One of the biggest mistakes you will make as a show host, whether you are a podcast hobbyist or a national talk show host or a network news anchor, is to think that your audience comes to your show because of you. 

I spent most of my broadcast career corralling “big talent” who insisted they were the reason the ratings were up. And, of course, I’d be told my leadership was the problem if ratings tanked.

Don’t get me wrong. 

Talent and leadership go a long way to making  a show work, but it stumbles and struggles if either one is self-centred. 

An engaging show is neither about talent nor leadership. It’s about your audience.

Every interview, every joke, every anecdote, every in-depth report has to be about your listener or viewer for the show to have a chance to succeed. 

It’s not about you. It’s about them. 

It’s “audience first”.

Why your podcast needs to be listener first

As my friend Tony Chapman, the successful entrepreneur and creative behind the Chatter that Matters podcast,  would say, ‘make your audience, your customer the Hero of that story’. 

It’s a simple idea but in no way is it easy. 

And I proved that to myself about a month ago when I had an eye-opening epiphany about my “audience first” commitment. 

I stepped away from my talk radio gig on Newstalk 1010 in Toronto just before Christmas 2021. I had been answering the pre-dawn alarm on Saturdays and Sundays for the better part of four years.

Unlike many others in the broadcast industry, I had the opportunity to tell my audience I was leaving the show a week before my final sign off. And I wanted to do that for two reasons.

First, I wanted to follow the cardinal rule which is to put the audience first. And second, I wanted to include listeners in my plans moving forward. 

Our mission on the show was to reflect the way we live in this great city – “the coolest place on the planet”  on Saturday and Sunday. 

I, along with my chase producers and regular guests, like sports commentator Rod Black and lifestyle and leisure ambassador Glenn Crouter, sculpted the show as a place to provide history and context to new and challenging ideas. I regularly celebrated neighbourhood accomplishments and local heroes.

If anything, the weekend show’s aim was to make sure listeners had a handle on what they could do with the family on the weekend in Toronto.

By any measure, we accomplished the mission most weekends. 

I knew that every time I opened up the mic, I was putting the listener first by welcoming them to a show that was, by all accounts, about them.

Every time we discussed the lineup in our production meetings, every time we brainstormed ideas and topics for the week. I was convinced that the secret sauce to engaging our audience was to put the listener first. 

The toughest challenge was treating our tens of thousands of listeners as one listener at a time.

Creating a welcoming, intimate, space for the one listener who disagreed with my guest expert (or me for that matter); while at the same time also creating a space for the person who agreed. 

Typically, once this ‘all for one and one for all’ challenge is met, the producers and hosts feel they have achieved their ‘listener first’ goal. 

Can you check all the boxes and make everyone happy? 

Are you offering as many perspectives as possible? 

Yes? 

Good. Listener first achievement unlocked. 

But there’s more to this listener first approach. And, to be honest, it didn’t occur to me until I stepped away from that show last month.

And all this time, I thought we’d nailed it.

That was until my final show on December 19th, 2021.

I did something that morning I don’t normally do. 

I opened the phone lines and allowed the listeners to join the conversation. 

I heard directly from the listeners. I listened to them.

And in doing so, I understood I may have misunderstood my “audience first” approach. I realized, after all these years of opening the show with a “Welcome in”, I had taken the audience for granted. 

They weren’t coming into MY space. They were including me in their individual morning routines and rituals.

It wasn’t about ME at all. 

It was all about that individual listener who measured the pace of the weekend by benchmarks in the show. 

One woman took me with her on her morning walk through the neighbourhood and texted me the walking and weather conditions so I could share it with the other walkers who were venturing out that morning. I accompanied one guy to his Saturday morning soccer games. 

They didn’t join me. They included me.

It wasn’t until I got into the final hour of that Sunday morning show that it occurred to me I had always tried to identify WITH the listener but that’s not why the show worked. 

It worked, I learned, because the show reflected the identity of the listener. It’s a subtle difference but an important one.

They came back to the show, week after week, because their daily lives, their jobs, their families, their challenges, their joys and celebrations were reflected in the show.

So, here I was with my new found, newly refined recipe for success and I was leaving the show 🙂 

Ah, but remember. I promised to put the audience first and I also wanted to include them in the plans moving forward. 

So, I will do just that as I continue this adventure, producing branded podcasts with Erin and our team at Story Studio Network with our refocussed “audience first” approach.

A successful show won’t be about me or even the brand for that matter. 

It will be successful when it reflects the experiences and the values of THE listener.

I still have things to learn.


Written by

Dave Trafford

Co-founder, Story Studio Network

Read more about Dave here.

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  1. […] you’ve got your show description. You’ve identified your target audience (and you’re committed to making the show ALL ABOUT THEM – not you). You’ve scripted an outline for your first […]

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