Kooza is a Cirque du Soleil show currently underway in Vancouver. It combines two great traditions of the circus: mind-blowing acrobatic performances with the art of clowning.
Take a minute and watch this video.
I was at the show last night and saw this awesome assembly of remarkable talent. It’s a really, really talented troupe. A couple things struck me as it relates to radio.
The talents were unpredictable and diverse. All these people brought their own unique skills to the show, each was showcased, celebrated and included in the team.
Despite having perfected their craft over many years and having insane talent in what they do, they didn’t just jump in front of the crowd and wing it. They prepared as a team, created a narrative, built anticipation, created suspense and paid it off for the audience time and time again.
The trust the team of performers has in each other is necessary and admirable. You don’t flip 30 feet in the air up-side-down and land on the shoulders of a guy on stilts if you don’t have trust. Trust is the key to a performer’s confidence and is the foundation for being vulnerable in front of an audience.
Finally, I know this was rehearsed a thousand times. I know they scripted much of it. I know the jokes weren’t spontaneous. And I didn’t care. I was surprised, delighted, entertained and just because it wasn’t spontaneous and organic for the performers doesn’t mean it wasn’t for me.
I remember when I first got into radio the studios were magical. I’d spend hours with a grease pencil, a razor blade, and splicing tape to execute just the right edit on a bit that would come and go in 60 seconds. I’d cue up records and practice talking up the post. We’d all hang out in the jock lounge, dream up crazy ideas, laugh a lot and sometimes break some rules. We were excited to get to the station each day. We’d compete with each other, offer bets to each other to slip obscure words into our banter as seamless as possible, and generally battled for on air supremacy. It was friendly competition and it made us better. It was fun.
We made it fun.
The reel-to-reel machines, the cue-burned records, and the couches in the lounge weren’t oozing fun. They just were there. It was the energy, enthusiasm and approach we took each day that made working in radio a good time.
The same holds true today.
One person in your life decides if you have fun in radio: you!. You have to create the fun, bring the fun, dream up the fun. The fun wasn’t swept away into the engineering closet with old cart machines. It’s hiding inside you. Let it free. Start small and see how your having fun at the radio station becomes as infectious as morale-killing-negative-gossip only with the opposite result.
The relationship between a broadcaster and an interview subject has triggered my curiosity. Let me tell you why. About 6 days before the Canadian election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reached out to the radio station I work with and made himself available for an interview. He rarely talks to media and it was certainly topical and timely, but the host had hesitations. There were conditions.
- We would travel to where he was going to be, he wouldn’t come in studio.
- We would get seven minutes.
- Topics were limited to the economy and the housing market in B.C. (Contrary to some reports that the first two questions were dictated from the campaign.)
Jon McComb didn’t want to be shill for the Prime Minister and had no intention of turning a valuable segment of his show into a seven-minute infomercial. To make matters worse the Prime Minister’s handlers wouldn’t confirm if it was going to happen, when it was going to happen or where.
Jon was ready to walk from it.
I suggested that just because the conditions are laid out it doesn’t make them law. I advised Jon to do the following:
- Ask one question each about the economy and housing. Any question. They wanted the whole interview about these topics, but editorial we weren’t willing to give up control. Economy and housing are big issues that we would have addressed anyway so there wasn’t much of a “give” there. But we were also interested in legalization of marijuana and other issues.
- Do not worry about the seven minute time constraint. Keep asking questions until you get the interview you want. If they cut you off that is another story to share.
- I also suggested complete transparency to the audience. I urged Jon to tell the whole story; his feelings, misgivings, observations, how he was treated, and what conditions we agreed to.
He did all of the above (listen here) and it turned what could have been a boring, seven minute political campaign interview into an hour of great radio which fueled conversation for a day. It also created news for other outlets: Vancouver News and Huffington Post.
The question at the heart of this particular interview is that there were conditions put forth and we didn’t go running through hills in opposition. We calmly considered the situation and looked for a way to make an interview with the leader of Canada a reality.
Some journalists are critical of what we did and see it as an affront to democracy and free media. I applaud their integrity and principles as journalists. But Jon isn’t a journalist. Jon is a talk host. He has an honest relationship with his audience and is obligated to inform and entertain every day. He did that with tremendous effect in this case. That being said, I would not have put a news reporter in the same position.
From a big picture perspective, talk shows negotiate conditions of interviews all the time.
- What time?
- How long?
- About what?
- Live or recorded?
- How much $$$? Some organizations pay for newsmakers, I have only paid regular contributors in my career (ie. Columnists, athletes, beat reporters for other organizations)
- What can I promote? Web addresses, products, events. We all agree to interviews with worthwhile spokespeople so we get access to them and they get their message out.
