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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

Radio is Overloaded

Radio Spots as TissuesThe other day I was flipping through the dial and every one of the ten stations I flipped to was in commercial at the same time. Yesterday, I was air-checking a new morning show and between the commercials, traffic, weather, and canned commentaries I listened for 30 minutes without so much as a “good morning” from the new personality.

Tragic. Opportunity missed. Quarter-hours lost. Radio listener’s discouraged.

I listen to quite a bit of radio. I love radio. I should say I WANT to love radio, but I am increasingly dissatisfied with the return on my investment of time.  Gang, we got a spot problem. There’s way too much clutter. We’re strangling content to squeeze blood from a turnip. Enough already.

I know I’m not the first to bring it up. I just watched a talk Jerry Del Colliano gave at Talkers 2014 and he brought it up too.

It was also a discussion in the #SRCHAT (Sports Radio Chat) on Twitter last night too.

That last one caught the attention of many on the chat. We are willingly sacrificing what’s best for the listening experience to accommodate a revenue model that was introduced in 1921.

1921.

Let that sink in.

The same year radio began to sell spots; World War I ended, Warren G. Harding was inaugurated as President, and KDKA created the first radio news room and broadcast the first ever baseball game on the radio.

Radio commericals have had a good run. But, the time has come to rethink the way we monetize our content. We don’t need to eliminate them altogether, but we need to value our platforms at a much higher rate, creatively collaborate on projects with advertisers and be willing to say “no” a whole lot more often to spots that don’t match our brand or meet our production quality standards.

(Insert a spit take from GMs and GSMs across the country)

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The more we load up our hours with limitless units of :05s, :10s, :15s, :30s and still even :60s, the faster we’re pushing the next generation of radio listeners to competing audio content providers.

Think about this. The #1 thing in every research project radio has EVER conducted (hyperbole intended), commercials are what listeners react the most negatively too. And you know what we say? “Oh, they always say that. Just ignore it.”

I’m afraid we can’t ignore it anymore.

It’s going to take creativity, guts, leadership, ideation and innovation. Raise your hand if you have an idea. The solution isn’t going to likely arrive from the corner office. I’m looking at the board ops, producers, talent, reporters, street-teamers, and sales assistants. We need to start asking different people how we can solve this problem. So, I’m asking. Do YOU have any ideas?

IDEA STARTERS

  • Co-branding opportunities / strategic partnerships (studio, phone lines, text, street team, events, etc.) I know this is happening in some stations already but usually it’s undervalued and tragically it’s often flighted-in instead of signing an annual.
  • Multiplatform solutions or coordinated Brand Takeovers (audio, video, text, web, stream, podcast, app)
  • XAPP Media – interactive online/mobile spots
  • Creating exclusive online stations for partners co-branded with radio station featuring exclusive promotions/access/messaging for partners. (Listen to the Jones Honda Hits Music Channel on thisradiostation.com for your chance to win a trip to the Honda 500)
  • Invest in great copy writers.

Add your ideas in the comments below or email me at larrygifford1@gmail.com

Getting Schooled in Radio

MTV has unveiled the Top 10 College Radio Stations of 2013 as part of it’s 2014 Woodie Awards. On March 16, one of these lucky stations will be named college radio station of the year.

RS Cover 41As part of this week’s Radio Stuff podcast we listened to a bit of each station. We heard rambling student hosts making pleas to “mom” for money to buy concert tickets, songs stopped cold that were meant to fade, tongues were twisted, words were mangled, points were missed. But… there was also laughter, joy, excitement, nervousness, and a lot of creativity.

There were good reminders for us all.

Be authentic. It was very easy to hear the difference between the DJs TRYING to be DJs and students who were being themselves. The latter was refreshing.

Play to your audience. I heard a lot of entertainment based stories, in-house spots aimed at student renters, and references to needing to take a test the next day. These students know their audience because they live the life of their audience. Do you?

