I have created, executed and heard a lot bad contests on the air. Also, some good ones. What makes one contest work and another not? There are infinite factors, but I’ve identified a few things that do influence the success or failure of contests on the radio. You might have more – please share them in the comments section.
1. The Prize. It can’t be lame. When I was a PD, I instituted a policy that all prizes had to be at least $25 in value. In reality, it needs to be something that your fans value. Would you want it? If not, don’t bother. For example; tire patch kits, 2 for 1 coupons, a chance to stand in line to maybe see a movie premiere and loafs of bread. These are horrible, yet inexplicably all actual prizes that I’ve helped to giveaway in my career. I’m sorry to everyone who won.
2. The Prize – part 2. It’s important that you, as the host, believe the prize is of value or at least treat it as such. If you aren’t a fan of UCLA basketball, but have to give away tickets, you need to sell it to the listeners as if the tickets are at least as valuable as they are. I’ve heard hosts apologize for the quality of the prize. For example, “I’m sorry they aren’t Lakers tickets” or “we have UCLA tickets for this weekend, if you’re in to that sort of thing,” or “we have UCLA vs Cal tickets, sorry it’s not a better match up.” If you’re downplaying, downgrading or devaluing the prize – you are destroying the whole concept of the contest. Stop being so honest and sell the giveaway. Otherwise you end up wasting everyone’s time.
3. Let the Listener Play Along. If you announce the contest on the air and then don’t say anything else about it, the listener doesn’t know what happened. It’s like a black hole. If it’s trivia…play it out on air. Make it a game. If you can’t execute the contest on air, at least acknowledge who won and how they won.
4. Don’t Make it Too Complicated. If you have to go on the website to register, listen at a specific time in the day for five straight days to hear a key words and then text them in at a certain times to win, no one will play. Keep it simple. Text to win. Enter to win. Listen to win. One or two steps only. Much more than that and most won’t bother to participate. The one’s who do make the effort aren’t typically listeners, they are the professional contest winners (a.k.a. prize pigs).
5. Promote the Contest in Advance. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth telling people in advance that you’re doing it. Give people a specific time to listen for their chance to win the prize. If you don’t tell people you are doing a contest, they won’t know.
BONUS: Why are you doing the contest? Increase TSL? Cume? Sales initiative? Know why you are doing the contest and make sure it accomplishes the goal. Everything you do on air and on-line needs to have a purpose.
As the boss, you can call a staff meeting and celebrate all the great things that happened over the year. Have fun with it. Put together a power point with pictures from station events. Let staffers submit the greatest moments at the radio station for 2010 and then rank them. Give fun awards for staffers (ie. The 2010 free stuff king/queen, the 2010 funniest person in the office, 2010 most resourceful employee, etc…) Radio stations often forget to take time out to thank the staff and celebrate accomplishments. This goes a long way towards morale.
As a host this is a gold mine. Pull all the great highlights, sound clips, and moments from your show. You can use these to count down great moments, quotes and moments with audio support. You can even pre-record and play it back over the holiday. This is also a great way to engage the listeners through the web for voting and ranking. Celebrate the year that was. You can also hand awards (Best male athlete, biggest loser, worst play, best play, team of the year, etc.) You can also make your predictions for the coming year.
Regardless of your position, take a moment to look back on goals you set for 2010. How did you do? What do you want to accomplish in 2011? Write them down and keep them someplace safe.
As a programmer, my response to this common host complaint was, “I don’t care.” It’s true. I don’t care what Joe on the West Side thinks about a topic. I want to know what the host thinks and why. If you want to use callers as one of the weapons in your arsenal, to further emphasize why you believe what you believe and advance the discussion of the topic, that’s great. If you want callers so you can judge the success of your show, you are misguided. Most listeners don’t and won’t call the station. The ones who do are likely calling the other stations in town too.
However, if your goal of a segment or show is to get callers, here are some tips.
