There have been so many great radio conferences this year focusing on the future of our industry; Dash, Hivio and NextRadio to name a few. (Both Hivio and NextRadio have free videos of sessions to watch and share if interested.) The future – the idea of what’s next? and what’s to come? – is a fascinating topic to me. Which is why a speech by Oscar winner Kevin Spacey at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival caught my eye and ear. Use your imagination and watch this speech replacing references to television with radio.
“Kids aren’t growing up that TV (radio) is the aspirational place to be.”
“Culture is not a luxury item, it’s a necessity”
(consumers want) “…a multi-layer story with complex characters that plays out over the course of time.”
“The audience wants the control. The freedom. They want to binge.”
“Give people what they want, when they want it, how they want it, at a reasonable price.”
We all want the same things…“Quality, artistic freedom, to be innovative, to make money.”
“Challenge: Can we create an environment where executives are emboldened and empowered to support the creative.”
“We need to surprise. Break boundaries. Take viewers to new places.”
“Put talent at the center of everything we do.”
“Patience. A much overlooked quality.”
“Shows should be treated as assets and protected.”
“It requires guts to stick with a show when the numbers don’t come.”
“The more we try things the more we learn. The more doors open creativity and business wise”
“Myth: Nobody knows anything…that making good programming is just a crap shoot. Frankly, that’s just Bullshit! We do know how this works. And it’s always been about empowering artists. It’s always been about total abandon. The only thing we don’t know is why it’s so hard to find the executives with the fortitude, the wisdom and the balls to do it.”
This week, Perry Michael Simon at AllAccess.com interviewed me for his “10 Questions with…” feature. One of the questions he asked lead to a more complex answer than I’m sure he was looking for, but it bears repeating.
What’s the best way to handle a host’s controversial comments — when is it best to unequivocally support the talent and when is it best to apologize or suspend or cut bait and run?
Well, I’ve encountered quite a few controversial on-air moments from dealing with Rush’s comments on Sandra Fluke to local hosts who get too graphic, push the envelope too far, or fail – offensively – at an attempt at humor. When I was at ESPN, Colin Cowherd used to say his job was to walk so close to the line each day that I’d be uncomfortable at times. He did his job well.
If I hear it and don’t get any complaints, my main reaction is to pull the audio, listen to it again, pull the offenders into the office, listen to the piece, have a conversation, and explain why I believe it was out of line. I usually offer suggestions on how it could be handled differently.
If you’re dealing with listener complaints it’s tricky. If you apologize too quickly, it shows a lack of faith in the product. If you’re too defensive it appears the station is deaf to criticism. While at KIRO FM, my GM Carl Gardner shared a great document with me on how to deal with listener complaints and I still have it. Here are the main points.
- Take all calls seriously. Respond to everyone. You may learn something new about your product.
- Don’t exaggerate and don’t let others exaggerate. People like to say, “we’re getting TONS of complaints…advertisers are cancelling business!!” – when, in fact, it maybe a handful of complaints or less. Seek the truth, don’t let people spread myths.
- Resist the temptation to apologize, argue or debate. Listen carefully with empathy. Most callers just want someone to hear them out.
- If something was said factually wrong — own it. If you were wrong – apologize. If someone is offended, explain the nature of some programs is to stimulate debate and discussion.
- If you haven’t personally heard the remarks at issue, insist on hearing them yourself before responding. It’s impossible to respond intelligently to something you’ve never heard, in context, yourself. Many times what is ‘heard’ is taken entirely out of context.
- Likewise, determine if the person complaining actually heard the comments or are responding to something they were told.
- Don’t share every complaint with the air staff. Any show working to break through will be noticed and at times disrupt listeners and advertisers. Sharing every bit of feedback can have a negative impact on their confidence.
- Believe in your product. Even though complaints can be uncomfortable, be confident and positive about your station, while remaining open to constructive feedback.
- People will tell you they’re boycotting your customers and writing them letters – they rarely do.
During my career, I’ve anchored local and network news and sports reports, coached and managed dozens of anchors and worked with really smart people who shared great advice along the way. Recently, going through my notes for a client, I came across seven tips that you might find helpful whether your writing and deliver sports or news updates.
