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Sterling Tarrant
KSBJ Houston / Production Director

The Bullseye for All On-Air Communication




There is a standard that you can use to make every bit, every break, and every piece of production the best it can be at communicating.  It’s the on-air bullseye.  The better you hit the center, the more compelling a talent you’ll be.  Here it is:



Let’s take a look at each section.  Review the questions and examples below to help you see how well you’re hitting the mark.




1.  Connect.  Am I living my life on the air?  Am I comfortable in sharing my warts and all?  Am I talking like a real person and not like a radio person?  Am I open to admitting what I don’t know?  Do I use “concrete words” - in other words do I talk about specifics like “spilled milk and spark plugs” and not just “messes and repairs?”  Do my listeners get the impression that I’m being moved by the songs just as much as they are?  Are you present with them, and not just spinning the tunes?


An example:  John Maxwell says “Everyone communicates.  Few connect.”   Opening a mic and reading a liner is communicating.  Tying the idea of that liner into mowing your lawn or running errands or another detail of life is connecting.


2.  Entertain.  Do I use humor?  Do I try to disarm my audience by surprising them, causing their minds and emotions to let down their guard?  Do I have an on-air persona that’s tied into my personality?  Am I inviting in the words I use on air? Do I see my role as one who welcomes guests to the party?


An example:  I had a friend at a former job that was notoriously cheap.  He even went so far as to put bricks into his toilet tank to displace water to help him cut down on water bills.  We lovingly referred to him as a “cheap jerk,” and that was to his face!  Lunch conversations with him and his brown bag were enjoyable as we heard of his latest cost savings. He made us laugh, because in the back of our mind we were always thinking about ourselves and whether we would go as far as he did to save money. 


Do you have a persona like that?  Are you the cheap one, the neat freak, the klutz, the Mom who’s doing the best she can, or the creative one? How do you define yourself on-air?  Listeners are entertained when they can light-heartedly identify or compare themselves to your persona. 


By the way, someday I’m going to produce a radio feature called the “cheap jerk minute - 45 seconds long because we didn’t want to pay for 60.” That is a feature that would entertainingly connect, and it would also...


3.  Inform.   Are you a trusted source?  Are you there for them?  If a tornado was spotted would you re-record your voice tracks?  Can they trust that you are keeping an eye out for their safety?  Do you give your listeners new and interesting insights about life?  About your town? About how to serve?  


An example: Our afternoon show informs mom’s how they can find inexpensive activities to do with their kids through a “Houston on the Cheap” benchmark.  Remember that informing is also about: “What’s the meaning behind that song?  And how can its lyrics change my life?” 




In-between Connecting and Entertaining, you’ll find the realm of the “Host” - the one who welcomes people in and makes them comfortable. 


Between Entertaining and Informing is the realm of the “Presenter” - the one who can bring a weekly movie review, or do an interview with the Mom blogger about child discipline. 


And then between Connecting and Informing comes the realm of the “Newscaster.”  The one who lets me know what’s happening and why it affects me.


Effective and compelling communicators can hit the dartboard in all these areas.  They can live in all three realms.




4.  Persuade.  This is where production comes in.  ALL radio spots and promos have to persuade in some way, whether it’s to move a product or service in the commercial world, or show a benefit and get listeners to support the station in the non-com world.  In my opinion, if production doesn’t attempt to persuade the listener in some way, then that production isn’t needed.   Persuasion marks the difference between spots, sweepers, and everything else on the air.


The best way to get a message to persuade is to build it using the inner circles.  It should:

a.  Connect to the listener’s life, (once again - use their concrete and specific life situations).

b.  Entertain them, (use the power of words and audio to enhance the experience in their mind, and don’t forget the all-important “surprise” which makes the message memorable), and

c.  Inform (get the main piece of information in, and don’t blather on.  Throw me to the website where I can get the info on my own time).


Audio persuasion is done by positively imprinting the message in listeners minds over an extended period of time, so that when they need the product or service (or the life changing message of your music) they think of the appropriate advertiser (or you) first.  


However, to get them listening for extended periods, you have to provide an on-air product that connects, entertains, and informs.  Are you starting to see how it’s all interconnected?


This leads us finally to the outer ring, which is the most important one of all:  BELIEF.


Every radio station has a belief system, a lens through which they bring the world to the masses.  It may be that “we’re the place to party,” or “we’re the place to catch the latest news.”  The great thing about what we do in Christian radio is that our stations have the best belief system of all!  It’s your mission, your vision, and everything on the air needs to shine through that lens.


Our PD, Susan O’Donnell, recently brought in a local pastor to have lunch with us, and to remind our Programming team again of how to communicate our faith in a real way to the listeners.  His name was Dr. Stephen Trammel and one thing he said blew me away.  


He said: “When I preach, I know that at least 80% of those listening to me are hurting in some way, and I bet it’s the same with your radio station.”


I believe it.  I just had the opportunity to go to a family camp full of Christian families.  Families headed up by successful Doctors, Lawyers, and Pastors.  Everybody started the week with the veneer of “having it together,” but by Friday, all that was sanded off.  I was amazed how person after person stood in front of the group, tears streaming down their cheeks, sharing their pain.


That pain is found in marital problems, health problems, financial problems, child rearing problems, work related problems, school problems - and that list is just the tip of the iceberg!  With a list like that it’s easy to believe that at least 80% of listeners are hurting to some degree.


Fortunately, the belief system found at Christian radio tells the listeners that “through the fog, there is hope in the distance” as Toby Mac sings.  I believe that If God has given you an on-air signal; you have a responsibility to serve your listeners by pointing them to that hope.


So print this bullseye out.  Take every element you hear on your radio station, and throw it up against it like a dart.  You’ll find some elements just connect, some only entertain, and some just inform.  Check to see if your productions do all three and persuade, and make sure that everything aligns with your mission and belief system.


The closer that you can involve every item, in other words, the closer you hit the bullseye, the more you will be absolutely compelling and attractive to listeners.  They will connect with you, laugh with you, learn with you, and love you more in your attempts to live out that hope.



Sterling Tarrant is a 34 year radio veteran who specializes in how to connect to listeners, primarily through copywriting and production in his position as Production Director at KSBJ in Houston.  For over a year he’s been creating a new show prep service: that helps stations generate ideas for their communications.  It also helps on-air talent quickly find ways to spiritually connect listeners to songs in short, fun, non-threatening, real-life ways.  You can reach him at