“I’ve got a book now, I’ve got a twitter account. I’ve got a radio show. I’ve got podcasts. I do a TV show on Sunday.”
“I realize at this point and time in 2013 I’m not going to be your only source of information, I just want to be one of them. And so I’ve got to give you as many opportunities to find me as I can. We live in a multi-layered world of media. So, I’ve got to be on Facebook and twitter and radio and podcasts and TV and at different times of the day; morning-drive and afternoon. People are busy. My job is to find other avenues to connect with the public. And that’s what the book is and that’s what my Sunday morning show is.”
“I think, more than ever, now it is important — even Rush Limbaugh just came out with one (a book.) I mean Rush is making so much money it doesn’t matter, but he has the tea brand and the book. I look at twitter and I post a couple times a day. If I can get you to think about me once-a-day, when I’m off the air, that’s not a bad thing. I’ve got a book now, you’ll think about me during the holidays.”
So how does a guy like Colin have time to do it all?
“It seems like I put in these infinite, bizarre hours, but no more than an attorney, a doctor, or an executive. I’m very time efficient with things I do. I come in and grind my radio show and then I have time for a good 90 minutes a day to talk to radio stations and talk to advertisers. I think we all have time in our day; you just have to be more efficient.”
50 years ago today the news of JFK’s assassination spread throughout the world by young radio reporters covering a once-in-a-life-time event. What they didn’t know is the impact covering that story would have for the rest of their lives. Asked to retell what they did, how they felt, what they knew and when they knew it each November 22 for the next five decades.
Gary Delaune is one of those guys. He was a 30-year-old anchor preparing for the one o’clock news at KLIF in Dallas with plans to rush out to see the President’s speech immediately after.
“I was in the studio by myself at the time. I had just done the Noon news. That’s when I got a phone tip asking me what I knew about the shots being fired at the motorcade and both Kennedy and Connelly being hit.”
Delaune was a guest on the Radio Stuff podcast.
“I signaled the DJ and at about 12:36:55 during a song called the Chiffon’s “I Have a Boyfriend,” 1:38 deep into the 45 r.p.m., the old-style record, we broke in and had the bulletin and of course at that point on it was almost incessant.”
Now, 80-years-old, Delaune remembers every detail, every character, everything except Saturday. He reported all day long, but doesn’t remember doing any of it. Sunday, was different. He was witness to the Lee Harvey Oswald perp walk and assassination by Jack Ruby.
“He was on one side of the cameraman and I was on the other with Bob Baxley, the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer. As Oswald came out Jack took a step and a half from the crowd of newsmen and pumped him full right into Oswald’s gut.”
Jack was no stranger to Dulaune and was even hanging around the day of JFK’s shooting.
“Jack Ruby was at the Dallas Morning News and he serpentined his way through the streets and got to KLIF. He was a groupie. You know, one of those guys who is a hanger on. He wanted to be somebody and hung around KLIF and radio stations. And he started answering the phone, ‘Jack Ruby, KLIF News’ – anything he could.”
Delaune’s full account and complete retrospective of radio’s role in covering the events that weekend are explored in this week’s Radio Stuff podcast.
98.5 The Sports Hub hosts Toucher and Rich interviewed Rick Pitino today. Listen.
It was a brief but memorable conversation.
Toucher: We are joined by Rick Pitino, former coach of the Celtics, current coach of the Louisville Cardinals who won the national championship. Rick Pitino, hello!
Pitino: Morning, guys.
Toucher: You stink. You ruined the Celtics.
Toucher then hung up
Here’s the deal. Yes, it went super viral. Yes, they’re getting a lot of attention. Yes, ratings may even go up. But that doesn’t mean YOU should start insulting and hanging up on guests.
- The first show to do it gets the attention. The second show to do this will be seen as wannabe-jerks… or not seen at all, because no one will care that it happened again.
- There are very few sports radio stations that have brands to support such on-air antics; The Hub, The Ticket in Dallas, who else?
- It’s not a great way to build relationships in the business (and this business is about relationships and access) and chances are Toucher and Rich will find some guests they want to interview who are Pitino sympathizers who refused to join them. I’m sure they don’t care. But, that’s their brand, their show, their swagger.
The lesson here is be yourself, be passionate, spontaneous, unpredictable, unique and compelling. Create moments on your show that resonate with your fans.
“I just thought it was sick.”
