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.
I wrote on Facebook and twitter today that I was still cringing from Steve Croft‘s interview with President Obama on “60 Minutes.” There are many things I would have done different. The whole point of having the President go on a show like “60 Minutes” is to have him tell the story from his perspective. In order to tell a story properly you need to start at the beginning BEFORE the moment of change or conflict of the story. This puts your interviewee chronologically in line with the events as they happened so he/she can take you through the emotional journey instead of reflect on events from a mental space. Thus, question #1 from Steve Croft to Barack Obama immediately put the President in a head space aside from being hyperbolic, and closed.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, it was certainly one of the most satisfying weeks not only for my Presidency, but I think for the United States since I’ve been President. Obviously bin Laden had been not only a symbol of terrorism, but a mass murderer who’s had eluded justice for so long, and so many families who have been affected I think had given up hope.
And for us to be able to definitively say, “We got the man who caused thousands of deaths here in the United States and who had been the rallying point for a violent extremist jihad around the world” was something that I think all of us were profoundly grateful to be a part of.
Notice how the President responds to the hyperbole “most satisfying week of his Presidency.” He down plays this point and takes the wind out of his own sails by putting a qualifier of “one of the most” on it AND pivoted from his Presidency to the United States of America. Talk about down playing the importance of an event in your career. Sheesh. Ideally you would start at the beginning of the story – maybe even 9/11 – and work your way through the events. IF you ask this question keep it open and let him define for himself.
What was this past week like for you?
How was this past week different than other weeks of your Presidency?
How satisfying was this week of your Presidency?
Similar mistakes are made in question #2.
KROFT: Was the decision to launch this attack the most difficult decision that you’ve made as Commander-In-Chief?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Certainly one. You know, every time I send young men and women into a war theatre, that’s a tough decision. And, you know, whenever you go to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] or Bethesda [Naval Hospital] and you see the price that our young people pay to keep this country safe, that’s a tough decision. Whenever you write a letter to a family who’s lost a loved one. It’s sobering.
This was a very difficult decision, in part because the evidence that we had was not absolutely conclusive. This was circumstantial evidence that he was gonna be there. Obviously it entailed enormous risk to the guys that I sent in there. But ultimately I had so much confidence in the capacity of our guys to carry out the mission that I felt that the risks were outweighed by the potential benefit of us finally getting our man.
Again, the President qualifies his answer and down plays the difficulty.
The next question is actually three questions in one. I’m not sure Steve Croft could have given him more exit ramps to give an answer without giving an answer. The more questions you compile into one – the less information you get. The interviewee then has a choice to answer the question that’s easiest to answer. Ask ONE question at a time and keep it open-ended.
KROFT: When the CIA first brought this information to you . . .
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
KROFT: What was your reaction? Was there a sense of excitement? Did this look promising from the very beginning?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It did look promising from the beginning. Keep in mind that obviously when I was still campaigning for President, I had said that if I ever get a shot at bin Laden we’re gonna take it. And that was subject to some criticism at the time, because I had said if it’s in Pakistan and, you know, we don’t have the ability to capture ‘em in any other way, then we’re gonna go ahead and take the shot. So I felt very strongly that there was a strategic imperative for us to go after him.
Shortly after I got into office, I brought [CIA director] Leon Panetta privately into the Oval Office and I said to him, “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down. And I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.”
Leon took that to the CIA. They had been working steadily on this since 2001, obviously. And there were a range of threads that were out there that hadn’t quite been pulled all together. They did an incredible job during the course of a year and a half to pull on a number of these threads until we were able to identify a courier who was known to be a bin Laden associate, to be able to track them to this compound.
So by the time they came to me they had worked up an image of the compound, where it was and the factors that led them to conclude that this was the best evidence that we had regarding bin Laden’s whereabouts since Tora Bora.
But we didn’t have a photograph of bin Laden in that building. There was no direct evidence of his presence. And so the CIA continued to build the case meticulously over the course of several months. What I told them when they first came to me with this evidence was: “Even as you guys are building a stronger intelligence case, let’s also start building an action plan to figure out if in fact we make a decision that this is him or we’ve got a good chance that we’ve got him, how are we gonna deal with him? How can we get at that?”
And so at that point you probably had unprecedented cooperation between the CIA and our military in starting to shape an action plan that ultimately resulted in success this week.
Look at it again. The first of the three questions – WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION? – is a great question. But, the President picked the easier of the three and latched on to it, “It did look promising…” – and then he went straight to talking points. When you offer a closed question like this the interviewee can only affirm your personal hypothesis of what happened. In this case the answer is either yes or no. This is interviewing on a hope. You HOPE the interviewee expounds on what they’ve answered. Unfortunately for “60 Minutes,” the President didn’t. He went from 2010 and leaped back in time to before his Presidency in 2007 and talked about how this was a campaign promise and how hard he worked to get this done from day one.
That’s just the first three questions. I could go on and on. Croft asked if it was hard to keep the secret, did he want to tell Michelle, did he tell Michelle? The President ducked the answer with a general statement. Never answering if he talked about it with the First Lady. Again, too many options or exit ramps for the President to escape direct questioning.
When preparing for interviews have a goal, start at the beginning, ask one question at a time, refrain from hyperbole, ask open-ended questions, and don’t test personal hypothesis. You’re conducting an interview to get information, perspective, insight or reaction that you don’t already have – so don’t try to guess the answers. Get out-of-the-way and let the story be told. Great questions to use in an interview include…
- and then what happened?
- how did that make you feel?
- when did you know?
- why did you do that?
- how was that?
Ask lean, neutral, open-ended questions.
…and don’t interview on a hope.