1. Don’t throw out empty solicits. Here’s what that means, “If you want to call the show, here’s the number…we can talk about anything you want!” – This is lazy, unfocused, and not entertaining. It also isn’t often too successful. You are in control of your show and what’s discussed, not the callers. Play the hits and make sure the callers stay on topic.
2. Take a position and defend it. Too often I hear talk hosts asking questions out loud as a way to “cover” stories (Why is this team so bad? How did this happen? Is this good or bad? What do you think they should do?…). Stop it. These are all valid questions, but instead of asking them, you should be answering them. Your answers, formulated before the show, become the topics / angles of your show. People are much more likely to have an opinion about your opinion than about the topic itself. It’s the difference between asking someone what they think of flowers … or saying, “I hate flowers. They are a waste of money, they’re messy, and they make me sneeze.” The statement is going to evoke more of an emotional response than the question
3. Put the listeners to work. When asking for phone calls, put your listeners to work with a specific task.
- BAD Example: What are your thoughts on Brett Favre?
- GOOD Example: What will Brett Favre‘s legacy be?
- BETTER Example: If Brett Favre were to die today, what would be the first sentence of his obituary?
4. Make lists. Rank stuff. People love this stuff and will argue with you about it for hours. You want callers? Rank the top 10 sports moments of 2010. Make sure you declare and defend what is #1.
5. Give the phone number. Say the phone number slowly. Repeat it. I have air-checked shows after a host complained there were no calls only to realize he never gave out the number or said it so fast and infrequent, I couldn’t even write it down. *remember Smart Phones don’t have letters associated with the numbers like older phones do…so 1-800-Say-ESPN doesn’t work as well as it once did.
That’s how you get callers. How to screen them is another story to be told later.
PPM is about four years old and we continue to learn more about how to use the insane amount of information it provides and what strategies to use to maximize ratings. Inside Radio and Research Director Inc. just released a new study on PPM based on the top 30 markets. Research Director Partner Charlie Sislen talked to LarryGifford.com about the study (click here for the full study) and he provides strategic tips for programmers who are struggling in this new world.
One of the findings in the study which may be disturbing to programmers of spoken word formats is that CUME is more important than was first thought. “Everybody knows in the PPM world CUME is important, but when you look at top skewing radio stations they are all really CUME and not TSL driven. We really believe it’s the P1 CUME that’s doing it,” says Sislen.
Sislen notes that play-by-play can help the spoken word format draw in CUME, but it is not a magic bullet; the success of play-by-play depends on the team and the market, and in many cases it can be a detriment. “What a programmer has to recognize is that this event is an important launching point for your radio station to recycle this audience back in. Take them from being P4s and get them into regular listeners. Give them a reason to come in to the other day parts and give them a reason to come back the next day, the next week, some time outside of that play-by-play.”
So how can you win with PPM? Sislen offers the three “C’s” for talk hosts;
“If you’re not crisp, concise and compelling and you’re spoken word, the listener is going to go away, and the moment the listener goes away the PPM knows it.”
For programmers, Sislen stresses the importance of building occasions. “For sports, to put it in perspective, the typical P1 spends 6:44 with the radio station (per week). You get four more occasions (of at least five minutes within a quarter-hour) from those people that 6:44 has gone to 7:44. That’s massive. We’re just talking about your P1s and we’re getting them to come in just four more times in an entire week.”
The other hot issue is clocks. How many spots are you running and where are you running them? Some suggest two breaks per hour straddling the top and bottom quarter-hours and Sislen doesn’t disagree. “In a vacuum, absolutely that’s true. However, we don’t live in a vacuum and the spoken word is different than a music format and you’ve got to know what your competitions clocks are. Study your clocks and make sure you understand the rules that you need to garnish to get credit for a quarter-hour.” Once you figure out your competitors clocks, Sislen says you should be going into content when they go into commercial break. It’s that simple.
