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Would Your Listeners Vote For You?

I’ve been thinking about how running a Presidential campaign is similar to being a radio personality. We are judged each day by listeners who vote for us by listening and against us by switching to the competition. We are running a never ending campaign for more listeners, more time, more engagement, more loyalty, more recall, and more ear space. 

In radio and Presidential politics you only have about two years to make an impact once you secure the position and you may be moving on to something else after four years. 


So what can we learn from dumpster fire of a Presidential election?

Actually, watching Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton provides great reminders to radio talent. Here are four that jump out at me.


Be Prepared.
We all want to believe we have the talent and experience to “wing it.” We don’t. When the red light comes on you need to know what you want to say, what the intention or goal is for the break, and how you’re ideally going to execute it. It doesn’t need to be scripted, but preparing for each break will make your show smarter, sharper, funnier, and more listenable. Winging it leads to incoherent rambling, unnecessary diversions, and what I call “break degeneration.” That’s when a segment gets so far off track and meandering that even the hosts aren’t sure when or how to end it.

Embrace Showmanship. We are in show biz. We’re performers. Even candidates are performers on the “political stage.” This doesn’t mean you play someone you’re not. To cut through the clutter you need to be an enhanced version of you. The smarter, funnier, more clever and personable cousin of the person you are when you wake up in the morning. Yes, we’ve all been screaming about ‘authenticity’ for a few years. True authenticity can be inspiring, but more often it’s subdued and boring. Go ahead and be authentic to yourself, in your intentions and with your actions, just execute it with some gusto.

Be Empathetic
. Do the show for your audience instead of for personal fame, local celebrity or a pay check. If you can emotionally connect with your listeners and demonstrate you “feel them” whether it’s through conversation, stories, life events, or personal vulnerability you will win them over. Empathy is the missing ingredient for both Presidential candidates. They’re not running for the highest office in the land for us, they’re doing it for themselves and the power that comes with it. It’s why so many people are voting against one of the candidates instead of for them. 

Avoid Personal Attacks. Trump is a one man insult machine (that’s a compliment.) It’s a skill he’s honed over many years. Hurtling insults and personal attacks is psychological warfare for him. He believes it gives him the upper hand, intimidates others and gives him power. I believe that he believes it makes him more likeable. It might to some. Even if it does, and I’d argue it doesn’t, you dear reader are not God’s gift to “insult assault” like Trump. For mere mortals, personal attacks generally bounce off the intended target and the negativity is reflected back onto you. It can make you look childish, unprepared, less intelligent, reactionary, unstable, immature and like a bully. It is perfectly acceptable and expected to characterize and criticize behaviour and actions, but avoid attacking and insulting people. 
These are just some of the radio lessons collected on the campaign trail. What have you learned? Use the comments below to share your takeaways. 

Radio Might Just Be Rocket Science

September 11, 2016 Leave a comment

space-shuttle-or-radio-station2Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had the honor and responsibility to help launch new News-Talk radio shows on air in Vancouver and Winnipeg. Not that I’d know, but it seems a bit like launching a space shuttle. A huge team, lots of planning, excitement, adrenaline, nerves, back timing, countdowns, someone  is pushing a bunch of buttons, and there are always small adjustments along the way. (A gross over-generalization to be sure, but go with it.)

Below is a list of some of the adjustments that crept up through these experiences that are good reminders to all radio talent

  • Improvisation rules apply. Don’t kill the premise of a discussion by dismissing it off hand. Add to it. Expand on it. Think “Yes, and…”
  • When co-hosting it is okay to disagree, but it isn’t about “winning at all costs.” Respect each other, establish clear boundaries, and agree on the goal of each segment before diving in.
  • Avoid personal attacks. This applies to co-workers and news makers. Characterize behavior and actions, not people.
  • News is not a break from the show. News is what’s next on your show.
  • Know the clock, respect the clock, and abide by the clock. They’re designed for maximum ratings impact and for clear separation of commercial competitors, repeat commercials and to minimize listener fatigue.
  • Write and plan your teases into break. Avoid words and phrases like “after these commercials”, “we’ll be back”, “time to take a break”, “when we return.” Instead keep forward momentum with something like “coming up next…”
  • Speaking of momentum, find ways to build momentum for each segment, each show and each day on the station. Build on stories, find the arc, explore new angles, and offer different perspectives.
  • Be about something. Don’t just fill time.
  • Avoid signing off at the end of your show as if there is nothing else worth listening to on the station.
  • Root your on-air personality in authenticity, but remember it is show biz, so it should be an enhanced, more dynamic version of you.

If you are lucky enough to have a radio show you have an amazing opportunity. Your voice will travel through air, into ears and across the Milky Way faster than a space shuttle. It is an awesome responsibility to entertain and inform the public. The impact you make is up to you. You’ve been given the keys to high performance machine, what are you going to do with it?

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

Cirque du Radio

November 20, 2015 2 comments

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.

tzoo.dp.media.20043.294169.koozaDespite 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.

KoozaFinally, 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.

Planning Ahead for the Sake of Spontaneity

If I were to tell you to drive from Seattle, Washington to Miami, Florida the first thing you’d probably do is tell me you’d rather fly. Fair enough. But, let’s pretend you’re driving.

What would you do? Make a list.

 

List

(Your list may not look like this, especially if you don’t enjoy beef jerky)

THE POINT?

The point is you don’t really just jump in a car and go. You plan for the things that are predictable.

Why do we do this?

Seattle to MiamiWe do this so when we’re driving along and we see a sign for “Biggest Ball of Twine” and want to stop, we can. But, when you’re done you need to know to get back on the highway instead of winding through back roads. That’s where planning comes into play. We also plan ahead in case we want to buy a cool souvenir. How do you know you can afford that stylish cowboy hat if you haven’t planned ahead?

Planning ahead allows for spontaneous moments on road trips… and radio shows.

USE THE FORCE (OR A CALENDAR)

Do not be the radio host who awakens on December 18th, realizes Star Wars is premiering, looks at his team and says, “What do you guys want to do with that today?”

That’s the attitude of someone who doesn’t respect his or her audience, but couches it in the spirit of spontaneity and authenticity.

Radio truth bomb: You can be spontaneous, authentic AND plan ahead.

HOW TO PLAN AHEAD

The key is to plan for moments and events you can, so you can focus your attention the day of your show on creatively tackling stories you couldn’t anticipate.

Here’s how:

Create a calendar and plot out holidays, big movie releases, local annual events, big sporting events, concerts, and anything else your audience is in to.

Brainstorm ideas with a group of folks a month or two ahead. This is everything from on-air bits, pieces of audio, liners, promos, parody songs, listener engagement to web content and social media plans.

Focus your list on the items you want to do.

Assign someone the task of doing each item.

Put deadlines on it.

Day of: roll it out.

This planning process gives you the freedom, time and opportunity to own it, edited it, be creative, and produce something great. Simultaneously, it gives you the confidence to be in the moment instead of thinking about what’s next and frees-up your creative brain to be spontaneous.

Broadcast Interview Scruples

October 25, 2015 5 comments

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.

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.

20151009-stephen-harper-023-2He 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?
  • Where?
  • 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.

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.