“How on Earth Do We Talk About the Election?

 In Blog

Topicality is Possible on Music Stations

by Angela Perelli

How many times has one of your community’s hot button topics made you look at each other and think “We can’t go there on our show”? Maybe you think the topic is too heavy, too divisive or too “edgy”.

There may be topics that don’t fit your format or show brand, yet there are also times that stories become bigger than the “target demo.”

  • An AC station might not dwell on the MLB playoffs, for example, but did your AC show talk about the “replacement refs” last week? That story went beyond sports pages into the realm of viral photos and late-night monologues.


  • A rock station might not do a “back to school” backpack-buddy promotion, but rather than ignoring the kid-friendly topic, what about a “Hot For Teacher” photo gallery?

This concept came to light again recently with Freeway & Natasha at Virgin/Montreal over the divisive nature of the timely local election. It was the topic in town. The candidate favored to win was from the Parti Quebecois, whose primary agenda involves insisting that everyone learn and speak French (there are many “Anglophones” living in Montreal) and even potentially declaring independence from the rest of Canada. Every Montrealer had an opinion about the election and conversations were often heated.

Frank & Natasha were tentative about addressing the topic after one cartoon posted on Frank’s Facebook page elicited a vocal negative response. At first glance, it seemed like the right thing to do would be to stay away from the hot button, that there was no way to win by talking about it, that it was better to stay neutral.

And yet it was the topic that everyone in town was talking about.

We could not afford to not talk about what everyone was talking about. So, we brainstormed at least 30 ideas (focusing first on quantity not quality), that might fit the show’s fun, upbeat brand and allow them to be topical. We discussed possible relationship topics, in-studio guests, street stunts, parody songs, fun with audio, and games.

The show decided to theme the day of the election as “Can’t we all just get along?” Day. They put an intern out on the street with a “Hug an Anglo” sign. The photo they posted on Facebook that day got almost 1,000 likes and nearly 500 shares. (See it here.)

The morning after the Parti Quebecois candidate won, the show spliced audio clips from her speech: “And to the English people, I say, don’t worry…” into Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to inject some humor into an uneasy situation.

The American Presidential debates are next week. Challenge your team to find a way to talk about it in the style of your show. Here’s a checklist of ideas to help you get started (focusing on quantity, not quality, for thought starters – no judging!):

  • Bill Jordan from WRAL noticed that this election is all about percentages. 47%…98%…1%  Come up with your own funny percentages.


  • Find listeners who have one Democrat and one Republican in the relationship. Ask them how they watch the debates, or challenge them to a game.


  • Bring in a stand-up comedian to say what you can’t.


  • Replay clips from late-night monologues, Jon Stewart, etc.


  • Get audio of kids or really old people talking about the hot topic.


  • Play “Guess the Debater” and replay clips of blunders and gaffes from previous debates (Rick Perry, for example).


  • Create a parody of some kind – a photo, video or song.


  • Put a twist on a benchmark you already do. “Battle of the Sexes” becomes Donkeys vs. Elephants or Democrats vs. Republicans for a day. 


  • Create a Facebook or phone topic along the lines of “My ex [or ex’s family/or in-laws/or even parents!] was so [liberal/conservative] that __________.” 


  • Play a trivia game about all the actors that have played presidents in movies (Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, that guy from 24, etc.). Play audio clips or have listeners match the movie or show to the actor.


  • Presidential Spelling Bee: Have listeners spell politician’s names. D-U-K-A-K-I-S. Always funny.


  • Do a “Jay Walking” type segment asking people on the street what they know about the election or even 6th grade civics – branches of government, electoral colleges, etc.


  • Create your own platform. Or for veteran, character-driven shows, ask listeners which one of the show players they’d be most likely to vote for.


  • The Bert Show, Q100/Atlanta, Syndicated, had two eighth graders, one with Republican and one with Democratic parents, review the debate performance the next morning.

Consider these tools to ensure mentions of hot topics throughout your show:

  • Use a white board in studio to post the day’s hottest stories, whether local, national, international; whether hard news, entertainment or sports. The more the stories are right in front of your face, the more likely you’ll be to remember to talk about them.


  • Use the “but first…” present tense tease to keep your audience up on important news when it may not take up a whole break. “Lindsay Lohan arrested again, we’ll tell you what she had to say about it in 30 seconds…Big election next week, just a reminder the first Presidential debate tonight at 8 on all major networks…”
  • Overkilling a hot topic is better than underkill. Listeners only catch about 30 minutes of your show (if you’re lucky!), so hit the morning’s hot topic at least every hour. 

If your show comes up with a fresh twist on a hot topic, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And next time you hear someone in your meeting say, “No, we can’t talk about that”, double-check that you can’t.

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