A friendly note to my friends at CBS Radio. I read your press release about acquiring Eventful – a platform for artists and musicians to find fans and spew out movie times, concert dates, and festivals on your station websites.
It makes me sad.
Another opportunity for radio to hire content creators and we hand it over to automation. You blew an opportunity to add personality on your website and build relationships with fans in exchange for transactional clutter.
Congratulations on becoming another warehouse for movie times and a pass through for ticket brokers.
If you have a job in radio right now, Tom Leykis has a message for you.
“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.’”
When 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.
Despite 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.
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.
1. 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
2. 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.
5. 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.
I 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.
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.
This 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.”
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.”
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.