As a programmer, my response to this common host complaint was, “I don’t care.” It’s true. I don’t care what Joe on the West Side thinks about a topic. I want to know what the host thinks and why. If you want to use callers as one of the weapons in your arsenal, to further emphasize why you believe what you believe and advance the discussion of the topic, that’s great. If you want callers so you can judge the success of your show, you are misguided. Most listeners don’t and won’t call the station. The ones who do are likely calling the other stations in town too.
However, if your goal of a segment or show is to get callers, here are some tips.
1. Don’t throw out empty solicits. Here’s what that means, “If you want to call the show, here’s the number…we can talk about anything you want!” – This is lazy, unfocused, and not entertaining. It also isn’t often too successful. You are in control of your show and what’s discussed, not the callers. Play the hits and make sure the callers stay on topic.
2. Take a position and defend it. Too often I hear talk hosts asking questions out loud as a way to “cover” stories (Why is this team so bad? How did this happen? Is this good or bad? What do you think they should do?…). Stop it. These are all valid questions, but instead of asking them, you should be answering them. Your answers, formulated before the show, become the topics / angles of your show. People are much more likely to have an opinion about your opinion than about the topic itself. It’s the difference between asking someone what they think of flowers … or saying, “I hate flowers. They are a waste of money, they’re messy, and they make me sneeze.” The statement is going to evoke more of an emotional response than the question
3. Put the listeners to work. When asking for phone calls, put your listeners to work with a specific task.
- BAD Example: What are your thoughts on Brett Favre?
- GOOD Example: What will Brett Favre‘s legacy be?
- BETTER Example: If Brett Favre were to die today, what would be the first sentence of his obituary?
4. Make lists. Rank stuff. People love this stuff and will argue with you about it for hours. You want callers? Rank the top 10 sports moments of 2010. Make sure you declare and defend what is #1.
5. Give the phone number. Say the phone number slowly. Repeat it. I have air-checked shows after a host complained there were no calls only to realize he never gave out the number or said it so fast and infrequent, I couldn’t even write it down. *remember Smart Phones don’t have letters associated with the numbers like older phones do…so 1-800-Say-ESPN doesn’t work as well as it once did.
That’s how you get callers. How to screen them is another story to be told later.
**UPDATE 05-01-2012: Dave Rothenberg is now hosting 7p-10p on ESPN Radio 98.7 FM in New York City.
Programmers are always asking me “Who’s out there?”, “Where’s the next talent?” So, periodically, here on the blog, I’ll be shining a light on rising stars in radio.
Dave Rothenberg is “who’s next” today. Dave, a New Yorker by birth, has recently picked up some shifts on 1050 ESPN in New York. He’s tells LarryGifford.com that he’s excited for the opportunity, “It means everything. I am a born and bred New Yorker with a crazy passion for the New York sports scene.”
Dave has a familiar story. 13 years ago he started running the board and providing the halftime show on high school football broadcasts on WGCH-AM 1490 in Greenwich. He was a weekly football expert on WALE-AM 990 in Providence, RI. He skipped around with stops at Air America, Sirius, and Cablevision. in October 2007, he moved to Raleigh, NC to help launch 99.9 FM The Fan. He was recently a casualty of budget cuts.
So, how’s a guy who’s laid-off in Raleigh end up on 1050 ESPN in New York?
Dave says, “The key to having any success in this business is perseverance. I have always tried to make good connections and stay in touch with them. The problem with sports talk is there are always decisions made that make you scratch your head. I had the number one sports talk show in a market and lost my job. My last check included my ratings bonus. But, no matter how little sense things make at times, you need to keep positive and look ahead to bigger and better. I set up a meeting on a trip to New York City with Justin Craig, the PD of ESPN New York and I guess impressed him enough to land this great opportunity.”
Networking. Networking. Networking. Should I say it again? Networking.
Dave has a marathon on 1050 ESPN starting this weekend: Sunday, December 5th 7a-9a, overnight Sunday into Monday Midnight to 5am (part of the Jets 24 hour pre-game show), and then overnight Monday into Tuesday. Take a listen (online at www.espnnewyork.com)
Cowherd will serve as a producer on the sitcom, which comes from CBS TV Studios. Could this mean a move to the West Coast for Cowherd who has talked openly about wanting to live in LA?
Please reply with suggestions for which actor should play Colin and what you would title the show.
Today, we dive into the mind of Owen Murphy. Full disclosure: Owen worked for me at the ESPN Radio Network. Owen is a 15-year vet of radio; producing, hosting and PD-ing. He’s worked with some of the most forward-thinking brands in the biz; MTV, MLB.com, ESPN (Mike & Mike, Dan Patrick) and KIRO, among others.
