Radio Creativity Made Easy

by Dan McCurdy

“The Great Under Achiever.”

Radio is one of the great under-achievers.

Consider: you’re a radio presenter aren’t you? A radio professional that understands how radio works; so could you, should you be using the medium more creatively, more imaginatively than you are doing in your work at present?

Heaven forefend that I should preach to you or insult you by suggesting you don’t know what you’re doing, but just imagine releasing the full power, the full potential that radio has and putting it to use for both your own and your listener’s sake. Both you and your listener deserve nothing less.

Let me suggest how you can do it.

It may be that you know all of this already, in which case you’ll feel slightly smug and superior and isn’t that a nice feeling? So carry on reading and enjoy.

It may be that you try one or two of the thoughts herein, and pick up another 4 or 5 listeners initially who like what you’re doing. Then another 200 or 300 join in, and over time this builds into another 2 or 3 thousand, and so on all because you’ve worked at giving them something no one else does, or something they want to listen to more. I look forward to your email.

I always like the phrase, “you can close your eyes but you can’t close your ears.” So I tried it over and over again, and no matter what I did I found out they were right. What I found most interesting also, is the inherent link between what you hear, and what your imagination conjures up and develops all from a sound pattern. I have a theory few in the radio industry agree with, which is that radio personalities should NEVER be seen but only ever heard.

Every single person I ask or talk to about this without exception — and if you’re a radio person you’ll have first-hand experience of this at road-shows and public appearances — is always surprised, and I have to reluctantly say (although feel free to disagree if your experience is different), disappointed when they meet someone they’ve listened to on their favourite radio station. The person they meet in-person is not the person they hear on their radio. This is not confined to radio of course. How many times has the person you’ve spoken to the phone, turned out to be entirely different to the picture you have of them in your own mind, when you meet them face to face. Disappointing isn’t it?

Radio is one of the most inherently creative mediums that exists, and even in this seemingly technologically advanced age, do we not all in the industry generally continue to ignore its full creative potential and have done so for years? Commercials have being singled out even within the industry for some reason as the main culprit, with general programming and presentation escaping much of the full wrath of the critics.

Is this fair? And do not Listeners listen to the whole package? You can close your eyes, etc....

Why do your listeners choose to listen to you?

Let me suggest they listen for some of the following in varying measures: Entertainment / Music / They Like you as a Personality / News & Traffic / Background / or Just out of Habit. We all like to be entertained, and part of that entertainment with radio is using our imagination as listeners to conjure up pictures of what YOU look like, what you’re doing and who with, and where you’re doing it; with a live news report from an incident scene we’ll provide the scene to help us understand the report. None of us are told to do this, it’s just part of the entertainment we provide ourselves to make listening more interesting. It’s one of radio’s greatest strengths, yet one that’s constantly ignored.

Let’s talk more about creativity. Imagine you can help you make the radio ‘pictures’ more interesting, more entertaining, and because you are more entertaining than your rivals you’ll get more listeners – won’t you?

So how do you do it? How can you use the listener’s imagination to your own and your listeners benefit? Let me give you some thoughts, and they are only thoughts. Whether they become ideas is up to you. Sound effects – every station has, or can easily get, a bank of sound effects that can transport you anywhere you want to take your listener. A presenter I knew once did a 3 hour show using a continuous helicopter sound loop. Everyone (or most) knew it was fake but went along with it and reported sightings, and there were some complaints about the noise. Radio can take you wherever you want to go.

In-situ: Go outside and record a whole bunch of links in different places, parks, shopping centres, railway stations, airports, anywhere that sounds different to the studio. Ask listeners: phone them back when they phone in, and talk to your listeners. They’ll be surprised and tell more people, which may get you more listeners. Talk to them about them -- their hobbies, interests, what fills their time — and do some features on these. If it interests one of your listeners, it’ll interest more.

Get local bands to record some (short) idents for you. They’ll generally do it free (wouldn’t you?), and anyone that doesn’t will probably be difficult about everything else anyway. Do a short interview about their hopes and dreams, and they’ll tell you loads about their music scene. More listeners.

Random Sounds: bring objects/things that make a noise into the studio and use them randomly. You’ll be surprised what fun it is, and it might link to other ideas. (careful) Before long you’ll have a sound box, and after all, what’s radio about anyway? This also stops the studio being just a studio. Walk into the newsroom live on air and ask the news editor what’s new. Record vox pop inserts (or get help to do this) in all kinds of unexpected places and just play them unexpectedly. Visit local colleges/universities and talk to the Creative Industries courses. This is the next generation for the industry. Most are keen to have a working and workable communication channel with the media, so why not make it you? And you never know what will develop.

All this means your radio work won’t just be a series of music tracks linked by you trying to say something clever or interesting, but will more appropriately, with all the differing sounds, be food for your listener’s imagination. Your listener will work with you, and the more you work on them together, the better they’ll become. Then you’ll both achieve something really worth listening to.

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