The USB key is the new scrapbook

While Dropbox (or whatever cloud service you use to save your files) is now the go to place to store old word documents, ideas and doodles, it was just a few years ago a trusty USB key or a concrete block of a external hard drive was the only way of keeping your files archived and safe.

Only yesterday while rooting in a wardrobe did I find an old USB Key marked ‘Ideas 07-10’. Instantly it felt like finding an old scrapbook in an attic. Plugging it into my macbook I was greeted with a ton of old photos, random text files and a scattering of MP3 tunes. One file that my attention was immediately attracted to was a folder entitled ‘IDEAS and BITS’. In I clicked and there was whole host of radio/tv/online ideas that I had either produced or left to ferment like a bottle of fine wine (or potentially a bad batch of home brewed beer). Great memories from my days of setting up the programming of iRadio and later during the 3 years of producing the “Breakfast with Hector’ radio show.

Some ideas good, some ideas not so good.

I thought though I would share with you a small selection of the ones I think grabbed attention and cut through. Hopefully it might spark some ideas and encourage you to go searching for the USB you think you’ve left in a drawer somewhere.

The iRadio Naked Bus

This was by far the strangest charity competition i’ve ever run but ended up being incredibly successful making all the national news outlets. We used rising fuel prices (this was in 2007) as the premise for people to ditch the car and take public transport naked all in the name of charity.

The station invited listeners to participate in the “Naked Bus Challenge”, whereby they were collected from their homes and driven to work naked. The bus delivered one person per day to their place of work.

The completion element was simple: whoever raised the most money would be named the Naked Bus champion winning a load of prizes. The promotion was very visual with a fully wrapped bus driving through every town in the staton franchise area. It drove huge awareness which in turn put the ratings through the roof. This was before Twitter, Instagram and Facebook really took off. A huge hit on BEBO 🙂

The Birth Notices

Believe it or not in Ireland the ‘Death Notices’ is one of the most listened to radio segments on local radio. Basically one person reading out funeral arrangements for about 10 minutes straight. It’s usually the biggest time block success for local stations that drives huge listenership. My idea was to do the opposite and broadcast the ‘Birth Notices’ once a week to welcome brand new listeners to the station I was working for. We created specially branded baby bibs and the segment was inundated with families trying to get on the slot.

Here’s some audio

Granny Gran Prix

How can you not love a daredevil Granny?

The premise was simple – Could we find the fastest granny in Ireland? To make sure the show did not encourage or glorify speeding, the show requested that any granny applying was doing so in the knowledge that they needed proper professional help to make them a better driver, and ‘Breakfast with Hector’ would give them the vehicle (pardon the pun) to do so!

The shows host invited callers to share their granny stories which provided some fantastic on-air moments. From hundreds of nominations, we selected our Top 10 Grannies including the previous year’s champion and brought them to Ireland’s top racing track Mondello Park to compete in an intensive time trial race! The promotion proved to be a huge success particularly with families looking to nominate their grannies!!

2nd Chance Debs

Very simple mechanic. A chance to relive or have your debs/prom for the first time. People won tickets by sharing their horror debs stories. Worked brilliant on air and the night itself as you will see below was incredibly fun.

Obama FM

Ah yes jumping on any Irish roots connection story….. From the original press release below.

“A regional radio station in the midlands will change its name to Obama FM tomorrow when it broadcasts from the Irish ancestral home of US president elect Barack Obama. i105-107 FM will broadcast all day from Moneygall in Co Offaly on the eve of the historic inauguration. We just thought we should do something to celebrate Bar­ack Obama’s Irish roots. It will be such a historical occasion, we had to mark it some way,” said Alan Swan, i105-107 FM programme director.

We ended up winning Irish radio Innovator of the Year at the Irish Radio Advertising Awards 2010 and a ton of national & international press. It cost very little and delivered massively for the fledgling station.

‘Ireland’s Biggest Simultaneous Aerobics Class’

Limerick gym instructor Richie Clifford was the break out star of TV Show ‘The Gym’ on RTE Television. Following an on-air call with Richie, The Hector Breakfast Show decided to plan ‘Ireland’s Biggest Simultaneous Aerobics Class’.

The idea was to try and convince as many gyms, schools, and offices to switch on the breakfast show at 8am and join in on a live aerobics class from one of Ireland’s biggest sports arenas at the University of Limerick. Yes… an aerobics class on the radio did sound like a ridiculous idea but somehow it captured the imagination of our listeners and caused huge talk-ability.

Over 600 listeners took part in a live outside broadcast while the show received enormous social media feedback and national press. You could do this idea again and pursue beating the record of the longest ever aerobics class which stands at 39 hours 20 minutes.

