Pros and Cons of Faking It

I stumbled across a video of syndicated morning host Kidd Kraddick pulling back the curtain on the well-tested radio bit “War of the Roses” (video below), and that started me thinking … Why are radio shows still doing prank phone calls?  And, are they as funny if they are faked?

Prank Phone Calls have been a staple of radio since the inception of the “Morning Zoo” concept, if not sooner.  However, FCC regulations have made them more difficult to execute, if not impossible.  It’s basically illegal to record somebody without prior notification – the first words out of your mouth need to be something like “Hi it’s Scott in the Morning and I’m recording this call …”  Then, it’s illegal to air the conversation without the victim’s permission!

… Enter the world of canned conversations.  There are several radio prep services which offer a stable of actors, actresses, and scripts to play victim for your show’s “Phone Scam” or “War of the Roses” bit.  Personally, I’m not a fan … because I know they’re faked.  But, listeners really don’t.  And, they may not even care!  Sitcoms are scripted.  Reality TV isn’t that “real.”  So, why should morning radio lose a successful benchmark, a humorous bit, just because they’re scripted and acted?

There are some shows which pull them off naturally.  Other shows may “bend” the law to do unscripted calls that sound great, too.  The only important point is whether or not your audience likes them.  FACT:  I’ve seen research from several markets where competitors use “War of the Roses” and “Phone Scams” – They are usually cited by respondents as one of the key reasons they like the show!

So, if you have the type of morning show structure where phone scams would sound appropriate, I say go for it!   Listeners generally love them.  It gives you a feature to promote, a reason for listeners to set an appointment.  Unless you’re CNN’s morning show (click for video) … which apparently violated FCC rules with their “wake up calls” (and didn’t even do them well)!  However, use moderation.  They can be great benchmarks; but, if you’re doing them “on the :10’s” every day, then you’re the “funny phone call morning show” and lose valuable time to establish personal relationships with your audience through dialogue and more real, relatable elements.  Balanced content hour-to-hour and day-to-day is the key to a successful show.

How can you evaluate if they’re suitable for your show?  How can you tell if you’re executing them properly?  How do you compete against them?  Does your show cast have clearly defined character roles?  Is your show’s content properly balanced?  How well are you teasing appointment content?  Give me a call for one hour of free talent consultation or aircheck critique, and find out how Sands Media can be part of your team!
317-496-7268 or scott@scottsandsmedia.com

Oh … I asked several morning shows who use fake phone calls or compete against shows who do to comment, and none responded … perhaps out of fear of revealing too much.  Your comments are welcome below.  Check out the videos of Kidd and CNN, too.

UPDATE:  From morning host Danny Czekalinski (who you should hire for mornings ASAP!):  “I think War of the Roses is TOO predictable.  I DO believe in fake callers as long as they are GOOD.  The listener will always relate to the caller first.  Fake calls allow u to get content on the air that the host should not generate.  Why make the audience hate the host…make them respond to the caller.  Look at it this way…the host makes a snowball…the fake caller then throws it at a police car.  Even better if you conference the fake caller with the listeners and let the fake caller (again he/she has to be on their game) bury the listener.  Host is the moderator and gets credit for great radio.”

Danny brings up a great point, I see absolutely nothing wrong with using a fake phone call to jumpstart other content like a controversial phone topic.  Get somebody in sales or one of your friends to call to get the ball rolling then let your real listeners take over!  It works every time.

A friend of mine from the morning show on a major station in a Top 10 NE market had another great observation after watching the Kidd Kraddick video … it’s not a good look for Kidd.  He’s right.  Kidd is the perennial nice guy, and this comes across totally out of character for him.  On that note, talking about things “inside radio” on the air is of NO interest to your listeners.  They.Don’t.Care.

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