With the push in recent years to keep air talent ‘out of the way of the music’ we’ve tightened and shortened on air breaks across the board on all formats. I understand the rationale for this and, in most cases, agree with the practice. But in the process of doing so we’ve caused one major unintended side effect, a lack of focus on the out.
That’s why many on air personalities from all different size markets, with varying levels of experience, are doing setups instead of content. Most have gotten really good at identifying things to talk about that will interest their listener and delivering the meat of the details without the fluff. But, all too often, they get to the end of it and just stop or throw out something that sounds generic and unplanned. Here are a few of the recent outs I’ve heard scanning the dial in various markets, ‘Well now you know’, ‘There you have it’ and ‘That’s interesting.’ I certainly hope none of those were planned. We’ve all got the same setups, what sets us apart are our outs, whether they’re funny jokes, a quick comment to personalize/localize it or simply our take on the topic. Either way, they’re mission critical. Imagine how boring a late-night TV show would be if the host only did setups.
There are multiple reasons I believe this phenomenon is occurring. The laundry list of off-air tasks most on-air talent have leads them to just ‘rip and read’ from a prep service. Even when there is time, show prepping and planning isn’t a big enough priority. If we want to win, on-air personalities should prep 30 minutes for every hour they are on the air. The vast majority of on-air personalities aren’t being regularly airchecked by anyone. When they are airchecked, there’s a lack of emphasis put on the out. Which is a major oversight, after all, the two most important parts of a break are how you get in (the hook) and how you get out. Also, with the tightening of the screws lately causing our internal clocks to set off alarms earlier and earlier with each passing year, something usually ends up getting cut and, sadly, that’s often the out.
But, I believe the main reason for the disappearance of the out is that many personalities are simply gun shy. I’m sure many are afraid of saying the wrong joke and being cancelled. To those I say, an on-air personality who truly understands their demo and their market can literally talk about anything on air because they know exactly where the line is. However, if we’re going to ride close to that line, we better be funny. For others the pursuit of perfection keeps them from attempting any out at all. What’s that famous Voltaire quote, ‘the best is the enemy of the good’? Even Ohtani doesn’t hit a home run every time he steps up to the plate, but he’s still leading the MLB this year. I will always contend that it’s better to go for it and miss then to not have an out at all, or worse flail around and throw out something generic.
In regards to team shows, I’ve worked with several that were vehemently opposed to planning the out. The fear they always articulate is that it will sound too scripted and they prefer for the out to happen organically. Which, virtually 100% of the time, results in a show that has one or two incredible breaks a day while all of their other breaks are mediocre or sub-par. Remember, there is nothing wrong with planning an out and then bailing on it if something better comes up organically.
What are your thoughts, comment below or email me at Andy@radiostationconsultant.com.
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