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Where is the next radio talent coming from?

Having been in the radio industry for over 25 years, I have always heard concern from people in the industry who ask where tomorrow's talent is coming from.
Over the years in South Africa we have had many radio icons from Alex Jay, Kevin Savage and John Berks to the current icons like Gareth Cliff, John Robbie and DJ Fresh. However, there is a distinct opinion that these or similar talents may not surface again. The radio market has become a battlefield for sales targets and marketing promotions along with the competitiveness within the congested radio space. As such, programme managers focus the bulk of their attention on driving sales and promotions, the morning and afternoon drive shows and have little time if any, to develop and coach new or existing potential radio talent.

Growing and bringing new talent

The key focus for the radio industry should be to grow and bring in new talent that both challenges the existing talent pool on prime radio shows, as well as improve and set benchmarks for how radio content can be more engaging and compelling.

It must be remembered that in radio, Talent is the star, Music and Format was never the star they're merely elements of programming as is other elements like News and Sports. It takes a real-life exciting, compelling talent that enables a personality to stay organised within these elements, keeping listeners attracted to the radio station.

So, to pose the question of where the next radio talent is coming from, the industry should address how new talent is being recruited to radio stations and what is being done with real talent development that exist within its training structure.

Talent development at most radio stations is typically done through the programming department and is mainly the responsibility of the programme manager. This consists of a series of scheduled airchecks and show assessments and new recruited talent gets placed in a 'training slot' in the middle of the night to gain on-air experience.

These training slots are useful, but it must be considered that often the talent is then generally left to their own devises with limited commercial knowledge, only to be then told what they are doing wrong when the aircheck happens.

Four major flaws

Four major flaws in radio station talent development are:
  1. Existing talent that needs to be developed are generally left to learn on-air, exposing listeners to often inferior and potentially switch-off content but more importantly, early detection of very simple techniques are not immediately addressed and corrected.
  2. Priorities and time pressures keep the programme managers from focusing on talent development and this is still the story of practically every broadcast group and individual station in South Africa.
  3. The industry has never had a true radio development system. The closest we have come over the years has been to look at community or in-house radio stations as feeder talent or simply to look at taking talent from other markets.
  4. Most radio DJs are independent contractors which means that the radio stations are reluctant to embark on 'formal' radio training as this would deem the independent contractors to be permanent employers with a different set of rules that need to be applied as per the labour Relations Act.

A need for better structure

However, there appears to be a need for better structure and a plan for each and every presenter that is reviewed along with their training and development plan.

This should include regular development meetings, not just air checks, where progress and other development plans pertaining to what they can do off air can be discussed.

Six steps to develop good talent into great talent

  1. Who is the personality? This requires a personality evaluation to determine what attributes the personality has that competitors and other talent do not have. Hone on these strengths and make them a powerful USP that would be hard to replicate in the market.

  2. Know what makes you famous What do you want your talent to be famous for? What is it that the talent does that they are known for/spoken about? These are the attributes that allow the talent to develop in a way that is easily identifiable e.g. as the 'Guy that upsets politicians' or the 'Girl that says it like it is'. Radio stations should build the show and market the personality around that. This must be the key factor around the show design and construct.

  3. Making sure all content selection has surprise impacts This requires that the content used on the show always has an angle that no one else has ever thought of. If the press and popular opinion on a topic is one particular way, what are the other possibilities that have been overlooked? What would surprise the listener in such a way that would make them say "Hey I never thought of that!" Surprise is always the best content element.

  4. Know your peeps Always have a fresh look at the target audience and devise an audience growth plan that has real set targets and demographic objectives. All content must be filtered to appeal to the desired targeted market.

    A good exercise is to identify a family member or friend who is the typical targeted listener then ask the question whether they would relate, laugh, cry or find it appealing.

  5. Be a social media tart Radio Jocks can no longer rely purely on their radio medium to grow, build loyalty or engage with their audience. There needs to be a constant stream of social media integrated into their shows using all available social media platforms.

    Typically Twitter is best and easiest to engage whilst on-air and Facebook with links to Instagram and YouTube done off air. However, all can be run simultaneously as well, and sometimes it's best that this is managed by the talent personally. Top international and SA celebrities that make their own postings are more popular.

  6. All round media talent It is absolutely important that a radio talent is not only a radio personality and needs to be developed to have skills in other media or entertainment platforms. The biggest radio stars are the ones that also are club DJs, TV stars, actors, public speakers, MCs or social commentators. It allows them the external exposure to drive their personalities and make them more accessible to their audience.
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About Gavin Meiring

