As part of this week’s Radio Stuff podcast we listened to a bit of each station. We heard rambling student hosts making pleas to “mom” for money to buy concert tickets, songs stopped cold that were meant to fade, tongues were twisted, words were mangled, points were missed. But… there was also laughter, joy, excitement, nervousness, and a lot of creativity.
There were good reminders for us all.
Be authentic. It was very easy to hear the difference between the DJs TRYING to be DJs and students who were being themselves. The latter was refreshing.
Play to your audience. I heard a lot of entertainment based stories, in-house spots aimed at student renters, and references to needing to take a test the next day. These students know their audience because they live the life of their audience. Do you?
Enunciate. One poor fellow needed to be a little more clear when discussing the Indiana Hoosiers’ women’s basketball tournament. He meant to say “Big Ten” and likely did, but it sounded like, “Big tit.” Which is a whole different kind of tournament.
Tell Stories. Most of the DJs we heard were front selling and back selling, but one host took the time to research the song and tell us where it was written, why it was written and how the artist feels about it. It was one of those moments where you think to yourself, “huh, I never knew that. Good to know.”
Believe what you say. A lot of the students would write copy and read it. Which I’m not opposed to. Just make sure you read it with conviction. The words are far less important than the message you’re delivering.
Have fun. Laughter was prevalent, though often times it was nerves. Regardless, we need to laugh more, have fun and enjoy what we’re doing.
Sometimes, I sit in my chair with a full cup of coffee, a cleared desk and a blank Word .doc page staring back at me waiting for station imaging to flow out of me like dirty water from a fire hose.
I check email.
I refresh Twitter. Just in case.
I end up writing something predictable, pedestrian, and yet somehow entirely acceptable and often times complimented by the radio station. We’ve all done this no?
Writing great production and imaging is hard. First off, “great” is debatable. Does great mean reflective of the brand promise? Does great mean encouraging listeners to take action? Does great mean you were able to fit 43 seconds of sales copy into a 30 second promo? Great is debatable.
Aside from that, it’s also hard because radio folk have come to expect a certain sound and style and anything too far off the ranch is quickly stamped out. (Raise your hand if you or your station is still using Star Wars laser sound effects.)
And it’s hard to capture a moment, an emotion, tell a story that resonates with the listener while selling them something (music, a benchmark, a contest, the news) that they didn’t know they wanted. Over the years my style has changed and evolved, as I assume yours has. Here are six of the most recent pointers I’ve picked up from various sources. Please share yours too..
SIX POINTERS FOR WRITING PROMOS and IMAGING
TIMING: :60s are dead. :30s are tired. :05s to :20s are where it’s at. The caveat! If you’re doing a :30 or :60 chunk it up in sections so you’re delivering one message or thought every :10 or :15 seconds. So, instead of one :60, think of it as four :15s.
TELL A STORY: People won’t buy what you’re selling until they can see themselves benefiting from it. Create a world for them to imagine.
NEVER SAY “IMAGINE THIS”: While creating that world leave our phrases like “imagine this” and “picture yourself.” Just take them there. Create the world you want them to play in.
PEOPLE DON’T BUY WHAT YOU DO, THEY BUY WHY YOU DO IT: This is from a popular Ted Talk from Simon Sinek. The idea here is don’t sell me 10 songs in a row, sell me the experience of zoning out to some killer tunes for the next half hour while the guy in the cubicle next to me refreshes his email every 30 seconds. I don’t care how many songs in a row you play, I want an uninterupted listening experience to bliss out to because it relaxes me, makes more productive, and makes me happy.
SWEET NOTHING: Being an audio medium, sometimes the most powerful thing you can do in production is nothing. Include silence in your promo. Stop everything for one beat longer than is comfortable.
TREAT WORDS LIKE WEEDS – CUT ‘EM DOWN: I like to write my script out completely and then chop it in half. And then chop it in half again. I look for extraneous words and phrases. Every word counts. Every word reflects the brand. It’s the difference between a “chauffeured limousine” or “a limo to haul you around” or “transportation included” or *delete* you can read about that part on the website.
Radio Station war stories are like badges of honor. I know a guy who slept on a mattress in the radio station conference room – they called it a studio apartment. Really. I worked for a radio station where the Program Director and consultant came to blows in the hallway. Cops were called, the PD was arrested and fired. If you have worked in radio very long, you’ve likely worked in less than ideal situations; broken chairs, headphones falling apart, all the lights burned out on the console, carpet ripped to shreds, and paint peeling from the wall. We tell ourselves it doesn’t matter, “the only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers.” But it does matter.