1. What’s New
Provide up to the minute information that is relevant to the core audience. Reports should help highlight for listeners things that will impact their life (or their team, their city, their neighbors, etc.) The news should be credible, honest, dependable, and factual.
The cast is about the news of the moment: What is happening right now? What is trending? What are people are talking about? And what have you learned that is new and relevant?
2. Be Local
Yes, this can be about your local area, but it is less today about location or reporting on events in the neighborhood and more about finding stories that resonate with listeners in their hearts and minds. Look at life and news through the eyes of listeners — process it and present it in a personal way.
Casts should be brief and succinct.
Updates should be written and delivered with a sense of immediacy.
Help listeners connect the dots. Provide context, perspective, and a sense of understanding.
Casts are not the same as the headlines on the TV news tickers, casts are what’s going on behind the headlines on the ticker.
5. Tell a Story
Storytelling is the #1 thing that resonates with listeners.
Instead of unloading a bag of facts during a report, specifically choose facts and details that help tell the story in a compelling, unique way.
Explore interesting people, issues, trends and changes. Pique my curiosity about my world, my city, and my neighborhood. The news should keep my juices flowing.
Be the entry point to broader discussions about the human condition and moral/ethical dilemmas. Reporters can help set up, explore, investigate, or add context and perspective to these stories during talk shows.
6. Use Audio
Let audio advance the story
Do not parrot the audio with your script
All audio should enhance not detract from your cast.
7. Write, Re-Write, Edit
Writing news is a process. Continually write, re-write and edit your scripts. Keep them up to the moment.
Look for new angles, new phrases, new words to capture the essence of each story.
Be real. Using news-speak to gloss over facts, issues, or to present ideas is the hallmark of mediocrity. Read your script aloud, edit what doesn’t come out naturally.
I admit I was reluctant to read The Handoff, because I know how the story ends – with the untimely death of sports radio’s bigger-than-life ambassador, mentor, friend and programmer Andrew Ashwood. However, I am better for having pushed through.
This is a book about brotherhood, determination, vulnerability, passion, certainty, self-confidence, self-awareness, and one guy’s successful rise from high-octane, motivated, passionate stock broker to high-octane, motivated, passionate sports radio host.
Through his journey of excesses, friendships, and passions, we accompany JT (currently a host on Fox Sports Radio from 1a-6a ET, 10p-3a PT) as he comes-of-age over and over again. The reader witnesses his evolution into a man, a husband, a father, a friend and talk show host. We are there as John transforms into JT and we are cheering with his buddies when he earns the name “Brick.” It’s funny, intense, authentic, emotional and ultimately hopeful.
JT rips his heart open for examination allowing the world to peer into his dreams, doubts, passions, and feelings. From being elected president of his fraternity to moving across country away from his boyhood home and then again when he quits his lucrative stock broker job only to pay his way on the radio – you will be rooting for JT.
Somewhat surprising for a sports host known for his scratchy, bullhorn of a voice and for banging the phones, JT is refreshingly self-deprecating, self-aware, and reflective. Even though I knew how it ended, it was a captivating roller coaster of a journey. The book gives an honest behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to succeed in life and radio. You’ll be motivated by JT’s hustle and moxy, and feel the urge to reconnect with friends from the past.
One of the lessons Andrew passed along was to “make someone’s day.”
Reading this has made mine. Thanks JT.
Share your emotions.
Never was it so evident that this was an opportunity for talkers – news and sports alike – than with the A-Rod story. I heard a bunch of great, unique, big whopping opinions, but still felt disconnected to the hosts..
Here are some of the opinions I heard.
- A-Rod is the face of steroids and always will be.
- A-Rod is the most hated player in baseball. Maybe even baseball history.
- On the field, A-Rod is one of the baseball Gods.
- A-Rod would have been booed anywhere in the World!
- Fans don’t like A-Rod. They’d much rather sit down after a game and have a beer with McGwire, Sosa, Palmiero, Canseco or (gasp!) even Bonds.
- You can blame Bud Selig for McGwire, Bonds and the others from that era, but A-Rod did this knowingly and willfully.
Great opinions, but I still don’t know how you really feel about the topic.