Listen to our entire conversation, including the importance of marketing your show and station, how buyers and sellers still need more education and what’s next for PPM.
Last January my wife bought me a guitar for my birthday. I played a long time ago as a kid. Today, I can pluck around and make it sound a bit like something familiar, but by no means can I make it sing like Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy or insert your favorite axe artist here. In order to be considered even good there are more than a couple of things that have to take place; you need to learn how to tune the instrument, how to hold it, place your fingers, how to play all about the notes, strings, chords, know what the frets are and do, learn up strokes and down strokes, plus you have to keep the beat, find the rhythm of the song, know when to rock out and know when to gently strum, figure out how to read music, build up your finger strength, dexterity, and calluses and you have to practice, practice, practice.
Your voice is also instrument. Unfortunately, most radio talent don’t take that into consideration. Here are six tips for finding your voice and using it for full effect.
1. Breathing. It all starts with your breathing. How do you breath? Do your shoulders move? You should be breathing in air and filling your diaphragm which sits below your lungs. The more you can breath from the core of your body the stronger your voice and delivery will become.
2. Vocal Cord Warm Up. Do you warm up your voice before a show? The way the vocal cords work is that to make sound they need to vibrate. The more easily they vibrate, the more control you have over your voice and the larger your vocal range. There are a lot of vocal exercises available online – just google it. You can also use hot tea and honey to help keep them lubricated.
3. Intonation. Every time you tell a story, read a script, talk to a caller, make a point, transition from topic to topic – try letting your voice do more of the work instead of your words. Use your full range of vocal intonation, by altering the pitch of your voice. How high and how low can your voice go if you really try? And how much of that range do you use on your show?
4. Tone. Use your voice to exaggerate your emotions. Are you happy, sad, angry, disgusted, shocked, inquisitive, excited? Use the tone of your voice (in connection with the words) to express yourself fully. Radio listeners can’t see you, so don’t be afraid to contort you face or move around when you’re talking to find more variety in your delivery. (see photo at top of page)
5. Pacing. Slow your voice down, speed it up. Stop. Say…one…distinct…word…at…a…time and then just talk normally. Altering the rhythm of your voice can help tell stories, make a point, or transition from one idea or topic to the next.
6. Practice, practice, practice. Explore your voice. Have fun with it. Try new things. This is the main tool of your trade. You should know it inside and out. What can it do? What can’t it do? How can you use your voice to be a more impactful, entertaining, and engaging air talent? Spend time working on integrating your breathing, pitch, tone, and pace. Read everything aloud in a variety of ways to see what’s possible.
The #1 complaint I hear from programmers is that they have so many meetings, reports, new media responsibilities, and general busy work that they don’t have enough time to listen to content and provide feedback to talent.
The #1 complaint I hear from talent (those employed and seeking employment) is that they don’t get feedback from program directors.
As I see it the future of radio is in creating original content and distributing it on any and all platforms. If no one is paying attention to the development of talent, who do you suppose is going to create all this great content?
Someone needs to figure this out.
There was a time when it was necessary to give scores and schedules on the radio, because people were depending on radio to deliver that information. There was no internet, twitter, cell phones, smart phones, I Pads, etc. That was then, this is now. Nothing disappoints me more than when I hear a sports update that goes something like this…
“The Giants beat the Colt 37-3. It was the Bills over the Lions 10-7. Bengals fall to the Browns 27-7 and the Steelers stole one from Philly 21-20. Tonight it’s the Cowboys and Rams. Kickoff at 8:30.”
