I am not a regular church goer. Last Sunday though, in the wake of shootings and protests and chaos in Minnesota, Baton Rouge, Dallas and elsewhere, my family decided maybe we needed a community, some perspective, or maybe we wanted someone, somewhere to tell us everything is going to be okay. Whatever the reason, we researched and found a church that held “social justice” as one of its pillars.
We were present, ready, and waiting.
And we waited.
Not a word was spoken about the senseless shootings, the racial divide, Black Lives Matter or anything. In truth, more was said about it during the MLB All Star Game’s Canadian National Anthem.
This church had a program, a plan, a scheduled service carefully mapped out likely weeks in advance. But they missed an opportunity to connect with the congregation in a moment. It reminded me of a news-talk radio station that fails to “play the hit” when a big story breaks, because guests have been booked and topics have been researched.
When big events happen, the most recent in Nice, France, people seek community, support, context and a sense of security. They seek it out on their radio and if they don’t immediately find what they need, they scan the dial.
Radio plays an important role in informing and connecting our communities, whether it is bad weather in the region or terror around the world. When big stories break, it is our responsibility to report facts, seek the truth, provide context, help when we can, and grieve, rally, and organize when needed. We can be a beacon of hope, a stage for disagreement, and a voice of calm in the face of the inexplicable.
When we fail to recognize that we don’t just lose listeners and revenue, we lose an important connection and leadership role in the community — one I believe we shouldn’t so quick to surrender. Who knows who or what may fill the void.
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.
(Your list may not look like this, especially if you don’t enjoy beef jerky)
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?
We 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.
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.
This week a disturbing trend creeped into my consciousness. Radio is losing great talent at an alarming rate. It started with Stern, Leykis and Corolla. Apple is plucking great radio talent from the UK. I talked with three guys that previously worked for me who are out of work and they aren’t even getting nibbles. One of them said, “I’m not sure radio has a use for me anymore.” These are all really talented folks. There are dozens and dozens of these people who are now cranking out great, inventive and creative podcasts to keep sharp and selling insurance or cleaning pools to help make ends meet.
I and others have frequently asked, “Where is the next great radio talent coming from?” But, really we should be asking, “are we really done with that great radio talent?”
Radio needs to find ways to use all these discarded personalities turned podcasters that has either fled radio out of frustration or were pushed out the door. We need guys and gals who love radio, get radio, are good at radio and are ready to reinvent it.
Larry Wachs is one of those guys. For 20-years he hosted the Regular Guys radio show, entertained listeners, and made companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus lots of money. Now he’s like too many other great radio talent: out of work and off the air.
“I think I committed the sin of making too much money for the Cumulus people. They don’t like their talent making money,” Wachs talked about the end of the Regular Guys on Episode 101 of the Radio Stuff Podcast. “I was also burnt out. In all fairness to Cumulus, I did sit down with them a year before and them pretty much gave me the hint that this run was coming to an end.”
For now Wachs is podcasting, redefining his style, honing his craft, and building his storytelling muscles, because he wants back on radio.
“Oh yeah, absolutely. I love it. It’s the best medium. It is so warm and intimate. And when done right it is extremely powerful.”
Great talent is out there just waiting for radio to give them another shot. We’d be shooting ourselves in the foot not to give it to them.
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Derek Jeter’s final days as a Yankee boosted Sports Talk Ratings in New York. There’s not conclusive evidence in the article linked that it was entirely a Jeter phenomenon, but media aren’t allowed to post daily ratings and I suspect you can track the listening patterns directly to his farewell tour. Sure, no doubt NFL is helping these stations too.
But, taking the idea that Jeter’s final days drove ratings increases at face value; what are the lessons for radio here? That was the first question issued in Tuesday night’s sports radio twitter chat (#srchat). Refreshingly, there are many.
Play the hits. That was my first reaction along with @TimFisherOnAir. But there’s more to this than that.
— Tim Fisher (@TimFisherOnAir) October 29, 2014
Connecting with your community is paramount to success. Radio hosts must capture the passion, imagination, and conversation of the listeners and reflect it back to them. The “hit” is knowing WHAT to talk about, knowing HOW to talk about — the context — is what makes it resonate and stick with your listeners.
A1: Most will say it means "play the hits." That's not the lesson here. People like compelling stories. EVERYONE has a Jeter story. #srchat
— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 29, 2014
I agree with @bksportstalk that stories are powerful tools to drive listening especially when a community has a common or shared experience. Few hosts are telling great, compelling stories instead they just skip from fact to fact to fact leaving out the emotion, the details, and the arc of the story which are the most compelling parts.
A1: Personalities drive ratings… Jeter, ARod, Kobe, Tiger, Favre. Fans respond to conversation about people, not just teams #srchat
— Chadd Scott (@ChaddScott) October 29, 2014
@ChaddScott makes a great point here. Personalities drive ratings. Find the WHO in your stories and start from there. I used to work with a host who insisted all stories be pitched to him with this opening line, “There is this guy/gal who…” Stories about people are more engaging than stories about things. Stories about famous people provide a quick hook.
I’ll also add that the Derek Jeter story is one of legacy, celebration and at the very core; heroes and villains. Everybody enjoys a story about a hero or a villain. And Jeter filled both roles for New York baseball fans.