All of these big and little things influence the culture of the radio station. There is a reason BBC Broadcasting House, NPR and ESPN invest so heavily in the space, technology, ascetics, and people they have working for them. It’s because culture matters.
“I just wanted to see what would happen if you really took care of people, really looked after them. You helped them be the best than can be in whole different way than had been happening in the NFL. As we go through this process we count on a different relationship with our players by respecting them and helping them in every way we can we can ask them to do everything to the hilt; effort, time, off-season, workouts, rehab, everything. People don’t realize these guys have given great effort and given their heart and soul to it.”
What if radio stations behaved this way? Instead of treating employees like interchangeable parts in a machine, what if we treated them like unique, talent individuals? Imagine how different you would feel if your employer respected you and helped you in every way possible. You might even give your heart and soul.
And Carroll means every way possible. The Seahawks have dietitians, psychologists, yoga masters, spiritual leaders, personal trainers, counselors, life coaches, family assistants, travel pros, the greatest amenities an athlete could want and more. Most radio stations have an HR lady and a vending machine.
What happened in Seattle was intentional and Coach Carroll admits it didn’t just happen overnight, “The biggest turn in the philosophy was to make it clear to the players that we are here to support them and make them the best they can possible be. And make it clear to them that we’re going to do whatever it takes to allow them to have all that they deserve. That has come a long way to get to that point.” Carroll adds that the guys like being around, they feel good about it, and they’re trying to be the best they can be to stick with it because it’s a good place to be.
It is a fundamental shift in how you treat people and motivate them to work for you. But I’m here to tell you I’ve seen this work in big and small ways. I’ve been at radio stations that have moved buildings to brand new studios and seen employees’ attitudes and dispositions flip overnight. One day they’re sitting in a chair with a spring popping out of the seat and only three working wheels and the next they’re in a broadcasting palace. That means something. They feel invested in, taken care of, and respected. I’ve also seen the impact of a few new chairs, a couple cans of paint, and frank conversations with what the staff needs to have in order to be successful. It works. It really works.
It’s time for radio to start treating employees in such a way that it is clear that the radio station wants them to have all they deserve and is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Try it with small things first – like free coffee, an employee lunch, or paint a common wall red — and watch the culture of radio station shift before your eyes.
I use Grammarly’s plagiarism detector because I sometimes forget the difference between what I said and what I read.
Asking listeners a question to begin a topic is lazy, easy, uninspiring and a talk radio cop-out.
Too many radio hosts and personalities on-air, in blogs, and on social media are asking too many questions. The theory goes, “If I ask a question the listener or reader will be compelled to listen, read or click for the answer.” I disagree. More often than not I find I don’t care about the question to begin with. However, I am exponentially more likely to pay attention if someone offers a well thought-out opinion, personal theory or thought-provoking observation. People, in general, have hard time not confirming or denying strongly worded statements.
- Americans are egotistical.
- JFK wasn’t a good president.
- Steroids made baseball better.
It’s likely as you read those statements an inner dialogue began in your head (ie. Well, maybe Americans are egotistical, we probably are, but is that bad? Should we apologize for being confident and proud? In fact, it’s less ego and more certainty and other countries are jealous. And on and on and on…)
These aren’t necessary my personal believes, but examples to prove a point. If these were topics of discussion on radio or online today the first lines would likely read;
- Are Americans egotistical?
- How good of a president was JFK?
- What is one thing that baseball bans actually makes it better?
(A – No. B – Pretty good. C – Tackling? I don’t really care.)
Questions only draw you in if you’re already interested in the topic at hand. However, a strongly worded statement or compelling argument will draw you into a topic you didn’t even know you cared about.
THINK LIKE A NOVELIST
Consider the first line you utter much like a writer toiling over the first line of a book. It should stir your curiosity and draw you in.
“Call me Ishmael.” That was Herman Melville’s opening line for Moby Dick.
George Orwell began 1984, “It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
And then there’s Dicken’s A Tale of two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
These are considered by many to be among the best opening book lines ever by some of the most prolific authors in history. Questions hardly make the lines more compelling
“Can you call me Ishmael?”
“Why were the clocks striking thirteen on a bright, cold day in April?”
“Was it the best of times or the worst of times? Could it be both?…”
The authors use declarative statements to draw you into their world. They don’t want to bridge the gap between your life and their reality; they just want to suck you into their reality. They do that by immediately establishing the norms, the rules, the laws and parameters that the story abides by.
