Before we get into this, I’d encourage everyone to read Steve Gleason’s guest column as Monday Morning Quarterback on SI.com and support the Gleason Initiative Foundation’s efforts to find a cure for ALS, if you’re so inclined.
THE LEAD IN
When I was PD at ESPN radio, Colin Cowherd would tell me his that his job is make me nervous at least once a day and my job is to trust that he knows where the line is. That works most of the time. But, as demonstrated by the guys in Atlanta, it just takes 2:10 to erase everything you’ve done up until that moment.
I get it, PDs ask a ton from talent: be funny, relevant, insightful, entertaining, credible, unique, distinctive, opinionated, memorable, edgy, but not offensive, and appealing to a younger audience — for four hours, live, every weekday. And don’t say “uh.” And break on time. And promote the ticket giveaway. And tease better. And…
Talent will cross the line. It happens (see: Lex & Terry) . In most cases, I’ll defend the talent and I have in many cases. The Atlanta case is indefensible. It’s making fun of a guy who is dying a horrible death from an even worse disease.
RADIO SPITS THE BIT
update: Nick Cellini has deleted his twitter account.
Nick Cellini has changed his twitter bio to read “short order cook.” Nick was one-third of the Morning Mayhem on 790 The Zone, all of whom were fired yesterday for…this (Audio, transcript). Go ahead listen and read it before we dive in — context helps.
It’s a “stupid” gag they did about Steve Gleason, the former Saints player suffering from ALS. All three broadcasters; Nick Cellini, Chris Dimino and Steak Shapiro have apologized. Too little, too late.
Cellini tells AccessAtlanta.com that the dismissal is “a relief, really. The station is a sinking ship.”
Shapiro, who once co-owned the station under Big League Broadcasting also spoke out, “The ironic thing for me is that I’m an aficionado of the Saints and Steve Gleason. The bit was ill-advised.” He added the bit was not representative of the work they had done four hours a day for 16 years.
Dimino posted a long apology on facebook and realized, “how quickly a stupid and worse than that non thinking moment can change all of it (19 years in broadcasting, 30 years as a grown man, and 10 years of being a father.)”
HOSTS ALL A TWITTER
The bit had broadcasters across the country abuzz.
Rich Eisen (@richeisen) from NFL Network tweeted,
“I just heard the stupid ass Steve Gleason “bit” on the Atlanta radio station and it’s beyond appalling. Those guys deserved what they got.”
Mitch Levy (@kjrmitch), the morning guy on 570 KJR in Seattle had a string of tweets late in the day,
“While I’m sure that I’ve been over the line too many times to count, that’s about as mean-spirited & tasteless bit I’ve ever heard in radio. We all do and say things on-air at the spur of the “live” moment that we’d like to have back. But, this was a premeditated, thought out, pre-produced attack on a good man who’s losing his battle with perhaps the most vicious & senseless disease. Really had to image that someone at that station who was aware of the “bit,” didn’t say “stop” before it aired.”
Heath Cline (@heathradio) is the afternoon host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC,
“How could anyone have thought this was going to be funny. Thing is, I know those guys are capable of much better. I’ve heard them do it. Baffled how they misjudged things so badly today.” This is a spattering sample of the reactions. There were also a lot of “OMGs.”
Another interesting perspective on the mishap comes from Chadd Scott, APD and host at 1010 XL Sports in Jacksonville who was fired from an Atlanta sports station in 2011 for tweets. He claims his negative tweets about Delta Airlines, a major station sponsor, lead to his dismissal. He tweeted when he heard the news yesterday,
“Feel bad for friends @NickCellini & @chrisdimino. I’ve been in their shoes & know what today feels like.” “I only ever “wanted” to work at 1 station & it wasn’t ESPN, it was 790 the Zone years ago & I did. That WAS such a good station.” “All 3 made big $ for failing station & bit gave 790 a reason 2 dump salary.”
