I set out to write a blog post about the things that annoy me about hosts / talent / personalities who apply for jobs. I’ve been going through mounds of mp3, CDs, even a stray tape or two. Listening through just a few minutes of each demo can be a struggle. But, then I realized – someone is telling these guys/gals they have talent. One of three things is certainly happening.
- These “talent” are being lied to about their talent by people who mean well.
- They’re getting bad advice from PDs or fellow talent.
- They’ve stopped listening to the people in their life that know better.
Leaders: I implore you to stop lying to people about the size of their talent and stop dishing out decade old, stale advice.
Hosts: If you only hear what you want to hear consider yourself at the top of your success. You’re never as good as “they” say you are and never as bad as your harshest critic. But, you must always strive to be better.
In an effort to be helpful, here are four things you can start doing today to be better a host.
Know What Big Story Your Show Is About Each Day.This is my “pick a lane” advice. Be about something each day. If even it’s a slow news day, it is better to be about something than trying to be about everything. What’s the thread holding your show together? It is not picking one story to talk about for three hours; it is picking one story that you want your listeners to remember you for that day and giving it more and better treatment than everything else.
Immerse Yourself in Details of the Stories You Want to Talk About. When you “play the hits” of the day, whatever they may be. Do your homework. Read up on it. Read everything you can. The more you read the better chance you have of finding a unique angle and creating a more memorable, substantive conversation.
Edit Your Own Audio. How can you tell the story, the way you want to tell it, if someone else is deciding what the key characters are going to say? Editing audio is not beneath you. Why leave the heart and soul of your show up to a $10 an hour board op. In my experience not only does editing your own audio give you certainty on a topic, it makes your treatment memorable and remarkable.
Do Not Let Segments Dictate The Length of a Story. Drives me crazy when hosts look at the clock and see they have seven minutes and look to see what topic they can stretch to fill the time. You should take the necessary time you need to tell a story and make your point and then move on to the next story or angle. It takes discipline and preparation. Don’t do your listeners any favors by “filling” the last two minutes with idle chit-chat on the topic. Give me a quick hit of something else, that’s great. Respect my time.
These four concepts are a good starting point. If it resonates with you, try it. Let me know how it goes.
When political advisor and forever Boston sports fan Mike Salk and former NFL QB Brock Huard were teamed together in 2009 it was all about winning, but they didn’t know how. They didn’t know each other and didn’t agree on much. It was an awkward 30-minute demo or so they say – no one seems to have listened to it since. Now Brock & Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle is one of the most successful and popular sports radio shows in the country. I sat down with Brock & Salk for a 60 minute interview as part of an on-going series of interviews called Inside the Bonneville Studios to find out how they did it.
Huard remembers the beginning, “I wanted to win arguments. He wanted to win arguments. And our station was just trying to find its footing. It wasn’t until we went to Phoenix (a year into the show) that we realized we weren’t winning, we weren’t really growing.”
“Look, we are different,” Salk tells me. “Politically, religiously, background, coasts, everything was different.”
In Phoenix, for the first time, they sat down several nights in a row and had dinner and got to know each other and discovered a relationship built on common ground.
They agree, “The thing we have most in common is our competitive obsession.”
Huard isn’t convinced it could have happened much sooner, “I think it just takes time, like with anything you’re trying to build. We had to prove to ourselves that we enjoy doing this, I enjoy coming to work with you. It’s not a battle. Even though we are vastly different we can find some common ground.”
And so they did. Now they aren’t battling to win each argument between them or with the audience.
“You’re not going to win every battle. Your not going to make people agree with you,” Huard says. “Whether it was right to put Ken Griffey Jr. on the bench, and you believe that and you can back that up and your thesis is right, there’s going to be a part of the audience that won’t believe it. They don’t want to hear it from you. Even if the facts are right in front of them, they’re not going to want to hear that. And I think a couple of years ago it drove Mike crazy, now it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to convince them. If I keep pounding and beating my head in what good am I doing?’”
Brock & Salk arrive at the studios a couple of hours before show time and ask each other what stories they like that day. They have a conversation. It’s a collaborative effort. But, they don’t prep nearly as much as they used to.
“(Sports radio consultant) Rick Scott told us at that same trip to Phoenix, ‘You guys will know it’s going well when you don’t get to 75% of what you prep for.’ We didn’t believe him.” Salk says they were preparing the show so thoroughly it was actually hard to have a conversation about topics. It was over-prepped. About the time a topic or story was getting interesting it was time to move to the next story, because that’s what was on the show rundown. They moved to topic after topic regardless of how good or bad it was going.
Since that time, they’ve stopped prepping so much and narrowed the focus of the show to the one or two topics they want to hit hard.
