Dear Radio: The people you need to know in a radio station
by Paulo Dias (@therealptp) As radio advertising becomes more complex and campaigns start blurring the line between advertising and programming content, you’ll be put into contact with different departments in a station or group and, with more hyphenated titles appearing on email signatures than ever before, I thought it would be handy to start a guide of who the key people in a station are.
As the internal departments in a radio station evolve from being radio-only businesses to being more-rounded content providers, it’s becoming trickier to navigate who you need to talk to in a radio station. Over the next few columns I will introduce you to these people. Most stations will call them by different names but, by and large, their roles will be similar.
Morning breakfast team
So, let’s start with the most-glamorous and high-profile team in a radio station. The one that generates the majority of the revenue, creates the most talkability and directs the sound and creative tone of the station — the morning breakfast team.
As a client, you won’t always have direct contact with them but it’s helpful to understand their roles.
The breakfast team is like your favourite sitcom with a cast of recurring characters, much like the ones you see on your favourite dysfunctional family show. Actually, most breakfast shows will describe themselves as a dysfunctional family.
The most-popular format for a breakfast team is that of the “morning zoo”. This concept came to prominence in the ’80s and coincided with the rise of “shock jocks”. We all know the term and probably had one name automatically pop into our heads — either John Berks, Jeremy Mansfield or Gareth Cliff — all taking the lead from Howard Stern.
Even in more PC times, when there are better ways to get responses than pure shock value, most ‘zoos’ are led by the dominant “pot-stirring” character. The one with big ideas and bigger mouth who gets the conversations rolling. Anele, Fresh, Roger Goode, Darren Simpson — you get the picture. While none of the above-mentioned are part of double header lineups, they are usually joined by sidekicks who take on two very different roles.
Depending on who the station is targeting as a listener, one sidekick will take the role of the hand-brake. This is usually a woman; her role is to stop the show descending into chaos and becoming too much like a frat-party. She is not totally a party pooper; done well, this person becomes the voice of the female listener — the mom taking the kids to school who doesn’t want to spend the entire drive explaining the rude word that was just said.
This role, when executed properly, connects with the part of the audience who stays loyal to the station. Great examples are the likes of Sam Cowen, who had a job on her hand controlling Mansfield and Whackhead, and Sureshnie Rider, who’s introduced the “Suspend-o-meter” to the Roger Goode show — a device which measures how close the team are to being suspended. This is a really nice way of adding colour to the role and demonstrating that it’s not a grinch type of role.
The second sidekick walks a tightrope, mainly because they need to keep their own ego in check.
Normally younger or less experienced in radio than the host and main co-host, they have talent but haven’t yet earned the yards. They’re normally great with content, are very funny and insightful — but need to be sure not to compete with the main host and instead compliment them and follow in whichever direction they are leading. The second sidekick is usually one of the more-popular team members with the audience and those who do it well come across as normal people who’ve just wandered into a radio studio and are loving every moment of it.
Who is playing this role well right now? Somizi, so talented in his own right but happy to leave Fresh as the star; Robbie Kruse on 5; and Mal Jan from Jacaranda Breakfast.
News, sport and traffic
Then you have your recurring characters who bring the service features: news, sports and traffic. Depending on their personalities, their parts in the show will be variable: the excellent ones become loved by the audience in their own right and feature more prominently; the good ones… deliver good news, traffic and sports reports.
Admittedly, I’m just touching on the shows that fall broadly into the Top-40-type format stations. African language, talk format and community stations have differing structures depending on their profile but, as advertisers, knowing your way around the breakfast shows on the more-commercial stations would be of most benefit.
Paulo Dias (@therealptp) is the head of creative integration at Ultimate Media. He works closely with the programming teams at leading radio stations to help implement commercial messaging into their existing formats. He contributes the regular column, “Dear Radio”, looking at the changing radio landscape in South Africa, to MarkLives.com