- How does it make you feel that A-Rod is back
- How does it make you feel that A-Rod was suspended 211 games
- How does it make you feel that A-Rod was booed
- How does it make you feel that A-Rod would be booed everywhere in the World
- How does it make you feel that A-Rod is face of steroids
- How would you feel sitting down with A-Rod after a game and having a beer?
- How do you feel that A-Rod wasted his natural ability and ruined his legacy?
And why do you feel that way?
People like emotions. When shared freely and honestly, it serves as a true, more authentic connection. It’s the difference between receiving a form letter or a hand written note. Even if they say the exact same thing, the hand written note means more.
Think of emotions as rare commodities. Few hosts are dealing in them and willing to be vulnerable, so if you are the one who’s got the guts to go there — you’ll be sure to stand apart.
From New York to Los Angeles, in Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, and D.C. at big stations and small there is an alarming story unfolding in talk radio. Talk stations are tumbling in the ratings and no one knows why, though there are many theories.
It’s political fatigue.
It’s too repetitive.
It’s too depressing.
It’s too angry.
It’s too boring.
It’s not entertaining.
It’s all commercials.
The list of once great stations that have dropped out of the top ten reads like a radio station all-star line-up: KFI, WABC, WLS, WMAL, KABC, KIRO, WBAP. And it’s not a fluke (pardon the pun.) This is real. Arbitron is noticing it too.
“…for the first time since we began keeping our format records, it (news-talk) recorded two consecutive books below a 9 share, finishing at an 8.7 in July. Now summer is historically the lowest time of the year for News/Talk listening, and we will be keeping a close eye on the results as August and September approach, but it’s worth noting that the format’s summer shares have declined about 10% since 2011.”
– Tony Hereau, Arbitron Media Insights Manager
Down 10% in two years as a format in the 48 PPM markets?!
Editor’s note: I’m sure radio ownership groups understand and have lowered revenue projections accordingly.
“It was in 1994.”
Leykis was a guest on Episode 13 of the Radio Stuff podcast (listen). He recalled broadcasting from the NAB the year his show was launching into syndication and everyone kept talking about a panel featuring talk radio consultant Ed Shane. As Leykis recalls, this was Shane’s message:
“It’s important, for your talk radio station to be successful, that everyone have the same opinion as Rush.”
Leykis takes it a step further.
“So in other words, the secret to Rush Limbaugh’s success was not his years of experience or his time as a DJ or the fact that he had great timing or was a good comedian, that he made good use of sound, but no, no, no – the reason for his success was that he was a political conservative.”
From there after, every station Leykis approached to syndicate his show would ask what his politics were. It wasn’t always like that, “Previously, they only cared, ‘do I get ratings? Will I help the station make money? Will I make noise?’ Suddenly I was being asked, ‘Are you a conservative?’”
Leykis believes that was the moment talk radio went from being a mass appeal format to being a niche format. And the problems with talk radio today stem directly from a consultant misreading the tea leaves.
“Talk radio went from Rush Limbaugh’s bells, whistles, jingles and parody songs and everything to a line up of people reading bill numbers.” He went on, “It’s devoid of humor, entertainment value or mirth. These are not radio personalities.”
He wonders aloud if anyone in the radio business getting the message?
And he cautions up and coming talkers, “Don’t go to a radio station, because you’ll never be allowed to develop your talent. Develop a podcast, develop a streaming live show, develop your own product, and learn how to sell it and become an entrepreneur.”
OKAY, SO NOW WHAT?
Maybe it is political talk’s fault. I happen to believe it’s likely a perfect storm of new media, new listener expectations, new social and political attitudes, and a general fear in radio of taking risks and being wrong – in every department.
Here are a couple of steps I believe are necessary for talk radio to attract new listeners and remain relevant.
1. DEMAND SHOWMANSHIP
Talk radio needs more storytellers and fewer alarmists. Talent need to entertain, emote and put on a show, as much as they provide insight, deliver information and add context. Radio station leaders must support talent and encourage them to be amusing, insightful, emotional, apolitical, curious, experimental, and positive while giving them permission to fail. And fail hard sometimes — without fear of being fired.
2. FIND ANOTHER REVENUE STREAM
Radio stations need to stop abusing the listeners. The quality and quantity of radio’s commercials is appalling. I mean holy smokes gang have you tried to listen to an hour of radio recently? Effective immediately commercials that don’t meet your standards or match your brand should be rejected. Be the first guy in the room to say, “Hold up! That spot sucks. It’s not going on our air.” Be bold.