Some things are not negotiable. After all, I do have some scruples. I say no every time when a guest insists on using pre-agreed questions, wants to review the interview before it airs, have any say over edits or control over how it is presented on air.
The truth, which might be hard for some to swallow, is whether it be movie stars, authors, experts, politicians, celebrities or everyday people at the heart of every interview there is an unspoken quid pro quo. In all cases the radio station is attempting to get information, personal stories or access and in return the interviewee is receiving a platform, fame, access to our listeners, association with our brands or positioning as an expert. We don’t sell it that way and we don’t discuss it out loud, but deep down, buried in the unconscious recess of their existence, people who agree to an interview with the media are doing so because they get something from it.
So about those conditions. Is it better to take a pious position and reject all conditions out right or or be forthcoming and transparent and develop great content for the radio?
I am really interested in hearing how you view the topic. Please add comments by clicking the link at the top of the page.
The news is devastating to the 13-year old boy inside us all: Playboy magazine will no longer print nude pictures. The magazine that coined the word “centerfold,” will no longer have a use for the word it originated.
Playboy without nudes? That’s like getting money from a bank without having to talk to a teller, filling your own gas tank at the service station or listening to radio that isn’t being transmitted through a frequency to your bedside alarm clock.
It is progress, evolution, and necessary for survival.
I recently finished the audio book “Team of Teams” by General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal rose through the ranks of an Army most of us recognize: order, discipline, structure, pictures of pin-up girls, top-down commands, and a clearly defined org chart. This is the Army depicted in movies, which won wars, and saved thousands of lives. This is the Army where if a commanding officer orders you to “jump” you ask “how high?”
As General of the Joint Special Operations Command in the mid-2000s, McChrystal quickly realized war was no longer like chess where one man was commanding all the troop movements of his enemy. Times had changed. Taliban and Isis were playing by different rules. The terrorists were recruited, trained, given the game plan and then empowered to make decisions in the moment. There was no way to keep up. As soon as JSOC thought they had a target in their sights, they had to wait to get the “go ahead” from McChrystal. Sometimes that meant waking him up and debriefing him, before he could make a decision. Each time, the targets vanished.
So they changed. McChrystal held a JSOC strategic meeting each day for everyone on the team. A video conference beamed to wherever his forces were stationed. Gone were the days where the General had a master plan and the forces were on a “need to know” basis. Now everyone knew everything. That created a shared consciousness. In addition, each unit was now empowered to execute in the moment based on collective intelligence, situational circumstances and timeliness. They became a team of teams.
It worked. The JSOC became more effective and agile. It morphed from a traditional org chart to an organizational web. McChrystal was hands off and eyes on. He was leading, not commanding. “Thank you” replaced the cold, directive language he was taught in the Army.
Adapting to technology.
Creating a collective intelligence and a shared consciousness.
Respecting and empowering your staff.
This isn’t Google or Apple or a quirky start-up in Silicon Valley, this is the Joint Special Operations Command.
And now it is apparently Playboy Magazine.
For radio it is time. Our enemy is no longer the station down the dial. It’s all around us and three steps ahead. We are battling for people’s time and attention on the device of their choosing, for on and off air talent, for digital solutions and distribution platforms, and for monetization. Frankly, a fifth front could be a public perception problem.
This is no longer a problem solved by a billboard campaign or a clever TV spot. To win we need to do what we do differently. “Team of Teams” may be a good place to start.
This week on the Radio Stuff Podcast (Episode 115), I spend 40 minutes examining the rise and fall of Cumulus founders Lew & John Dickey. The board of directors staged a coup last week and they are no longer running the company they founded in 1997. The Dickey’s fall from grace is a thousand miles in the opposite direction from their humble beginnings on Deepwood Lane in Toledo, Ohio where they fell in love with radio. Their Dad, once a sales manager at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, was a radio station owner. In the early days of Cumulus, Lew & John set out to fix struggling radio stations in medium and small markets, investing in repairs, infrastructure, the employees and local communities. Somewhere along the path they lost their way. Ego, greed and power took over and they went on an acquisition bender that was seemingly reckless and without strategy beyond collecting new and more things. It’s a sad story that leaves thousands of people in its wake and amassed $2.5 billion worth of debt.
The Dickey’s story is a reminder to all of us that no matter how successful we become hold true to the guiding principles and moral compass that helped you achieve your initial success. Iti’s easy to get side tracked by your ego and make decisions that look good, make you feel powerful, and get you on TV, but if it is counter to your core beliefs – you are doomed to fail. Or at least more likely to.
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.