I was at Jiffy Lube with my son over the weekend getting an oil change. It just happened to be the day 104.3 MY FM was doing a station appearance. The “appearance” was a 10×10 tent, a back drop, a bannered table and two chairs from the lobby. There was no other signage in or around the Jiffy Lube. The tent was set up away from the flow of customer traffic, so to see what was going on you had to wander outside and around the side of the building.
I took this picture after the station representative (assuming promotions assistant) came racing into the lobby, captured the eye of a Jiffy Lube worker and said, “one of your customers just spilled hot sauce all over the place including me.” And then he disappeared into the bathroom for ten minutes.
The whole time I was there the guy from MY FM never appeared again, he never offered a bumper sticker, invited anyone outside for any reason (do you have games, giveaways or something?), and never explained to the customers what MY FM is by offering a handout, coupon or anything. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Here are some things to think about before your station’s next outing….
Look at your station remote / appearance set up. Is that how you want fans and potential listeners to see you? What would you / could you change to better reflect your brand?
What’s the payoff? There should be four: one each for the station, the listener, the potential listener and the client?
Be a star. Radio is show business. No matter what happens on a remote or appearance, remain calm and smile. No matter your role in the radio station, if you are the guy behind the card board table, you are the star of the show and the show must go on.
Client customers = potential listeners. Treat them as if your ratings depend on them. This is an opportunity to make your case to listen to your station to live bodies. What’s your elevator pitch?
Keep the remote / appearance area clean. Hide the equipment and supplies as best you can. Your area is a stage and no one wants to see the prop box.
Have fun, be engaged, and be engaging. When I pulled up the MY FM guy was lounging in his chair reading the paper, while customers were sitting inside the lounge directly behind the wall his back was against.
This Super Bowl week, I thought it would be appropriate to share some inspiration and insights that I learned from one of the great NFL coaches Herm Edwards. When I was at ESPN, Herm was invited to speak to a group of managers and I was lucky to be included.
“Our greatest obstacles in life are created by people who try to put limitations on us.” This is how coach Edwards started his speech. Simply put, don’t let others define what is possible for you. However, he stresses the importance of going about your life’s journey with integrity and vision. We are all leaders. People are watching and following our lead. It doesn’t mean you have to make a big speech or even be liked. A true leader, according to Edwards, lifts people’s vision and performance beyond their normal talent level. Do you help make people exceed their expected potential?
Another area coach Edwards touched on was “accountability.” He says you need to know and do your job. Take responsibility. Hold yourself and others at a high standard. Do the right thing on purpose. Your words and your actions should match up.
And finally some parting words from coach Edwards…
- Stay true to your vision. Do not let circumstances distract you.
- Trust those who work for you and with you – and sometimes that means taking a risk.
- Set an example – perform tasks that you would ask others to perform. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
- Stay humble. There were a lot of great things accomplished before you were born.
- Remember, you chose your profession. It didn’t choose you.
“A diamond is a chunk of coal
that made good under pressure.”
Every day whether you are a producer, a talent, a board op, recording a podcast, or editing audio – ask yourself these important questions…
1. Is this the best we’ve got?
2. Would I listen to this?
3. Is this relevant?
4. Are we playing the hits?
5. Is there a better, different, more impactful way to do this?
6. Does this live up to the Mission and Brand of my company?
If the answer is, “no” – what are you doing to change it, make it better, evolve it, and own it?
“It’s the little details that are vital.
Little things make big things happen.”
When I come across smart, successful people have can contribute to our conversation, I enjoy passing along their thoughts. Radio consultant Valerie Geller wrote the book “Principles of Creating Powerful Radio.” Her principles are worth reviewing…
· Tell the truth.
· Make it matter.
· Never be boring.
· Speak visually, in terms listeners can picture.
· Start with your best material.
· Story tell powerfully.
· Listen to your station but also check out other media – know what’s out there and what the audience is listening to and how they get their information and entertainment!
· Ask: Why would someone want to listen to this?
· Talk to the individual. Use “You.”
· Do engaging transitions & handoffs.
· Promote, brag about your stuff (and other people’s stuff!)
· Stay curious, relax, and allow the humor to happen.
· Be who you are on the radio.
· Take risks, dare to be great.
I love those principles. Use these as a guideline as you go about your daily tasks. Every day, whether it’s the NFL Playoffs or the dog days of summer, make certain you are passionate, relevant, interesting, engaging, curious, entertaining, informative, impactful, telling stories, teasing, taking risks, being creative, driving for results, doing everything it takes to make remarkable radio, acting with urgency, thinking differently and having fun. These are the things that separate good from great.
“Success is dependent on effort.”
I live in Los Angeles. There are great radio station here with remarkable talent. There are also bad radio stations and forgettable talent. What drives me crazy when I listen to the radio – regardless of the market size – regardless of talent ability – is when audio mis-fires.
In the past two days I have heard two newscasts; one on KFI and one on KABC. In one case the wrong sound bite played twice in a row and in another there was dead air and the announcer uncomfortably asked out loud, “can you say that again?” In both cases, the talent was awkward and uncertain. It made me question the credibility of them and the stations they work on. I hear this happen at least once a day in this market on a variety of stations (and embarrassing as it is, it happened at KSPN while I was PD).
What is so frustrating is that it is preventable. Do yourself a favor. Before going on the air; double and triple check your audio, put it in the correct order, make sure it’s cued, be sure the pot is keyed into program and the levels are set. This is radio 101, yet everyday in every market in America these types of mistakes are made. Audio is our life-blood. It’s how we tell stories. It’s supposedly what we do best, though when I hear mistakes like these in a major market like Los Angeles I begin to wonder if we are truly audio experts or if that’s just we have told ourselves.