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Talk Radio Can Learn from Trump

| March 1, 2017

By Phil Valentine
Westwood One
Talk Show Host


NASHVILLE — Love him or hate him, we in talk radio can learn a great deal from Donald Trump. Since he blasted onto the political scene, he’s been a ratings juggernaut. Even the news media have to admit this guy is ratings gold. The assumption in talk radio is that being rah-rah Trump equals big ratings. That would be completely missing the point. The Trump factor is not whether you support him or oppose him. It’s what you learn from him.

I will admit that I was never a big fan of Donald Trump dating back to the ‘80s. Like many, I found him cocky and obnoxious. After he announced his candidacy, I quickly realized he had mastered the art of entertainment. And, let’s face it, as much as we’d like to elevate our format to something more noble, we’re in the entertainment business. That doesn’t mean we can’t produce meaningful, insightful, and provocative shows, but if it’s not entertaining we’re simply talking to ourselves.

You don’t have to be like Trump to be successful in talk radio. It is, however, instructive to understand what makes him tick. I remember watching a rally during the campaign. When it was over the anchor apologized for the 90-minute run. I was floored. I would’ve sworn it was no more than 20 minutes. They say time flies when you’re having fun. Why is that? Research shows that time flies when you’re engaged in something that achieves a goal. Why do you think we’re glued to sports? When you’re not achieving a goal or, at least, watching someone achieve a goal, your mind wanders. A wandering mind is a bored mind. If there’s one thing you can say about Trump, he’s never boring.

As a radio host, here’s what I’ve learned from Donald Trump over the past year.

Be compelling. This is something we’ve heard our entire careers, but what does it really mean? One dictionary definition of compelling is to be “forceful and persuasive.” Another is “an unusual power to hold your attention.” Trump is certainly forceful if not persuasive. He does have an unusual power to hold your attention. Compelling is when a listener will let his dinner get cold just so he can sit in the car and hear you finish the story. Compelling is when a listener will endure a commercial break so she can hear you come back and make your point.

Be unpredictable. Trump is definitely that. If you follow him on Twitter you know. We have no idea what he’s going to say next. Predictability equals boredom. Everyone says they wish Trump would stop tweeting, but they don’t really mean it. It’s the tweets that make news. You may not agree with them all, but you can’t wait to see what he tweets next. The people who’ve tried to predict Trump have been wrong every time.

Be entertaining. Trump has this one in spades. He has the timing of a comedian. Notice he never laughs. He delivers a line that has everyone in stitches and he’s stone-faced. I’m not saying don’t laugh as a talk show host. I’m saying it’s about timing. Yes, people will tune in to an informative show, but they’ll flock to an entertaining one. It’s not only possible to do both, it’s essential. Trump informs in an entertaining way. You should, too. This also goes for your live-read commercials. You want people pulled through the break? Then give them an entertaining reason not to change the channel when they’re in one.

Be yourself. What connects Trump with people is he’s real. People are sick to death of guarded politicians. Guarded equals predictable. Predictable equals boring. The listener wants to hear something genuine, even if it’s not polished and perfect. Relatability is key. You have to connect with your listeners. Trump’s the blue-collar billionaire for a reason. He connects with working men and women even though he’s worth billions because, deep down inside, that’s who he is. It’s extremely hard to connect and relate when you’re trying to be someone else.

Dissecting Trump’s success is the secret to your own. Trump is like a hit movie or a bestselling novel. They all have some basics in common. They affect you emotionally, they don’t bore you, and you can relate to them. You don’t have to like him, but you need to truly understand why Trump works. That understanding can ultimately turn your radio show into a ratings winner.

Phil Valentine is syndicated on the Westwood One Radio Network. His website is He can be emailed at

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Category: Advice, Opinions