Tommy and Hector Podcast

One of the highlights of being the content director at iRadio was launching the Tommy and Hector show. Way too much fun. I look about 10 in the video below.


Empathy. Who are you creating content for?

When you’re creating content one of the most important skills you can have is empathy.

Can you put yourself if the shoes of your listener, customer, consumer?

World renowned, Academy Award winning composer Hans Zimmer does for every project he works on. In a recent Rolling Stone interview he revealed who he writes for. Guess what? It’s not everyone.

“And I realized that,” he says with a pause. “I have a fictitious person I write for. And she’s called Doris, and she’s from Bradford and she wears a raincoat and she has two horrible little kids that are giving her nothing but grief. And you know, the man left her a while back. And she just, in the rain, everyday, trudges to work and she works hard. … And so if she puts her hard-earned money down, we better give her an experience. And we better put everything in just like she put everything in to get there. … When I finish writing a piece. Sometimes my music editor says to me, ‘What do you think? Do you think Doris will like this one?'”

So next time ask yourself who are you creating for? Who is your Doris?

An acronym from the 1960’s is simply perfect for 2017

KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid”, a design principle used by the U.S. Navy way back in the 1960’s. While some deem the phrase old fashioned & cheesy, in 2017 this acronym has never been more relevant. The attention of your audience is so fickle, it’s vital to simplify your ideas and in turn the content you create. You have to make it simple to grab their attention and then make the message so clear they don’t forget.

Simple is beautiful.

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ.

Photo by Jeffrey Wegrzyn

For more posts on content creation & creativity follow me on twitter @alanswan or on instagram @alanswanirl

Get your ideas sweat on with this simple trick

Do you have difficulty coming up with ideas? You sit down, pen in hand, blank page at the ready and then nothing. It happens to us all. But have you ever asked yourself “have I exercised my ideas muscle recently?”.

Your “ideas muscle”? What part of the body is that located? Well according to author James Altucher we all have one and we should practise using it everyday:

“It’s important to exercise the idea muscle right now. If your idea muscle atrophies, then even at your lowest point you won’t have any ideas. How long does it take this muscle to atrophy? The same as any other muscle in your body: just two weeks without having any ideas. Atrophied”

He adds.

“Take a waiter’s pad. Go to a local cafe. Maybe read an inspirational  book for ten to twenty minutes. Then start writing down ideas. What ideas? Hold on a second. The key here is, write ten ideas.”

Altucher recommends doing this EVERY day. Just 10, good or bad, silly or sad. Like going to the gym, that constant repetition builds up your muscle. In other words you need to get your ideas sweat on.

“when you exercise in the gym, your muscles don’t start to  build until you break a sweat. Your metabolism doesn’t improve when you run until you sweat. Your body doesn’t break down the old and build the new until it is sweating. The poisons and toxins in your body don’t leave until you sweat. The same thing happens with the idea muscle. Somewhere around idea number six, your brain starts to sweat. This means it’s building up.  Break through this. Come up with ten ideas”

Don’t worry if you can’t come up with 10, it’s all about getting the pen going. Getting those reps going. Before you know it, you’re an iron man ideas athlete.

I adore Altucher‘s writings, his honesty and outlook on life. I do this muscle tactic every day and it has helped me greatly in my creative life. His full post on the topic is here and I highly recommend his new book which is called Reinvent Yourself

Attention! It’s all about attention

A recent piece from Fast Company highlighted the work of US public radio station WNYC and how they are finding innovative ways to push the medium forward. It’s a great read.

For me though it reinforced the challenge facing radio, with one word jumping off the page.


As audience behaviour changes and becomes more fragmented, you as a broadcaster are now in the attention game, not the radio game. Listeners don’t have time for you unless you bring some value to their lives. You’re background noise.

According to Dean Cappello, WNYC’s executive vice president and chief content officer “You have to fight every moment of the day for somebody’s attention,” Cappello said. “And if you’re not doing that, they’re going to move on to something else.”

He’s right. If you don’t stand out, grab attention and be memorable, it’s over. Forget your closest FM competitor. That doesn’t matter anymore.  You’re up against Netflix, Snapchat, Spotify, You Tube, World of Warcraft & thousands of other outlets fighting for attention.

The positives? In a world of distraction you can be the curator that pulls the best from all the noise. You can be the broadcaster or podcaster that illicit those ‘Me too’ moments that really strengthen that bond between you and the listener. Look at Snapchats biggest stars, they are playing the oldest radio tricks in the book. Storytelling, entertainment and authenticity on a one to one basis. They are grabbing a big % of that attention through building a traditional relationship with the viewer.

