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Johnny Stone “The Rules of Radio Part Three”

These Rules of Radio are my rules of radio, things that I have learned during my career in radio broadcasting. Maybe you have realized the same truths in your career, or perhaps there is something here you can learn from if you are early in your career. My hope is that you can pick what works for you and leave the rest. If you would like to read The Rules of Radio Part One and Part Two, you can find it here on HisAir.


Rule of Radio #9-The Johnny Carson Rule.

It is hard to re-enact spontaneity. Did you ever have a conversation with your team members about a topic you want to do on the air, have a hilarious time talking about it and then try to have the same response on the air but it’s a dud? It is difficult to get that same level of fun and excitement when you try to re-enact something on the air that was so great off the air.

If you do live (or even recorded) interviews with artists, authors; and other guests, the same rule applies. Don’t start the conversation until the recording has begun, or you are live on the air.

Here is what I call “The Johnny Carson Rule”: If the recording light is off or the microphone is off, there is to be no conversation. Ignore your guest.

Johnny Carson was a TV host, comedian, writer, and producer. He hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from 1962 to 1992. He received six Emmy Awards, the Television Academy’s 1980 Governor’s Award, and a 1985 Peabody Award. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.

Obviously, he knew his craft.

What he learned was that whenever he went to the commercial break, he would continue talking with his guest until it was time to go back on air. Many times their off-air conversation resulted in hilarious stories being told and Johnny would say “Hey, let’s tell that story when we get back on the air”. Problem was, they rarely, if ever, were able to have the same level of energy, curiosity and laughter in trying to re-do the story on the air.

So, here’s what Johnny started doing: When going to commercial break, he would turn his chair around with his back to his guest(s) and he would light a cigarette and enjoy the smoke during the break. (Not saying that YOU should fire up a ciggie, but that’s what he did). He refused to have a conversation with them during the break. That way, when they came back on the air, the conversation was fresh and he was able to capture the spontaneity that made for a great late night talk show.

My team knows what I mean when I say “Johnny Carson Rule in effect”! For instance, when we start the show, I have a topic of discussion that I want to present and then get listeners phoning in with their shared experience in whatever the topic is. In order to get the teams’ honest reactions, I don’t tell them the experience I’m about to talk about on air. They may know the title of the topic, but not the details. They hear it fresh, for the first time, live on the air.

If we have a guest live in the studio and we start talking before the microphones go live, I’ll say “Johnny Carson Rule”; and everyone goes quiet until we’re on the air. It makes for great content that is always fresh.

I hope this helps you-more to come!!

Johnny Stone is the afternoon show host along with his wife, Stacey, at WGTS 91.9 in Washington, D.C. Also owner of StoneStudiosLLC which produces a weekly two hour show for Country radio stations and various other production needs for radio and television stations.

Contact Johnny at johnny@stonestudiosllc.com

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