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(PROGRAMMING) Developing A Great Morning Show


Steve Reynolds is owner of the Reynolds Group ( Hes a former morning show host and program director, and today as it has been for the past 15 years his specialty is developing strategies for morning show teams and talent all over the country. A lot of his clients are in major markets, where a 10th of a ratings share means huge money to the bottom line or out the door. We asked Reynolds to share some of his thoughts on what makes a winning morning show.

What are the elements every successful morning show must have?
The tenets of great morning shows are critical and universal, regardless of format. They are, first, having a content strategy that is unique to you and reflective of the personalities of the people on the show. Television gets plots. The difference is that the plot of Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, Seinfeld, All in the Family, any iconic or successful TV show, is fake. You hire great actors and superior writers, and you have an entertaining 30 or 60 minutes of television. No one can copy the plot because we know copycats dont work.

We have to have the same principle in radio. So the first thing is having a content plot. The difference between TV and radio is that in radio, it needs to be reflective of the values, sensibilities, sense of humor, and perspective of the people on the show. If we are going to believe the bonding process can happen, it has to really be who these people are. The content plot has to be unique to you, one that no one can replicate turf you own.

You also teach mornings shows about images. What do you mean by that?
There are four very important images a show must own. The first image is fun. People want to have a good time in the morning, unless the news or pop culture cycle compels us to not be fun on that day. For instance, 20-plus people are killed at a grade school in Newtown you cant be funny. But by and large, there is no successful morning show in the country that does not have significant humor or fun in its image.

The second image is authenticity. We develop relationships with listeners the same way we do in real life. The people closest to you or me are the people we are deeply authentic around; we can be who we are, we can be very honest, and they are accepting of us. Inside authenticity is just showing your humanity, being honest with the audience and also being vulnerable, letting them in. Talent should be sharing their lives, or those universal parts of their lives, with the audience, so the audience walks away and says, I feel like I know them. Thats a very important image of how intimate our medium is, against all other things people can have a relationship with in the morning. People do not have that relationship, necessarily, with television. But they do with radio, and we really need to work that to build loyalty.

The third image is innovation. Its not the topics you are on, its what you do with the topics that makes you memorable. That is not code for Lets do wacky radio bits. But lets do stuff with topics so that its not just a four-hour conversation. I cant tell you what to do. You have to come up with what to do, because it has to be a reflection of who you are as a person, and your take on it. Then you will be seen as inventive or innovative, and you will capture the imagination of the audience to hook them to want to come back the next day.

The fourth image is an image of relevance. The audience understands that there is a value system shared between you and them and that you, as a talent, understand the topics they are interested in and bring them your own perspective, where the circles intersect and they say, They are just like me.

Talk about benchmarks during morning drive.
Have benchmarks that define your show, that define your sense of humor, that become a moment of cume urgency, where people say, Every morning at 7:30, when Im driving to work and Im in front of the Home Depot, my favorite morning show is doing this thing. I sometimes have a bit of a difficult time convincing talent to do benchmarks. So I ask them this question: Any idea what will happen if David Letterman retires on September 15, 2015?

This is how I explain the value of a benchmark. I say to them, If Letterman wraps up on September 15, 2015, he will have done 30 years of the Top Ten List, a feature that debuted on September 15, 1985. That is his signature feature. If you see a Top Ten List in the newspaper, on television, online, wherever you might see it, you immediately associate it with David Letterman, and its never as good. If Letterman can make a commitment to one signature feature in a one-hour show, five nights a week, for 30 years, theres no reason we cant in a four-hour show every day.

If you do those critical things: a plot, accruing these four very important images, and having that signature feature, I think all should be right with the world.

Steve Reynolds can be reached at or 919.821.4700.

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