“First off, I didn’t think it was funny at all. Sometimes you can maybe, maybe in my opinion, get away with some of that stuff if the bit is at least funny — but wrong. But, the thing I thought was it sucked. It was just a terrible, terrible bit. It wasn’t funny. I thought it was just disgraceful.”
He’s talking about the attempt at humor this week on a sports talk radio station in Atlanta. The three morning guys – all fired now – executed a bit about Steve Gleason, the former NFL player suffering from ALS.
Deb Slater and I talked to Shan in Episode 6 of the Radio Stuff Podcast (listen here). We also talked to Bean of Kevin and Bean from the “World Famous” KROQ in Los Angeles, Terry Jaymes of the nationally syndicated Lex & Terry Show and Terry Jaymes Alive podcast, and Fred Jacobs, President of Jacobs Media.
We all agree the bit crossed a line.
Ah, “the line.” Every talent deals with it. What is it? Where is it? How do you find it?
Shan can sense when he’s approaching it, “My show overall definitely flirts with the line a lot.”
“No one knows what the line is. The FCC doesn’t know what the line is.” Gene Bean Baxter has no doubt he’s crossed it –where ever IT is, “Well, of course, I mean I think something on our show crosses someone’s line every day.”
Terry just got off an apology tour, “I didn’t even know what the situation was. We had to go back and listen to it. When I heard it, I said, ‘oh, this is not good.’” It was a fleeting, over-the-line remark from Lex about a murdered transvestite. It was unplanned, unfunny, inappropriate, and, “It sounded very hateful.”
Enter Fred Jacobs, President of Jacobs Media.
“What is offensive is a moving target over time.”
Oh, isn’t that special? Imagine being a blindfolded tight rope walker, but every night as the blindfold is put over your eyes, they move the guide wire.
Even so, Fred believes talent should know where it’s moved to.
“Air personalities need to have a basic understanding of where the lines are, again with the proviso that the lines are often gray or even blurry.”
So, how do personalities deal with this blurry, gray, moving line of what’s acceptable?
“I think the lesson is that if you have a job like mine, or like the guys on the show in Atlanta, you are taking your livelihood in your hands – in my case 22½ hours per week, every time the mic is open – it’s possible that you might say something that will get you fired. That is the hard reality of the truth.”
It’s also a sad reality for a guy like Bean who has been on the air for 24 years. And not a reality that is necessarily fair in his opinion,
“There aren’t a lot of occupations where you get fired for making a mistake. Think about it, a doctor can misdiagnose someone, a mailman can deliver a wrong letter every once-in-a-while, a policeman can shoot someone by accident – they don’t always lose their jobs over it.”
Shan tries to avoid being the edgy comedian, “I don’t make cancer jokes. I don’t make AIDS jokes. I don’t make tornado jokes. I don’t do that stuff.”
On the Lex & Terry Show it boils down to their intentions behind a bit, “We never set out, in our entire 20-years, to hurt anybody, to say anything wrong, or anything like that. We don’t want to be controversial. We never fight with other morning shows. All the regular schticky things they do…we’ve never done that.”
TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGING.
Terry has seen a sea change over the past 20 years of hosting Lex & Terry, “It used to be you could say whatever you want, got fired and ended up making more money somewhere else. You don’t anymore.”
Fred Jacobs senses a change too.
“I wonder, given the point and time that we’re at societally and culturally, whether this kind of radio – the Howard Stern, Mancow stuff and how that proliferated even into smaller markets – if that hasn’t maybe totally run its course.”
“Maybe people are just getting tired of the anger and tired of the humiliation. You know it even kind of rolls into the whole bullying conversation. You know whether it’s Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut or these guys making fun of a former athlete who has ALS, I just kind of wonder if that kind of bullying and humiliation, perhaps, hasn’t just run out of gas. And if that’s the case, maybe that’s a good thing.”
SO, NOW WHAT?
The responsibility for what radio is and how it evolves falls on everyone’s shoulders; talent, programmers, companies AND listeners.
Shan knows as a talent he is responsible, “I did send a warning to my producer, to my co-host, and our call screener. I just said, ‘look, let’s continue to push the envelope, be edgy, but let’s use this as a warning. I think it’s really good to have warnings that scare the hell out of you. And that one should scare the heck out of any single person that works in our industry.”
Bean dreams of a day when companies step up to support talent more in these situations. He doesn’t think the guys in Atlanta should have been fired.
