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What Radio Can Learn From Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen SXSW PhotoBruce Springsteen was the keynote speaker this year at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. For fifty “drive-way moment” minutes (three quarter-hours), The Boss was a talk show host, guiding us through the history of his music experience with very little music or singing, but instead with his story, his memories, his personal experience, his reactions, observations and his passion.

He was addressing young musicians, but the lessons transcend to radio.

ADVICE FOR RADIO HOSTS (the quotes are direct from Bruce Springsteen)

Be a catalyst of conversation. Your show is a, “Joyous argument starter and a subject of long, booze-filled nights of debate”

Stop complaining and start creating content. Who cares about how people get your show – radio – live stream – internet – mp3 – facebook – twitter? “The Genesis and power of creativity is consistent over the years. The elements don’t matter. Purity of human experience and expression is not confined to guitars, tubes, turn tables or microchips. There is no right way or pure way. Just do it.”

Be Authentic. “We live in a post-authentic world. Today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all about just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, influences, personal history and at the end of day it’s the power and purpose of your (show) that still matters.”

Fake it until you make it. Go to small markets, or host a podcast, an internet radio show, or offer to do weekends and overnights. “I had nights and nights and nights (1,000 nights) of bar playing. Learn how to bring it live and bring it night after night after night. Your audience will remember you. Your ticket is your handshake. These skills gave me a huge ace up my sleep. When we finally went on the road, we scorched the earth.”

It’s amazing how Springsteen can appreciate where he came from, where he’s been, those who blazed a trail, is still self-deprecating about how he steals/borrows from everyone/every genre and remains self-aware enough to recognize he’s getting old, the game is changing, culture is evolving and in order to be relevant he needs to find a new way. This seems like a good model for radio.

His influences should be and can be your influence as well.

Animals “Gotta Get Outta This Place”“Youngsters, listen up this is how successful theft is accomplished.This is every song I’ve ever written. I found their cruelty so freeing.They were brave, they challenged you, and made you brave.”

Gifford interpretation: Be brave. Don’t be afraid to borrow from those before you.

Bob Dillon“The first thing he asked was ‘how does it feel?’…’to be on your own’ – parents couldn’t understand incredible changes happening in our world.’Without a home’… he gave us the words to understand our hearts. He stood back and in took in the stakes we were playing for and laid them out in front of us.”

Gifford interpretation: As a talk host, tell us how you feel, explore how others feel, give us the words to understand our hearts.

Country Music. This music is “stoic recognition of everyday reality and the small and big things that allow you to put a foot in front of the other get through it. It was reflective, it was funny, it was soulful. It was rarely politically angry, it was rarely politically critical.”

Gifford interpretation: Country music is what successful talk radio hosts are doing today.

Hank Williams “Why does my bucket have a hole in it?” – Hank help launch the “search for identity and became an essential part of my nature. I was not downtown, bohemian or hipster. Just an average guy, with a slightly above average gift and if I worked my ass off on it – and country was about the truth emanating out of your sweat.”

Gifford interpretation: Use your curiosities in life to fuel your show.

Woodie Guthrie: “Somewhere over the horizon there was something…he tried to answer the question why the bucket has a hole in it.”

Gifford interpretation: Search for answers to big questions. Give listeners hope.

Bruce Springsteen’s parting shot should be used by all creative people as a mantra and guiding light:

“Rumble, young musicians rumble. Open  your ears and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And take yourself as serious as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have iron clad confidence. But, doubt – it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town…and “you suck!” It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at the same time. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have and then remember, it’s only rock n roll.”

Watch Springsteen’s keynote address here. It’s worth it.

  1. May 1, 2012 at 7:50 AM

    NIce article, Larry. Creative and informative. Keep it up.

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