Top 10 Lessons Radio Can Take from David Letterman

Top 10 Lessons Radio Can Take from David Letterman (as heard on Episode 102 of the Radio Stuff Podcast)

10. People like lists.

9. Try new things. Crazy things. Challenge conventional wisdom.

8. Surround yourself with a team you trust.

7. Sometimes you have to leave a job to find greater success.

6. Produce. Plan. Prepare. Script. Rehearse. And then do what feels right in the moment.

5. Bring guests into your world. Own your interviews.

4. Don’t be afraid to fail.

3. Self-deprecation is an effective tool to win over an audience.

2. Surprise the audience.

1. Even a kid from small town Indiana can be a big time talk host.

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The ABCs of “U2 101″

U2101In Vancouver, Rock 101 rebranded as “U2 101″ for 16 hours as part of a promotion for the opening night of U2’s “iNNOCENT + eXPERIENCE” 2015 world tour. It was a great way to reinforce the station’s classic rock brand and own a major event that already had the city buzzing. To get the story behind the story, I chatted with Ronnie Stanton, Corus Media VP of National Brands and Programming and PD of Rock 101.

GIFFORD: What elements made up U2 101?

STANTON: 7am on the day of their first concert in Vancouver, which was also the first concert of their new world tour through to about 8:30am we did an interview with U2, in-studio, with our morning show “Willy in the Morning,” played lots of songs as well, but lots of great questions and those guys were fully engaged like they loved being there. It was really authentic, human, it was terrific. For the rest of the day we gave away pairs to the shows that night and played U2 double-shots. It was really cool. We changed every single element. The words “Rock 101″ did not appear on the website, they didn’t appear on the radio for that entire period. We were fully U2 101.

Grock101IFFORD: Why U2 101?

STANTON: U2 is one of the biggest bands in the world and at Classic Rock stations all around the world we’re trying to constantly reinvent the format to keep it relevant and keep it less nostalgic. So, when one of your core artists does a major tour you want to do everything you can to own the artist and own it in a contemporary way.

GIFFORD: How’d you pull it off?

STANTON: So, about six or seven weeks ago I started talked to the head of the record label, Universal, and I think it was more than anything about asking the pretty girl for a dance. This didn’t happen on other radio stations, because I don’t think other radio stations said, “Yeah we’ll change our name, yeah we’ll do whatever, like let’s get those boys in here.” And it turned into great radio.

GIFFORD: What was the reaction?

STANTON: Terrific. People loved it. In a PPM world if this doesn’t move the needle I’m going to just go buy a food truck.

The full conversation with Ronnie Stanton and some examples of the imaging will be featured in Radio Stuff Podcast Episode 102 (released 5/21/2015). Here are clips from the interview with Willy and U2. 

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Are You Really Done With That Great Radio Talent?

This week a disturbing trend creeped into my consciousness. Radio is losing great talent at an alarming rate. It started with Stern, Leykis and Corolla. Apple is plucking great radio talent from the UK. I talked with three guys that previously worked for me who are out of work and they aren’t even getting nibbles. One of them said, “I’m not sure radio has a use for me anymore.” These are all really talented folks. There are dozens and dozens of these people who are now cranking out great, inventive and creative podcasts to keep sharp and selling insurance or cleaning pools to help make ends meet.

I and others have frequently asked, “Where is the next great radio talent coming from?” But, really we should be asking, “are we really done with that great radio talent?”

Radio needs to find ways to use all these discarded personalities turned podcasters that has either fled radio out of frustration or were pushed out the door. We need guys and gals who love radio, get radio, are good at radio and are ready to reinvent it.

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Larry Wachs, sinner

Larry Wachs is one of those guys. For 20-years he hosted the Regular Guys radio show, entertained listeners, and made companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus lots of money. Now he’s like too many other great radio talent: out of work and off the air.

“I think I committed the sin of making too much money for the Cumulus people. They don’t like their talent making money,” Wachs talked about the end of the Regular Guys on Episode 101 of the Radio Stuff Podcast. “I was also burnt out. In all fairness to Cumulus, I did sit down with them a year before and them pretty much gave me the hint that this run was coming to an end.”

For now Wachs is podcasting, redefining his style, honing his craft, and building his storytelling muscles, because he wants back on radio.

“Oh yeah, absolutely. I love it. It’s the best medium. It is so warm and intimate. And when done right it is extremely powerful.”

Great talent is out there just waiting for radio to give them another shot. We’d be shooting ourselves in the foot not to give it to them.

