talent destroys forward momentum. 

But it’s really the technique, not the fact that they are literally talking for a second or two over the fade of the song. Great air personalities link format elements so that they connect, without sacrificing pace, energy or momentum. Talent should be trained to edit their breaks so they’re not wasting any words, and managing the music flow behind the talk over to keep the pace moving.

Want to see how it’s done? Watch these videos. This is becoming a lost art. Especially since voice-tracking has become routine, these techniques have not been taught or maintained.

Open Breaks With Station Position Every Time

It’s important to brand your station and imprint your message on the minds of your audience. And it’s also true that listener attention is highest at the end of a song they’re enjoying. So it makes sense that if a listener is tuned in now, they’re enjoying the song. Otherwise, they would have tuned out.

Therefore, an easy rule is to require each break to begin with our branding message.

The real goal, though, should be to effectively communicate the station position, how the audience should use it and communicate brand values frequently in a variety of creative ways so that the audience hears it, understands it and believes it.

When air personalities deliver the same lines every time they turn on the microphone, the audience become numb to the message. They stop hearing it. Even worse, they subtly start to tune-out as we condition them with the mindless repetition.

Deliver brand values through meaningful communication. That takes time, preparation, coaching and creativity.

Sure, it’s easier to issue a rule, even if the rule results in robotic delivery of the same line over and over until the audience is immune to it.

One Thought Per Break

The audience isn’t paying much attention. They are easily distracted and often get confused. That’s true. Many (most) personalities have poor discipline, preparation and have not constructed their breaks so they’re easy to understand. That’s also true.

So, in the interest of being clear, concise and direct, PD’s put in a rule that results in shallow, one-dimensional entertainment. Talent is restricted and leaves out a lot of relevant topics. The proper approach is to coach talent to navigate breaks so thoughts naturally flow from one element to the next without dramatically shifting gears at random.

This too, is an art. It is achieved through changing vocal intonations, production effects, word economy and creative preparation so the topics flow together naturally.

Side note: talent needs to grow into learning how to do this effectively. Don’t just turn them loose.

Conclusion

I could go on and on. Rules can make a station sound less bad, but rarely make it sound great. Rules don’t make them extraordinary. 

There are dozens of rules intended to improve the listening experience, but result in limiting the value personality adds to the station. And personality is the distinct advantage we have over new and competitive music delivery technologies.

What are your favorite programming rules? Add them in the comments.



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