By Trent Rentsch
People are surprised to find out that I’m still a radio groupie. “You were in the business for years,” they say. “You’ve jumped out, back in, and out again. It can’t possibly hold your interest anymore!” They are completely right, and at the same time unbelievably wrong.
The wide-eyed kid who worked a late night shift at a tiny mid-western station, the one who puked between records and dreamed of being the next Rick Dees, died some years ago. If I were to give myself any credit at all as an on-air performer, I might have made an adequate goofy sidekick alongside the right real talent, but I let that ship sail years ago when I made audio production my life. No regrets, it was still a great ride, only an observation.
At the risk of admitting to schizophrenia, there is another wide-eyed kid inside me who survived, however. He was far too young to become a DJ, never even imagined he could become one of the smooth, witty voices that came out of his clock radio. This kid was content to laugh at all the bad jokes, keep a running list of the top ten of the local station in his head, and live for those rare late nights when the weather was just right and WLS would skip from Chicago to his little hometown in South Dakota.
He wakes up every morning when I begin my half hour commute, demanding that I turn off the CD from last night’s journey home and spin the dial to 106.1, the local affiliate that The Bob and Tom Show calls home. He’s a big fan. It all started the last time I jumped out of the business, when I spent some time as a graphics and video producer in another city. I happened on the show because it was the only station I could get in my studio. Something about it not only woke up that little radio groupie, but made him pretty damned demanding about getting his fix. Their humor clicked with him… what some people dismissed as “juvenile, potty jokes,” became more to him. There was a formula there… you just had to listen awhile to jump on their bandwagon. He got it, and soon it was not just habit to listen, but it felt like he was missing a coffee break with friends the days we couldn’t listen (yes, I allow my kid to drink coffee. Sue me).
Fast forward… I was back in the business, producing a morning show here in Raleigh, and the kid had to say good-bye to Bob & Tom & Kristi Lee & Chick. After all, it’s bad form to listen to a competing morning show as you produce your own. The gig was fun, but the grown-up decided he really needed a grown-up job, so when a chance came, I took it. But now that my days are spent writing commercials at a production company, the kid insists that the gang rides along on the morning commute.
So now you know that I’m a Bob and Tom fan, and that I’m swayed by the voices in my head. So what? Let’s leave the latter aside for a moment.
I’m not privy to their target demographics, but I suspect that I’m smack dab in the middle of them. Male, middle-aged, kids, pets. What deep, dark alchemy did I use to decipher their target? Let’s see… the show is 3 middle-aged guys (and the must be MUCH younger Kristi Lee), all with kids and pets, who talk and joke about what’s going on in their lives, and what their interests are. They have guests that they are interested in, they put together great comedy bits and songs that make fun of the things that are interesting, funny or downright unbelievable to them. In a nutshell, they are totally relatable to middle-aged guys with kids and/or pets.
If you’ve heard them and are not a fan, that’s okay. You’re obviously not a middle-aged guy with kids and/or pets, or have no sense of humor. Seriously, that’s not fair, you don’t have to be a middle-aged guy with kids and/or pets to enjoy them, but a healthy sense of humor is a must. The real moral to this story is that they have a primary target, and they take aim and relate to it every morning.
The friends who are surprised that I’m still a radio groupie are the same ones who insist, “Radio has lost its soul.” Of course it’s not the same business it was, and I mourn the talents who have been lost because of it. But as long as there are still performers in the business who care about touching the audience with creativity and fun… if they continue to strive to understand and relate to their listeners, I’ll continue to be a fan.
Bob & Tom aren’t the only ones carrying the torch, mind you, they just happen to speak to me. If they play in your market and you haven’t listened, tune in… even if they’re cross town. If they’re not in your market, look for them when you’re traveling. They are a great lesson in knowing your audience. That’s what all good radio performers do... understand their audience and talk to them, whether they are speaking to 40-something guys who never really grew up, or pierced and tattooed kids just out of their teens, who are convinced they’ll never be as uncool as those old guys.
And you, dear Creative, sitting back in your little studio cranking out imaging and/or commercials, are as much a performer as those wacky morning guys. More so, in fact… they only have to relate for a handful of hours in the day, while your Creative must keep the listener absorbed in the station 24/7. You don’t have to be the target demo, but you’d better know who they are and how to talk to them!
As for my multiple personalities, well, at least I’m never alone. In fact, I’ve been happy to discover that the kid who could’ve grown-up to become a totally adequate goofy sidekick didn’t die after all. He’s alive and well, listening to Bob & Tom with me each morning. In fact, he’s quite a fan of their sidekick, Chick McGee. But then, that kid always was a chubby, depressed thing who liked to lie around watching TV, cheer losing sports franchises and buy new tennis shoes. Just like Chick. Relatable, I’m telling you!