What I Learned About Radio by Working in a Petrol Station

Last week, I finished up my final shift after two long months in a petrol station. It was back-breaking, exhaustive work with every sort of person coming in to see us.

My plan was to earn just enough to support me while I continued to train at FRQ.fm in my free time, but I never quite anticipated the amount you could learn about radio outside of the station. Here’s a few things I picked up in the garage that I’ll be keeping in mind going forward.

People aren’t listening.

No, really. Every day without fail, I would ask customers what drink they took from the coffee machine and they’d reply “no fuel.” They anticipated a different question and didn’t hear what I asked. They weren’t listening.

The typical radio listener really isn’t paying that much attention to what we’re saying either. They’ll catch bits and pieces, maybe laugh at the jokes, but for the most part they’re not actively paying attention. We may just be background noise as they go about their life.

It sounds awful to begin with — nobody is listening to me, nobody cares, my show isn’t as important as I thought! But when you forget about that, think of how liberating it is.

Nobody will really care if you slip up and mispronounce a word. Nobody minds if the bed is a bit lower than it should have been. Sometimes you have a bad show and you might beat yourself up about it but often, the listener won’t even notice. They don’t listen to radio the way we do. So try new things. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. Just keep working at it until you’ve got a show so great, you make them listen.

People like routine.

From the time we’re babies, we like our routines. Working at the petrol station, I knew on a Saturday there would be a man in to buy the Irish Times and five All Cash scratch cards for his wife, and then there was always the woman who’d buy four litres of milk on a Monday. People like routines. It eliminates a certain amount of chaos from the day if you know how it’ll all turn out.

The thing is, how do you find a way to fit into the routine the listener has already fallen into? What does the typical listeners day even look like? Maybe you have a three hour show and three different ‘typical’ listeners. Your 7am listener may be heading to work early so he can get out by 4pm, while your 8am listener is struggling to get the kids to school on time. Figure out who your listener is at each point in the show and it becomes more clear where you fit in so you can cement your place in their day-to-day life.

People like it easy.

Everybody has that one thing they rely on to make the day a little bit easier. Whether it’s heading to the gym or a glass of wine, we all have something to turn to that’ll provide a pick-me-up when needed.

The question is — how do you make the day easier for the listener? Do you give them the news they need to know or the music that makes them feel good? Laughing causes the body to release serotonin, a happiness chemical believed to strengthen the heart, boost the immune system and lower blood pressure. Enough laughing can make us healthier and if you can trigger a release, it’ll help the listener to bond with you. Do you make your listener laugh, providing that chemical boost to keep them coming back for more?

Knowing what you are to the listener will make it a lot easier to create content. Think of it as a checklist. I am X, Y and Z to the audience. If every link hits those marks, you’re on the right track. Knowing the listeners expectations and managing to fulfil them every time will encourage them to find a place for you in their daily routine.