Given Ryan Seacrest’s ubiquity in recent years, it was inevitable that the KIIS Los Angeles morning man/”American Top 40″ host/”American Idol” host would eventually be available for a weekday shift outside Los Angeles as well. After months in the planning, and a two week delay from its first start date, the national version of “On Air With Ryan Seacrest” debuted yesterday in middays or afternoons on Hot AC and Top 40 stations including WXXL (XL106.7) Orlando, Fla., KIMN Denver, KBEE Salt Lake City, WAEB (B104) Allentown, Pa., KMYI San Diego.
“On Air” began life with the phenomenal success of its host, the strength of his celebrity address book, and the continued march toward syndication outside mornings all in its favor. To get a sense of the show on its first day, we listened to nearly four hours of Seacrest yesterday — an hour of the local show on KIIS and then long stretches on Clear Channel Top 40s WAEB-FM (B104) Allentown, Pa., and WXXL (XL106.7) Orlando, Fla., and B98.7. And on his first day, Seacrest made a good impression, although the show also raises some questions of how it might best be used by the stations carrying it.
Monitored from the national show were the first hour of the syndicated show on WAEB and the last hours on XL106.7 and B98.7. In the first hour, the guest was P. Diddy. In the final hour, it was Jesse McCartney, who sang his own version of “Bleeding Love,” the hit he co-wrote for Leona Lewis. In each case, the various interviews and the teasers for them effectively became the theme for the hour, although the first hour did have an opening monologue about being in the men’s room at Dodger Stadium during the National Anthem and not knowing whether it was OK to keep going about one’s business. (It was funnier than it sounds out of context.)
The two hours of syndicated show I heard didn’t overlap at all with the KIIS show I heard, except that a KIIS interview with Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott was being teased for the next day on the syndicated show. During the hour on KIIS, there was also a premiere of the new Gym Class Heroes song and interviews with the group’s Travis McCoy and his new girlfriend Katy Perry, as well as an continuing dialogue with listeners and co-host Ellen K. on the hands-free cellphone law that was taking effect today.
From an execution standpoint, the bits and pieces of the national show sounded good, particularly for the first day:
- There were no obvious technical foul-ups on the three stations I heard. Some did a better job of smoothly integrating their own drops (or even making sure their own call letters were represented) than others. There were also places where an interview ended cold and went a tad too abruptly into music. But given the problems that often go with integrating network programming, or on-air and Webstream programming, everything sounded smooth enough.
- For a high personality show in middays, “On-Air” flows nicely. The breaks often came in at around 90 seconds. (You can occasionally hear where they appear to have been edited from the L.A. show.) Ellen K.’s celebrity sleaze feature involved only one story each time. It wasn’t quite as Spartan as the average CHR has become in today’s PPM-ready world of presentational austerity. But it wasn’t the same as turning over the workday to a morning show, either.
- It’s a better showcase for what Seacrest does well – interacting with people in a funny and distinctive way – than “American Top 40,” if only because nothing is harder than making a national countdown show sound spontaneous and unscripted.
- The McCartney segment worked well, particularly with the novelty of him singing “Bleeding Love.” The Diddy segment came off a little disjointed – it was a little hard to tell from context how recent it was. Diddy also went on at some length about Seacrest’s male bonding MTV show “Bromance” in a way that required more familiarity with the concept than the average listener might have so far.
- For better or worse, stations that run Seacrest at Noon are helping break up the seemingly FCC-mandated wall of all-request shows and other lunchtime special features. For that alone he deserves our gratitude. (Although maybe that’s why other stations are starting it at 1 p.m.) Now maybe he can break down that wall of “impossible questions” that every p.m. drive host feels compelled to ask.
- What was often missing from the show was the integration of guests and music: XL106.7 did the best job of the stations I heard in making sure that the music related to what was being discussed. It was the station that played Jesse McCartney’s “Leavin'” while he was being interviewed, and followed up a bit about McCartney and Miley Cyrus with “See You Again,” although without the jock’s ability to hand off, the listener sort of had to make that connection themselves.
If there’s an issue, it’s that the show, at least in its first day, tends to completely subsume any sense of individual identification for the stations that run it. If a station was interestingly positioned or running a great contest, I either didn’t hear about it or it went right past me. That’s not the show’s fault in itself. Clear Channel’s CHRs have been minimally staged for nearly a year now. That might have been OK when the programming was more of a piece. But if I were coming to a new station because of Seacrest, I would have heard nothing that taught me how to use the station or why I should hang around afterwards.
And while the argument for syndication is inevitably that it’s better than anything your station might pull off on its own, to hear Seacrest on KIIS is definitely to hear how a great jock and a great station become more than the sum of their parts. You can’t deny the bigness that the celebrity guests bring to the KIIS show, but there’s also something surprisingly big (and sadly retro) about hearing KIIS’ top of the hour news package with actual non-celebrity news, followed by traffic, sports, and weather on a music station. On KIIS, Seacrest is very much a part of Southern California, and the success of the show isn’t just the guests.
If I were a PD running Seacrest in another market, I’d be looking for some ways to have the best of both worlds as well. (A local co-host? More drops from the host of the next shift teasing local content? Fewer cold segues and a few more imaging pieces that create a little more continuity?) The show shouldn’t just be a better three hours than what it replaces — ultimately, it should be a second anchor store for the radio station.
What about being a PD competing with Seacrest? Being up against national celebrities is not in itself a game-ender, but it does put the onus on making sure every break is a monster, every caller is compelling, and that a station’s localism and its own stationality is as well used as possible. I wouldn’t fool myself that any local content automatically trumps national starpower. But I’d be working very hard to find those things that might.