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Being Spontaneous

When you think about what’s missing from radio, you’d be right to have many things pop into your head. Among that list for me is spontaneity. That’s one of the critically important elements that winning stations have and the rest of the platform does not. Something happens that’s out of the ordinary and it prompts a series of moves or actions that could make your radio station a destination.

Spontaneity is one of several things that a music streaming service cannot easily duplicate, what an automated station may not have programmed into its format clock and what many air-talents ignore as they’re ‘going through the motions’ versus thinking deeply about each break and each segment of their show. It is that unexpected moment that causes someone to turn-up the volume, pay attention, that evokes an emotion, and possibly causes whatever just happened to be shared as word-of-mouth. That’s what creates day-to-day tune-in. That’s what builds habitual listening.

Being ready to adjust and alter the format to take advantage of an unusual situation seems like it should be something that can be done easily, but unfortunately it isn’t and it doesn’t happen often.  Most recently, when the depth of the pandemic became accepted by us as a people, some stations sprang into action and began saluting frontline healthcare providers. There were those that played the National Anthem at a set time daily. There were others who decided to play Christmas music at night as a way to lessen the stress we were all feeling. There were others who did nothing for fear of breaking format.

What I’ve learned over the years is that the very best Program Directors spring into action and take advantage of such situations. Celebrities and newsmakers all seem to die on the weekend. That’s an obvious exaggeration, but it feels true, and when it happens those stations whose audience has a connection to the deceased makes their audience aware of it and pays tribute to them. Long ago and far away, when John Kennedy, Jr died on a Friday evening, there were stations that immediately searched out songs to play as a tribute to him. They interrupted programming with news of the end of Camelot. Same for Princess Diana who perished in the early hours of a Sunday morning. And I remember seeing the positive ratings for those stations that played 100% Michael Jackson music following his death.

There was a time when a program director would call the studio, or walk down that hall, and she or he would tell the on-air talent to “play songs that feel like summer today … it’s finally 70 degrees.” Same for that first snow when I’d run into the studio and ask the talent to play Christmas music. One station that I programmed even had a category of songs titled “Rainy Day Songs” and we would spike them into the on-air rotation when the weather turned wet.

Every now and then there is a “moment” like when Beyonce` debuted her new song, a country song, during the Super Bowl. Some stations spiked the song the next day. Many didn’t. Maybe it’s like the guy on TikTok from a few years back, (Dogface208), who rode a longboard and swigged from a bottle of Ocean Spray while Fleetwood Mac’s song “Dreams” played. You’ve seen the video as Ocean Spray eventually turned it into a commercial. It’s all about acting quickly when a moment happens.

If you truly desire to keep your programming exciting and engaging, then encourage spontaneity, and coach your people as to what’s appropriate and what isn’t for your format. Being spontaneous works for any format, music or spoken word, and it definitely builds day-to-day tune-in. There is zero reason to not be reactive when something BIG happens. There’s always an opportunity to be proactive when you know something big MIGHT happen. There should be no barrier to being spontaneous.

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