Mike admits, “Once we started leaving things on the cutting room floor, it was better.”
Bruce Springsteen was the keynote speaker this year at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. For fifty ”drive-way moment” minutes (three quarter-hours), The Boss was a talk show host, guiding us through the history of his music experience with very little music or singing, but instead with his story, his memories, his personal experience, his reactions, observations and his passion.
He was addressing young musicians, but the lessons transcend to radio.
ADVICE FOR RADIO HOSTS (the quotes are direct from Bruce Springsteen)
Be a catalyst of conversation. Your show is a, “Joyous argument starter and a subject of long, booze-filled nights of debate”
Stop complaining and start creating content. Who cares about how people get your show – radio – live stream – internet – mp3 – facebook – twitter? “The Genesis and power of creativity is consistent over the years. The elements don’t matter. Purity of human experience and expression is not confined to guitars, tubes, turn tables or microchips. There is no right way or pure way. Just do it.”
Be Authentic. “We live in a post-authentic world. Today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all about just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, influences, personal history and at the end of day it’s the power and purpose of your (show) that still matters.”
Fake it until you make it. Go to small markets, or host a podcast, an internet radio show, or offer to do weekends and overnights. “I had nights and nights and nights (1,000 nights) of bar playing. Learn how to bring it live and bring it night after night after night. Your audience will remember you. Your ticket is your handshake. These skills gave me a huge ace up my sleep. When we finally went on the road, we scorched the earth.”
It’s amazing how Springsteen can appreciate where he came from, where he’s been, those who blazed a trail, is still self-deprecating about how he steals/borrows from everyone/every genre and remains self-aware enough to recognize he’s getting old, the game is changing, culture is evolving and in order to be relevant he needs to find a new way. This seems like a good model for radio.
His influences should be and can be your influence as well.
Animals “Gotta Get Outta This Place” – “Youngsters, listen up this is how successful theft is accomplished.This is every song I’ve ever written. I found their cruelty so freeing.They were brave, they challenged you, and made you brave.”
Gifford interpretation: Be brave. Don’t be afraid to borrow from those before you.
Bob Dillon – “The first thing he asked was ‘how does it feel?’…’to be on your own’ – parents couldn’t understand incredible changes happening in our world.’Without a home’… he gave us the words to understand our hearts. He stood back and in took in the stakes we were playing for and laid them out in front of us.”
Gifford interpretation: As a talk host, tell us how you feel, explore how others feel, give us the words to understand our hearts.
Country Music. This music is “stoic recognition of everyday reality and the small and big things that allow you to put a foot in front of the other get through it. It was reflective, it was funny, it was soulful. It was rarely politically angry, it was rarely politically critical.”
Gifford interpretation: Country music is what successful talk radio hosts are doing today.
Hank Williams “Why does my bucket have a hole in it?” – Hank help launch the “search for identity and became an essential part of my nature. I was not downtown, bohemian or hipster. Just an average guy, with a slightly above average gift and if I worked my ass off on it – and country was about the truth emanating out of your sweat.”
Gifford interpretation: Use your curiosities in life to fuel your show.
Woodie Guthrie: “Somewhere over the horizon there was something…he tried to answer the question why the bucket has a hole in it.”
Gifford interpretation: Search for answers to big questions. Give listeners hope.
Bruce Springsteen’s parting shot should be used by all creative people as a mantra and guiding light:
“Rumble, young musicians rumble. Open your ears and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And take yourself as serious as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have iron clad confidence. But, doubt – it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town…and “you suck!” It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at the same time. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have and then remember, it’s only rock n roll.”
Watch Springsteen’s keynote address here. It’s worth it.
For years, “News-Talk” was a fair description of what you would hear on hundreds of radio stations across the country that focused on spoken word radio. The stations would report the news (or what passed as news – common crime, fires, city council meetings, accidents, etc.). And then they would fill the time between newscasts with someone talking.
That doesn’t cut it anymore. Not for news-talk. Not for the FM. Not for radio. Not in such a competitive market for eyeballs and ears.
So if not that, then what? Stations across the country are trying to figure it out. Merlin Media is exploring with what’s possible with FM news in Chicago and New York. We’re trying new things in Seattle too. And others are testing, trying and tweaking. There’s no magic formula. And likely won’t ever be – though I’m certain there are those who will try to find one.
Here is some of what is happening at News and News-Talkers across the country…
Redefining News. Just because something happened, doesn’t mean it’s news. Every story needs to be carefully chosen and written to be entertaining, informational and relevant. We need to ask questions about stories and answer them for the listener. We need to stop filling air time with city council meetings, press releases, and chasing cop cars and fire trucks, and start telling stories about people that helps put news in context and make it matter to the listener.
