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.