How to Format Your Radio Program

What to Know

  • Start with the basics: Decide on a time slot, show length, and a content theme or genre.
  • The format for a hypothetical show is as follows: :00 OPEN — :10 Stop Set — :20 Stop Set — :30 CLOSE.
  • For advanced formatting, consider organizing content by tempo, musical era, or production elements.

To some, the term format evokes images of program directors or radio consultants sitting in sterile offices and pouring over the structure of a typical programming hour. Learning how to format a radio program or podcast with the right content is nonetheless very important.

People Love Order

You may envision your own radio show to be a wild ride of outrageous proportion. Remember, however, that people are still creatures that seek order—even in disorder.

Set the Theme and Time

Let's say you've created a streaming internet station featuring Turkish folk music and you will host a show five days-a-week featuring the biggest names in Turkish folk music. At a minimum, you want your listeners to know when your show is broadcast. If you decide it will be nightly at 10 p.m., you've just formatted your station. Actually, the first format decision was deciding on the Turkish folk music (good job!) and the second decision was placing your show at 10 p.m. At least now listeners will know when to tune in for your show.

Start With an Intro, End With an Outro

It's not a bad idea to start with some kind of open or intro that explains what people are about to hear and who they are listening to. Intros make a great slot for thanking program sponsors, too.

Likewise, end the show with a close or an outro. For listeners who tune in during the middle or just miss the beginning, the outro lets them know what they were listening to, who, and maybe how to email you or your website address.

Content Choices

These are basic formatics. From there, you fill the tree with content choices:

  • Are you going to take breaks during your show to play a sponsor's recorded commercial or a commercial for your own product or service?
  • If so, how many "stop sets" (commercial breaks) will you integrate and how long will they be? You might have a 30-minute podcast and stop down for a commercial or public service announcement twice: 10 minutes into your program and then 10 minutes later.

By knowing approximately when you will do these breaks, you can better plan each segment of your show that surrounds them.

Already the format of our hypothetical show looks like this:

:00 OPEN — :10 Stop Set — :20 Stop Set — :30 CLOSE

Formatting a talk show is easy and the structure helps you pace the program.

The logic of formatting originated in radio, but it applies equally well to podcasting.

More Advanced Formatting

What if you've decided to do an Oldies show featuring music from the 1980s? You need not plan anything but you might want to set up a format that spreads the music out in a way that either:

  1. Allows your songs to rotate through the decade equally by year; or
  2. Presents music by tempo, creating "hills and valleys" so that the listener doesn't hear too many slow songs in a row (or fast ones, for that matter).

And when you're not talking between songs, will you insert production elements that tell listeners what station they're listening to? If so, where will you place them so that they don't interfere too much with the music or repeat too often yet play enough to be effective?

Formatting Is Still Key

All of this is formatting and as sick of commercial radio as you might be, don't ignore formatting simply because it's been overused. It's helpful to think carefully about your radio show and make constructive decisions on how best to present it.

An Era of Over-Formatted Radio

Many experts lament that radio in recent years has been too tightly structured. The new JACK format being adopted across the country might be considered a reaction to that. It's sort of an anti-format format—at least that's part of what programmers are trying to convey to listeners. Don't think of it as old radio; think of it as your radio "on shuffle" like your iPod.

JACK stations claim to have increased the size of their music libraries and thrown aside the usual rules about which song gets played next to another song, when during a typical hour it happens and even how often.

The Bottom Line

Like anything, formats have their place and although often vilified, they are not inherently evil. Formats give structure and are the skeletal basis for a station's sound or even a radio show.

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