Industry Views

The Vital Element of Surprise

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media Implementers
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, “Sterling On Sunday”
Talk Media Network

Visitors to Disneyland five years ago will be given a memorable experience when they visit this month. About 50% of Disneyland has changed since 2018. The theme park constantly changes, trying new rides, exhibits, displays. Walt Disney never considered his park to be finished. Roy Disney said that Walt viewed Disneyland as a giant block of clay which could be molded and remolded constantly. Changing the park constantly gives visitors surprises, joy and the excitement of the unexpected. The unexpected at Disneyland is newness in its ideal form: Everything is new, memorable and completely safe.

Your show, music or talk, has the same power to create memorable entertainment. Wrapped in the safety of your voice, and your familiar station, you can SAY the unexpected, the surprising, the new.

Remember when the news was a radio station? Remember when a radio station generated word of mouth, talk at work, and gossip among friends? It could have been yesterday or years ago. A radio station or on-air talent was at the epicenter of the community’s conversation when it did the unexpected. 

The short list 

A station said the name of your business. Gave away an outrageous prize. Roasted a pig. Lesbian Dial-A-Date. Broke a record. Asked the caller if they were naked. Aired Amazing Mouth TV Spots. There is no top-of-mind real estate claimed by a station if it is following the format really well.

Delivering surprises is not hard, but it is essential to the medium’s growth. Today, the most recent “surprises” have been all wrong. Too often the surprise is the public shaming and forced apology of a host because of an unfortunate comment about Erin Andrews or slight of a team owner.  (BTW, the single dumbest management move is a public apology. Thousands of people learn of the incident who would never have known about it if the moment was allowed to pass.)

You may be worried that if you or an air talent break the corporate dictate format, all will be fired. No. You know where you can experiment. Your experiment could lead to a new, fresh awareness of your station and of your hard work. Do it.

WALTER SABO’s company, Sabo Media has advised the C Suite of some of America’s largest media companies including SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Apollo Advisors, Conde Nast, Wall Street Journal Radio, RKO General, and NBC. He is a member of the Nominating Committee of the national Radio Hall of Fame and on the Dean’s Advisory Board of the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University.  His radio show, “Sterling on Sunday” is heard  Contact him at