Blurring the lines between talk and music radio

The earth tremors that shook Johannesburg on Monday night have nothing on the shaky state of morning drive radio shows on the SABC’s commercial stations. Following the shock “redeployment” (in a week of shock ‘redeployments’ in government) of DJ Fresh to Metro FM, without a plan in place to replace him at 5FM, it’s no wonder some listeners are seriously confused.

Listening to the radio sporadically throughout the years, jumping between stations, I often find myself asking, “Does the DJ understand the format of the radio station, and do they have an understanding of the target audience, who do they intend to have listening to them?”

Then I wonder if the management of the radio station has this same understanding. Generally, the answer to both is probably ‘No’, otherwise their presenters would sound like they do have a grasp of these basic fundamentals.

For example, if a radio station such as 5FM has a target audience of 16 to 25-year-olds, LSM 8-10, and it’s a music radio station, surely you can’t sound like 702, which is targeting a much older audience, 35 to death, and the format is talk?

When I turned on 5FM at 08H45 on Monday, I found myself trapped in a long-winded unfunny, un-entertaining lecture on the court decision in the Western Cape to legalise dagga usage in the privacy of your home. Yes, a very relevant issue for the 5FM listener, but the delivery was way off the mark.

A typical 5FM listener wants to laugh, wants to be informed, entertained in two minutes at the most, and then wants music, that’s it.

It called for a short, sharp, take on the issue, lasting no longer than two minutes, then you go to a song, end of story. It was so un-5FM, I had to double-check if my radio was on the correct frequency. Then I discovered afterwards that it’s a regular legal feature at this time, every morning on 5FM. A ‘legal feature’ on a youth music radio station?

A typical 5FM listener wants to laugh, wants to be informed, entertained in two minutes at the most, and then wants music, that’s it. I got out my car to drop my daughter off at school after this ordeal (see, I’m old), then got back in my car, and out of morbid curiosity went back to 5FM. Low and behold, I found myself hearing another interview. It wasn’t a chat with a crazy, funny or interesting character. It was a stagnant boring interview with some musician. How can you have a solid block of interviews for 15 minutes on a youth music radio station? If a listener wanted this, they would put on 702 or SAfm.

It all comes down to the basic understanding that radio is supposed to be conversational. If you as a radio DJ/presenter are not going to have this same conversation with your friend over coffee/ drink, why on Earth are you having it on the radio?

Generally, 5FM employs DJs who are supposed to represent the target audience of the radio station. This makes perfect sense; you want your DJ to be relevant. But I think it’s important to examine that age is not the primary attribute that a DJ must have. There’s no point being 26, and sounding like you’re 48, and wanting a legal lecture.

An excellent example is American DJ Howard Stern. Stern is 62-years-old, has 31 million listeners, and he’s relevant to listeners from the age of 20 to 50, even older.

But lastly and most importantly, the listener is the most important entity in the whole bigger picture of radio. You must be only thinking of the listener. You are only talking to and satisfying the listener. Think who your listener is. You are not doing this radio show for yourself, it is for the listener. A 20-year-old 5FM listener, on their way to varsity at 08H45, doesn’t want a legal lecture. If he/she does, they will tune into a talk radio station. Simple as that.

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