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
“What lessons are to be learned from this?” I asked on Twitter. Bean, from KROQ’s Kevin & Bean (@clydetombaugh) tweeted back at me,
“Morning show host truth: Your company has no opinion of anything on your show and probably doesn’t even listen. But, if somebody ELSE complains then it is easy for them to say it’s obvious what you did was wrong and stupid.”
How do you know when a bit has gone too far? Shan Shariff (@newschoolSS), the host of “New School” on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, responded.
“Larry, as you know, TOUGH question. Best answer I have is feel. If I wouldn’t even make the joke off-air to my buddies, I DEFINITELY wouldn’t say it on-air. What these guys in Atlanta did was just sick. Interesting side note: I actually sent this to my guys this afternoon as a warning to watch the line. We tend to flirt with it.”
The reality of the situation is, regardless of ratings or talent, most radio hosts walk up to around the “line” everyday. They are the stunt actors of radio willing to dive off the top of a building, walk through fire, or wreck a motorcycle to get a laugh, to get some ink, and to increase ratings. And we love them for it. From time to time, they’re going to cross the line. It’s going to happen. PDs need to be there more of than not. Truth is some will lose their job (See: Dan Sileo) and some won’t (See: Rush Limbaugh).
I’ve had to deal with many obscene, indecent, and profane incidents with varying degrees of controversy over the years. The hosts who I had to terminate are the ones who wander into at least two of these four areas: personal attacks, lack of filter, off-brand remarks, and negative intentions. Here are some ways to avoid your own “instant unemployment” in the future.
- Don’t Get Personal. Being edgy is okay (depending on your station brand), but know your target. Keep your sights on actions, decisions and behaviors and avoid getting personal. Nobody likes a bully. Attacking people’s traits, conditions, impediments, handicaps, etc. is just mean, not humorous. While there are some exceptions, people generally do not respond well when you ridicule or are disrespectful to someone who has been touched by misfortune.
- Appoint someone the “content filter.” One person on the show has to have 51% control and veto power on all content. If you don’t, no one on the team has the authority to kill a bit. If that person doesn’t green light the proposed piece, then re-edit, re-write and/or re-record it or trash the bit. Get it right before you air it.
- Be Consistent. Make sure the bit is reflective of your show and station’s brand. The Atlanta guys say this bit wasn’t what they typically do – so why do it? Be authentic to yourself and serve the expectations of the listeners.
- Have pure intentions. If your intentions are to honor someone with a parody, are all in jest, and in the spirit of camaraderie — listeners will pick up on that. If you’re vengeful, spiteful and trying to tear someone down – that too will come across. If you find yourself preparing a bit with a negative intention, might I suggest canning the bit? Otherwise, it’s likely to cost you your job.
Pandora is buying a real radio station (article here); 102.7 The Hits in South Dakota. They have a theory that this puts them in the same category as iHeartRadio as it relates to affordable music rights fees. It may work. But, it got me thinking, what if Pandora started to act like a radio station?
Eight Things Pandora Will Do Now That It Bought The Radio Station 102.7 The Hits
7. Update the logo. Keep it familiar, but leverage the Pandora name, but make it more “radio-y.” (notice no mention of the website)
6. Buy more banner roll. One sad logo isn’t going to cut it anymore.
5. New Slogan:
OLD “Today’s Best Hits Without The Rap” (seriously, that’s the slogan. I didn’t realize my Mom was writing radio slogans. She’s always going on about “the rap” music.)
NEW: “If you like Nickelback….we are playing songs that are similar to them”
4. New 10×10 tent for the grocery store remotes. No radio station is complete without one.
3. Understand Added Value. Give clients spots on Pandora.com at no charge in exchange for paying for terrestrial radio buys. This works, trust us Pandora, we know radio.
2. Update the Bieber cutout. He’s much cooler these days.
1. Use streaming audio for promotion! Make sure the web stream pushes terrestrial listening, otherwise it doesn’t count!
Okay, I’m cheeky and sarcastic. I know. But, it does make you stop think about why radio does some of the things it does. Evolution involves change and change is uncomfortable. To adapt and survive, radio is going to have to get pretty uncomfortable, pretty quickly.
