The Live Broadcast Derail By Andy Meadows

When we’re coaching team shows one of the big things we talk about are derails and detours, those little off-topic comments that on air talent can either choose to follow down a rabbit hole or stay the course. But there’s no bigger derail we deal with then the live on-site broadcast. I understand they’re a necessary evil, when someone is willing to cut us a big fat check to do one of our shows live from their location, or we have a charity partner that means a lot to our organization/community, we feel like we can’t turn them down. However, for a whole host of reasons, we should NEVER let that live broadcast change the entire structure of our show. I know that’s easier said than done when we’re being asked, in real-time, to manage the expectations of a client/partner who may have a completely different perception of what a live broadcast should look and sound like. But, it’s in everyone’s best interest, including the client, that we do a show that closely resembles what we do in studio each day. That includes all of our benchmarks, features, contests and content. Although, in some circumstances we could weave the client/partner into the fabric of that content or adjust it to relate more to their product/service. 

Let’s step back a bit. There are only three reasons people listen to terrestrial radio, 1) To be entertained, 2) to win prizes, 3) for info that’s relevant/matters to them. That’s it, no one listens to the radio for the ads (Except for maybe a competing station’s account reps). That’s why we’re strategic in where we place stopsets, how long we make them, how we go into/out of them, tease past them, etc. Yes, we should do our best to make our ads entertaining, but even then, nobody’s tuning in specifically for them. They’re tuning in for the entertainment elements (Music, compelling content, features, benchmarks), the free stuff and local/topical/relevant information. So when we strip those things from our shows  for a live broadcast we’re essentially turning it into one long ad and drastically cutting down on the amount of listeners tuning in and therefore the amount of impressions that client/partner’s message is reaching. We’d be much better off doing something that closely resembles our in-studio show and then serving up their message in bite size chunks woven seamlessly into the show. 

All of that being said, doing a live broadcast that serves the listeners as much or more than it serves the client/partner is the single hardest thing we ask on-air talent to do. Especially when it’s for a client or partner with a sensitive, tug on the heart-strings kind of service. That’s why many groups do their best to avoid live broadcasts or charge a big premium for them. Catering to the broader audience listening on the radio when we’re in a controlled environment (Professional on-air studio with the door closed and all the tools necessary to pull off an amazing broadcast at our fingertips) is substantially easier than doing the same surrounded by listeners, promo people, an account rep or manager watching our every move/word and a client/partner who probably wrote a check. 

Here's a relatable example that most of us have been through. The live broadcast from a car dealership. A local car dealer drops a bunch of money to have you do your show live from their big annual sale. You show up with every intention of doing your normal show including benchmarks/features/contests/content, only from their location. But, after the first break the GM of the dealership wants to jump on a break and despite your best efforts and internal clock going off like a fire alarm, it goes for ten straight minutes. Then, he says “We got to get my sales manager on otherwise he’ll think I’m hogging the mic” so the next break drags out as well. Then he suggests getting his sales rep with a great personality to jump on a break. Plus, throughout the show they keep coming up with different things to promote above and beyond the copy points you’ve already hit several times. By the end of the broadcast the GM is ecstatic with how you’ve bent over backwards to cater to them and he tells your boss how it’s the “Best radio broadcast I’ve ever been a part of.” But, in the back of his head he’s thinking, ‘Funny, but I didn’t sell a car today’, then a couple days pass and no customers even mention the broadcast to him. Which leads him to think ‘I guess radio doesn’t work, because they threw the kitchen sink at it and it still didn’t get me any results.’ But, in reality we know it didn’t work because we drove away all of our existing listeners by doing a four-hour live infomercial for a car dealership. 

There’s a lot of psychological reasons why it’s hard to resist the live broadcast trap and there’s definitely an art to navigating those tough waters that takes years and experience to learn. That’s why I suggest avoiding them as much as possible, especially with new talent, being incredibly selective with the ones we do and setting a high price (And holding to it) for any we sell. 

What do you think? Comment below or email me at

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