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Sterling Tarrant
KSBJ Houston / Production Director

Candlelight & Congressional Scandals
(one way to make your messages relevant, real, and still safe)




Take a look at these two words: “do it”

Add the word “just” before them and you start thinking of running shoes and athletics.

Or - Add the word “tonight” after them and the “innuendo alarm” sounds off in your brain and you start thinking of something completely different.

My team actually used that second version in a radio spot for the National Day of Prayer a few years ago. 

People listened, wide eyed – as a married couple talked while fixing dinner, wondering if what they thought was being talked about was really being talked about,

but then the “aha” moment came...

And they learned that the couple was really talking about praying together as a family.


The spot was done in a way that would go over the heads of the little ears, and it was totally a message that an adult couldn't ignore.   All because of how they interpreted two harmless little words:  "do it."   

See, it's not the words themselves that are powerful, it’s how the listener's brain interprets them that make them powerful.

And if you want your messages to be noticed, you have to let the listeners’ brains do that, not just give them basic copy that regurgitates facts.

Here's a great way to do it: 

Take three unrelated items and let the brain tie them together with what you’re selling.

And it's best if thing one is a relatable situation,

thing two has a strong emotional draw, and thing three gives you an "aha" moment.

Brains cannot ignore those three things.

In the "do it" instance we took #1, a husband and wife conversation around dinner, (a relatable situation),

added it to #2. - “do it”  - a strong emotional draw, and tied it to what we were selling - #3  (Prayer) - in an “aha” way.

To give you a new example, here’s one way I do it to make a radio spot:  I grab off of my bookshelf a little book called “14,000 Things to be Happy About”. The first thing I flip to are the words “a black jacket.”  The second thing I find are the words “eating alone.” 

So I'm going to make "the black jacket" into a relatable situation, "eating alone" into something emotional, and tie them into what I'm selling - how about giving to the station?  Here's what it might look like:


FEMALE ANNOUNCER:  She dresses in her best formal wear:  the little black dress, the accompanying black jacket, and she sits and waits for her date to step through the door.  Candlelight and violins electrically charge the air in the best restaurant in town, and the candles seem to flicker with every few ticks of her wristwatch.  30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour goes by. 


It looks like she’ll be eating alone...again.




89.3, KSBJ makes it a point to always meet you with a message of comfort and love from one who will never leave you.  So during our Sharathon, won’t you stand with us? 


...Because you’ll never ... EVER ...  get “stood up” with us.  89.3, KSBJ.”


There you go - a creative spot with an “aha” moment. All from 3 things that don’t seem to have any meaning together - a black jacket, eating alone, and sharathon.

But how did I really come up with that?   Well, first I looked at the words and ran them through the filter of “how can this relate to her life?”   To me, I saw the black jacket was something she’d wear while eating alone.  Then I asked myself “why is she eating alone?”  My answer was because she was being stood up.  Then to come up with the "aha" moment I found a way to twist the word “stand/stood” 


Like everything else, it gets easier to do the more you practice.  But what if your job is not to write spots?   Well, it can work with how you relate on air, too.

For instance, remember the recent congressional scandal?  How could you tie that into your “safe for the whole family” talk?

In this case, you wouldn't mention the congressman’s name or the scandal itself, but you could boil it down to its spiritual issue.   The question is “what would cause someone to send lewd pictures of themselves?”  A number of reasons come to mind:  Lack of common sense.  Pride in the power you have.  Feeling above the law (once again, a pride issue).

Pride is a perfect spiritual and relatable concept to message to the audience. It's something we all deal with, and it's something we want to teach our kids not to deal with. 

So, as an on air person how do you make pride a relatable situation?  Simple.  You find something from your own life.  My example is, that like most media people, I'm prideful in the way that I want to be noticed.

How do you make it emotional, though?  For me, I like to paint a picture in the listeners’ mind.  You hear great radio personalities like Rush and Delilah do this all the time.  In the "black jacket" instance above, the words helped you see the candlelight and violins.  When it comes to our example here of pride, I can either paint a picture of my pridefulness, or maybe it'd be better to paint the opposite.  Maybe paint a picture of servanthood?  That's more emotionally appealing anyway.   The perfect picture of servanthood that I can think of is Jesus washing His disciples feet.

OK, so I have my relatable concept about pride:  (one's desire to be noticed), and my emotional picture about pride (Jesus washing the disciples feet).  So, now I just have to tie them together into an “aha” moment.

All of a sudden it jumps out at me.  Scandal and Sandal are almost the same word alphabetically.  Hmmm...


Here goes...  

  I have a problem with the word “see” in “I want others to ‘see’ me.”  I want attention.


  It’s a problem that’s rampant - it’s pride, pure and simple, and you “see” it from people everyday - like from this Congressman who just resigned from a big scandal - a pride issue - being “seen” in inappropriate ways.


  The Bible warns against it.  In the Old Testament it says that “pride comes before a fall.”


  And, in the New Testament, Jesus had the right idea.  He removed his disciples sandals and washed their feet.  He wasn’t proud.  He served others.


  Even to this day He’s not concerned with how others “see” Him, only that people ultimately do.


So maybe next time you’re dealing with pride remember the sandals and the scandals and how it all comes down...


  ... to the “C.”


  And remember these words from Downhere - “How Many Kings,” a song that paints a picture of a non-prideful savior.


And there you go.  Something relevant to the news of the day, that reveals something personal, that’s relatable to her life, safe for the whole family, interesting to the listener, and tied into a song that will touch her heart.

To recap, here are the details to remember:  Give the listeners’ brains something to work on by tying three unrelated things together.  Make thing one a relatable concept, thing two an emotional draw, and tie it into thing three (what you're selling) with an "aha" moment.

If you just “do it”  - hey if you do even one of these three things in a message - you’ll be messaging better than the majority of stations in your market, and your listeners will relate to you in a much stronger way.


Sterling Tarrant is the Production Director and part of the mentoring and on-air staffs at KSBJ, Houston. He specializes in effective and memorable messaging for his station and his freelance clients.  He has produced thousands of radio productions in his 34-year radio career.  Reach him at and hear examples of his work at