“We’ve all got great ideas. Everybody on the street has an idea.”
- ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd
What’s the difference between a good show and great show? Topic development. At least that’s the case if you ask ESPN Radio Network host Colin Cowherd who discussed it at length in an interview with the Radio Stuff podcast.
“The one thing I’m really proud of is topic development. We love Wednesdays. Monday and Friday we’re trapped talking about football, but we love Wednesday shows. You come in and find a little blip on a transaction wire and we’re like, ‘that’s funny!’ and ‘that makes me think…’”
4 KEYS TO TOPIC DEVELOPMENT ACCORDING TO COLIN COWHERD
Don’t worry about being right, be interesting.
“I take stuff from my kids, I take stuff from sit-coms, books, ideas. I always think – just try to be interesting. It’s not about being right. Guys tend to want to be right, instead of get it right. Just be interesting. Try to find compelling topics that everybody can play along.”
Personalize the story
“I think how would I react? I think about that with athletes; Would I retire now? Would I take less money to be surrounded by better teammates like Kobe Bryant now? Because, we’re all human no matter if you’re rich or a school teacher or a basketball player or you’re a local dentist or a baker. We’re all human beings. Men have the same basic needs and wants and ego. Women have the same needs and wants. We’re all the same. It’s just some people have different economic stratus and different interests.”
Put in the hours
“I think about my radio show a lot. Radio never leaves you. It’s not like being a garbage man where your run is done for the day and you’ve done it — or a mailman and then you go home and you don’t have to worry about it until the next day. Radio is with you almost like being a doctor. You’ve got clients, you’ve got things that are constantly swirling in your head and I write down notes several times a week.”
Get a producer who wants to produce
“A really good radio producer, to me, doesn’t want to be an on-air person. They want to be a producer. And they get really good at it. And they try to elevate the on-air person with good guests, playing to his strengths, playing to her strengths, staying away from weaknesses.”
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.
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.
Radio can be cool, fun, exciting, breath-taking, and memorable. Over the weekend BBC Radio 1 showed me something that blew me away, “Radio 1′s BIG WEEKEND!” Watch this and remember this is radio.
As a radio manager, I’ve had a mix of hit and misses when it comes to events. I’m probably most remembered for Mike & Mike’s Marriage Madness at ESPN Radio. It was the NCAA Tournament meets “The Today Show Throws a Wedding.” It culminated in the ultimate sports fan’s wedding on the campus of ESPN, broadcast live on radio and TV during Mike & Mike in the Morning. It was big in 2006. Since then most of the internet has forgotten, except for some snarky barbs from the folks at Deadspin. I’ve done others since like this and this.
Today, Inside Radio featured several big time summer radio events, festivals, and concerts.
When done properly, a radio station event is a bunch of hard work and logistics that brings together the radio station, the listeners, partners, and advertisers to help create a buzz around the station (internally and externally), reinforce the brand, build fan loyalty, raise incremental sponsorship dollars, and gives your radio station a story to tell.
Here are five steps you can take to create a radio event with a “WOW! Factor”…
1. Have a vision, a goal, a budget, and define success up front. Start with the biggest, best idea you have and revise the idea over and over again. Be realistic about costs and expectations. Keep the concept simple, but make the event memorable and remarkable. Remember to make it about the listener, not the radio station. Why are people going to show up, what’s the draw? And expect greatness. We can’t be great if we only expect to be good enough.
2. Create a pitch and sell it to everybody in the radio station. You, or someone on the staff who is passionate about the event, needs to OWN the event, but everyone needs to pitch in. You can’t do this alone. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
3. Details make all the difference. If you’re aren’t a detail person, get someone who is. The color of napkins, or the shape of a gobo, or the size of the ticket matters.
4. Be inspired. Don’t just copy another radio station’s event, however take notes, evolve a concept, personalize and customize what you see to make it reflect your radio station. Own the event, don’t lease it from another radio station in a neighboring town.
5. Make sure it tells a story to the listeners. What are you going to tell your listeners and what are they going to tell their friends? Tell them what you are going to do for them, tell them what you are doing for them, and then tell them what you did for them.
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 email@example.com
At Arbitron’s annual consultant fly-in in Baltimore last month there were some really powerful presentations that talk about best practices of social media, the importance of Moms, Weekends, and listening occasions. I’ve received this link to consultant Holland Cooke’s analysis in Talker’s Magazine from a handful of people and want to share it with you.
Here are some of my takeaways…
- We need to stop using Twitter and Facebook as a promotional platform and begin ENGAGING with our “friends.” Social Media is NOT about the station, it’s about the relationship between YOU (the person – not the show or station) and the listeners. Use these platforms to have conversations. If you ask questions, also answer them. If people reply, reply back. I see this social media as the bonus track on the DVD that provides behind the scenes footage and director’s commentary.
- Moms are key to consumption of our internet, new media and social platforms. The internet is Mom’s “most-essential” medium, driven by multiple household computers, wi-fi, and the cell phone. 60% of Moms would choose her smartphone over a TV.
- Traffic is still very important to listeners, most believe traffic is getting worse each year, and they still lean on radio first for information.
- Cool presentation from ESPN about their “best screen available” philosophy (even if that screen is radio) – proving that cross-media usage is NOT a zero-sum game (reinforcing our strategy with three radio stations and a content-rich website).
- Listeners are extremely more patient with commercials than we expect.
- More people in most markets listen to the radio on the weekends than either morning or afternoon drive. Radio is a total week medium…
- The #1 Headline: Getting people to come back again and again is the ball game.
For the better part of 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with big voice guy Jim Cutler (ESPN Radio Network, E!, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The CW, and gobs of radio and TV stations across the country including 97.3 KIRO FM and 710 ESPN Seattle). Jim and his awesome wife Dawn are on vacation and stopped by the Bonneville Seattle studios yesterday. If Jim wasn’t blessed with a big voice and the talent to use it, he’d likely be a professional photographer. He takes his Nikon everywhere he goes. Last night he brought it to the Mariners v. A’s game and has posted photos on his blog…
Here he is taking some of the pictures…
In a previous blog I interviewed Jim about how what he has learned from photography relates to radio. It’s worth a read if you missed it before…
The other thing that struck me after meeting with Jim and Dawn yesterday is a great reminder that the more often you can work with and talk with people in this industry whose opinions and talents you trust, respect and challenge your own complacency – do it.