Prepare for the Pink Slip

If you have a job in radio right now, Tom Leykis has a message for you.

Iceman-Radio“I’m sure in 1947 the ice-man didn’t see Frigidaire coming and thought the idea of a machine that would cool items would be ridiculous. Sure enough, nobody shed a tear when the icebox went away. Where did the poor ice-man go? Nobody cares!”

Leykis, in an interview with me on the Radio Stuff Podcast, believes radio stations are about to become yesterday’s news.

“They don’t see it. They don’t plan for it. A lot of people are going to be in a world of hurt when the ax comes down. I know they don’t want to hear what I’m saying.”

While you’re still working in radio, Leykis suggests the following:

Don’t be a company man. Many of the companies we know today will be gone, sold, or consumed. At some point there is going to be a fire sale of stations that people overpaid for and everyone will be working for someone else like Google or Facebook or for no one at all.

Don’t assume your job is forever. Assume you have 2 months to clean out your office even if you have more than that.

Get prepared. Make sure you have your own website with your personalized URL. (Tom secured “BlowmeupTom.com” in the mid 1990s. When his show disappeared off radio everyone went to BlowmeupTom.com to find out what was going on.) Also, get your own email address separate from the radio station. This allows your listeners to find and connect with you when they come in with a clipboard one day and say, “Alright, you’re done now.”

Keep Listener Emails. You can use them later when you need to build up a new audience especially if you’re doing an internet project. Tom combed through 10,000 emails over 2-years to build a database and reach his listeners to start his new business.

Tom talked directly to “big stick” talk hosts who rely on call letters, national lead-ins, and big signals for success. “Do you really think after you walk-out of that station you’re going to have numbers that big? You have to look at yourself and say, ‘Is my content unique? Is it special? Can it stand on its own without a big signal or Rush Limbaugh on before me?’ Can my stuff stand on its own? I think a lot of people have not been honest with themselves. I think a lot of people have not looked in the mirror and said, ‘you know what – I need a better act.’”

Is it time to start your podcasting career?

Seven Hours with Tom Leykis

Leykis1When Tom Leykis showed up for lunch at Avant in Buellton he was decked out in his trademark, dark sunglasses, mussed up hair, a black shirt, and a Cheshire grin. His voice was softer than it once was and rough like sandpaper. The effects of a black mold infection years ago in his Hollywood Hills home.

As we sipped local wines and grazed on our trendy lunches we turned to the thing we have most in common; radio. Tom, not unlike his on-air persona, is full of opinions and certainty when it comes to the business. And let me tell you – he’s done his homework, he’s put in sweat equity and he deserves a seat at the table. It’s why he was invited to Talkers New York 2014. It’s why countless, nameless talent and executives still call Tom to see how he’s doing it;

“IT” =  Internet Radio, Making a Profit, Having Fun, Engaging with Fans, and Learning the World of Terabytes and Bit Rates

The reality is Tom’s entrepreneur spirit is the driving force. He wants to make money. He wants to make radio. And so he’s doing it. (Tom isn’t shy about the fact the New Normal LLC will turn a profit this year and generate more revenue than Clear Channel and Cumulus combined.)

“The radio business model has been broken,” he told me. “I don’t know if the model can ever be fixed. But, the good news is there is still an audience for what we do.” There are approximately 35,000 unique listeners a day to the Tom Leykis Show according to data from Triton Digital. And it’s growing.

DesRS 61 coverpite his bemoaning big broadcast companies and calling out executives by name, Tom doesn’t hate radio. He says he’s been doing it too long, made too many millions off of it and has too many friends still in it to hate it. “I love radio. NOT the appliance, but the concept. I divorced the appliance from the concept a while ago.” He likens radio’s resistance to new distribution channels to the Rolling Stones insisting their music only be heard on 45rpms. That would be ridiculous. Of course, they created content and put it on albums, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and mp3s.

And that’s radio’s new normal.

Tom (and others like him) has discovered, “people want content and will go wherever they have to go to get. Who the hell was Marc Maron five years ago?”

After a chat for the Radio Stuff Podcast
around his kitchen table and a two-hour discussion of radio between Tom, me and his listeners it was time to bid The Professor goodbye.

For the record: Tom assumes people think he’s crazy, but he’s out to prove them wrong. He told me he’s having more fun, believes he’s more creative, compelling and entertaining than ever and promises his proudest moments are still in front of him.

 

 

Making Sense of Another Radio Firing

DailyNewsFor nearly 20 years Opie & Anthony have been serving up their unique brand of radio. They’ve been called “shock jocks,” “Stern wannabes,” and now “racist.”

Anthony Cumia, the second half of Opie & Anthony, was fired by SiriusXM over the weekend for a series of offensive tweets he made about African-Americans after a woman physically assaulted him in New York City.

(You can read the tirade here if you dare and here’s a personal perspective from a former co-worker of Cumia.)

It brings up a couple of discussion points for radio.

