Why Roles Are So Important By Andy Meadows

Role assignment issues are the fastest way to doom a team show, regardless of the talent level of the participants. I can’t count the amount of shows I’ve seen fail because either the roles weren’t clearly defined, understood and followed or they were miscast. No matter how skilled on-air talent are as individuals, team shows will implode 99 times out of 100 if the roles aren’t right. 

One big mistake many shows make is what I like to call the ‘feel it out’ approach. Let’s put these two or three people with vastly different personalities in a room and let them develop a chemistry and they’ll kind of naturally gravitate toward their proper roles. Or maybe even two of them have worked together and we’re gonna throw this third person in and just see how it goes. This approach wouldn’t make for a good kid’s peewee football team and it certainly won’t make for a radio show that’s worth listening to. All this does is cause the type A personality to take control as the host, even if they’re not the best suited to do so, and everyone involved to pick up several bad habits that are hard to coach out of them later. Shows shouldn’t ever crack a mic without everyone having defined roles. 

That being said, it’s not uncommon for shows to look like they should be cast one way on paper and then after a few weeks on air it’s painfully obvious that they’re miscast. That’s no argument for starting off without a plan and role definition, but it does happen and the sooner its corrected the more likely the correction will take and work. This usually happens because of seniority at a station, ego or how long someone has been on air, pushing them into a host role. What people often miss is the fact that the host isn’t always the top billed talent in a show and seldom ends up being the most beloved. 

There are also many successful shows where the roles are clearly defined and followed for 70 to 90% of the show, but then they swap to let other cast members lead a segment or two for a specific benchmark or feature. This is a very effective way to get everyone to buy in and more involved in the show without messing up the main structure. It also adds some variety and broadens the shows appeal. However, it only works well if every cast member truly has the ability to play each part without derailing, detouring or outright killing a break. 

Plus, sharing roles can be a slippery slope if it isn’t strategic. I’ve worked with lots of shows over the years where they swap roles nearly every break and that’s always the first thing I address. I know it sounds democratic and fair, we’re all equal partners, we all rotate as host, co-host and sniper throughout the show and we vote on everything. I’ve just never seen it work. 

What do you think, comment below or email me at andy@radiostationconsultant.com.

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