Unless they’re a heritage personality that’s tied to lots of revenue, most radio groups struggle to figure out the real monetary value of their on-air talent. Sometimes that leads to under-budgeting for open positions and drastically narrowing the talent pool and other times it leads to overpaying personalities that aren’t really adding value to the stations they’re on. Above and beyond their voice and delivery (Which are still important but not the end all be all anymore), here are the five things I look at when determining the value of any on air talent in any market or format.
1) Their ability to engage the audience. Do they know how to word a hook so it makes listeners turn up the radio, pay attention and stay engaged throughout a content break? Can they consistently get to that hook early in a break without feeling obligated to add a bunch or fluff or organically explain their way into the hook to justify the content? If so, they score highly in the engagement category, especially if they can leverage that engagement across the stations many other platforms.
2) How well they interact with the audience. With the amount of voicetracking happening now, working the phones appears to be a lost art across many markets and dayparts. But, if a talent is lucky enough to be given a live and local shift, lighting up and TRULY mining those phone lines for good content from the listeners is mission critical. When I started working on air the phones and on-site listener interaction were they only two things we had to worry about (And the on-site piece is still VERY important.) But now we also have to interact before, during and after our shows on the station’s website and social media platforms getting the conversations started with engaging posts and keeping them going by joining the comments.
3) Skilled at setting listener appointments daily. On air talent that can set multiple listening appointments every shift will single-handedly drive TSL by making at least a portion of their audience listen a little longer than they intended (and maybe even sit through other content they’re not that into). Conversely, personalities that rarely or never set listener appointments are adding very little value to stations. Those appointments should be set the day prior in short and to the point on air promos/imaging, day before and day of on social media and a couple minutes prior with compelling on-air teases in the previous break.
4) Able to expand on content. Literally anyone can get a show prep subscription, copy and paste some content and read it verbatim on the air. But, good air talent understand the importance of adding to that content by personalizing (with their own take, a funny one liner or by simply injecting some of their own, unique personality) and localizing (by tweaking, subtracting or adding details to make the content fit their format, demo and market better.)
5) How advertiser friendly they are. Veteran air talent know the importance of catering to clients in ways that actually benefit both the client and the station. That’s because over the years they’ve honed the on-air ability to strike that balance of how much advertiser info they can slip in without killing the entertainment value and losing the masses. Plus, off the air they understand that it isn’t just account/sales reps who need to cultivate relationships with advertisers, it’s everyone on staff including, and especially, the on-air talent. Being tied to large amounts of revenue is still the single easiest way for on-air personalities to justify and demand high salaries. Rookie and relatively new talent shouldn’t wait to learn that lesson and start applying it in their own on-air careers.
In the coming years radio will have to work even harder to compete with other industries for talented, multi-platform content creators capable of scoring highly in all five of the categories listed above. So, when we identify someone on staff, or a potential new hire, that does check all of those boxes it’s important that we get creative with their compensation and benefits. Plus, we need to come up with ways to add additional bonuses and incentives for going above and beyond (The sales department shouldn’t be the only department with a financial incentive to perform well.) Those incentives can be based on ratings, total audience including social/web/stream/podcasts, audience engagement, overall station revenue or a combination of all of those.
What do you think? How do you grade and value on-air personalities and is there anything I left out? Comment below or email me at email@example.com.