By Andy Beaubien, BPR
On air presenters have always been the lifeblood of radio broadcasting. In the early days of radio, virtually all program content was live – even the music! Program hosts were a necessity. Whether the program was about music, news, sport, live drama or comedy, the host played a pivotal role. In the 1960’s, the “disc jockey” became the most common type of radio host and recorded music was predominant in program content.
With the advent of specific radio formats such as Top 40, the role of the disc jockey evolved into a combination of format executor and personality. As time went by, the personality aspect of the job became secondary to format execution. In most markets, personality is now most often found on breakfast programs.
In spite of the demands of format radio, the role of the presenter is still important. Presenters come in a variety of shapes and sizes. We will explore the range of presenters and presenter styles and attempt to point out the differences.
The most common type of presenter in developed markets is the all-purpose format executor. Listeners of format radio often prefer to listen to a presenter that keeps talk to a minimum, is friendly, has a pleasant voice and does not get in the way of the music. Highly formatted stations require a presenter who is quick, disciplined and efficient. Funny jokes or brilliant observations are not encouraged.
In contrast, air personalities such as morning show hosts are expected to be entertaining, informative, congenial and spontaneous. They are not expected to adhere religiously to the format clock and generally bend the rules when the opportunity presents itself. One of the most important parts of their job is to recognise entertainment opportunities that can be developed or expanded into something that catches the listener’s attention and is memorable. They also need to know how to express themselves in a way that listeners can understand and to which they can easily relate.
The information presenter plays a different role and is expected to be above all informative, interesting and knowledgeable. As with the personality entertainer, the information presenter needs to be able to communicate with the listener in an engaging and sometimes even provocative fashion. The information presenter may be a news person, a traffic reporter, a commentator, a weather or sport reporter. Above all they need to know what they are talking about. Listeners can quickly spot a presenter who is “under-informed.”
Finally, we have the “radio friend.” This is a presenter whose task is to provide companionship for the listener. The radio friend need not be funny or even spontaneous but rather needs to project a comfortable and easy style. This type of presenter is highly engaging and emotive without being verbose or outrageous. Perhaps the best word to describe this presenter is sympathetic. The radio friend puts the listener at ease and gives the program a smooth, even flow. Presenters who play this role can become quite popular with listeners simply because of their ability to project warmth and security.
Perhaps the lesson to be derived from a better understanding of the presenter’s role is that each station and indeed each program has different requirements. What works at breakfast may be far different from what works in afternoon/evening drive or on weekends. Knowing what kind of presenter works best is a skill that programmers need to take seriously. The ability to spot a person’s talents and potential are key to the air staffing process. The best programmers know how to do this and do it well.