“I was very disappointed a couple years ago when my own company fired Don Imus over his remarks. That remark was consistent with the show they had been paying him to do for years and years and years on that station. But, just because enough people got upset they fired him for that. I think they should have stood by him and said, ‘ look, this is the kind of show Don Imus does. If people stop listening to it then we’ll fire him, because it won’t be profitable for us anymore.’”
Bean also believes listeners play a role.
“If I tune into a show and I’m offended by something that I hear on that station, so what?”
He believes shows can have momentary lapses of judgment and still recover.
“If they have a good relationship with their listeners – they are going to forgive them for a misstep , are going to say, ‘Wow, that was out of line dude, but I know you because I’ve been listening to you for a long time, so come back tomorrow and do something better.’
Fred Jacobs is pointing to talent and PDs. He writes about is passionately and eloquently in his blog post, “Stupid DJ Tricks.”
“I think when you communicate well with talent – they understand you and you understand them – the likelihood of this kind of thing happening lessens a great deal.”
Based on these conversations and my observations, radio is going through some growing pains as it evolves and redefines itself. The line is moving. It’s moving away from sophomoric humor, on-air bullying and sidekicks running around with underwear on their heads. It’s moving towards something that’s enriching, entertaining, enlightening, and empowering. And it’s moving, because listeners expect more, companies expect more and hopefully we expect more from ourselves.
Interviewing is a passion of mine. I was taught technique and principles by John Sawatsky. Yes, that smiling, unassuming man in the picture is an interviewing assassin. He’s a former investigative reporter turned full-time interview guru for ESPN.
All that to support what I’m about to say. In fact, some have already heard this, but it bears repeating. In Episode 2 of the Radio Stuff podcast (here), about 20 minutes in you can hear my autopsy of an interview gone horribly wrong. This blog post gives you a taste.
The interview was conducted by Guardian associate editor of music Michael Hann with Ginger Baker, the renowned drummer of Cream, Blind Faith and others. It was such a train wreck of an interview it inspired the Guardian to release a list of the six most excruciating interviews of all time. If you watch or listen to the Ginger Baker interview, your initial instinct will probably be that he is a real bitter pill and the interview went badly, because he’s a bad guest.
You would be wrong. Hopefully, I’ll convince you of that.
Here are some initial, basic Sawatsky principles of interviewing that I follow and preach:
- You should always establish a goal for an interview.
- Every question should move the interview forward towards your goal.
- Every question should gather new information that gets you closer to your goal.
- Questions should be open, neutral and lean.
The interview, which was conducted on stage in front of a live audience, was part of a promotion for a documentary that was being released on Ginger Baker. Michael Hann’s (MH) first exchange with Ginger Baker (GB) went like this.
MH: In the film, your time in Africa was obviously very, very important to you. Was that the time when you felt most musically fulfilled?
GB: What? Who?
MH: Your time in Africa. It seems from the film to be very, very important to you. Was it?
MH: You speak about the musicians and music with such warmth.
BG: Totally silly questions, really. (Applause, laughter) It was,… I just went there. I didn’t go there for any particular musical education or anything like that. I mean there were good years before I went there.
See, I told you you’d think Ginger Baker is a little hard to swallow. Here’s why he’s not at fault. The question is closed, overloaded, includes remarks, and is rich with hyperbole. Let’s take it one at a time.
CLOSED QUESTION: Was that the time when you felt most musically fulfilled? When you ask a closed query, you are limiting the answer that the guest can give to either affirming or denying your own personal theory. Interviewers do this all the time: Were you scared? Did it hurt? Did you want to leave? And you’ll hear the guests say, “yes” and then rethink it, “no, I wasn’t scared, more nervous.” Better to ask, “how did it make you feel?” In this case, Ginger rejects the basis of the question outright.
OVERLOADED: When you are too broad with your topics it puts a lot of pressure on the guest and they often don’t know where or how to begin. In this case, what exactly does “most musically fulfilled” mean? You can even hear Ginger trying to find an entrance by asking “Why?” (Michael thinks that.) It’s too broad and big of a concept for Ginger to wrap his brain around.
REMARKS: These are superfluous statements that get in the way of the interview. In the film, your time in Africa was obviously very, very important to you. These are Michael’s impression based on what he saw on film, and how he interpreted it, but not something that Ginger has actually claimed. When you add remarks the guest typically will respond to your opinion on the subject rather than giving a genuine, personal response. There really is no reason to include a remark in a question.