So when preparing for your next show, think ‘Attention’. Forget the long rambling links, add some structure and get to the point. Spend that extra hour working on your prep, finding those features that will make you famous for doing. Call a random listener after your show and ask them what they thought, build those relationships. Go deep with your data, use your analytics, what streams worked best, what podcasts got the most downloads, what tested well, you’ll see pretty quickly what’s working and what’s not. How responsive are you? Can you put unique spin on a breaking story? Put aside a day for planning for your next quarter, spending those hours ripping your show apart, amplifying the really great bits and coming up with the ideas that will get you your slice of the attention. I assure you that if you do even a quarter of those things, your show will be instantly better for it.

Now, have I got your attention?

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ. 

Photo: Attention! by msmornington

For a radio duo who know how to grab attention, read my recent post on Hamish & Andy


A free content creation masterclass from Hamish & Andy

If you’re a broadcaster or a producer, actually if you’re any type of content creator the 47 minute talk below is essential viewing. It’s a masterclass in content creation and broadcasting from Australian duo Hamish & Andy recorded by Commercial Radio Australia, the national industry body representing Australia’s commercial radio broadcasters.

Hamish & Andy are an Australian comedy duo formed in 2003 by Hamish Blake and Andy Lee. They currently host the radio program ‘Hamish and Andy for The Drive Home’ which airs in Australia nationally on the Hit Network. Masters of grabbing attention and creating a unique connection between them and their listeners, the duo mix traditional radio techniques with sometimes off the walls ideas. When it comes to content creation nothing is impossible.

Grab your favourite beverage of choice, a notebook and take an hour out today to watch this. It’s that good.

2 key takeaways for me. I love their thoughts on being authentic.

“Really the number one critical thing that we always try and make sure we hit and are in check with is that level of authenticity. If, this is just yesterday, sure it’s not the greatest example of all time. I have a chicken suit built that I was very passionate about, but I really wanted that first moment when Andy saw it to be authentic because he … That’s the real reaction. What we’re trying to give, what we try and do in our show in every afternoon is to try and hit that level of authenticity so we’re all enjoying the same moment as the listeners at the same time”

Hamish adds.

“I think, again that the trap to just make sure that nothing goes wrong with it you can fall into is over preparing something and then having to fake or reenact a genuine reaction when it comes around to 4:00 in the afternoon. Trying to keep that authenticity and that realness as a present really that you’re giving the other guy on the show because they’re the funnest moments. When something happens for real, we take that really seriously. I know when I get kicked out of the meeting for half an hour it’s a good thing because I’ll be given some sort of present that afternoon. There can usually be a highly embarrassing situation, but that’s the fun. We know that when 4:00pm happens, we’re not just trying to recreate something funny that happened in the meeting. We’ve saved the fireworks for the afternoon”

According to Andy when it comes to being prepared you have to have balance.

“It’s about finding that magic balance between prep and leaving enough spontaneity in the show. For us, we’ve found there’s sort of 2 ends of the spectrum, over-prepared and not prepared at all. Not prepared at all is also …”

Hamish “Dangerous.”

“Just sailing the ship. It’s about going, and so for our show, and this is different for every show, but for our show, as Sammy would know, you know every mic break, we’ll just have one word or one line of what we want to do in that slot. For us, that works, about 1 sentence to describe 5 minutes of content seems to be about the right ratio for us, but it took a fair bit of trial and error to figure that out”

One of the most inspiring teams in the radio world, I can’t wait to hear what they create in 2017.

Improve your show prep with this dinner party trick

Are you struggling to get the best out of your show prep? Finding it hard to get your team to reveal some great stories?

There is a wonderful lifestyle blog called a ‘Cup of Jo‘ which I like to browse through every now and then when looking for inspiration. In a recent post author Joanna Goddard described how while at a dinner party it’s host requested that all diners partake in a round table ‘Ice Breaker’. Initially they all shuddered at the thought but surprisingly it would reveal a whole host of conversation starters.

Goddard revealed.

“She asked us to go around the table and share three fun facts about ourselves. Sitting to her right, I was the first person to go. I scrambled to come up with offbeat stories and ended up spouting random things: “Um, I have a twin sister… Uh, I don’t drink coffee?”

She added.

“But by the time we got halfway around the table, people had warmed up and were telling EPIC tales. One woman could remember everything she’d done every day of her life (but never realized that was weird until she saw a 60 Minutes piece on endless memory). Another woman had married her husband twice — first at 20, then they divorced at 21, then re-married at 22. A third woman revealed that she had spent years working as the personal assistant to a major celebrity. The party was a huge success — we were laughing so much, and people shared things that would have never otherwise come up. It was the ultimate conversation starter. Every contribution sparked a dozen more questions, and the game lasted the whole night”

Who would have thought something as simple as a quick ice breaker question would reveal so much about the company that Goddard was keeping. Sometimes in the daily grind of things you forget to sit around as a team and ask some simple questions.