Empowering the Hosts. For years, the program director’s job was to keep the talent in check. Criticize, critique, and reign in. Today, the role of the PD is to put the hosts in a position to be artists. Give them space to create remarkable content. Give them permission to try new things, provoke, entertain, surprise, and amuse the listeners. Somethings will fail. That’s okay – if you’re not failing – you’re not trying. The key is to work together to identify what’s working and replicate it and identify what’s not working and abandon it.
Play Your Hits. This is different than play THE hits. What lights you up? What sparks your passion? What are the most important stories to YOU today – likely they’ll resonate with your fans. There are some stories that are “must” cover – but don’t get caught up in having to cover it any specific way. What questions do you have about the story? Why is this story interesting, entertaining or relevant?
Redefine Local. For years, we’ve limited our mindset on what’s local based on location. We need to get past this. Stories don’t have to occur in a specific land mass to be local. Stories that resonate and impact the lives of your listeners are inherently local – the facebook redesign, 9/11, Killing Osama bin Laden, Hurricane Katrina, gas prices, the housing market, Anthony Weiner, the Reno Air crash – all of these stories are locally relevant regardless where you live. They impact each person in a profoundly emotional, personal way. These stories allow us each to evaluate our personal morals and values, question the value of life, the abuse of power, etc.
These are just a few ways spoken word radio is changing. There are more. But we need to move faster. We need leaders who get it, support it, and demand it. We need stop clinging to the past. We need to raise our standards and stop accepting average reporting, average story telling and average radio.
One of my favorite sayings which I learned in my first week at ESPN - “Evolve, or face extinction.” Radio doesn’t have to go the way of the dinosaur, but will if we insist on acting like it’s 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000.
The NFL deal is almost done (It’s 7:58a PT). Sundays this fall won’t be wasted on chores and church socials – and the fantasy football smack talk will continue per usual. Are you ready? Is your station ready? Are the promos locked and loaded? Is the website ready to go? Did you proactively plan for this moment — or are you scrambling in reactive mode today? If you aren’t ready for this — which we all knew was coming – what else aren’t you ready for?
“Payoff” is quickly usurping “Play the Hits” as king of buzz words among news-talk and sports programmers and consultants. Both are important concepts for driving ratings, but the terms are used so frequently the meaning is becoming muddled.
I asked a handful of people – programmers, producers, and consultants — to help me define “payoff.”
So let’s be clear. We are not talking payola. No money exchanges hands in the type of payoff we are talking about unless a listener wins a contest or your payoffs are so good your ratings go up and revenue flies through the door.
Martin continues,“My definition of a payoff from a programming stand point, is the call to action tease that your talent uses to keep your audience through commercial breaks.”
When I coach talent about payoffs, I describe it as something that prompts a response from a listener. The goal is to take the listener somewhere they’ve never been so when they get to the destination they react unconsciously – audibly or internally. That very well could be the lack of action too or not changing the radio station for a commercial break, because you want to hear the story that was just teased. That’s the infamous “driveway moment.”
Pete Gianesini, a programmer at the ESPN Radio Network, defines payoff this way.
“A strong, genuine reaction from the listener… could be a belly laugh, could be anger, could be bewilderment, could be a piece of information that I now can’t wait to share with someone else (a real-life re-tweet).”
I love the idea of a real-life re-tweet. I also call it social currency. It’s what the listener earns in return for investing time into your show or station.
Rick Scott at Rick Scott & Associates adds, “A payoff is simply content that has value for the listener. It can be entertaining, informative, or insightful.”
The trick to this is that the value Rick talks about is perceived by the listener not the host or station. So it’s important to reinforce the value of your content to your listener through branding and positioning. Don’t be afraid to tell listeners that what they are hearing is special.
“Payoffs happen when the team has managed to achieve one of two goals. Either building up the image and the brand of the station, or bringing a positive effect on the ratings. The biggest and best payoffs accomplish both, but you don’t need to have both for it to be considered a success.”
Nate is right. The goal of payoffs is to increase listening to the station. Listening increases when people feel there is a value to spending more time with the station. So, as ratings increase it’s fair to assume revenue will increase and the brand of the station grows accordingly.
“I would define a payoff when a promotion, tease, or on-air bit has the right amount of build-up creating interest and then is effectively paid off.”
This is an important point. Listeners don’t always discern the difference between payoffs. They don’t even know they are waiting for a payoff. We use that word; they don’t. So, a promotion can definitely provide a payoff. A station event or remote can also provide a payoff, as well as traffic reports, weather reports, and news or sports updates, but again only if the listener perceives it as a value.
One example of a payoff that stands out to Gianesini is how Colin Cowherd handled Aaron Rodgers following the Super Bowl.