Gavin Meiring has over 20 years of experience in the field of radio from production, programming and station management. Meiring is now the director of the advertising agency Brandswell Radio in Cape Town and also runs his own radio consultancy, GM Radio Solutions. Contact details: email | Twitter @Gavinmayring | website and
Ryan Brunyee
I come from a campus backround (Tuks FM) and we had an unbelievable support and talent developing structure, I'm talking the likes of Tim Zunckel and so forth. I feel it still lies deep within campus radio but the catch is they need the support from the commercial stations too. A knowledge exchange program for talent for instance. We lost loads of jocks to commercial stations on a yearly basis and got nothing in return training wise other than a half an hour chat or so from the old school member upon request. Put in and get out on this one. Good article.
Posted on 21 Aug 2013 12:31
Gavin Meiring
You make valid comments Ryan and as I said in the article, it is stations like TUKS fm and other campus stations that provide a feeder talent pool for Commercial Radio in the absence of very little formal development programs. Having recently judged Campus for the MTN Radio Awards i was impressed with the product out there.
Posted on 21 Aug 2013 15:07
Paulo Dias
I think wannabee presenters being social media tarts, aspiring TV stars or using radio to become famous is the reason we have a lack of talent. Being famous should be a by product of being a great radio presenter first and foremost - it's not one of a catalogue of things you. The magic of a great radio presenter is that they create an image of themselves in the minds of the listeners, that illusion is broken when they are in the society pages every week. The market is small enough to simply be a radio personality and nothing else but too many of the newbies see it as stepping stone to another platform and don't dedicate themselves to being great radio presenters.
Posted on 21 Aug 2013 16:00
Gavin Meiring
I can understand where you coming from paulo but the reality is that in the congested media environment today, no presenter can only rely on the radio platform to reach and audience as the audience is already using multiple platforms. I do agree that if you in the Radio business to be famous then you in the wrong business, but it is the entertainment business after all, and one should play in as many playgrounds as you can.
Posted on 21 Aug 2013 17:43
Kevin Savage
Gavin, a great article. If only we can get the Big Houses to put back what they have taken out. I see the problem is in part mentoring. The aspiring presenter listens to the current crop and generally can only emulate talentless waffle. I was formally trained as a presenter at UBN in London and then mentored by the likes of the late Roger Scott and Kenny Everitt. My training continued under Mike Buckt, Stuart Lee, Ant Duke, Alan Mann, Martin Rattle, Tim Zunkel, Robin Prior, Gary Stroebel, David O'Sullivan, Tony Blewit and Gerben van Niekerk. The list is endless and importantly these are people I have worked with in the past and some who I am currently working with. My point? I am training ALL THE TIME! How dare I, or anyone else, think they have nothing more to learn nor teach.Who teaches the art of economy? Who has learnt the science behind the art? Who has any idea of the responsibility of being on-air. I was knocked out when Ant Duke first showed me his brilliant "Mexican on a Bike" which I still use to this day.I cringe when I listen to Radio. Bottom line is king.You mentioned a few names at the begininng of your article, mine included. Thank you for the compliment. I, for one, have been trying to 'surface again' for sometime but, alas, I think the accountants see me as a radical and a threat or I don't fit the corporate culture. I have even been told that I am 'over-qualified' which is a cop-out for saying "I can't employ you 'cos you will show me up"Training schools have shot-up all over the place and are mainly a sham and a fraud. When we were in front of ICASA recently the subject of training came up as perhaps a Licence Condition. Maybe the Industry should fund a fully fledged Broadcast School?Nuff Said!
Posted on 22 Aug 2013 08:50
Zane Derbyshire
Paulo has hit the nail on the head for me.To add to that though, you can have the world's most talented radio presenter, but he or she may not be right for the radio station.Point is, we're too busy second guessing what we think listeners want and not actually asking them.Ryan is also spot on when he suggests working relationships between commercial and community stations. I think each commercial station in the country should 'adopt' a community station and start building radio's future from the bottom.
Posted on 22 Aug 2013 11:42
Gavin Meiring
Thanks Kevin. The mentoring process is so powerful and yes the names you mention read like a who's who in Radio and you have been privileged to have had people to work with like that. There is a radio School at Wits but what you suggesting can be done internally at stations themselves. Good luck with your application, it will be amazing to hear Capital on the air again.
Posted on 22 Aug 2013 14:16
Gavin Meiring
Good Points Zane. I personally have always valued working relationships between Community and Commercial radio and again it comes down to to pressures on commercial radio to find the time and commitment to do so. Knowing your audience is also key and not assuming you know them. Thanks for your comments.
Posted on 23 Aug 2013 09:16
Robin Jansma
One of the best reads in a long time on Biz-Com (well since Ant Duke wrote something here) thank you to all involved. Love Radio talk.
Posted on 26 Aug 2013 17:46
Alastair Gray
I'm reading this article with the troubling aspect that this original article is nigh on 6 years old, and yet nothing seems to have changed or improved. The quality of presenting has improved greatly in the Campus and Community arenas, but there doesn't seem to be anything remarkable or impacting on the radio horizon in terms of presenting. Perhaps I am just not listening to the stations that carry that content?I still believe that there is a huge opportunity to guide and mentor aspiring and (as Kevin so rightly mentioned) experienced presenters looking to hone their skills. It might be a good plan to have this as an industry NPO, with all commercial stations being required by ICASA to give a very small percentage of the turnover to the operational overheads of this school. After all, the commercial stations would be the ultimate benefactors in the pyramid of things, with sharper talent, more competition, more to choose from, and a business headspace in the graduates. It is sadly rather unlikely that the commercial stations would support this kind of initiative, as they are mostly sitting in a protected arena with very little real competition. If it ain't broke... is the way I reckon they will be looking at it. Overseas, most major markets have at least three stations within a programme format fighting tooth and nail, for that extra one percentage point in the Rams. They are in no way sitting in the comfort zone the we seem to have here, they are hungry for improvement and progress. And that is perhaps the greatest crime of all. Stagnation, pretty much. And the only fly in the ointment is the rise of online listenership, from the radio fans that are bored and want more. And that comes down to my conclusion. Radio in South Africa, in my humble opinion, has become a victim of listener apathy, where they are content to settle for a kind of mediocrity, and the ones that are beyond that have already tuned into a stream of something on the net. The majority aren't demanding and selective enough in what they will settle for, radio wise. A harsh, and possibly unfair observation, but that's my feeling on it. Someone needs to throw a stone in the proverbial pond, and get those ripples working.for the betterment of an industry that we all love and cherish. Let's hope it's soon.
Posted on 13 Apr 2019 13:58