Making something out of nothing

I have been asked to provide examples to underscore key points that I make on The Edge, and while the ephemeral nature of a radio station’s products makes that difficult, I will try where I can. And there are few better examples to explain key concepts than one that succeeds because it makes something out of nothing; and I have one here.

First, some context: When I was still presenting the BIG Breakfast on East Coast Radio, the programming brains (our Programme Manager Naveen Singh and the legions of foreign programming consultants that waltzed through the station’s doors) had identified 0740 as a key time of the show. This was apparently when the audience was at its highest, and therefore it was assumed that anything done at that time would enjoy maximum impact. It was therefore decided 0740 was to be for the show what an anchor tenant is for a shopping centre – a reason for people to go there.

I disagreed, for various reasons, but was overruled; and so 0740 became the default time for competitions. However, that was until we didn’t have any, and then mild panic set in (one of my ‘told you so’ reasons for not making it a big deal). Naveen put pressure on us: “You can’t just do a time-check and station ID at 0740! Do something big, dammit!”

So Travis Bussiahn (the show’s producer and my creative partner) came up with the rather satirical idea of turning a time-check and station ID into a full-on production piece (a recorded and edited bit of programming). What’s important to bear in mind is that a Breakfast radio show’s listenership is different to that of the rest of the day – it is more transient. People are tuning in and out all the time – as they get ready for work, get in the car, get out, and then once they get to work – and generally listen for about 20-30 minutes. So we would have a completely different audience at 0630 compared to, say, 0730 or 0830. This meant that normally we’d play the same production piece several times in a show, knowing that different people would hear it each time.

However, because this particular production piece included a specific time-check – 0740 – we could only play it once. On-air, that is! The show also had a very lively blog (it went on to win 3 SA Blog Awards) that according to my brief as editor had to be an extension of the on-air programming ethos with original (but visual) content.

We saw an opportunity that would not only get the ‘0740 ID’ – as it was known – more ‘airplay’, but also fulfil my brief for the blog: we would design the ‘0740 ID’ as a collection piece – like US baseball player cards. We put a lot of thought and time into each one, and built it up on-air as something for the listener to download from the blog, collect and share. And they did, they sure did! The 0740 ID became one of the most downloaded content pieces on our blog. Each day we tapped into the theatre of the mind to recreate the D-Day landings, major sporting events, famous movie moments…all simply to tell the listener what show and station they were listening to, and what the time was.

This 0740 ID is my favourite. I can’t remember who came up with the idea, but I most probably would have written the script. Travis is undoubtedly though the pure genius behind it. He would have sourced and recorded the necessary imaging and done all the post-production. Overall from concept through recording to post-production it would have taken about 4-5 hours (for a piece that’s less than 3 minutes).

It uses the Dr Frankenstein-and-his-faithful-hunchbacked-assistant-Igor meme, with the monster being the body sum of the best parts of the team (known as The Breakfast Bunch). I play Frankenstein and Travis revels in the role of Igor. The analogy had another level – Mary Shelley’s original monster was misunderstood and much-maligned by the populace, and whereas our show boasted record audience figures, I felt at the time that few listeners really appreciated the hard work behind the scenes that made it all possible.

This example is used to help explain the concepts of building tension and creating water-cooler content, preparing content,  creating purpose, finding competitive advantage, and importantly the role of producer as creative partner – all out of the simple idea of a time-check and station ID. It also helps show why Travis is one of the most talented people I have ever worked with, and one of the few who really had ‘the edge’.

[All the work here is original. Nothing has come from any other resource. So, if you’re going to use or repost any of The Edge then please give due credit. If not….fine – be an asshole.]

[NB: For listening context, the Breakfast Bunch were Neil Tapinos (news anchor), Dumi Kunene (sports anchor), Johann von Bargen (The Traffic Guy), Travis Bussiahn, and myself.]

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