“After not buying into Aaron Rodgers as an NFL superstar, Colin had him on the day after he won the Super Bowl. Aaron was very much aware of Colin’s position and put Colin on the spot during their piece. It was just the right mix of lighthearted, yet uncomfortable, to be very compelling. And completely unscripted. That’s the hard part. While I believe you have to plan your show and promote specific elements more than ever and further in advance than ever, you can’t be SO committed to the minute-by-minute that you don’t let spontaneity happen. That’s where the magic is.”
Arbitron will tell you, in general, there are listeners coming and going from your radio station every minute. Listeners are dipping in and out of stations searching for a comfortable place to rest. This is either terrific or terrifying news if you are host, producer or programmer. It means you have opportunities to snag new listeners every minute. It also means if you are off topic, too sloppy or boring – you’re going lose some too.
Here’s the truth about these non-P1 listeners:
- These listeners do not know who you are.
- These listeners do not know your show.
- These listeners do not know what your station is all about.
- These listeners do not know your inside jokes.
- These listeners want to be included.
- These listeners want to like you.
- These listeners want you to be relatable.
- These listeners want you to be local.
In order to take full advantage of this opportunity, it’s important that you pay attention to all the details. Every moment counts. Are the hosts resetting who they are, what they’re doing and what station they are on often enough? Are bench mark segments being explained and sold to the listener as a benefit? Are you saying the web address, phone number, text, and twitter accounts slowly and clearly so new listeners can play along? Is your board operator paying attention, running a tight board and hitting all the correct audio? Are sound bites edited properly? Are producers carefully screening callers? Are hosts prepared for interviews? Are you playing the hits uniquely or are you covering the story the same way everyone else is? Are you providing social currency or are you wasting time? Are you letting new listeners play along or are your jokes and references too inside?
In a PPM world every moment, every word, every piece of audio, every phone call, every interview, everything you do – counts. Make sure everything you do on your station is best serving the fans in your city in that moment or the listeners will keep searching until they find the station that does.
Want more on PPM? Listen to this Larry Gifford Media podcast with Charlie Sislen from Research Director Inc. Charlie Sislen Interview Podcast
Conducting a great interview is difficult. Generally there are no bad guests only bad interviewers. What I will attempt to do over the course of time is impart some wisdom that I’ve acquired over the course of time to help make all talent, in any format better interviewers. The first lesson revolves around the question - ”Why?” Why is this person a guest on your show?
Programmers are quick to parrot the music radio philosophy of “play the hits” when it comes to choosing topics each day, but that doesn’t extend to the bumper music being played into and out of breaks. Classic rock thrives in the PPM world and caters directly to M25-54, yet sports talk stations seem to have abandoned it.
“I don’t hear anything that’s really compelling to be honest.” That’s Rita Wilde talking about sports radio’s use of music. For 26 years, as a jock and programmer she really did play the hits at the legendary KLOS-FM in Los Angeles. “I love sports talk radio. I love sports. I’m a P1 of the format. From a classic rock standpoint, I’m not hearing that incorporated at all. I hear people just trying to be cool playing rap and hip-hop. That doesn’t necessarily connect with who they’re trying to reach.”
Wilde cautions sports talkers to not become a classic rock bumper station. You still have to be current by incorporating new acts or mass appeal acts like Black Eyed Peas and Bruno Mars.
So what’s the best way to figure out what to play? Wilde suggests you consult a classic rock station in your cluster if you have one. But there are other ways.
“One thing that I always remember: The music you like when you’re 18 years old will resonate with you for the rest of your life.” Wilde continues, “Classic rock is incorporating 80s and songs from 20 years ago like Nirvana’s Nevermind (released in September 1991) and Pearl Jam’s Ten (released in August 1991). Those people are 20 years older now, so if they were 18 then, their 38 now and right smack in your demo.”
Wilde also suggests you watch crowds at sporting events and see how they react to the music. She thinks hockey is the best at really getting the crowd rockin’. She emphasizes that the music you choose should be familiar – stuff everyone knows. Why?
“The biggest complaints I’d hear from jocks when I’d take them to a concert was, ‘well, they just played all the hits,’ but what’s interesting to note is that when they played the newer stuff off the album people would head to the bathroom.”
Bottom line: Playing the hits is a great philosophy for sports talk radio; just don’t forget its origins or you risk losing your listeners to a potty break.
Rita Wilde is currently looking for something in ”jock and roll” – working in the sports or rock formats. She can be contacted at email@example.com
Weclome to the blog. Larry Gifford is a radio management consultant and talent coach. He is available for ongoing or project based consulting for U.S. and International radio groups, stations, and talent
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