A Winning Personality Formula: TSP = TSL

Memorize this show prep formula and remind yourself of it every day: TSP = TSL.

The amount of time spent preparing is directly related to the amount of time spent listening. It’s not the only factor, but it’s a major contributing factor.

Most personalities will read this and think the solution is spending more time gathering topics. But just finding things to talk about is the easy part. I’m talking about deeper preparation that transforms content from topics to entertainment.

Master chefs spend time selecting ingredients to be used in a recipe. Finding the freshest vegetables and most desirable cuts of meat are the foundation of his masterpiece.

But most of the time and attention is on what he or she does with the ingredients. How will they be cooked? What is the perfect combination of spices to accent the individual tastes and textures? Should it be sautéed, broiled, baked or fried? How will it be presented? What side dishes and wine pairings will turn dining into an experience?

Mastering the fine art of performance takes time to perfect.

Show Prep Formula Perspective

Dan Wylie is the VP of Programming for Canada’s Blackburn Radio. He shared a remarkable comparison that emphasizes the importance of preparation, and the commitment it takes to excel on the air. Dan told me:

The average NFL football game lasts 3.5 hours, but there’s only about 12 minutes of actual action in each game.

Most of the game time is spent planning, preparing, organizing and adjusting to current circumstances. Things like huddles, time-outs and adjustments at the line of scrimmage makes up over 95% of the game.

That’s just the game itself. NFL players spend the rest of the week reviewing their performance. They analyze competition, learn new plays and prepare a game plan. The off-season is spent conditioning, training and keeping themselves in peak condition for next year.

Show Prep Formula: The NFL Way

The quarterback comes out of the huddle. He looks over the defense, and as the seconds on the play clock tick down to :00, a frantic series of adjustments at the line of scrimmage looks more like a fire drill than a well-oiled machine.

Blocking assignments are altered, pass routes changed. Everything about the plan has changed. Sometimes it looks like they’re making it up as they go along.

Watching quarterbacks in the NFL is a great lesson in the art of creating a morning show. They make last-second decisions. But those decisions are the result of deep preparation for every possibility.

Quarterbacks spend countless hours learning the playbook and knowing the assignment for every player on the team. Then he spends about 60 hours each week watching video of the opponent, studying tendencies and looking for clues that give him an edge.

The coaching staff prepares a game plan. A play is called in the huddle. Everyone on the team knows what is about to happen. Then, everything changes when it’s time to execute.

Changes are made based on a deep knowledge of team strengths and weaknesses, opponent’s vulnerabilities and the situation in the game. but those changes are always made based on the team’s playbook, game plan and coaching direction.

Aaron Rodgers on Show Prep

Here’s MVP Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers on the keys to winning the Super Bowl:

The key is to be able to focus on preparation. You can’t let the distractions take you away from what you need to do next. You need to show up prepared to play, expect the unexpected, and know exactly what you are going to do.

Going into the game mentally prepared helps Rodgers know exactly what plays to run, and which audible to call against each defense. When the mind is prepared, the rest is just execution and muscle memory.

And that takes time. There’s no substitute.

Visualize It

Visualization is the ability to create clear, detailed and accurate images in your mind of events that you want to create as physical reality. There are visual triggers that help quarterbacks recognize which type of defense he should expect.

We often hear talent claim their best shows are spontaneous, just “living my life on the air.” I’ve actually heard personalities say, “Don’t talk about that now. Save it for the air.” More often than not, they start their show without the tools to succeed. They haven’t prepared.

Quarterbacks don’t design new plays in the huddle. They don’t run plays that haven’t been rehearsed. They plan every detail to give them the best chance to win.

It’s true that the best moments on the air are spontaneous, just as the difference between winning and losing is the result of instant decisions on the field. But spontaneity is the product of preparing for every possible outcome. This provides the background to react when unexpected circumstances arise.

Show Prep Formula & Your 12 Minutes of Content

Most personalities are on the air between 3-5 hours per day. The average for a personality oriented morning show, coincidentally, is 3.5 hours. Just like an NFL game. On a typical music station, it’s common for a show to execute four breaks per hour, each about 3-4 minutes, or around 12 minutes of content per hour. That doesn’t seem like much, does it?

But to make it great, you must invest the time.

Rachel Ettiger is half of the morning show Jeff (Kelly) and Rachel on Virgin Radio/London, Ontario.

Rachel is one of the best I’ve ever heard in presenting Entertainment Reports. But it doesn’t happen by ripping and reading the latest headlines and hoping for the best.

I love what Rachel told me about show prep:

It takes about two hours a day to prepare the Hollywood information, understand it, digest it and know it so I can just tell it without sounding like I’m reading it. It’s a lot of work to sound spontaneous and fresh.


How much time and effort goes into your show? Do you have a show prep formula?

Like a professional athlete your show should be in a constant state of preparation planning and adjustment. Train yourself to be alert for content that applies to your show. Obsess about how your content will be presented. Plan your entry point for maximum impact.

Every day is game day. You can’t win by making it up as you go along.

By Tracy Johnson

Recognized as one of America’s most innovative radio programmers and managers, Tracy Johnson’s broad background in traditional and digital media spans more than 25 years and has influenced hundreds of radio stations, programmers and personalities. 

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