HYPERBOLE: While you may be attempting to compliment your guest most people are not comfortable with over statements about themselves and will counter-balance the opposite direction in an effort to clear the record. In this case, Ginger responds to Michael’s “very, very important to you” and “most musically fulfilled” by first discrediting the question,”Totally silly questions, really.” Secondly, he down-played the importance of Africa in his musical development, “it was,… I just went there. I didn’t go there for any particular musical education or anything like that.” Finally, to drive home the point, he defended his career prior to the trip to Africa, “I mean there were good years before I went there.”
And that was just the first question. There’s more on the podcast. In the meantime, here are some more principles to get you started.
- Have a goal.
- Ask questions that are lean, neutral and open and avoid making statements or remarks
- Ask one question at a time.
- Be mindful of the words you use.
- Listen to answers for follow-up.
- Stay out-of-the-way of the guest. They are the expert, let them shine. Don’t use this time to prove to them how smart you are.
Disclaimer: there are no rules to interviewing, just principles. Most of the people considered as great interviewers ignore most of this and it will drive you crazy (Larry King, I’m looking at you.)
If you come across a murdered interview, send it my way. I’d love to perform another autopsy.
Listen to the inaugural “Radio Stuff” podcast with Deb Slater (@deb_slater and www.debslater.com) and me. This first podcast we listen to how different radio sources treated the Cleveland story about the three women found after years in captivity; WTAM, Fox News Radio, NPR, Rush Limbuagh, BBC, and Radio Australia. We also talk about Paula White who got drunk before her final Friday night shift at BBC Radio Stoke. We listen to News Talk 980 CJME (Regina, Canada) and host John Himpe’s thoughts on a would-be seriel killer allowed to watch Dexter. We listen to radio station imaging from 100.3 The Sound in LA and 99.3 The Vine in Wine Country. We talked to XL 1010 Jacksonville’s Chad Scott about a new sports radio chat on twitter #srchat, and we debate the decency of a Fresh N Easy commercial. There’s a lot here! Enjoy. Let us know what you like, what you want more of, and what you could do without. And please send contributions, tips, audio, insights to both of us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I wrote on Facebook and twitter today that I was still cringing from Steve Croft‘s interview with President Obama on “60 Minutes.” There are many things I would have done different. The whole point of having the President go on a show like “60 Minutes” is to have him tell the story from his perspective. In order to tell a story properly you need to start at the beginning BEFORE the moment of change or conflict of the story. This puts your interviewee chronologically in line with the events as they happened so he/she can take you through the emotional journey instead of reflect on events from a mental space. Thus, question #1 from Steve Croft to Barack Obama immediately put the President in a head space aside from being hyperbolic, and closed.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, it was certainly one of the most satisfying weeks not only for my Presidency, but I think for the United States since I’ve been President. Obviously bin Laden had been not only a symbol of terrorism, but a mass murderer who’s had eluded justice for so long, and so many families who have been affected I think had given up hope.
And for us to be able to definitively say, “We got the man who caused thousands of deaths here in the United States and who had been the rallying point for a violent extremist jihad around the world” was something that I think all of us were profoundly grateful to be a part of.
Notice how the President responds to the hyperbole “most satisfying week of his Presidency.” He down plays this point and takes the wind out of his own sails by putting a qualifier of “one of the most” on it AND pivoted from his Presidency to the United States of America. Talk about down playing the importance of an event in your career. Sheesh. Ideally you would start at the beginning of the story – maybe even 9/11 – and work your way through the events. IF you ask this question keep it open and let him define for himself.
What was this past week like for you?
How was this past week different than other weeks of your Presidency?
How satisfying was this week of your Presidency?
Similar mistakes are made in question #2.
KROFT: Was the decision to launch this attack the most difficult decision that you’ve made as Commander-In-Chief?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Certainly one. You know, every time I send young men and women into a war theatre, that’s a tough decision. And, you know, whenever you go to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] or Bethesda [Naval Hospital] and you see the price that our young people pay to keep this country safe, that’s a tough decision. Whenever you write a letter to a family who’s lost a loved one. It’s sobering.
This was a very difficult decision, in part because the evidence that we had was not absolutely conclusive. This was circumstantial evidence that he was gonna be there. Obviously it entailed enormous risk to the guys that I sent in there. But ultimately I had so much confidence in the capacity of our guys to carry out the mission that I felt that the risks were outweighed by the potential benefit of us finally getting our man.