The Weekly Radio Stuff “Radio News Quiz” debuts on Thursday in the podcast. It’s 10 Questions about this week in radio news. In the podcast, we discuss the stories and use lots of great audio. Here we post the question and offer links to the answers. If you get all 10 correct you win the respect and admiration of your peers.
1. What RADIO event kicked off this week with a live, rocked-out version of the national anthem?
2. At the Talkers 2014 session, Radio insider Jerry Del Colliano said music radio has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. This week, he made headlines for predicting the demise of another genre. What was it?
3. A Yankees reporter learned a valuable lesson this week about recording press conferences on an iPhone app. What was it?
4. Why did the Morning Zone at 91.3 Modern Rock in Victoria, Canada dial-up its sister-station 95.3 The Peak in Calgary?
5. Which popular radio host just launched a clothing line at Macy’s?
6. What did Mike Tyson do on Canadian TV that all radio interviewers can learn from?
7. Why did the San Francisco 49ers suspend play-by-play announcer Ted Robinson?
8. What inappropriate or insensitive song was used to launch a format change in Rochester from Oldies to Country on 9/11?
9. Which talented podcaster was the host of the Fox Sports Radio 2001 Year in Review which paid tribute to 9/11 from a sports perspective?
10. What RADIO STATION did Joan Rivers debut on as a talk show host?
Everyone from the President on down has an opinion on Ray Rice, the NFL, his wife, the Ravens, domestic violence, anger management of pro athletes and on and on and on.
It’s an important topic.
It’s a tragic, compelling, hard-to-look-away story.
And it’s not nearly over.
Don’t say you’re sick of talking about it.
Don’t listen to listeners who call in and beg you to move on.
Don’t say you’ve already talked about it.
Don’t claim it doesn’t fit your format.
Find your way into this story.
Dive deeper. Make a difference. Share your emotions.
This is your chance to have a meaningful conversation about an uncomfortable real-life story and possibly make a difference in someone’s life.
Be responsible. Be brave.
Keep talking about Ray Rice.
Here it is. The Top 5 Larry Gifford Media blog posts of 2013. No surprise that new and social media resonated with readers. Readers were riveted by the poor judgment of colleagues in Atlanta and a little scared and confused by the ratings hit Talk Radio formats took in 2013. But, nothing captured the hearts and minds of radio folk more than the sudden death of radio’s Kidd Kraddick.
5. Five Apps All Radio People Should UseI realized the other day how much time, energy and money I’ve saved thanks to online, iPad and phone apps. I have more apps than I need, but some seem especially useful for radio work. So, from one radio guy to you — here are five apps that you may never have heard of that just may change your life or at least make you more productive and effective.
4. How Radio Can Better Embrace Social Media A post from 2011 that still resonates today. “Don’t try to do everything all at once. Pick one thing that you’re going to do 110% and get really good at. If it’s a Facebook page invest your time and energy in building a community around that Facebook page and engaging in that community. I think it’s a perfect complement to radio, because radio is traditionally a push medium; we listen to radio.” – Nate Riggs
3. A Journey Into “Instant Unemployment” and How to Avoid It Three Atlanta talk hosts are fired following a poorly planned and executed “comedy” bit. The reality of the situation is, regardless of ratings or talent, most radio hosts walk up to and around the “line” everyday. They are the stunt actors of radio willing to dive off the top of a building, walk through fire, or wreck a motorcycle to get a laugh, to get some ink, and to increase ratings. And we love them for it. From time to time, they’re going to cross the line. It’s going to happen. PDs need to be there more of than time than not. Truth is some will lose their job (See: Dan Sileo) and some won’t (See: Rush Limbaugh).
Talk stations are tumbling in the ratings and no one knows why, though there are many theories.
It’s political fatigue. It’s too repetitive. It’s too depressing. It’s too angry. It’s too boring. It’s humorless. It’s predictable. It’s not entertaining. It’s all commercials.
Former radio star, now internet radio sensation Tom Leykis chimes in, “Talk radio went from Rush Limbaugh’s bells, whistles, jingles and parody songs and everything to a line up of people reading bill numbers.” He went on, “It’s devoid of humor, entertainment value or mirth. These are not radio personalities.”
He wonders aloud if anyone in the radio business getting the message?
There’s really no way Kidd could have understood the impact he’s had on so many people and the radio industry in general. He even made an impact to radio friends around the world. The reaction on Twitter, Facebook, and coverage in news has been overwhelming. One listener credits Kidd for “restoring his faith and belief in FM radio.”
And I too have found myself caught up in it. I didn’t know Kidd, but I’ve respected him from afar and have never heard anyone say a bad thing about him. No one. Which, in this ego-fueled industry, isn’t just rare – it’s an anomaly. It’s the exception to the rule.
To honor Kidd’s legacy, I have extracted some of the rules of life and radio he’s left behind. These rules come directly from words and phrases used by his family of colleagues and listeners.
Thanks for making 2013 so great. I raise my glass to you and wish you a bright, ratings-filled, drama-free 2014!
Here’s a link to the Radio Stuff Podcast New Year’s Special which counts down the most listened to episodes of the year.
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