How Well Do You Treat Your Imaginary Friends?

Air personalities have thousands of friends, even though a vast majority are unknown to the broadcaster. Frequent listeners of a broadcast-- or any other form of media consumption, for that matter-- often feel as though they know the air personality on an individual level. These one-sided friendships, known in media research as parasocial relationships, are crucial in maintaining a positive reputation and lifelong fans.

In a recent article, ESPN writer Matthew Berry wrote about his time as a production assistant for the George Carlin show in 1994 and the lessons that Carlin taught him (read the article here ). Berry was at the bottom of the production ladder. Carlin barely knew who Berry was, yet the interactions that Carlin had with him made Berry feel like he was the most important person to the show. Carlin went out of his way to make others feel special and was always happy to take photos and engage with his fans: why? Because the 30 seconds that it took for him to smile for a picture had a life-long impact on how those fans perceived him.

This lesson should be applied to anyone with a following, and especially air personalities. Parasocial relationships form and maintain a reliable fan base. Whose advice would you be more likely to follow: a stranger that passed you on the street or your best friend? Who would you rather listen to after a long day? Who would you rather share your morning commute with? Exactly. Making your listeners feel as though they are your close friend will keep them listening.

Country artists get it. In my personal experience, country stars are the most down-to-earth. They appreciate their fans and genuinely want to meet the people that helped them reach fame. On top of that, Country is the only format to thank radio for playing their music. The authenticity and gratitude that country artists express embody Carlin's ideas; they make the fan feel like an integral part of the artist's success, and more importantly, like their friendship is being reciprocated.

Taking Carlin's advice into account, those 30-second interactions where the fan meets the performer is much more than just a run-in. It either confirms or denies the fan's relationship with the artist. Years of listening to a personality could go down the drain with one negative interaction. But, one good interaction will keep that fan for a lifetime.

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