Is your personal twitter account really personal? No. Not when you’re on the radio. Not even if you put a disclaimer on it. Your employer leases your brand via your compensation. It’s not a three-hour-a-day lease. It’s a lease. You get in trouble at home and you’re likely trouble at work.

Isn’t this America? Don’t we have freedom of speech? Yes. It is America. Yes. You do have freedom of speech. (for the record other countries have freedom of speech too). To be clear, while you are free to say what you want you are still responsible for your words. And the 1st Amendment only protects you from being penalized by the government, not your employer. (read up on it here )

Didn’t SiriusXM know the kind of personality they were hiring? I should think so. Opie & Anthony have been in trouble before for crazy, silly, stupid things (see: 100 grand giveaway, Mayor’s April Fool’s death, the Voyeur Bus, Sex for Sam, and Homeless Charlie – all detailed here:  )

So, Why Fire the Guy? This is where it gets interesting. While SiriusXM has seen recent revenue growth it’s below the industry average and hasn’t impacted the bottom line yet. The Street also reports the gross profit margin is mixed and trails the industry average. Additionally, O&A’s biggest advocate at SiriusXM, Tim Sabean, the SVP of Comedy and Entertainment, was let go from the company just a week ago and the guys voiced their disapproval of the move on twitter. Getting rid of an expensive, hard to control talent at the earliest possible convenience seems more than just a little coincidental.  You also must consider this is a publicly traded company who can’t be seen as supporting hate speech like what was spewed by Cumia over twitter.

Bottom Line: We live in a changing world. It didn’t take much to “shock” us before the horrors of the world were a mouse click away. Now it takes so much to get people’s attention that by the time you do it’s like pulling a boulder over a cliff. Once you tug hard enough to get it moving, you can’t pull it back and you are ultimately crushed by the weight of it. If you’re first instinct is to try to shock the world. Take a breath. Is the momentary “GASP!” worth what follows?

Six Tips for Co-Hosting a Radio Show or Podcast

Co-hosting a radio show or podcast seems like it should be easier because there are two of you, but that also means there are twice the problems. Here are some basic tips that I’ve collected from two-person shows I’ve coached over the years including; Mike & Mike in the Morning, the Ron & Don Show, Mason & Ireland and others.

taking-turns-award-certificate1. Creators and Reactors. The best shows alternate which host is creating or driving the segment and which host is reacting*. Knowing your role at any given moment of a show is critical or you’ll be simultaneously creating the segment. That leads to talking over each other and confusing the listener. A creator is developing the topic, telling a story, or creating the parameters of which the discussion will take place. The reactor responds to the creator, adds insights, details, color, emotion, and asks questions in attempt to build the topic and move the conversation forward – not poke holes.

*There are some exceptions to this rule, most notably KFI’s John & Ken who I characterize as “crusading hosts” – simultaneously pushing the same message towards the listener in an attempt to change thinking or behavior. This is much harder and takes additional preparation

Cocktails And Comedy Benefit for the Fit Community2. Improv Rules Apply. Once a reality is established by the creator you have to roll with it. The core rule of improv is “yes, and…” If the first thing out of your mouth is “no…” – YOU have killed the bit. Add to the segment/topic/story don’t dismantle it and start over.

3. Avoid One-upmanship. For some reason co-hosts have a hard time letting each other get the laugh, get the final word or own the spotlight for a moment. I hear this all the time. A co-host will have a funny line and the other host fires back with a zinger of his own and then she tries another line and then he tries another… It’s what my buddy Travis labeled “break degeneration.” Suddenly, the hosts have forgotten all about the listeners and creating content and they’ve entered a one-line comedy duel which gets less entertaining and less funny with each quip.

4. Establish Boundaries. Great shows have three to five rules in place to help establish boundaries of comfort and decency. “I’ll talk about my kids, but never use their name on air,” “My sexual adventures are off limits,””We’ll never put each other in a position to fail on-air,” We’ll never intentionally embarrass or humiliate each other on air,” etc. You need boundaries so you can trust each other. And you MUST trust your co-host.

Communication5. Communication. This holds true for any show but the hosts need to communicate with each other, the producer, the board operator and any other team members. Early and often! Establish the best means or communication for your group. It could be email, texting, a phone call, a Google Doc or something else. But figure it out early and use it!! The more your team knows what you’re thinking the more they can support your ideas and help bring them to life.

6. Have a Plan. This is critical. Know what you are talking about, when you are talking about it, what your resources are, and who’s leading the topic. All shows, every show. Map it out. Before the show you should hash out angles, ways to evolve topics and develop stories.

 

1,000 Miles of Radio Listening

photo 1I recently moved 1,000 miles from Seattle, WA to Atascadero, CA. The trip south allowed me to listen to radio of all shapes and sizes. I recorded some of it for the Radio Stuff podcast (Episode 55 here). From KIRO-FM and KINK-FM to Medford Public Radio, Northern California’s Super Station, college radio, sports talk and more I was put back into the position of being a radio listener. I was searching for information on breaking stories, companionship, and entertainment. I got some of it some of the time, but mostly I was disappointed.