Again, the President qualifies his answer and down plays the difficulty.
The next question is actually three questions in one. I’m not sure Steve Croft could have given him more exit ramps to give an answer without giving an answer. The more questions you compile into one – the less information you get. The interviewee then has a choice to answer the question that’s easiest to answer. Ask ONE question at a time and keep it open-ended.
KROFT: When the CIA first brought this information to you . . .
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
KROFT: What was your reaction? Was there a sense of excitement? Did this look promising from the very beginning?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It did look promising from the beginning. Keep in mind that obviously when I was still campaigning for President, I had said that if I ever get a shot at bin Laden we’re gonna take it. And that was subject to some criticism at the time, because I had said if it’s in Pakistan and, you know, we don’t have the ability to capture ‘em in any other way, then we’re gonna go ahead and take the shot. So I felt very strongly that there was a strategic imperative for us to go after him.
Shortly after I got into office, I brought [CIA director] Leon Panetta privately into the Oval Office and I said to him, “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down. And I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.”
Leon took that to the CIA. They had been working steadily on this since 2001, obviously. And there were a range of threads that were out there that hadn’t quite been pulled all together. They did an incredible job during the course of a year and a half to pull on a number of these threads until we were able to identify a courier who was known to be a bin Laden associate, to be able to track them to this compound.
So by the time they came to me they had worked up an image of the compound, where it was and the factors that led them to conclude that this was the best evidence that we had regarding bin Laden’s whereabouts since Tora Bora.
But we didn’t have a photograph of bin Laden in that building. There was no direct evidence of his presence. And so the CIA continued to build the case meticulously over the course of several months. What I told them when they first came to me with this evidence was: “Even as you guys are building a stronger intelligence case, let’s also start building an action plan to figure out if in fact we make a decision that this is him or we’ve got a good chance that we’ve got him, how are we gonna deal with him? How can we get at that?”
And so at that point you probably had unprecedented cooperation between the CIA and our military in starting to shape an action plan that ultimately resulted in success this week.
Look at it again. The first of the three questions – WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION? – is a great question. But, the President picked the easier of the three and latched on to it, “It did look promising…” – and then he went straight to talking points. When you offer a closed question like this the interviewee can only affirm your personal hypothesis of what happened. In this case the answer is either yes or no. This is interviewing on a hope. You HOPE the interviewee expounds on what they’ve answered. Unfortunately for “60 Minutes,” the President didn’t. He went from 2010 and leaped back in time to before his Presidency in 2007 and talked about how this was a campaign promise and how hard he worked to get this done from day one.
That’s just the first three questions. I could go on and on. Croft asked if it was hard to keep the secret, did he want to tell Michelle, did he tell Michelle? The President ducked the answer with a general statement. Never answering if he talked about it with the First Lady. Again, too many options or exit ramps for the President to escape direct questioning.
When preparing for interviews have a goal, start at the beginning, ask one question at a time, refrain from hyperbole, ask open-ended questions, and don’t test personal hypothesis. You’re conducting an interview to get information, perspective, insight or reaction that you don’t already have – so don’t try to guess the answers. Get out-of-the-way and let the story be told. Great questions to use in an interview include…
- and then what happened?
- how did that make you feel?
- when did you know?
- why did you do that?
- how was that?
Ask lean, neutral, open-ended questions.
…and don’t interview on a hope.
One of the most common questions I receive from aspiring play-by-play announcers is, “How often should I give the score?”
The short answer is, “as often as you can.”
“When it comes to radio you can never tell the score, and the time and location too much. There’s old stories about Red Barber and egg timer and things like that, but really what we try to do is make sure we set down and distance once if not twice, give the formation of receivers whether they are right and left, what kind of formation the running backs are in, but also be mindful the time and score is most important thing.”
“For sure after every made basket obviously you want to give the score. I think after every possession change you certainly want to give the score. Also when a team has a possession and they gain an offensive rebound and kind of reset for a new possession I try to give the score as well. I don’t think you can give enough, I really don’t.”
Why so much? Keels explains.
“Because when people are listening on radio, a lot of times they are listening while driving, they listening while doing one thing or another and so the focus is not always focused in on everything that comes out. You just try to point out those elements as much as possible. Sometimes we hear complaints that you give the score and time too much. Well, the reply is you know what the score and time are so you’d much rather over do it that way than under do it the other way.”