The recipe for being a great talent on radio is really a witch’s brew; a pinch of this and a touch of that. Everyone I talk to seems to have a bit of the trade secret to share, but tragically there is no mysterious vault where the “great talent formula” is locked-up. From my experience at least some of it is gut instinct, DNA-related, or luck.
But, we do have the start of a recipe thanks to some heavy-hitters in the radio world who’ve been gracious to give time and insight to the Radio Stuff Podcast. So, here is the start of a winning blueprint for being a great talent.
Have something to say. “Point of view. That tops the list,” says former Saga Communications programming exec and Amplifi Media CEO Steve Goldstein. (audio) “There are a lot of good mechanics out there and they can make a DJ show work, but somebody who has a point of view and something to say that’s where personality comes in.”
Make eye contact with the listener. This is hard to manufacture if it doesn’t come naturally. It’s not actually looking into the eyes of your listener, but as Goldstein explains, “the ability to say, ‘I know who you are and I know what you’re going through.’ It’s tough.” This authentic connection to an audience is paramount to greatness.
Be hungry. The best talent are insatiable. “Everybody should be hungry. If you know what you want to do – do it. Be hungry and just get there,” says iHeartMedia VP of Talent Development Dennis Clark. (audio) He has worked with the likes of Ryan Seacrest, Elvis Duran and Bobby Bones and they all have this in common. “They’re hungry by just performing and doing a quality show and they just love the business of radio. I think a guy like Kane in D.C. or Fred in Chicago they really have a bunch of different places they’ve been to become better and better along the way and really grow their personalities and grow their acts. Same thing with Elvis, he went from Texas and New Orleans to Atlanta, Philadelphia and then finally New York. Ryan too, you know? If he could’ve been hired in any job in radio he would have taken it at the time when he was just starting out at Star in Atlanta.”
Be now. We live in a world of rapidly decreasing attention spans. Frankly, I’m surprised you’ve made this far into the blog. Being “now” is a mantra you hear from Clark a lot. “The one thing that is a demanding factor from our listeners in radio is what’s going on right now. What’s happening? What’s the latest? I need a friend right now, I need companionship. Whether its music or a talk show or a personality morning show or it’s a vibe or feeling or something like that – “now” is crucial.”
Social currency. I preach this to my clients. Social currency is a detail, a nuance, an observation, an opinion, a theory or a revelation. It’s radio’s equivalent of a meme. Something you include in your show because it arms your listeners with information that is sharable when they’re at work, play or home. Dennis Clark also talked about this. “Radio gives people such small talk pieces that they can take to their family at home and “oh, I didn’t know that about Taylor Swift” or “I didn’t know that about the New York Yankees.” So, they can hear things from people they relate to and bring it to their conversations.”
Create a partnership. Success at a radio station demands you to be on the same page with management. Media strategist David G. Hall believes trouble is inevitable if you don’t. (audio) “More often than not what happens is the leadership of the station doesn’t really know what the target is or they don’t do research. They’re not really sure who they are trying to go for. So, then they have a morning guy who’s not clear who he is trying to talk to and he goes on the air and does something that he thinks is pretty good and then he gets in trouble for it, because it is so far out of whack of the expectations of the manager – who never shared those expectations to begin with.”
So what does a talent do?
Hall explains, “The best thing to do is to ask for the expectation. Be really clear.” Hall suggests you ask the following questions of your program director and it will make a huge difference in how you go on the air and will really focus what you do;
- What do you expect of me?
- What is the target audience?
- Where are we trying to go with this radio station?
- Who are our competitors on either side?
- Who am I trying to take listeners from?
Storytelling. This is my addition to the list. Stories are an effective way to transport an audience and share important information and values. Learn to write and tell stories in short form and long form; from 140 characters to an hour-long production. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain and thus are better remembered than simply stating a set of facts. When we experience emotional stories it also produce two chemicals in the brain; Cortisol which focuses the audience’s attention and Oxytocin with makes them more empathic. (Watch a video on it here) It’s science people! If you’re not a great storyteller, practice becoming one.
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The internal conversation goes something like this, “What do I really know about doing radio? I’ve only been at it for “X” years… If I’m thinking of doing it this way, others likely have too and it probably didn’t work which is why no one is doing it… It’s safer to go with what I know and what people are comfortable with it. Besides we always do it this way. There must be a good reason… I don’t want to be wrong. How embarrassing to go out on a limb and fall on my face. What if people don’t like my idea? What if they laugh at it? No thanks. Go away idea.”
And the talent ends up doing it the regular, ordinary way. And regretting it.
TRUTH: One of the hardest people to trust in radio is yourself.