Shocker, I know. I try to keep positive though. I love radio and I want radio to thrive. But folks, we’re doing a pretty crappy job much of the time.

The trip was full of stations filling time with rambling monologues, jabbering support players, concert calendars racing through bands and venues so fast you can’t keep track, uninteresting guests, screaming sports anchors, and an automated station offering me “today’s low temperature” as the first thing in the weather forecast at 10am, 11am and Noon. It was one of four recorded breaks on a network of stations. Ugh.

photo 3Radio remains, to my dismay, mostly cliché, predictable, forgettable, and crammed full of poorly written commercials.

The most memorable and rather enjoyable moment of listening for me came from a show called “Fudge Packers.” It was a late, weekend night show featuring two gay guys discussing current events and taking phone calls. It was unpredictable, entertaining, original, and shocking at times – in a good way.

Sadly, from my travels and listening, the listener experience is flagrantly being ignored or at the very least forgotten.

Fun Cannot Be Formatted

BFRFThis week, I came across an alarming number of people who talked about radio and the lack of fun, enjoyment and entertainment it brings to them. Some of the reaction was predictable. On the Radio Stuff podcast we talked to teens about radio.

“I don’t laugh to jokes on the radio,” one girl said.

Another guest talked about racing to turn off the car radio to avoid the onslaught of commercials and having to endure songs he “hates” to hopefully hear one he likes.

“I can pay $4.95 a month to Pandora avoid ads.” and skip songs.

What did surprise me was the conversation with a veteran radio host who had an epiphany when his own mom didn’t recognize him on the air, because he wasn’t having fun anymore.

What happened? Somewhere along the way radio lost its fun factor.

Paralysis by analysis.

Programmers, GMs, corporate VPs all meddling too much.

Too much focus on results and not enough on entertaining the listeners.

Yes, there is some science to radio, but there’s just as much art. And art is messy, unpredictable, and subjective.

“A leader is best

When people barely know he exists

Of a good leader, who talks little,

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

They will say, “We did this ourselves.”

― Lao TzuTao Te Ching

We all started in radio because we loved and enjoyed what we were doing. It seemed effortless. Now, somehow, it seems full of effort and struggle. Many radio execs are trying to “manage” their way to success instead of lead. “Say this. Don’t say that. Read this. Be out by this time. Don’t forget to tease, promote, do weather and traffic together. ” I’m as guilty as anyone, but I’m changing my tune.

 “The great Way is easy,

yet people prefer the side paths.

Be aware when things are out of balance.”

― Lao TzuTao Te Ching

I believe the key to bringing fun back to radio starts with building a trust between the programmers and talent. There needs to be room to create and permission to fail. Stations need to allow autonomy, personality, creativity, and unpredictability. Setting general guidelines for brand and success should allow the talent blossom. If you don’t trust your talent to deliver results then get new talent instead of programming them like robots.

A lot of radio people are over-thinking, over-directing, over-correcting, and over-reacting.

We need to get over it.

It’s time radio folk get back to enjoying ourselves, so listeners can experience the magic and joys of entertaining radio once again.

What You Need to Know About PDs

I’ve been asked a bunch of questions recently about why Program Directors (Brand Managers) do certain things, respond certain ways and what a PD might think about (x). PDs aren’t easy to pin down. So, I’ve come up with this handy list of 10 truths regarding PDs.

1. PDs always hire the very best talent available. Unless they know and trust a lesser talented person. Or, someone is recommended by a trusted peer. Or, they pluck someone from obscurity. Or, they hire a local TV personality. Or, there is a gal who is local, available and under budget.

2. Hires are never made to save money and make budget. Except for when they are.

how-about-never-cartoon-credit-mankoff_custom-b05aa91cbe49bba79d2e41a00d7e0f32f10207963. PDs rarely answer their phone. This is because it’s either a listener complaint, a part-timer calling in sick, a programming note from the GM who was “listening in the shower this morning,” a sales guy with a “great” new sponsored feature he created, a syndicator pitching shows and pretending to be a pal, or an applicant who wants to make sure his demo arrive, but has nothing else to add to the conversation. Most just let it go to voice mail and sort through it later.

4. PDs will always answer the phone when you are in their office. Not sure why.

5. If a PD gives you a fist bump and says, “I loved the show yesterday.” They didn’t hear it.

6. If you ask a PD if they heard a certain segment, she might nod knowingly, but chances are she didn’t. Go ahead and send it to her if you want feedback.

7. The hardest part of a PDs job is finding time to listen attentively. (see #6)

8. PDs are completely autonomous. Except when the parent company, regional SVP, GM, Sales Manager, or top client disagrees.

9. PDs want you to win. If you’re successful, they’re successful.

10. PDs have a box/drawer full of CDs and cassettes that have never been listened to and never will be. Seems a shame. There’s very little logic as to why some people’s demo get put in the player and others get tossed in the box.

There are ten truths about PDs, what would you add?

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