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INSIDE RADIO STUFF #100

RS 100 coverI just recorded and edited the 100th episode of the Radio Stuff podcast. It features an extensive interview with Cumulus and Westwood One personality Jonathon Brandmeier. It also marks the milestone by sharing memories with original co-host Deb Slater and listening back to a few favorite moments. I realized of all 100 episodes this one is among the most challenging. Primarily due to production. This experience reinforced the importance of caring about the details and asking for help when you need it. Here’s how it all came together.

LANDING BRANDMEIER
I had been talking to Brandmeier and his team about doing the podcast even before the new show was announced on WLS and Westwood One. We have mutual friends and had some business dealings in the past year so it wasn’t really ever about IF he’d do it, but WHEN the timing would be right. They wanted to wait until about a month into the new show. Last week I suggested the 100th episode and Johnny made it work.

Our call was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. PDT immediately following his syndicated show. I asked for 30 minutes, we talked for an hour. I started rolling tape and talking to the Radio Stuff listeners while waiting for the phone to ring. I don’t have a phone coupler, so I plug the phone directly into the board, place the phone on the desk. I record my part into a microphone and the phone mic sends my voice to the guest. In this case, I was talking for about 8 minutes before he called. Rolling before the interview is an NPR trick to capture everything. I blogged about it with Anna Sale a couple of months ago. My monologue and our opening exchange become a teaser clip I released 24 hours in advance of the podcast. His opening line to me after I answer the phone is the first thing you hear on the podcast.

 

THE CLIPS and DROPS
Brandmeier uses a lot of audio during his show and our interview was no different. However, the phone distorted the audio he was sending down the line. So, I had Brandmeier send all the clips after the interview to insert in post. The clips, for the most part, are longer than what he sent down the line, so I had to find the parts he used, edit, insert them and silence the phone version. For example, I used about 20 seconds of the audio from this video in the show.

THE LEVELS
After recording, even though I thought the levels were perfect, my voice entirely dominated Brandmeier’s, so I went through the entire interview and adjusted all my parts to blend more seamlessly with Johnny and then raised the gain on the whole file.

DEB SLATER
Deb recorded her voice on her end and I recorded my voice on my end. She then sent her file to edit in a higher quality audio. I recorded her right after Brandmeier and forgot to unplug the phone from the board. So, that means I recorded her too. I tried to silence the phone quality version of Deb, but I couldn’t get it all. You’ll hear it switch back and forth especially when she’s laughing or talking over me. My mistake. Won’t do it again.

During our chat she mentioned several moments from early Radio Stuff shows that I found after our call and inserted in post production.

ASKING FOR HELP – PART 1

After receiving that tweet from John Collins about the return of the fake town crier after the second Royal baby was born, I put an all call out for audio of the town crier.

It worked! I received this email a few days later;

Dear Larry,

You asked on Saturday for a clip of the town crier announcing Kate’s baby.
Here’s how 680 News in Toronto reported it.

https://soundcloud.com/bandanachap/royal-birth-town-cryer

Downloadable WAV (but from internet feed), 12MB, 1:10.

There’s a lesson in how radio has no borders any more.

Journalists in London capture the sound, and beam it around the world.

An all-news radio station in Toronto edits the announcement into their piece, broadcasts it to their listeners in Toronto, and right around the world on the internet.

A listener travelling on a train in Britain hears the piece, thinks “that might be interesting”, hits rewind on his mobile app, records it for posterity, and makes it available.

Congratulations on Radio Stuff 100, and here’s to many many more.

All best,
Weaver

ASKING FOR HELP – PART 2
After realizing the town crier was going to be a topic of discussion, I again asked twitter followers for help.

Geoff McQueen saw it and tagged DJ Dapper Dan and within an hour it was done. DJ Dapper Dan also had some thoughts on the fake town crier.

“That chap Appleton did not have the permission to cry from the Royal Family, they just said they didn’t object and that he should consult the relevant local authority which he failed to do as far as we know over here. Anyway he is not a bona fide Town Crier as you have to be appointed by a Lord of The Manor, A Local Authority or Similar level of accepted Government Body. He is not, never has been and is not likely to be. But fair play to him, he got a lot of publicity!”

ASKING FOR HELP – PART 3
I also reached out directly to Radio Today host Trevor Dann to see if he would offer a toast for the 100th episode. Trevor has been a supporter and reoccurring guest over the course of two years and I was happy he agreed to record a little something for the show.

CONCLUSION
I sometimes wonder why I go through all the hoops I do to create a show each week, but it is because I want it to be great. I don’t always hit out of the park, but when all is said and done I’m usually extremely satisfied with the product and proud to put my name on it. Johnny said it in the interview and I believe it to; you have to do the show for yourself first and not worry about who is listening.

