If a talent asks me, “Did we do too much on the breaking news story?” My answer will almost certainly be, “impossible.”
When a story warrants being called “breaking news” you have two effective options: mention it and let the newsroom update it in regular newscasts or dive head first in to it. The middle ground is the least desirable option. “Kinda” covering breaking news is as satisfying as eating something that “kinda” reminds you of gravy.
The Oregon High School shooting is a perfect example. If it’s not in your backyard, your state or even in your country can you do too much with it? I contend no, not when the story is still developing. If you make it important and urgent, keep resetting the facts, add new details and information as you can and then express emotions and explore questions and curiosities – no one is tuning out. Humans have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. We all want to be the first to know and we want to know more than our friends, family members and peers.
On a strategic point, breaking news is an audience builder for news-talk and sports radio stations. It’s better than an outdoor billboard campaign. It instantly brings new ears to your station. That in-the-heat-of-the-moment sampling can be extremely rewarding if you are covering the story as described above and equally punishing if you are not.
When news breaks it is a nice, juicy sizzling steak dinner for spoken word radio, don’t let it become the lumpy gravy.
On Friday, after a day of travel I pulled into a Burger King drive-thru. I was 30 minutes into my 2 1/2 hour drive from the airport to home. I didn’t eat on the plane and needed a quick fueling. The man with the headset took my order and told me to pull up to the first window. I could see him in through the drive-thru window ahead. As always the speaker quality was questionable, but I know this routine.
It took 30 minutes to creep 20 feet from the speaker to the first window. The guy was racing around and explaining his cook ran out midway through his shift. He was by himself running drive-thru, front counter and grill.
The problem for me was that I was trapped. Everyone in the drive-thru was trapped. There was no warning of the issues inside the King’s castle: no sign, no notice, and no way out. Once I cued up there were high curbs and shrubbery on either side. Trust me, I contemplated an escape.
When I pulled up for my food, it had been 45 minutes since I ordered. I kindly suggested they might have warned us it would be that long before placing the order.
(wait for it…)
He suggested that wouldn’t be good for business.
Feel free to share your lessons from this story in the comments below.
I spent a good half-hour talking to a blueberry farmer the other day. He was passionate, knowledgeable, and eager to discuss the business. He talk about how blueberries are becoming more popular internationally in China and some countries in Africa in addition to North & South America and Australia. He knew all about his competitors both regionally and internationally. He was gracious towards them. He saw them as a teammate in the global distribution, promotion and consumption of blueberries — instead of an evil enemy.
Ever notice we don’t seek out varietals of blueberries? We go to the store and buy blueberries. In fact, there are several dozen popular kinds of blueberries. (I dare you to name two.) But the blueberry industry, the farmers and marketers, focus on getting blueberries in shopping carts and mouths. They aren’t pushing you to eat Bluegold, Chandler, Elliott or Legacy blueberries. Just Blueberries.
What if radio did that?
What if everyone who grew and sold radio was passionate, knowledgeable, and eager to discuss the business?
What if we talked about the growing appetite of radio around the world and the role is plays in people’s lives?
What if we really were knowledgeable about our radio competition home and abroad? And didn’t talk bad about them?
What if we just all came together and encouraged everyone to listen to radio?
These are three things I learned today after listening to radio and podcasts for 12 straight hours.
- Edit yourself. Be careful not to overshare in an awkward way. Be careful not to dominate an interview. And don’t be afraid to edit bits, edit interviews, edit comedy, edit banter…
- Don’t edit detail. When you tell me something is “completely destroyed” I can’t picture that. In an attempt to conserve words, you’ve drained your sentence of any sensory triggers. Whether you are reporting from a scene or telling a story take me there. Help me see it, taste it, hear it, smell it, and feel it.
- Fake chatter feels fake. When co-workers greet each other on the air and banter back and forth it is awkward and feels insincere. Avoid it at all cost.
Man: How are you?
Woman: I’m great! How are you?
Man: Oh, I’m okay. (ha ha ha!) So what do you have?
Every year on 9/1 I get a few automated emails from companies I’ve done business with over the years. It’s jarring at first until I realize the date. You see my birthday is actually 1/9.