Larry Gifford: When you started in radio, what were your expectations?
Owen Murphy: I had no expectations. Only excitement regarding the opportunity placed in front of me. This was in 1995 as digital editing was beginning, and to see sound waves go across a computer screen was incredibly exciting. My first radio job was producing a college radio show for MTV. Artists like Elliot Smith, The Wedding Party, Frank Black, etc., all came through to record interviews, acoustic sets and to play DJ. Then they would leave and I would get to mix their music to my satisfaction. It was an incredibly creative endeavor, as is talk radio now, and that in itself is the main reason I love what we do.
Giff: You’ve produced, hosted and been a PD for sports talk. What about these jobs excites you most?
Owen: Seeing others maximize their potential and then hearing it in the speakers.
Giff: What are key factors in producing remarkable content?
Owen: In terms of talk radio, the most important factor to producing great content is talk talent. It begins and ends with them. How one supports and coaches them is also critical, and through a series of successes and failures, I’ve come to understand that there is no substitute for positive reinforcement.
Giff: What happened that made you understand that so well?
Owen: Two things:
1. Watching great talent struggle at times to create content…and sometimes I was at fault. It caused me to really simplify my approach to coaching talent by giving them very simple instructions and goals thus allowing them to hit those goals and win on a daily basis.
2. Co-hosting a sports talk show and both doing a great job of preparing and delivering great content while also getting that pit-in-the-stomach-feeling that I had not done a good enough job of preparing.
Giff: You mentioned “great talent.” How do you define great talent?
Owen: Talent that is energetic, unique, entertaining and thought-provoking. There’s so much you can do with someone like that. I don’t need “pipes” or someone who is smooth…I want someone who stands out and delivers while not following perceived rules of talk radio. Kevin Calabro is a great example of this. He’s a Seattle superstar because of his time as the voice of the Sonics, and he built a name nationally by being quite possibly the best NBA play-by-play guy in the country via passionate and unique calls. There is literally no one on radio like Kevin, thus I built an imaging campaign around that idea. “There’s only one Kevin Calabro, and you can only hear him on 710 ESPN Seattle.” Give me a year with someone like that and I will give you a top-5 show. The Kevin Calabro Show is consistently now a top-5 show, and often top-2 and top-3 and he’s only scratched the surface of what he can do.
Contact Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his cell 206.478.6357
GIFF: How would you describe the state of radio production / imaging among news/talk/sports stations in America?
JIM: It’s actually pretty good and getting better. Yes, people are working with less and some had even cut out their production person completely, choosing to save money with a national or group service for creative on barter. There was a time when I was reading only tags for stations that all ran the same national promo all over the country. Different tag for each station but the same promo for every market. But IRONICALLY when the bottom fell out of the economy and stations had even fewer resources to work with that radio did some soul-searching and figured out that being cookie cutter is what was KILLING us. Many realized that local creative was the last thing they should have cut. The less local you are, the more you’re handing your lunch right to the other national medias. But this has turned around. The group production services are killer great, and I voice for many of them to use as promo examples. But they are supposed to SUPPLEMENT and boost what you do, NOT REPLACE all your local flavor and local texture, issues, problems, joys…local relevancy, just to save money.
You only have a certain number of promo avails each day to tell your story. If you just plug-in the same national “Glenn Beck rocks/Obama is bad” promos with your local tag every single day, there is nothing there that makes your city’s station special. People can hear the same promo in 100 different cities, along with the same music and shows. But instead if you take a clip of Beck and use it in something that promotes your town, your situation, your local politicians, your local personalities, your local political slant, your events and community vibe oh and by the way catch more of Glenn at 9am…then you’re taking Glenn and making him local. It’s strong, and that’s what I’m seeing more and more of.
If you’re not local you are going to go away. TV stations now know this. It’s why affiliate TV stations are putting on more local newscasts all day. What once was just 11pm local news, 6pm and a morning news hour is becoming news starting at 4:30am till 10 (not 9am anymore), news at Noon, again at 5p, 5:30, 6 and 11pm. Logically, your viewers can already get news anytime from FOX TV or CNN so why would anyone watch the local channel for more newscasts? Because in a time when listening and viewing is so completely fragmented among all the media screaming for your time, playing the LOCAL card actually is working. And you can make more money with it. I’m seeing a ton of really good scripts these days. it’s like the beginning of the return to creative thinking again. I’m VERY, very optimistic about radio.
