Create compelling radio

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Do you remember Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story?” It was a staple of daytime radio on news talk stations across the country. I was one of many who stayed inside my car after reaching my destination, ear glued to the radio, to hear Harvey’s daily broadcast about the people and events that shaped life in America and around the world.
Harvey was an incredible storyteller, and many of his on-air vignettes were masterpieces. Contrast that with talk radio. Infomercials infamously fall into this category, as do all too many local radio shows where hosts come into the studio and “wing it” for an hour on the air. The result is often uninteresting content, haphazard interviews filled with lots of “uuuuuhhhhs,” stilted silence, unanswered questions or worse — bombastic, know-it-all hosts who try to carry the hour through the force of their own personalities. Two things happen here. First, listeners change the channel or turn off the radio. Second, these hosts don’t stay on the air too long.
So, how does one create compelling radio, especially if you work in the field of outdoor radio? Here are a few suggestions for you whether you produce a short, 90-second feature or host a multi-hour program.
Show prep is everything
How much time you put into preparing your show usually determines how good your finished product will be. Jim and Travis Ferguson, hosts of the nationally syndicated show “The Revolution with Jim and Trav,” are very good at this. Each weekly broadcast has a clear theme, the broadcast moves along at a fast clip and the production quality is outstanding with lots of thought put into each themed broadcast.
Get on a topic
You should always be trolling for information you can share on your show. Look for stories that inspire emotions. Whether it is anger, laughter or, in the case of a record fish or buck, envy; they all make for great material to share on the air. Controversial topics are also a good choice. Think about wolves, for example, an animal that inspires polarizing points of view like no other, particularly when it comes to how they should be managed. Bringing a couple of experts with opposing views to the airwaves is one way to engage the listeners, especially if you are able to take calls on the air.
Don’t forget the details
Consider using music beds that fit the guest or theme of the show. It helps set the stage as you lead into a topic and leave it at the end. If you pre-record your show, edit out those “uuuuhhs” and “ummmms” that can distract from what you or your guest is trying to say. Likewise, if you are prone to taking a deep breath between sentences, cut out that sound of inhaled air which in excess, can also be distracting. Be sure to use good recording equipment and to pay attention to the quality of your audio. Guests cutting in and out with a bad cell phone signal are as frustrating to the listener as they are to the host.
Keep up the pace
Follow your program clocks and make sure the show is tight and fast paced. Have a boring guest on for too long, or even a decent guest with a five minute message you keep on for the entire hour, and you will lose listeners.
Guest prep helps too
Let your guests know in advance what you are going to be talking about. Consider giving them a list of questions you will be asking, but make it clear you may deviate from that list with follow up questions for some of their answers. For example, let’s say you have a pro-wolf/anti-hunting guest on your show who says ranchers are not doing enough to protect their livestock and if they did, wolves that attack them wouldn’t have to be killed. As a host you can come back with, “What do you mean when you say ranchers should do more to protect their livestock from wolves? What, exactly should they do?” Follow that up with another question. “What if these measures don’t work? At what point is it okay to kill a wolf preying on livestock or pets?”
Go with the flow
Don’t be the host who sticks to the script come hell or high water. Nothing sounds as scripted as an interview where questions are asked and obvious follow-up questions are not. It shows the interviewer is not listening to the guest but is instead just waiting to ask their next question. If you as the interviewer don’t sound interested in what the guest is saying, how can you expect your listener to be?
Get out of the studio and into the field
Phone interviews and in-studio guests are the bread and butter for most shows, but you can get unique and compelling audio for your show by getting out of the studio and into the field or on the water. There is nothing better than having to stop in the middle of of an interview with a guide about waterfowl hunting because ducks are coming in. Even better is when the shotguns go off and you can report on the results. Likewise, being interrupted mid-sentence by the take-down of a rod and then giving the blow-by-blow on the air as the angler fights the fish also makes for fun radio your listeners will want to hear.
Go beyond the hook-and-bullet
Don’t be afraid to go beyond fishing and hunting during your show. The fact of the matter is, a good number of radio listeners are not anglers or hunters and may well change the channel when your show comes on. Give them something beyond that, such as hiking, camping, rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, wildlife watching and other non-consumptive pursuits, and you start spreading a net across the airwaves that will catch listeners beyond the hook-
and-bullet crowd. Throw in destination ideas, cooking segments, outdoor news or upcoming events of interest to the general outdoors enthusiast, and you’ll have something just about everyone can love.
Keep working to better your show
Last but not least, no matter how good you think your show is, don’t rest on your laurels. Always strive to improve the production value of your show and the content you provide. Look for new guests and topics instead of trotting out the same ones over and over again. Listen to other outdoor radio shows with the idea of bettering your own. Ask for feedback from professionals in the radio industry and listen to it.
If you do all of these things, you will take your outdoors radio show, whether long or short, from something people listen to in the background to content that will leave your listeners sitting in their cars long after they’ve arrived home. ♦
—John Kruse is the host and producer of Northwestern Outdoors Radio, which is heard on more than 50 stations in four states. Go to for details.

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