Radio and Podcasts Have an O.L.D. Problem

Brad Meltzer is celebrating his 25th year as a novelist and has just published his latest thriller, “The Lightning Rod”. Radio and podcast talent can learn a valuable lesson from Meltzer, who says readers no longer have the patience for the plot twist.

Radio’s ongoing O.L.D. problem

Flip on terrestrial radio anywhere and you’ll hear announcers struggling with O.L.D. — Onramp Laziness Disease. The onramp is that short period of transition from the end of a song or commercial break to the host’s main content. Signs of Onramp Laziness Disease include:

  • song back-sells with no related content
  • time check
  • a forecast without a relevant local reason
  • teases of two or three upcoming songs
  • plugs for ticket giveaways or trivia games
  • one co-host asking another how they’re doing today (followed by the co-host sharing that they didn’t get enough sleep last night)
  • awkward segues into a planned break

These symptoms are still common on most radio stations — and you often hear 3 or 4 of them at one break.

O.L.D. has infected the streaming giants

Apple Music has pumped a considerable amount of money into its streaming music stations and I recently checked out the app’s most popular show just as the famous host was setting up an interview with a well-known artist-actress.

The set-up was what you’d expect: as the host praises the artist’s new movie we hear a phone ringing behind in the background. Except, instead of the artist picking up after 2 or 3 rings the phone kept ringing.

While we waited for the artist to pick up the host fumbled through an impromptu movie review for around 30 seconds. He talked and talked as the phone rang and rang.

She never picked up.

The host awkwardly ended the call and rolled into a song.

Podcasters have gotten O.L.D.

My frustration with the well-known streaming radio host pushed me out of Apple Music and into my podcast app where I pressed play on a favorite tech show. One of the reasons I like this particular podcast is that it promises four topics in just 30 minutes.

The format is smart and simple: Two hosts and two guests each bring a topic and the four go around the Zoom-room giving their opinions on each topic.

It’s a great format but the podcast suffers terribly from O.L.D., in part because the two hosts always begin their show with the too-common “How are you today?” question while rarely having good answers.

This tech podcast further suffers from O.L.D. because, as the hosts and guests are formally introduced, there is an attempt by each to inject some personality into their hellos, which are rarely interesting. What the hosts should do is pre-interview the guests, and each other, to discover who has the best tech-related personal story that week, and use that story as the first topic.

Our novelist cured himself of O.L.D.

Back to novelist Brad Meltzer, who shared that in his first book, published in 1997, the “hook” or “plot twist” came at around page 40. Which means his early novels had 39 pages of onramp.

Not anymore. Today, Meltzer says, readers don’t want to wait:

We have no patience for page 40 anymore. It’s like, “Grab me in the first chapter … or the first sentence.”

Meltzer doesn’t host a radio show or podcast (yet) but I bet if he did he wouldn’t spend one precious second — let alone 2 or 3 minutes — making listeners wait for the hook, the plot twist, the payoff.

The dangers for radio and podcast hosts.

Too many radio and podcast hosts still don’t see Onramp Laziness Disease as the serious problem it is. For radio it can be deadly since a bored listener can quickly switch to another station, or a podcast. For podcasters it’s not deadly, but with skip buttons on podcast apps they risk losing a valuable window in which to endear themselves to the listener.

Don’t fall victim to O.L.D. When you plan your break’s content plan the onramp. Request regular aircheck sessions with a programmer or producer. And, of course, aircheck yourself multiple times a week.

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