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Inspiration and Desperation

WTOP-Twitter-Main-B-v2I listened to 10 hours of streaming, on-demand radio and podcasts. Non-stop. I didn’t seek out fringe offerings. I was doing due diligence to hear what some consider to be the best news and talk offerings the U.S. has to offer.

I was duly impressed with the juggernaut that is WTOP – “Washington’s TOP News.” Always a ratings and revenue winner. The powers that be, and I assume Jim Farley is to credit, have found the delicate balance between authoritative and approachable, credible in content and casual or accessible in delivery. They make it seem natural and easy. It’s not. All radio news folk should listen to the morning drive team as inspiration.

That’s the good news.

What I encountered for most of my 10 hours of sensory assault was racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, thoughtless garbage. Some of America’s iconic radio stations and shows are stuck in the past. They are unaware, unstructured, unprepared, and undermining radio’s credibility and relevance. It makes me wonder who is minding the store. Who is coaching talent, air-checking, providing vision and evolving the product to exceed the expectations of the listeners? From offensive Asian accents and decades old stereotypes to provoking coworkers to assault each other with racist and sexist insults. It really is the worst that radio has to offer.

And apparently iHeartMedia and Cumulus don’t care, because… why? The shows/talent are generating too much revenue, they don’t scrutinize content only numbers, or they really don’t care what people think. It is a shame that radio has to suffer for these fools. There are too many pros doing remarkable radio that the industry should be defined by lazy, uninspired, reactionary, out of touch offerings like I experienced.

We must expect more from our peers.

Be Better Than Bad TV News Banter

This happened Monday night on TV in Vancouver…

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credit: Brick Tamland

Female Anchor: Did you guys see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 60 Minutes last night?

Male Co-Anchors: No. Nah.

Female Anchor: (visibly shocked)

{Awkward silence}

Female Anchor: Well, anyway…

I know point out bad banter on TV is like pointing at rain drops in Seattle, but there are important takeaways for radio anchors and hosts hidden inside this gem.

Be Prepared. As someone who works in and talks about news for a living it is imperative you take time to watch/read/listen to the things that your listeners are talking about that day. Not only does it make you more credible and authentic, it allows you to develop an opinion about it, reflect interests of listeners back to them, and it reinforces you commitment you have for your job and the product to you co-workers. Your team needs to be able to trust that you’re up to speed and able to carry a conversation or, in this case, what would likely have amounted to a 15 second banter.

Never Kill A Bit. With due respect to Nancy Reagan – don’t say “no.” Saying ‘no” always kills the bit or the banter. It stops conversation cold. It makes everyone on set look bad. Even if you haven’t watched/read/or listened — find a way to say yes and keep the conversation going. “Boy, everybody is talking about it today. What did you take away from it?”

Don’t Assume. Before you make assumptions that a co-worker must been up to speed on a story or event, take a minute off air to ask, “Is it okay if I ask you about…”

The main idea here is work harder to put you and your co-workers in a position to win every minute of every show even if it’s 15 seconds of banter at the end of the show.

Verbal and Vocal

I’ve been telling all the talent I work with that 2016 will be about context, context, context and concerning ourselves with the verbal and the vocal. The verbal and the vocal? Yes. A little something I picked up while chatting with David Lloyd, author of “How to Make Great Radio.

e_rnh2Vu“Verbal is the words. Vocal is how they are delivered,” explains Lloyd in Episode 121 of the Radio Stuff podcast. “Listen to great presenters and the way they speak, the way they use their voice, the way they pause, the way the words come out of their mouth.”

He’s right, you know? The great presenters or on-air talent have a way with words and know just how to deliver a line or tell a story to engage the listener and make them care.

Lloyd continues, “Words are so critically important. When you’re doing a coaching session with a presenter you can see their eyes roll as they say, ‘Ah, for goodness sakes it’s only a word.’ But words are all we have. Words are what set one radio station apart from another. You know you can play the same records as your competitor in the same order, but what sets you apart is your imaging and the words you use. I think to focus on those is critically important.”

It’s not just a radio thing. How any business talks with its customers is critically important.

12465937_1152250131459362_9196141028587536586_o“I was in a shopping centre last week and I came out of the toilet and there is a big sign and it says ‘Let’s Go Shopping!’ and an arrow,” shared Lloyd. “And I thought, ‘Wow, someone has thought about that.’ Because they could’ve had a sign saying ‘Shops.’ But they said ‘Let’s Go Shopping!’ The emotional response to a sign that signs ‘Let’s Go Shopping!’ compared to a sign that says ‘Shops’ — you can’t compare the two.”

RS 121 coverYes, thinking about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it takes time. But, it’s a thousand little decisions about the words you use and the intonation you choose that sets you apart.

“You hear a lot of radio and think you’ve just thrown up the fader, you have not given any thought whatsoever to how you’re going to frame it.” Lloyd suggests, “If you are going to talk about “X” how are you going to describe it? What are the words you’re going to throw in there? You don’t need to write a script, but just to have thought about the colors, the textures, and the conversation you’re about to have with your listener.”

Along these same lines there is a great TED Talk by Julien Treasure about how to get people to hear what you have to say and it also reflects this theme of the verbal and vocal. It’s worth 10 minutes of your time.

My Favorite Blog Posts of 2015

As a guy who has been blogging over the course of the last five years it is heartening to see stats rise from 1,500 views in 2010 to over 33,000 in 2015. But, and I presume my fellow bloggers will concur, the most popular blog posts arent neccessarily the ones the writer loves, adores or sweated over. So I give you my favorite posts of the year, even if they didn’t get the attention I wished they did.

snl40It’s Time For Your SNL Moment – Love it or hate it Saturday Night Live’s 40thanniversary show can serve as inspiration for your next radio event.

Curse of Subjective Adjectives – This is a phenomenal blog post; it’s fun, insightful, sensational, great, super, terrific, and awesome. Depending on who you are.

Paul KayeAirchecks. Dreaded Airchecks. – One of the issues that I hear from talent quite a bit is how airchecks suck. They dread them. Talent feel like they’ve been slimed by negativity afterwards when they just want some support, strategy and a plan to improve. They know what sucked. How do you fix it?

Secrets to Podcasting Success – In May 2014, Anna Sale launched the podcast “Death, Sex & Money” from the studios of WNYC. In the 10 months that has followed, Anna’s podcast has hit #1 on iTunes and she’s learned a ton about producing a successful podcast. Lucky for us she shared her revelations at Radiodays Europe and with the Radio Stuff Podcast.

What Do You Do With An Idea? – In recent weeks, clients have been sharing with me the anxieties associated with following their gut or executing on an idea.

RS 100 coverInside Radio Stuff #100 – How I landed the interview with Jonathon Brandmeier and how it all came together.

Broadcast Interview Scruples – The relationship between a broadcaster and an interview subject has triggered my curiosity. Let me tell you why.

Cirque du Radio – I was at the show Kooza 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

Here’s The Thing About Breaking News

LGM - Breaking News2If you are going to go into “breaking news” coverage – own it. That’s the thing about breaking news. At least that is my thing about breaking news.

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.