As the meat and potatoes of most radio stations, morning shows set the course for P1s, the all-important preset in the car and much of a station’s overall persona. That’s why the techniques behind building a successful morning show—particularly when creating a new program from scratch or replacing a key cast member—take careful planning.
It starts with talent scouting and casting the show. Once the assembled parties are in place, building chemistry between show members is vital to the success of a morning show. And then, as the program develops, continued nurturing, a dose of patience and, when the time is right, marketing the show are among the vital steps toward success.
“All the great shows are under lock and key,” Steve Reynolds of The Reynolds Group tells Inside Radio. Unless you’re talking about a destination station owned by a premiere media company in a sought-after market, “It’s tough to pry someone away from their great situation and move them to another market,” he explains. So more often, radio companies are left with Plan B, “which is putting a show together. That tends to be the norm.”
How a station goes about developing a new morning show depends on any number of factors. For instance, for a newer station that is still in the midst of entrenching itself in the market, or for an outlet that is re-branding, “the departure of your morning show may not be terribly important to you over the next 12-18 months,” Coleman Insights President Warren Kurtzman believes. On the other hand, “If the morning show is crucial to your station’s success, and I don’t mean only from a ratings standpoint, but also if it is a big part of a station’s position, you’ve got to move quickly and aggressively to find a suitable replacement.”
Kurtzman says there are typically two strategies behind building a successful morning show. The first are those “where there is a strategy laid out and you are seeking to build a show that follows a very specific plotline,” he says. In this scenario, “you are casting the right characters to fill roles for executing that plotline.”
Once these show members—or characters—are found, Reynolds says he looks to create “a culture in the room where these folks who don’t know one another figure out how to communicate and to create the best content of the moment that will resonate with the audience.”
The second successful type of AM drive show are those “that just happen magically,” Kurtzman says. “You have the right pairing of people who complement each other really well.” Morning shows that develop organically generally “have some fairly significant differences or opposites in their personalities that blend really well on the show.”
He adds, “It is important for a radio station to understand what kind of a show they have. The ratings will tell you whether the show is attracting a lot of listeners but it won’t tell you what is causing the show to be successful.”
Just like tending to a garden, once a seed… or in this case a morning show… is planted, it needs nurturing and patience to grow. “Ultimately, everybody wants success and they want to see the bump in ratings tomorrow,” Reynolds acknowledges. That said, part of his role with client stations is reminding management to be patient. “We can’t make it go any faster than the listeners allow… By and large everyone is very nervous because there is so much pressure on us to return results quickly, but it just doesn’t happen that way.”
During the early stages of developing a morning show, Reynolds believes that stations should hold back in marketing the new kids on the block. Those stations that want to heap promotion on a new show are doing it a disservice, according to Reynolds. “To me that’s dangerous,” he says. “Let the show get set and find its chemistry. I like soft launches of shows on stations.” Jumping the gun on marketing a new morning show before it finds its groove “sets it up for potential failure, because the listener may say the show is not as good as they were led to believe. Once you lose them it is tough to get them back.”
A lot of time, effort and money go into creating a new morning show with hopes of a long and successful run, with stellar ratings and spectacular revenues. Taking the time to cast the right show members and maintaining the patience to work with the team to develop and grow ultimately is a station’s best bet to help bring listeners to the table. —Jay Gleason