What Is On the Air While You Are on Vacation?

 In Blog

One morning a few years ago, Randy woke up in San Diego, tuned the hotel clock radio to KSON and began listening in preparation for his coaching session with morning hosts Tony and Kris.

Randy was an hour or more into listening to the show, taking notes on what Tony and Kris were doing well when he noticed an email that he had overlooked from the night before; Tony and Kris were both sick.

They were not going to work that day and had to cancel the workshop.

Randy was listening to a recorded “best of” show, and it was so well produced that even he – an experienced guru of coaching media talent – could not tell. Randy said, “THAT was embarrassing!” He also said it was actually an excellent show!

It’s a story you can consider as your team prepares for the upcoming vacation season. Here are some of our recommendations on what to do on the air while one or more of your hosts are on the beach:

Run best-of. No question about it, established shows over two years old should run best-of. Fans love hearing awesome moments of the show a second time. If you have any question about whether listeners like hearing a repeated show, keep in mind that NPR’s Car Talk is still one of the top shows on that national network after airing best-of shows for the last two years – and after one of the hosts, Tom Magliozzi, died.

Management support for vacation time. Best of is a lot of work to do well. Station management should provide as much production help and support as possible. The staff should not have to work 80 hours in one week so they can have one 40 hour week off.

Plan for vacation 365 days a year. If you have not being doing so already, start a system where you keep an audio inventory of your best segments throughout the year, catalog them so you can find them easily when vacation time comes along, and be sure to keep backups in case of accidental erasure.

Minimize listener disruption. Understand clearly that listeners look forward to your show as part of their regular routine and your vacation is a major downer for them. A parallel is that when a consumer goes to Starbucks, they want Starbucks. Make sure you’re not serving Folgers just because your baristas went to Disney World. You’ll want to edit and produce the segments so that the show sounds as much like a regular show as possible. We recommend that you downplay or avoid “best of” identifications so that listeners are not distracted from enjoying the content by being reminded that it’s pre-recorded.

Time and date references. Review each segment carefully for any news, weather, time checks or pop cultures mentions that will be outdated and remove them. You can also look for segments that are calendar-sensitive and rebroadcast them around that time; replaying summer vacation disaster stories during summer vacation and not during Christmas for example.

Celebrate heritage. On an established show it can be fun to play very old segments from the show’s early days.

Coordinate vacations on new shows. Everyone should vacation at the same time for the first couple of years of a show, and new music-based shows should play more music.

Benchmarks plus best-of on established shows: When only one of the primary hosts is missing, we recommend that the remaining team increase the number of familiar benchmarks and games and highlighting best-of segment replays. How you balance original content versus best-of content is a subjective decision best made collaboratively between the show and station management.

Use caution with fill-in hosts. Unless the show is sports/talk or news/talk where the content is time-sensitive, listeners will be generally unlikely to accept an unfamiliar host as well as great best-of content even if they are well-known local people or TV personalities. Just hearing a new voice is enough to turn off some core listeners. However, if it is a multiple person show and someone fills in, that can add a fun dynamic to an existing chemistry.

Test and experiment. Vacation can be a time to experiment with a potential future show host and try them out as fill-in host, still relying heavily on benchmarks and best of. And if the show is not doing well, vacation is an excellent time to test theories. At KZLZ in St Louis, I struggled to convince iHeart Media that the poor ratings performance of one of their syndicated morning shows was holding back the rest of the station. So when the show went on vacation one time, I did not carry the show ‘best of’ feed when they went on vacation, (despite corporate objections) and did a music-centric show with a capable host and 13 songs an hour.

The first time we did that, PPM ratings for that week were up 24%. Next vacation, we saw ratings up 27%. Based on that evidence management allowed us to change the morning show later that year and KSLZ went to #1 in St Louis 6+ for the first time in station history.


Photo Credit: Willem van de Kerkhof/Flickr 


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