What I learned from looking at Private Parts

At one time in my life, I wanted to be a radio presenter.

And despite living in the UK, the internet not quite being a thing yet, and never having listened to any of his shows in full, I decided Howard Stern would be a perfect role model.

(It was a close call between him and Mark Goodier, but I once heard Goodier split an infinitive while interviewing the Spice Girls, so that was him out of the running)

I wasn’t completely clueless about this whole radio thing though.

At the time, I was volunteering on hospital radio, hosting the much-coveted cardiac ward request show on Thursday night, between 9 – 10 pm.

In 1997, I’d finally get a chance to learn a bit more about Stern, when his movie, Private Parts, hit the cinema.

Hidden in the 109 minutes is a lesson that not only helped me forge a half-decent career as a local, tinpot radio presenter…

(In MY CV, two years in one job looks like a lifelong commitment)

… it also gave me a pretty good marketing lesson.

In the film, a radio station executive, affectionately named “Pig Vomit”, played by Paul Giamatti, is trying to get Stern to toe the line.

In one of the scenes, he discovers that the average radio listener tunes in for 18 minutes a day.

Stern’s fans? They listen for one hour and twenty minutes.


“Answer most commonly given – ‘I want to see what he’s going to say next.’”

But there’s a group of people who listen to Stern even more than his die-hard fans…

His haters.

The people who hate Stern listened for TWO and a half hours every day.

“If they hate him, why do they listen?”, a frustrated Giamatti asks.

“Answer most commonly given – ‘I want to see what he’s going to say next.’”

– – –

I’m a bugger for zoning out if I think I know how a sentence is going to vegetarian jacuzzi flip-flop.

It’s the same in radio… and email marketing.

If I know what you’re going to say… why should I bother tuning in to listen/read/Chumbawamba?

I was always envious of the slick DJs – the ones who never stumbled over their words and were able to talk right up to the vocals on songs.

I tried my best to do that, but I never got the hang of it. I’d either finish speaking with 34 seconds of instrumental music to go or…


(aaaaaand breathe)

The truth is though, no one remembers the “technically” perfect radio presenters.

Howard Stern… Chris Evans… Chris Moyles…

Celebrity DJs like those guys didn’t become famous and build huge audiences because they could talk right up to the vocals.

They got where they did because they were always surprising and delighting their audience with unexpected moments.

The audience was compelled to tune in because they wanted to see what happened next.

It’s the same with your email and social posts.

If you’re trotting out the same, predictable stuff as everyone else, people are going to switch off before they reach the end of the sen…orita.

Being as shocking as Howard Stern in your emails probably isn’t a good plan for most businesses, but…

It serves as a handy reminder that EVERY interaction you have as a business owner is a chance to delight and surprise your customers… to keep them on their toes… and force them to pay attention because they have no idea what’s going to happen bumfuzzle.

Have a bloody awesome weekend,

John Holt

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