The score doesn’t tell the story. The fact that the Cowboys and Rams are playing is not a story – it’s a detail. Tell me a story. Here are some ways you might flesh out the scores (all made up scenarios)
“Peyton Manning is still scratching his head after throwing 4 interceptions and racking up negative 15 yards rushing in the Colts 37-3 loss to the Giants. The Bills and Lions account for an all time NFL low…a combined 135 yards of offense.Buffalo wins 10-7. The Browns rally, posting 27 unanswered points in the fourth to upend the rival Bengals 27-7. Philadelphia baubles a onsides kick and turns the ball over with 12 seconds to go. Steeler’s QB Ben Rothlisberger fakes the hand off, casually walks towards the sideline and then runs 44 yards for the game tying touchdown. The extra point is good for the win with no time on the clock. Steelers 21. Eagles 20. Tonight, The Rams look for redemption with the Cowboys. St. Louis hasn’t won a night game against Dallas in 10 years. Both teams are looking to stay above .500 on the season. Kick off at 8:30″
Tell me a story. Fill it with action. Keep in the active tense.
Ever watch Sportscenter? When was the last time they just gave you a score? Never. They make you work for it. SportsCenter goes through all the highlights in the game chronologically and then – at the end – tells you how it ended.
It takes more work. It takes more creativity. It takes more time to write. It’s also more entertaining, more informational, easier to listen to, and it makes you a sought after commodity. Make yourself relevent. Be a story-teller.
**UPDATE 05-01-2012: Dave Rothenberg is now hosting 7p-10p on ESPN Radio 98.7 FM in New York City.
Programmers are always asking me “Who’s out there?”, “Where’s the next talent?” So, periodically, here on the blog, I’ll be shining a light on rising stars in radio.
Dave Rothenberg is “who’s next” today. Dave, a New Yorker by birth, has recently picked up some shifts on 1050 ESPN in New York. He’s tells LarryGifford.com that he’s excited for the opportunity, “It means everything. I am a born and bred New Yorker with a crazy passion for the New York sports scene.”
Dave has a familiar story. 13 years ago he started running the board and providing the halftime show on high school football broadcasts on WGCH-AM 1490 in Greenwich. He was a weekly football expert on WALE-AM 990 in Providence, RI. He skipped around with stops at Air America, Sirius, and Cablevision. in October 2007, he moved to Raleigh, NC to help launch 99.9 FM The Fan. He was recently a casualty of budget cuts.
So, how’s a guy who’s laid-off in Raleigh end up on 1050 ESPN in New York?
Dave says, “The key to having any success in this business is perseverance. I have always tried to make good connections and stay in touch with them. The problem with sports talk is there are always decisions made that make you scratch your head. I had the number one sports talk show in a market and lost my job. My last check included my ratings bonus. But, no matter how little sense things make at times, you need to keep positive and look ahead to bigger and better. I set up a meeting on a trip to New York City with Justin Craig, the PD of ESPN New York and I guess impressed him enough to land this great opportunity.”
Networking. Networking. Networking. Should I say it again? Networking.
Dave has a marathon on 1050 ESPN starting this weekend: Sunday, December 5th 7a-9a, overnight Sunday into Monday Midnight to 5am (part of the Jets 24 hour pre-game show), and then overnight Monday into Tuesday. Take a listen (online at www.espnnewyork.com)
Over the years, I’ve worked with producers, programmers and top production folks in the biz. Based on our insights and opinions I present some of the qualities of a great soundbyte Please feel free to add to this list.
Adds emotion, color, reaction, humor, or shock to a story or topic
Audio quality is clear and crisp
Gets right to the point
Tells us something we don’t already know; incites or informs
Should be a strong, succinct opinion that feels exclusive to radio (Though clichés are the norm amongst athletes, it is our duty to ask questions that elicit responses that educates the listener)
Is compelling, interesting
Should support or advance a story or topic
Is between :05 and :15 though can be shorter or longer on occasion. (if longer… shorter versions should be made to accommodate sports updates)
It should end when the subject begins to change.
Start the byte at the point where whoever is talking starts speaking without the saying “um, uh, oh, etc.”
Any ums, ahhs, or oh’s in the byte should be cut out, as long as it still sounds natural, also any gaps where the speaker is gathering their thoughts should be cut out as well as long as it doesn’t change context
The end of the byte should come right after the point is established