YOU CAN DO THE SAME THING
Today the questions being asked on sports talk radio are;
- Are the Seahawks the greatest defense in history?
- Was Malcolm Smith really the MVP?
- Can the Seahawks keep the team together?
Rephrasing the questions above as statements instead of questions makes them more provocative, more engaging, and extremely more interesting.
- This is not the greatest defense in history.
- Truth is there were four other guys that probably meant more to the Seahawks win and the team than Malcolm Smith.
- The Seahawks don’t need to keep the team together to keep winning Super Bowls.
It doesn’t matter if I’m right, because it’s my opinion. I just need to back up my statement with compelling facts, stories, or observations. Colin Cowherd likes to say, “I don’t have to be right, I just have to be entertaining.” And he’s right (except when dealing with facts and not opinion.)
TEASE ME, WITHOUT QUESTION
This applies for advance teasing stories too. Asking a question is too easy and, ultimately, a too ineffective way to tease a topic whether you are a host or a news anchor. Write your teases in advance and make them so compelling I can’t afford not to stick with you.
Instead of asking “What was the question asked to Peyton Manning that nearly set him off? That’s next.” I would tease, “After the game, Peyton Manning bit his lip and parsed his words. He nearly blew his top. And not over the loss. That’s next.”
Do your research, make your observations, connect the dots, advance personal theories and compel people with statements.
Vic Ratner has the voice for radio and he knows how to use it. For over 50 years he trumpeted through the radio with urgency and authority; slipping, sliding, dancing through each story. It’s as if he was a jazz musician and the news was his muse. And boy could he jam. Sometimes it was just a word or a pause. An unexpected note. You never knew where Vic was taking you, but you felt safe enough to sit back and let him guide way.
But, to say Vic Ratner is a “voice” is to miss the essence of his success. In his soul he’s a writer; even a poet. His descriptions guide his voice and force listeners to see what he’s saying. He takes you there, wherever he is. How does he do that?
“An early boss told me, “When you go out the front door of your house everyday look around you and describe, as if it were for a radio audience, what you see.” And I think that’s like time spent in a gym building up muscles.
In an interview with the Radio Stuff podcast, he talked about how that piece of advice served him well during his 40 years at ABC Radio.
“When an emergency happens, the lessons you’ve learned over time in describing things for people on the other side of the radio – just kind of kick in.”
For Ratner, colorfully describing his world has become ingrained in everything he does. He’s written with such clarity for so long that now the words roll off his tongue in regular conversation. For instance, when he shared with us his experiences on the day Challenger exploded.
“You know every reporter has times when you don’t believe what your eyes see. When I woke up that morning, I went out to my rented car. There was ice on the windshield. And I told my producers in New York, “They’re not going to launch today. You don’t launch when it’s this cold.” We had been taught by the engineers that you don’t launch in sub-freezing weather. And we now know that NASA’s – some of NASA’s engineers – pleaded with the space agency the night before, “It’s too cold!” They said, “Don’t launch.” They were overruled by the administration and it’s the tragedy that followed. And when the shuttle system came apart you heard a pause in my voice — you could not believe what was happening in front of your eyes.”
For those hoping to walk in the footsteps of Vic Ratner, he does offer this advice.
“Go for it! Do it! Any place you go, any place you wind up do as many different things in as many different places as you can.”
AM, FM, FM Stereo, AM Stereo, Surround Sound, digital processing, podcasting, HD Radio, DAB+, live streaming, a connected car that can access radio stations around the world for free, XM Sirius Satellite Radio, iTunes, iHeart, TuneIn, Slacker, Stitcher, Pandora, SoundCloud, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…
Radio has changed. Listeners have changed. The people working in radio is another story.
Many of us keep waiting on a miracle proclamation from the heavens that the world desperately needs AM and FM radio. It doesn’t. New devices, new platforms, new prototypes – some good, some bad are being churned out daily. What the world needs is your content, your creativity, your ingenuity, your personality, your ideas and your willingness to fail and try again. If AM and FM are going to be viable for the future we have make it worth listening to. If you don’t like the future that’s been created, change it.
What’s radio’s autonomous driving car? Where’s radio’s Eric Snowden? How can radio serve listeners of 2014 who already have news, weather, traffic and their favorite music at their fingertips?
The fate of AM and FM is yet to be decided. There are many (profitable?) years ahead for many stations. But the evolution and revolution has begun. You can pretend it hasn’t. Many have.
Or you can pick up a microphone and us help radio win again.