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.
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.
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.