So in your show prep team meeting tomorrow why not share three fun facts about yourself. You never know what might be revealed?

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ.

Photo by Kevin Curtis.

When Bruce Springsteen wrote a shit song

Irish stand up comedian Des Bishop has recently started his own podcast and it’s a brilliant listen. One of his most recent guests was comedian John Bishop. During the conversation John revealed how Bruce Springsteen inspires him when it comes to creating a new show.

“I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I read something once, and it’s brilliant. I hope it’s true, because it sums up a lot of what I think. I always have in my mind now, particularly if I’m developing a new show, you’re considering what you’re going to talk about and where it’s going to fit in, from your life and everyone else’s … He wrote a song called “Can’t Have You”. The words of the song are: “I’ve got Rembrandt’s hanging on the wall, but I can’t have you. I’ve got houses across the country, but I can’t have you.” It has something to do with a split with his wife, or whatever, the reasons for the song, but the song was all about, I’ve got more wealth than any man can stand, but I can’t have you.

He played the song for Little Steve Van Zandt. Steve Van Zandt said, “What’s this shit?” He said, “I’m just saying what I’ve got. I’ve got houses across the country. I’ve got Rembrandts on the wall. I’ve got cars.” He said, “Why are you singing about that?” He said, “That’s what I’ve got. I’ve got this, but I’m splitting up with my wife.” He said, “Why are you telling everyone what you’ve got?” “That’s life replied Springsteen.” Van Zandt then says “They don’t want you to tell them about your life. They want you to tell them about their life”

He adds.

“That is what you’ve got to have. Sometimes if you’ve never been at that position … For me, if you want to talk about class or life experience, the more experience you’ve got, the more you can relate to a wider audience of people”

That line “they don’t want you to tell them about your life. They want you to tell them about their life” says so much. John’s observation is bang on, it’s not what you share from your life, it’s how you share it. Remember that line next time you’re looking for relatable content to cut through, it will serve you well, time and time again.

To hear the full podcast listen here I highly recommend Des’s conversation with Jason Byrne. An hour of incredible storytelling.

Springsteen Picture by Shayne Kaye

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ.

What makes James Corden’s content such a success?

James Corden and the executive producers of ‘The Late Late Show’ Ben Winston, Mike Gibbons and Rob Crabbe understand how creative content works. In 17 months his show’s YouTube channel has attracted 7 million subscribers and notched up 1.7bn views worldwide, while his Britney Spears Carpool Karaoke is set to become the 33rd YouTube clip from the show to hit 10m+ views. In other words they understand the workings of a good feature and the needs of the viewer. In a recent interview in the Guardian newspaper Corden revealed a key point that as a content maker you should revisit time and time again.

“There’s a great bit in that Jerry Seinfeld doc where someone asks him if being famous helps with doing standup and trying new material, and he says: ‘I get three minutes of good grace from an audience whereas someone else gets 30 seconds, “We very much felt that we just had 30 seconds. So we knew we had to put a stake in the ground early and go: ‘We are a show where people come and do stuff.’ 

He adds.

“I genuinely couldn’t tell you how many people watch our show, because I feel like in this slot we’re not really in the ratings business, we’re just in the relevance business. My major ambition is just to stay relevant.”

Corden’s features always have a simple premise. He always gets straight to the point and he hops on relevant zeitgeist news stories straight away, putting his unique spin on them.

Audiences don’t want to waste time. How much grace have you earned?

You can read the full interview here

Views expressed do not represent the view of RTÉ.


The Crystal Ball of Content

One of my favourite podcasts is “An Irishman Abroad” produced and presented by Jarlath Regan.

His recent interview with comedian Dylan Moran really struck a chord with me and revealed a wonderful obeservation of what content makers should be looking for when seeking inspiration on what to talk about, what to write about.

“The universals are indeed the universals. They apply everywhere. What obsesses everyone is the same stuff. You know what? The best guide to … if you’re thinking of … sitting around thinking about what to write about. What can I talk about? I mean the what is a lot less important than the how most of the time anyway, but you know what the stuff that gets people directly? Or what engages nervous people is? It’s everything that someone would go and ask a fortune teller about.

What are they gonna ask an old lady with a crystal ball in a tent? It’s love, family, health, death, illness…  They’re all the things that the big engines turning in people”

And it’s true. The primal topics of family, relationships, love, death can provide so much content. It’s a brilliant yet simple observation from Moran. So what would you ask a fortune teller? That question could provide you with the inspiration for your next big piece of content.

Jarlath Regan’s full podcast is available here. I recommend his conversations with writer Louise O’Neill, broadcaster Baz Ashmawy and sportsman Ronan O’Gara.

Picture: The Amazing Zoltar by Nancy – I’m gonna SNAP!