Why I Love Air Personalities: And Why You Should, Too

Man, I love air personalities. Working with air talent is one of the most rewarding and exciting things I’ve ever done, and I have had the privilege to meet and work with some of the most amazing personalities in the world. And most of them are among the most interesting people you could possibly meet.

As a talent coach working with hundreds of air personalities, it’s a privilege to sort through the challenges in so many formats and markets. It makes life interesting!

Here are 9 reasons I love air personalities.

They Throw Talent Fits

Talent is typically volatile and their personality causes them to be excitable, extreme and over-the-top.  When they throw a talent fit, it feels like the apocalypse is happening. There’s a ton of energy coming from a place of passion (and insecurity). It’s energizing. And it’s exhausting.

Then it’s over. It usually passes pretty quickly.

This is healthy. When air personalities are repressed and keep things bottled up, it’s like a volcano. When the pressure gets too high, they blow their top! It’s much easier to manage and better for everyone involved when it happens in shorter, less extreme outbursts.

If you’re a PD, manager or talent coach, take a deep breath. Let it out. Now step back and don’t over-react. Chances are it’ll be better tomorrow and you’ll laugh about it together.

If not, fix it then.

When They Discover Something New

When personalities find a new way to connect to their audience, it’s better than a new flavor of ice cream or a new toy.

It’s even more fun when it’s something they’ve been working on for awhile, and the light suddenly comes on. That’s when they run into your office and excitedly tell you that they “figured something out”. Then they proceed to explain their discovery. And you realize it’s exactly what you’ve been telling them for weeks. Almost word for word.

Don’t compete for credit. Everyone learns at their own pace and in their own time. When they discover it for themselves, it sticks! Don’t deflate that excitement by trying to take way their glory!

Their Ego…and Their Fear

Many programmers try to bring down the ego and minimize their fear. This is a mistake. Most air personalities can’t win without both ego and fear.

On Wall Street, traders say stocks are driven by greed and fear. Air talent is kind of like that.

Great personalities are driven by a deep desire to be popular and famous. They love being on the air because it attracts attention! It’s ego driven. That ego needs to be fed.

It also must be managed. When programming my stations, I felt that I spent at least half my time building up the confidence (ego) of my talent and the other half managing their fear.

Fear is a powerful force. A little of it is healthy. It keeps them inspired and motivated to perform. Sweaty palms can be a good thing. But when fear is out of control, personalties tend to freeze. Air talent overwhelmed with fear can’t perform.  This is when they need to be supported and understood.

Managing ego and fear take time and patience. The most important thing a PD can do is develop a trusted relationship. Do that, and difficult discussions from ego and fear are much easier.


Air personalities are naturally curious. When they become interested in something, there’s a childlike enthusiasm for it. Some call it immaturity. I call it a fun, youthful, charming and curious way of looking at the world.

And it’s contagious.

Jeff and Jer used to say (one the air):

You can only be young once, but you can be immature forever.

That’s pretty much it, right there.

Programmers and managers: Never, ever, ever suppress this trait. It’s like watching as child’s innocence taken away.

But you do need to direct it, focus it and help them channel it through their personality brand. Let them play. Just make sure they play in the yard!


You already know air talent is sensitive because you’ve been in critique meetings with them. But when you understand them, it makes sense.

Great talent reveals their personal characteristics to listeners every single day. They fly without a net for 3-5 hours a day.mAnd the really good ones reveal things about their personal lives that causes them to be  vulnerable.

Then they pick up the phone, answer an email or check social media and someone is angry at them. Or disappointed. Thats hard. None of us like to be criticized, and when talent gets a complaint, it’s personal. That’s why they’re highly sensitive.

It’s a hard job.

Personalities need to know their talent coach/PD is a fan and has their back. And they’re already volatile and vulnerable folks.

Psychologists say it takes 9 compliments to offset one criticism. That’s why I recommend PD’s spend most of their time finding a good reason to praise talent. They thrive on positive feedback.

Testing Authority

I love air personalities because they challenge boundaries and guidelines. Constantly. A PD sets a talk break limit at 90 seconds, and in a week or two, they’re pushing two minutes. Set it for 2 minutes and it’s 2:30.

Tell them they have to play two songs between stop sets and you can guarantee one. Get into the stop set no later than 7:55, and they’ll be in around 7:57.

Look, they’re not deliberately violating the rules. They just don’t understand the rules. Or they do, but can’t figure out why it’s important. Or maybe they’re testing you to find out what will happen.

Somewhere deep down, you know that, don’t you?

Don’t take it personally. Push through it. Explain why your rules are important. If you can’t explain it, maybe the rules aren’t very good. Then, consistently restate the things that are important to the brand.

Work Ethic

Everyone thinks radio personalities are lazy.

After all, they only “work” 3-4 hours a day. Then they go home about the time most of us are firing up a second cup of coffee.

But a lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into a winning radio show, even when most don’t recognize it.

A morning show gets up at 3am, usually is fully engaged until 1 or 2pm, then constantly thinks about tomorrow’s show until they appear again the next day.

Then they do it all over again. This is a hard job. They’re always tired, and it’s not as easy as most folks think. Saying air talent is lazy is like saying an NFL player only works 16 days a year.

We may not fully understand it, but programmers should appreciate it.


I love when they give their feedback on programming. It shows they’re engaged in the brand. Their ideas aren’t always valid, but usually there’s genius in their input  that can make the entire station come alive.

But you have to nurture it. And most of the time, you have to ask for it.

One of the best tactics a PD can employ is asking the morning show talent their opinion on promotions, contests and major decisions. Showing that respect helps them buy in to the decision. And that can be the difference between just another contest or promotion and an amazing success.

And: The Escape

Isn’t it great that they can’t wait to get out of the station when the show’s over, but can’t wait to come back in the next day and perform all over again?

That’s contagious. I love it.


Personalities make radio come alive. In fact, they make it worthwhile. It wouldn’t be the same without these outrageous, extreme and unpredictable characters. Without them, what’s the point? It’s not really that fun without air talent, is it?

Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough true personalities. There are a lot of announcers. Announcers aren’t nearly as much fun to work with. They work shifts, but don’t perform shows.

If you’re a programmer, air talent holds the key to your future. So maybe it’s time to understand everything about them and become experts in coaching talent.

Maybe I love personalities because they are rare. Or maybe they’re rare because we don’t let them be who they are.

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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