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Radio Lessons From The World’s Oldest DJ

sally hille

In the 1940’s Sally Hille made her debut on the radio. Today she is, according to Guinness, the oldest DJ in the world. I was lucky enough to chat with her last week on the Radio Stuff podcast. Three things really stuck with me.

She was a writer.

Sally’s first role in radio was as a writer. How did our industry ever turn our backs on that? TV shows and news programs have writers, movies have writers, Broadway has writers why does radio seemingly insist on winging it and/or using “whoever is available” to write sales copy, station production, and bits for radio shows? This is something that has frustrated me as a programmer over the years. While at ESPN, I tried to do my part by hiring a fulltime writer who worked primarily for Mike & Mike. It was an underappreciated position that disappeared soon after I left. Radio needs every advantage it can get and impactful writing will increase the impact of commercials, increase TSL and likely occasions. It’s hard to quantify the impact of a writer on the success of a radio station, but I believe it is the quickest way to make a noticeably positive impact on the listening experience. Hire writers.

Women are still getting shafted.

“Don’t you know people don’t want to hear women on the radio?” That was the PD’s reaction after Sally snuck on-air in the 1940’s to identify the radio station. The conversations haven’t changed over the years. When I started (and still today) I hear arguments that people won’t accept women doing play-by-play or being a lead host on a show. (I often hear similar arguments as it pertains to different races and ethnicities.) There are exceptions to the rules, but within the past few weeks I’ve seen sports radio networks and stations get banner headlines in the radio industry trade publications, because they hired women to host weekend shows. Most women on FM morning shows remain relegated to being the traffic gal, the news chick, or the bimbo. We need to do better.

RS 103 coverPodcasting isn’t too technical.

I encourage aspiring broadcasters to make a podcast and record it regularly (weekly or daily) in order to find their voice and style. The great thing about podcasts it that they are as long as you want, you can experiment with new ideas, you typically get positive feedback from listeners and you begin to build a following. For many reasons, most never do it. Usually, I hear something to the effect, “I’m not that technical” or “I couldn’t figure it out.” Sally’s show is essentially a podcast that is then broadcast later. She has a Yeti microphone ($129 or so), a free audacity editor and she uploads her podcast to Podomatic (I prefer SoundCloud.) She’s 95-years-old. No one has an excuse anymore.

Conclusion

The other thing I take away from my conversation with Sally is that the men and women who came before us, in radio and life, have much to offer in terms of experience and insight. Take time to sit with family and friends and ask them about their life. You’ll both be surprised at how much you enjoy it.

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