My next thought is how they must’ve tasked data entry with a part-timer, an intern or someone who was too busy to be careful. Shame. A small gesture to build a relationship with the customer has actually done quite the opposite. One slip-up of a 1 and a 9 is an eternal reminder that you’re just pretending to care about me, my birthday, our “relationship.” And each year as I shake my head a little stronger I am reminder how very fragile consumer or listener relations really are.
The lesson here is be mindful of your listener’s information. Treat it like diamonds. It is extremely valuable and you likely only get one shot to mine for it. And unlike real gems, if you’re not careful with this it can turn to coal in an instant.
I attended my first Canadian Football League game last week and not that it didn’t fully engage my attention, but my focus at times ended up on the end zone and sideline advertising. I was there with a season ticket holder and Canadian native and we ended up playing a game, “Hey Larry, based on that logo what do you think that company does?”
Purolator. I guessed gas or petrol station. Maybe coffee.
Wrong. It’s the Fed-Ex of Canada.
Smithrite. I guessed a lock smith. A special kind of pen?
Wrong. Waste and Recycling company.
Fisherman’s Friend. This one is easy, right? It must be a bait and tackle shop. A liquor store? Outdoor clothing!
Wrong. It’s a throat lozenge.
The exercise got me thinking about radio logos. Often times we use our logo for marketing and promotion campaigns with a focus on growing CUME. While WE totally get our logos and it’s “obvious” what it is, who you are and what you do – what if you’d never had listened to the radio station would you still “get it?”
As an industry we’ve shied away from using “radio,” “FM” and “AM” and maybe to our detriment. If you weren’t in the radio industry would you “get” these radio station logos?
Food for thought.
We humans love a good story. Always have. One reason is that when you listen to a great story it triggers the imagination and empowers each of us to personally become involved in the story by privately conjuring up images, emotions, smells, noises and more in our head. Stories ensnare us by making us work to create the final product. Suddenly, we’re “personally” involved.
On the radio, there are several ways to harness the power of storytelling. For the sake of this blog let’s keep it planning, performance and use of audio.
Those three elements are also how I would I describe why I enjoy certain podcasts (Serial, Mystery Show, and Radio Lab to name a few) and certain radio shows and hosts (All Things Considered, Brandmeier, Ron & Don, Kevin & Bean, Scott Simon, and more.)
Planning. Planning includes actual planning. Having listened to the radio for three hours in morning drive the other day heading to the airport, I am sad to report that “planning” and “prep” are endangered species. Planning doesn’t mean you have to write out every word and reaction, but that each segment has an intention and a payoff. More often than not what I hear is a couple hosts and a producer throwing out punchlines or inadvertently going in opposite directions. There’s no narrative to a segment of the show. Don’t “save it all for the air,” plan it out and make sure everyone knows where it’s going. I mentioned it doesn’t mean writing out every word, but it may mean just that in certain situations. Remarkable writing is powerful. (Listen to Scott Simon’s tribute to Will Rogers)
Performance. We are in show business. That doesn’t mean we have to act goofy, juvenile or over the top. We still want and need authenticity, but when you are on the radio remember that no one can see you point, roll your eyes, put your hands on your hips, put a finger to your lips or see your crazy shoes. Your words and how you perform them will greatly impact the listener’s ability to “get” you. Whatever your personality is, because the listener only has the ability to hear you, amplify it by 5% or 10%, 20% if you need it. I call it vocal animation. It means consciously and effectively using the full range of vocal attributes — intonation, pace, tone, volume, etc. A little vocal showmanship is imperative to actually being heard and received the way you intend. (See: Rush, Beck, Howard, Radio Lab, and the list goes on.)
Audio. Podcasts are kicking radio’s backside as it pertains to effectively using image inducing, transportive audio. I’m not sure why… other than it takes more time. Not all stories and topics lend themselves to great natural, ambient audio or story-advancing sound clips, but we need to do a better job of seeking them out instead of assuming it doesn’t work or presuming you don’t need it. Audio is your paint. Great audio blended well creates remarkable images in the mind. Bad audio poorly placed results in a muddled mess. (Great example of good audio incorporation: The podcast Mystery Show)
Planning, performance and audio. Three ways radio shows and hosts can grab the attention of the listener and trigger their imagination.