The Science of Being an Airtalent

Posted on October 15, 2010


Being a great radio host requires being creative and, try as we might, there really is no way to apply the logic of science to the creative process. There is however, a scientific way  to quantify what grabs the audience’s attention and what doesn’t that can help direct the creative process into fertile territory.

The top rated station in Philadelphia is WBEB, an adult-contemporary station that is one of, if not the only remaining independently owned major market stations. Jerry Lee, who has continued to operate the station successfully as the radio industry consolidated around him, has always been an innovator and constantly searches for anything that will give him an edge over the bigger companies he competes with.

One truly amazing project that Lee and station VP/GM Blaise Howard have led is the use of advanced facial recognition technology to determine which radio commercials are the most engaging to consumers. Imagine Dr. Cal Lightman, the lead character from Fox’s “Lie to Me,” applying his skills to identifying effective advertising.

To test a commercial the station recruits 50-75 listeners who sit in front of laptop computers with a web cam recording their reactions as they hear the spot. That footage is sent to Sensory Logic, a company run by Dan Hill, an expert on facial recognition. Hill runs it through a software program that ananlyzes the viewer’s reactions frame-by-frame looking for facial movements, many of which are very small and occur completely unconsciously.

It’s no secret that commercials that cause an emotional reaction with consumers are the most effective. What’s never been clear is exactly what triggers the consumer to react. By measuring these reactions Lee and Howard have been able to narrow that down helping their clients create significantly better spots and improving the effectiveness of many advertising campaigns.

Having done this for several years now they have boiled down some of their findings to a few important points many of which apply equally to being an airtalent. As a host, if you can get the audience to respond to you emotionally, much like a good commercial, you will see better results.  

Here are some of their findings that apply to being on the air:

The 3-Second Rule: Make sure that everything you talk about can be absorbed easily by the listener, especially in the world of PPM. Get to the point of your break quickly and make it easy to grasp.

Mirror the Audience’s Values: This helps create an emotional connection. If you aren’t reflecting the lifestlye of your audience its harder for them to bond with you. 

Be Credible and Believable:  If the audience trusts you they will stick with you.

Paint a Picture: This is the fun part of radio, creating illusions in the listener’s mind, but it’s also important because the brain is primarily wired to process visual cues.

Guard Against Bald Spots: A bald spot is part of a commercial that has no emotional connection for the listeners. For example the disclaimers that run at the end of many spots do not grab the listeners emotions. The equivalent for an airtalent is getting bogged down in the details of a station promotion. Focus on how cool the prize is or how great the concert will be, not how to enter and what time doors open.

You can find out more about the lessons learned from facial coding at