Your ideas, your passion, your individuality will create your success. Your station hired you for YOU and YOUR IDEAS. If they wanted the status quo they would have kept what they had.
If you have a great idea own it. Pay attention to it. Nurture it. Who cares what other people think about it? It’s YOUR idea not theirs. (Just some of the great lessons learned while reading the children’s book “What Do You Do With an Idea?” to my son the other night – <video here>)
At our core many of us fear failing because it could be embarrassing, humiliating, infuriating, or job-ending. But, really it’s usually a moment of “Well, that sucked. Let’s try something different next time.” Your failures are the building blocks that your success is built upon. Successful companies produce failed products all the time because they’re trying new things; New Coke, ESPN the Phone, Apple Newton, Bic Underwear, Sony Betamax and on and on and on.
Building out a radio segment a little differently next time doesn’t seem like such risk now does it?
Radio should take a page from app development and build radio stations and shows with the 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 mentality; improve features consumers like, keep trying new things, keep tweaking, keep evolving, eliminate what doesn’t work.
So, what are you going to do with your next idea?
There is a new app called “6 Seconds” created by digital music pioneer Michael Robinson. I’ve blogged about his DAR.FM service before. This new app turns thousands of digital radio streams from around the world into an instant Spotify or Pandora with one advantage – unlimited skipping.
“It’s a free app for Android and IOS that takes a totally new approach to internet radio,” Robinson tells the Radio Stuff Podcast. “We put the artist and song first, let users indicate what style of music, artist or even specific song they want and then we go find the station’s that match that.”
Essentially, “6 seconds” allows people to listen to the music they want while discovering new radio stations around the globe. When the song ends, the listener hears the next song or commercials or whatever the radio station is playing until they “left swipe” to skip to the next song that relates to your initial search.
In my test of the app (see screenshots below), I searched for The Beatles and was given a list of about 20 stations currently playing Beatles songs.
I chose “Come Together” on KVRW (a Lawton, Oklahoma station I would never have listened to otherwise) and then tested the skip feature.
Next came, “Do You Want to Know a Secret.”
That was followed by “Sister Golden Hair” by America (not the Beatles but same genre).
Next up was “Jumping Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones.
So far, so good. And then the Beach Boys. On the surface it seems to fit until I realized it was a Christmas tune, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
Perfect? No. Clever? Indeed. I love that I’m not only discovering new music, but new radio stations (many seemingly online stations) and I like can favorite stations I like to return whenever I want. Go ahead and download it and try it out.
Looking for an anoter review? Radio futurologist James Cridland test drives the app too.
One of the benefits of the pediatrician we go to is that they work early hours; open at 7:30am. I called this morning at 7:40am and it went to voice mail telling me they were closed and to call back during regular office hours Monday through Friday from 7:30am to 6pm. I usually wouldn’t care, but I needed to make an appointment. The bumps on my kid that we thought were mosquito bites seemed to be spreading. We feared chicken pox. Maybe a milder version we read about that kids get even if they’ve been immunized.
I called again five minutes later. “You have reached us outside of normal business hours. If an emergency, hang up and dial 9-1-1. If you want to speak to a nurse for $35 press 2. Otherwise, please call back during normal business hours Monday through Friday 7:30am to 6pm.”
I tried again. And again. And again.
We were way passed the window of time it would take to transfer the phones back from the answering service. I looked on the website and the hours were consistent; Monday through Friday 7:30am-6pm.
Are they suddenly closed on Tuesday?
I tried again at 8am, 8:05am and 8:10am. Same message. Frustration levels escalated.
They had to be there right?
I put on my shoes and zipped down the driveway with a plan to make an appointment in person. It’s only a 5 minute drive. I got there and on the door there were pieces of white paper overtop the operating hours which now read “Monday through Friday 8:30am to 5:30pm.”
It reminded me how important it is for businesses and radio stations to have consistent messages across platforms, to live up to the promises we make to consumers or listeners and to deliver on our promises. This doctor office failed on all accounts. Radio stations often do too. I urge you to use this as a reminder to read and listen to the messages and promises your station is making, see if they are consistent and evaluate how well your station is delivering on them.
In the past few weeks I have talked a half-dozen or so smart radio people from around the world — men, women, talent, managers, consultants, and researchers representing all formats – and we all agree that “local” is a major differentiation point for regular old radio’s battle against internet streams and digital juke boxes. However, there is always a caveat. It depends on how you and your station breathe life in to the idea of “local.”
One of the best descriptions I’ve heard recently is being local in radio means “living and playing in the community you are broadcasting to and reflecting your experiences on air.”
It’s less about finding stories that happened in your city. (Ex. “There has been a shooting in the 1400 block of Elm Street. No injuries.” or “A local boy is growing his hair to raise money for a sick friend.”) It’s about the details you choose to share in small ways that signal to the listener you are one of them.