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Eight Ingredients of Remarkable Radio Shows

There are a lot of remarkable radio shows in America and they each have found success their own way. Which means there are far more than eight things to consider when trying to build a show up, but this is a great start.

These tips ring true to me which is why I isolated them from original interviews I conducted with each of these hosts. All the conversations can be found on the Radio Stuff Soundcloud page.

Notice none of the talent talk about billboards, bumper stickers or social media. Great shows can benefit from those things, but bad shows cannot be made great with marketing.

RELATED: SEVEN INGREDIENTS OF GREAT RADIO TALENT

And now, eight ingredients of remarkable radio shows.

beanyellowtee (1)

Gene “Bean” Baxter

Be consistent, but not predictable. “Show up every day, be prepared, and evolve.” Gene Baxter a.k.a. Bean of Kevin & Bean explains, “We’re not the guys, generally, that are doing the same bit we did 10 years ago or 20 years ago. We’re looking for new things to do and new things to talk about. As hard as it is to get young people to listen to FM Radio these days I think that’s why we’ve had some success bringing them along because we are still trying to talk about contemporary things.”

Be authentic. “There’s a lot of fake conservatives on the air, a lot of comedians disguised as political pundits, and I avoided the temptation to do that,” Tom Leykis remembers when he was offered an opportunity to be a conservative talker. “I chose to go my own road and that means to not lie about who I am, to not pretend about stuff, to say what I mean and mean what I say.”

Build a team you can trust. I chatted with Elvis Duran about this at Radiodays Europe this year, “Being surrounded by people who get the message and understand that what we do is monumental to so many people. The people we work with and support us are the most important people without them I could never see myself going to work every day by myself. I couldn’t do it.”

Strive to be interesting. ESPN host Colin Cowherd advises host to stop worrying about being right, “Just try to be interesting. It’s not about being right. Guys tend to want to be right instead of get it right. Just be interesting. Try to get it right. Try to find compelling topics that everybody can play along with.”

BJ and Larry

BJ Shea, Larry Gifford, Producer Steve

Everyone knows their role. The BJ Shea Morning Experience in Seattle has a big crew, but everyone has a job. “What I do right is not get in the way, because what I used to do is get in the way” BJ explains his job is to be the host – NOT the producer, “I would think that I have to run the show, I’d have to be part of the planning and I’m an attention-deficit mess. I disrupt everybody else. My ideas are good in the moment, in that manic, bi-polar high moment where, “Holy Cow! This is the greatest idea ever!” and my entire life I have ruined everything because I really shouldn’t be that guy. I should be performing. So, Steve truly is a producer. He is in charge of the whole show. If Steve doesn’t like it, it doesn’t air. And I would say probably – honestly – 10% of my ideas get used. And I give Steve a lot of ideas. But, I also empower him to say this is it. I’m kind of afraid of Steve now. It’s kinda cool. I’ve made Steve the boss of the show to the point that I don’t want to disappoint him.”

Appreciate the audience. “More radio hosts, especially new ones getting into the business, have to get back to basics, understand sports and connecting with their audience,” JT the Brick of Fox Sports Radio refers to sports talk, but his point is actually format-agnostic. “I think there is a big disconnect now between the super successful sports radio hosts who don’t go to any games, don’t meet their audience, and preach to their audience about how good they are or how good their show is or what they believe is the future of sports. Compared to the hosts, hopefully like I am, who continues to want to touch, and shake the hands and kiss the babies and meet these guys, because that is the connection I think you need to have.”

Tom Leykis in his Burbank studio.

Tom Leykis

Create a show filter. A filter helps your focus on the right stories and influence HOW you talk about them. This may not seem like a formula for success for an active rock morning show, but BJ Shea swears it works, “The soul of the show is relationships. Whenever we’re talking about anything I’ll always bring it back to relationships and basically the key relationships are familial, you got your husband/wife, brother/sister, mother/father, and then that of course can translate into the work place. That’s the soul of our show, because it hits everybody.”

Remember radio’s mission. “I’m a radio personality,” says Tom Leykis. “I’m not here to get people elected or get people impeached. I’m here to generate revenue. So many people in our business now have forgotten what our mission is. My mission is to get as many people to listen to your station as possible and then to get advertisers to buy those ears and compensate us so were drowning in money.”

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Seven Ingredients of Great Radio Talent

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.

Steve Goldstein Amplifi

Steve Goldstein

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.”

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Dennis Clark and Larry Gifford

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.”

david-g-hall

David G. Hall, Media Strategist

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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What Do You Do With an Idea?

What do you do with an ideaIn recent weeks, clients have been sharing with me the anxieties associated with following their gut or executing on an idea.

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?

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