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A Reminder to News/Talk Radio Hosts About Authenticity and the Character You Play on the Air

There are many personalities — both on news/talk radio and outside the format — that are no longer real. They have become their character. These people have lost the ability to stop performing off the air. Anyone who is on the air amplifies an aspect of their personality. I will explain why this is essential, but how to control it. 

Being frank, many of us on-air personalities have deep insecurities. That microphone allows us to create a character that we wish to become. Your shyness disappears. You’re now the life of the party and you are everything that you envy. There is a trade-off, though. You can become lost inside your fantasy of how you wish to be perceived. There is an old wrestler named Ric Flair. Ric lives his high-flying character, 24/7. Ric has burned through some marriages. His high-living character guarantees that he always needs money. Ric Flair, the human, has been buried by the character.

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As a Program Director, I generally have a rule about no air names. You are on the air to connect with your audience. Air names may create an artificial barrier. This can create real problems in life.

I have a former co-worker who I allowed to have an air name because he was an institution in the market. He told of some of the problems having with his nom de plume. He met a lady at an event. They started to date. About three months into the relationship, someone greeted him by his given name. He eventually married this lady, and she occasionally yells at him over his deception.

There was nothing wrong with his given name. A station owner had given him the name when he was 19 and the dude was using the air name 40+ years into his career. This guy is often angrily reminded by the wife that he deceived her. I am sure that if he could have kept his character name from her he would have done it forever.

Another friend had used an obviously fake first name. This monicker went back to his disc jockey days. I have known this guy for almost a decade and really have no idea who the real guy is. Nice enough fellow, but his “character” has overcome reality. I used to spend a lot of time with this guy. He has lost connection with reality. He is always in character. When you contact the real guy, it is always a very brief moment.

Your life is always enhanced when you can be your true self. You may not be as exciting as I am. You must be authentic.

This is show business. We are all performing. It is quite likely that if you are not performing, you will not have an audience. But you must be real.

There is a relatively well-known talk show host. He is exceptionally talented. I was at a dinner at a radio event where a network was thinking about giving him a syndicated show. This guy was unable to have a conversation. He destroyed the actual offer that was going to be coming to him. This guy was totally unable to have a conversation out of character. It ruined a perfectly nice dinner with some awesome people.

You need to know your surroundings. This guy just couldn’t be a normal guy. He was not on the air. He was surrounded by radio people. You don’t need to be a huge personality. You are not on the radio. Shut it down a bit. Listen.

I know a lovely woman. She has been a top radio personality on many amazing stations. An amazing disc jockey, talk show host, and human being. I don’t know who she is. I have spent time socially and at radio events with this woman. She is an awesome wife, mother, and friend. She can totally be exhausting to be around.

How to solve this? You are not in a radio studio. Shut up. Listen. You are not performing. Be real. Are you lost as to who you really are? Therapy. You may need to speak with someone. You also are an amazing person. People need to accept you for you. While I never used an air name, as a daily host. I was always authentic to who I was.

If you cannot come to grips with this, therapy may be for you. I have had a couple of rounds of therapy. It can be good for you. It was for me. I went through a divorce. It is a tough thing. I felt like I was ripped in half. Radio was certainly part of my recovery. I needed to discover who I was again.

If you are living in an alternate universe, therapy may be the thing for you. You have a radio show. People know who you are. You go into a restaurant and are likely greeted by a fan. I often think about what it is like to be Brad Pitt. The women? Ok, a slightly unhinged woman named Angelina is trying to rip poor Brad limb from limb emotionally. Brad does not look like he could be a radio guy. He doesn’t seem like he will be pitching Jenny Craig with Marie Osmond.

The truer you are to yourself, the happier you will be. Remember, the greatest lie that you can ever tell is the lie that you tell yourself.

Peter Thiele
Peter Thiele
Peter Thiele is a weekly news/talk radio columnist for Barrett Media, and an experienced news/talk radio programmer. He recently served as program director for WHO/KXNO in Des Moines, IA. Prior to that role he held programming positions in New York City, San Francisco, Little Rock, Greenville, Hunstville, and Joplin. Peter has also worked as a host, account executive and producer in Minneapolis, and San Antonio. He can be found on Twitter at @PeterThiele.

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