And – this will be even less popular – reduce spot loads. It’s time. Thanks to DVR, podcasts, Netflix, on-demand audio, and satellite radio spot loads seem to be worse than ever. Until recently people were accustomed to sitting through commercials or flipping back and forth between stations, because it was the penance you had to pay to watch your favorite TV show or listen to a kooky talk show host. Now radio is the last place on earth (with the exception of movie theaters) where consumers are forced to sit there while commercials are crammed down their throat.
No fast forward.
No more patience.
No more listening.
Just look at the growth of online radio, on-demand audio and NPR. So what’s that mean? Radio needs to figure out a dual revenue stream. The future of financing big radio is commercials and__________. You fill in the blank.
Editor’s note: If you say commercials and banner ads, I will scream.
Talk radio isn’t going to die, but it is definitely going through a mid-life crisis. The next 18-months the entire format will be redefined, programmers will be less focused on gaming PPM and more focused on listeners, commercials will sadly still suck, and Rush Limbaugh will be replaced by someone else as the face of the format.
Kidd Kraddick – a Dallas radio institution and syndicated radio host – died suddenly in New Orleans where he was for a golf tournament to help raise money for his children’s charity Kidd’s Kids. The charity is dedicated to helping impact the lives of children who have terminal or chronic illnesses or are accident victims. He was 53.
The charity golf tournament wasn’t Kidd’s last selfless act. It turns out when one of radio’s good guys goes too soon, the walls come down between personalities and radio stations and we all mourn and celebrate his life and career as one industry. In his death he’s helping to unite the radio community. Here’s a sprinkling of the reactions.
So sad hearing about my radio brother Kid Kraddick. One of a kind and one of the best at what he did every morning. U will be missed Kidd
— Tom Leykis (@tomleykis) July 28, 2013
Crushed. Absolutely crushed. One of my mentors and best friends in radio. RT @mcuban: RIP Kidd Kraddick. You were an amazing man & a friend.
— Toucher and Rich (@Toucherandrich) July 28, 2013
There’s really no way Kidd could have understood the impact he’s had on so many people and the radio industry in general. He even made an impact to radio friends around the world. The reaction on Twitter, Facebook, and coverage in news has been overwhelming. One listener credits Kidd for “restoring his faith and belief in FM radio.”
And I too have found myself caught up in it. I didn’t know Kidd, but I’ve respected him from afar and have never heard anyone say a bad thing about him. No one. Which, in this ego-fueled industry, isn’t just rare – it’s an anomaly. It’s the exception to the rule.
News of his death strangely shook me up. I supposed when someone dies so young and suddenly it makes you consider your own mortality (as he was doing just last week on the radio show.) Death touches us each differently. It can be an end or a beginning, simultaneously a rebirth of spirit and the death of a man. Having gone through the death of my father I understand the impact of losing someone close to me. I also know I appreciated it when his friends and colleagues shared their stories and his wisdom with me.
To honor Kidd’s legacy, I have extracted some of the rules of life and radio he’s left behind. These rules come directly from words and phrases used by his family of colleagues and listeners.
Kidd Kraddick Rules of Life and Radio
Bring laughter and joy to people’s lives whenever you can.
- Listeners remembering the lovable and entertaining Kidd share stories of morning giggles, wide smiles, and brighter days.
Use your talent to build something greater than yourself.
- Kidd’s charities were extremely important to him, he helped countless kids and families in their darkest moments. He didn’t have to. Listeners admire his kindness and dedication and lift him up as an inspiration.
Don’t be afraid to lead with your heart.
- Listeners and co-workers describe Kidd as having a big heart and full of compassion. They admired his love of children. When you lead with your heart, you make a difference in people’s lives.
Be authentically you.
- Kidd was a natural talent who made friends at every turn. He related to listeners and listeners related to him. It was truly a radio family and listeners are grieving over the loss of a friend.
- In addition to his charity work, Kidd was a mentor for dozens of people in the radio industry, he gave up-and-coming bands exposure, respect and a shot, and his positivity helped spread light through the country each day.
”Keep looking up, cause that’s where it all is.” – Kidd Kraddick