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
Talk show hosts, news anchors, editors, producers, production staff, and programmers need to always know and remember who is consuming the content they are creating. What is your target demo? What news, events, and entertainment were influential and formative in their lives?
If you focus your programming towards a 40-year-old woman or man remember that they were 18 in 1989. That was the same year George Bush Sr. became President, Ted Bundy was executed in Florida, and the Exxon-Valdez spilled 240,000 barrels of oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. That was the year Microsoft released its first version of “Office” and Fox debuted a little cartoon show called “The Simpsons.” At the movies, When Harry Met Sally was released along with Back to the Future II, Driving Miss Daisy, Parenthood, and The Little Mermaid. On the radio, these high school seniors were listening to Bobby Brown‘s “My Prerogative,” Paul Abdul’s “Straight Up,” Mike and the Mechanics “The Living Years,” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”
Yet, listen to some news-talk and music radio stations trying to cater to these listeners and the references are still off. I still hear mentions of the Mary Tyler Moore, The Odd Couple and Abbott & Costello. Mary Tyler Moore’s Show was off the air in 1977. It was formative for women who are now in their late 50′s and early 60′s. The Odd Couple came out in 1968. Which means you’re targeting a 61-year-old. Bud Abbott was born in 1897. 114 years ago. Hello radio, it’s time for everyone to update our reference points.
Try this exercise. Let me know how it goes.
Sometimes you have to ask for what you want.
Sometimes you have to ask what your employees CAN do.
Sometimes you have to ask what your boss expects from you.
Sometimes you have to ask how to be better.
Sometimes you have to ask permission.
Sometimes you have to ask for forgiveness.
Sometimes you have to ask how you can improve.
Sometimes you have to ask how to do it differently.
Sometimes you have to ask for help.
Sometimes you have to ask, “How can I help?”
Sometimes you have to ask, “What’s missing?”
Sometimes you have to ask a stranger for a favor.
Sometimes you have to ask someone their name.
Sometimes you have to ask, “What do you do?”
Sometimes you have to ask for feedback.
Sometimes you have to ask, “What’s next?”
Sometimes you have to ask, “Is this the best way?”
Sometimes you have to ask for someone’s attention.
Sometimes you have to ask, “What if…”
Sometimes you to ask. And that’s okay.
This is one of the times of the year when sports radio hosts like to go on the air and tell listeners that there’s nothing much going on in the sports world. I hear hosts calling this a “dead time;” right after the Super Bowl and before March Madness. When hosts do this they are not only turning off listeners and advertisers, they are telling them to go away.
Listeners are tuning into radio, in part, to escape the realities of their everyday life. No one wants to tune in to hear someone whine about how slow their day is going and babble on about nothing in particular. Strange as it is, this idea of a “slow time” only happens in the sports format. You never tune into a talk format and hear Rush Limbaugh droning on about how slow it is in Washington. I’ve never heard a rock DJ say, “boy this is a dead time for music, I really don’t have anything worth playing today.” Think about it this way, if you turned on CNN and they announced, “No real news today to report.” You would turn to another channel. Same goes listeners of sports talk.
Not only will announcing to the listeners that is a slow time for sports make your radio station more of seasonal listen than it already it is, it could also lead to less revenue. Advertisers are looking for the biggest bang for the buck. If I was an advertiser on a station and I heard a host lamenting about how it’s a slow time and there’s nothing to talk about, I would have to reconsider how I invested my ad dollars. I likely would cancel my order and place my commercials on a station that is excited about its content and is compelling fans to listen.
These are the days that hosts earn their money. This is when they prove their worth to a station and company. It’s a host’s job to make fans care about something. Regardless of what’s going on they have a responsibility to be creative, passionate and compelling. It may be a slower sports day than they like, but that is a YOU problem. Hosts need to work harder to find great story lines, tease them, develop them and pay them off.
Programmers, GMs and sales teams need to hold the hosts accountable to help drive ratings and revenue, not drive it away.
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.