It’s the difference between announcing how cool it is your favorite band is playing at a local club or talking about how the last time you were at the local club you were reminded how awesome the acoustics are and you can’t wait to see your favorite band play there. It’s a subtle, but important difference.
I often explain to talent that local is less about location and more about sharing, reflecting and exploring those things that impact most of your listeners in an emotional, physical or mental way.
In May 2014, Anna Sale launched the podcast “Death, Sex & Money” from the studios of WNYC. She had been working in news for public radio in New York City when they asked for ideas for podcasts and she was given a green light to pilot her concept.
In the 10 months that has followed, Anna’s podcast has hit #1 on iTunes and she’s learned a ton about producing a successful podcast. Lucky for us she shared her revelations at Radiodays Europe and with the Radio Stuff Podcast.
“If you’re thinking of starting a podcast just start recording,” Anna told me in the echo-filled hallway following her session. “When I came up with the idea of “Death, Sex and Money” it was this idea on a piece of paper and I had a sense of what I wanted it to feel like, but the step between that sense and then making something that actually is taped and scripted — that’s the place where you need to be experimenting. So sit down, book an interview, tell somebody you’re in a pilot phase for your podcast, but just do it. That’s going to get you into using those muscles of learning how to make your podcast. I would not think about strategy. I wouldn’t think about audience growth. I wouldn’t think about anything before I started trying to make the show and making sure it was something that I could get really in to and that I’d be proud of.”
During a session titled “30 Ideas in 45 Minutes,” where we both presented ideas, she shared these ideas around the production of a podcast. (Here they are listed as documented by our friends at Earshot Creative.)
1. Record everything. Always. Start your audio recorder before anything happens.
2. Not getting somewhere in an interview? Just… wait.
3. Edit mercilessly but keep the space. Take out whole chunks of dullness, but retain the human pauses that add to the dramatic tension.
4. Don’t suppress your natural reaction, even when it makes noise. It gives the listener permission to smile and it builds your personality.
5. End with a bold set of compulsory questions. Anna always asks standard, personal, powerful sometimes rude questions that could ruin the dynamic earlier, but provoke great answers at the end.
In our one-on-one discussion Anna and I talked about a few other lessons she has learned.
Podcasts are intimate. Be vulnerable. I asked her how vulnerable she’s been. Anna didn’t hesitate, “I’ve talked about being adrift in my relationships and not knowing if I was ready to commit and having real big questions about what I wanted my life to look like, because I’m a woman in my 30s figuring out if I’m going to have a family, if this was going to be the guy I was going to be with and that was one of the first episodes so that felt pretty vulnerable.” Listen here.
Podcasts are what grow other podcasts. Despite being featured on NPR radio stations across the country through “This American Life,” the “Death, Sex, and Money” podcast didn’t see an audience impact until the “This American Life” podcast was posted. In hindsight, it makes sense to Anna, “Podcast listeners know how to use podcasts. And so why not go to those listeners first? People are still learning how to use on-demand audio. If you’re not already a podcast listener figuring out that you need podcast player on your phone and how to search and how to download and how to subscribe — there are some steps to that.”
People are still discovering the world of podcasting. Case and point; this was tweeted out this week by “P!nk” who is familiar with radio, but brand new to podcasts;
A good friend just turned me on to this weird amazing thing called PODCASTS. Anybody heard of this? The TED radio hour- blowing my mind 😳👍
— P!nk (@Pink) March 20, 2015
Podcasts are not broadcasts. Podcasting gives you permission to “go there.” You can presume the audience is ready to go there with you. When doing a radio show you have to assume there are kids in the car, mixed company, and there are the FCC guidelines to consider. Not so much with podcasting. And those weren’t the only differences for Anna, “The thing that was hard was losing all the constraints of radio. A clock is your friend in radio, because you know at a certain point — you just have to talk until 12:01 and the next show is going to come on. And you just have to avoid dead air for that long. In podcasting, you can go for however long you want. You have the freedom to make the podcasts as long as they need to be instead of filling the clock.”
Sharability matters more than news hooks. “I never knew how long the tail of episodes can be, because coming from news it is like you put something up, it goes out and that’s its moment,” Anna said. “In podcasting, the discoverability is so much longer. So, the idea of making something evergreen and when someone is going to find your podcast — you can’t presume they’re finding it right around the time it comes out. Because, what I’ve noticed is when people discover the podcast then they’ll listen to several episodes and binge listen.”
Subscribe to the Larry Gifford Media “Radio Stuff” email and each Tuesday you’ll receive an email with all sorts of stuff about radio. Sign up here.