Of the hundred things I could talk about, let me give one solid tip you can use: In a PPM world, you have to make everything shorter. Promos should be 15 seconds instead of 30. I was just a part of an expensive focus group test in New York where we watched 100 real listeners each holding radio hand controls turn the station when they were bored. Anything longer than 15 seconds and they are gone no matter how brilliant you thought the creative was. and YES you can get it all in 15 seconds. When we moved from 60‘s to 30‘s people asked the same question, “How can you get it all into a 30?” You think about what you want to say, you keep your clips short and tidy, you write clear and distinct sentences and you have a 15. In TV I read the daily news topical promos and they are only 10 seconds long. TV would love to have the luxury of being able to move up to 15’s.
GIFF: You talked about moving to the :15 promo, what are some keys to writing an effective promo in those time constraints?
JIM: It’s what TV does every time so it’s quite easy. Put in the important impact-full stuff and you must leave out the stuff that doesn’t matter. Once you get used to it you then think going back to 30′s feels wasteful. It’s the elevator speech, you have 15 seconds to impress and that isn’t hard. Leave out the stuff that isn’t important. And if there’s a ton of clients that have to be in you have to leave their slogans out of it. If a lot of clients are in the spot do several 15′s and just rotate 3 clients in each. Here’s an example of re-writing a 30 down to 15 seconds:
First the 30:
“WZZZ presents Lunch with a Legend. This month’s Legend is New York Giant‘s Quarterback Eli Manning. Thursday October 4th at Mortons the Steakhouse at 722 West 43rd street in Times Square. Come and meet giants QB Eli Manning. Reserve your spot now by calling Bonnie at 212-555-1212 , that’s 212-555-1212. Lunch With a Legend is presented by Capitol 5 Financial Management. WZZZ’s lunch with a Legend at Mortons the Steakhouse in times Square, Tickets are going fast. Join us for Lunch with a Legend by calling Bonnie at 212-555-1212.”
Here’s the 15:
”Are the Giants for real? Hear it from the QB himself, Eli Manning at WZZZ’s Lunch with a Legend. October 4th at Mortons in Time Sq. Presented by Capitol 5 Financial Management. Join Eli Manning and WZZZ for Lunch at Mortons, call for reservations: 212-555-1212″
Boom, your done.
GIFF: What advice would you give to account execs working with clients who want to shove 20 seconds of copy into a :10 sports update sponsorship?
JIM: Ask them for help. You’re not blowing the order. You want to fulfill the order and make client happy, YOU JUST NEED THEIR HELP because there is something wrong. Tell the agency it doesn’t fit, send them the voice track to illustrate it and tell them you’re standing by. That puts the onus on them and after hearing the voice track there isn’t much they can deny about it. They will cut the copy. It’s when you don’t send the voice track that they live in fantasy land about “Well I can read it at my desk and it all fits”. Sending the voiced example and saying “This ten is coming out to 13 reading at warp speed as you can hear, please let us know what to do” does the trick.
I deal with this almost every day but more on the network or big agency level where people have already approved the way too long copy and legal has locked it in. It’s still way too long but it can’t be changed. I read it at warp speed and send it to them unproduced so they see the problem.
How about a station promo that’s too long to be a 15 because of all the client mentions? Make several versions of the same promo that rotates the different sponsors in it.
When you write this stuff from scratch, know that you only have 15 seconds to tell the story. That immediately should tell you to get to the point fast. Boom. Boom. Boom.
GIFF: As an amateur photographer and a v/o artist you’ve had the experience of telling stories with just the eyes and with just the voice – what have you learn from each to make you a better story-teller?
JIM: GREAT question! Photography teaches a good a lesson about PPM. If you just take snapshots you won’t know the following: A Professional Photographer’s job is to think about what to capture so that you communicate what you want to say, but more importantly the job is to CUT OUT ANYTHING THAT IS DISTRACTING. If I’m making a Larry portrait outside Staples Center I might blur the background so the viewer sees that the focus is you. If there is a distracting sign over your shoulder or some people standing near you I’ll recompose so none of those distractions are in there. Just Larry in the clear well lit, with a creamy out of focus background (called bokeh) where the Staples Center is recognizable behind you but only as atmosphere. Most people don’t know that photography is the art of elimination so your story is clearly told without distractions. In a radio PPM world you need to be much shorter, much more to the point. Say it straight and make it interesting. Leave out the flowery language and the generic. People are going to tune away the first time you give them the opportunity: the ridiculously long intros, the generic writing that says nothing, the music bed that plays out of spots for 20 seconds before your host begins talking. So apply the same photography rule to what you do in radio, tell a great story and eliminate the distractions and the reasons to tune away.
GIFF: What does it feel like to be spoofed by Saturday Night Live? (see the video here)
JIM: Surreal. My coffee came out my nose. It was very funny and the Collinsworth imitation rocked. I think the guy who did me had me down pretty well. The guys at Sunday Night Football loved it.
Jim Cutler is everywhere