Enunciate. One poor fellow needed to be a little more clear when discussing the Indiana Hoosiers’ women’s basketball tournament. He meant to say “Big Ten” and likely did, but it sounded like, “Big tit.” Which is a whole different kind of tournament.

Tell Stories. Most of the DJs we heard were front selling and back selling, but one host took the time to research the song and tell us where it was written, why it was written and how the artist feels about it. It was one of those moments where you think to yourself, “huh, I never knew that. Good to know.”

Believe what you say. A lot of the students would write copy and read it. Which I’m not opposed to. Just make sure you read it with conviction. The words are far less important than the message you’re delivering.

Have fun. Laughter was prevalent, though often times it was nerves. Regardless, we need to laugh more, have fun and enjoy what we’re doing.

Six Pointers for Writing Radio Promos and Imaging

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Sometimes, I sit in my chair with a full cup of coffee, a cleared desk and a blank Word .doc page staring back at me waiting for station imaging to flow out of me like dirty water from a fire hose.

I sit.

I stare.

I check email.

I refresh Twitter. Just in case.

I end up writing something predictable, pedestrian, and yet somehow entirely acceptable and often times complimented by the radio station. We’ve all done this no?

Writing great production and imaging is hard. First off, “great” is debatable. Does great mean reflective of the brand promise? Does great mean encouraging listeners to take action? Does great mean you were able to fit 43 seconds of sales copy into a 30 second promo? Great is debatable.

Aside from that, it’s also hard because radio folk have come to expect a certain sound and style and anything too far off the ranch is quickly stamped out. (Raise your hand if you or your station is still using Star Wars laser sound effects.)

And it’s hard to capture a moment, an emotion, tell a story that resonates with the listener while selling them something (music, a benchmark, a contest, the news) that they didn’t know they wanted. Over the years my style has changed and evolved, as I assume yours has. Here are six of the most recent pointers I’ve picked up from various sources. Please share yours too..

SIX POINTERS FOR WRITING PROMOS and IMAGING

TIMING:  :60s are dead. :30s are tired. :05s to :20s are where it’s at. The caveat! If you’re doing a :30 or :60 chunk it up in sections so you’re delivering one message or thought every :10 or :15 seconds. So, instead of one :60, think of it as four :15s.

TELL A STORY: People won’t buy what you’re selling until they can see themselves benefiting from it. Create a world for them to imagine.

NEVER SAY “IMAGINE THIS”: While creating that world leave our phrases like “imagine this” and “picture yourself.” Just take them there. Create the world you want them to play in.

Golden CirclePEOPLE DON’T BUY WHAT YOU DO, THEY BUY WHY YOU DO IT: This is from a popular Ted Talk from Simon Sinek. The idea here is don’t sell me 10 songs in a row, sell me the experience of zoning out to some killer tunes for the next half hour while the guy in the cubicle next to me refreshes his email every 30 seconds. I don’t care how many songs in a row you play, I want an uninterupted listening experience to bliss out to because it relaxes me, makes more productive, and makes me happy.

SWEET NOTHING: Being an audio medium, sometimes the most powerful thing you can do in production is nothing. Include silence in your promo. Stop everything for one beat longer than is comfortable.

TREAT WORDS LIKE WEEDS – CUT ‘EM DOWN: I like to write my script out completely and then chop it in half. And then chop it in half again. I look for extraneous words and phrases. Every word counts. Every word reflects the brand. It’s the difference between a “chauffeured limousine” or “a limo to haul you around” or “transportation included” or *delete* you can read about that part on the website.

Stop Questioning, Start Creating

I use Grammarly’s plagiarism detector because I sometimes forget the difference between what I said and what I read. 

keep_calm_and_stop_asking_so_many_questions_by_justcallmeij-d5quun1

Asking listeners a question to begin a topic is lazy, easy, uninspiring and a talk radio cop-out.

Too many radio hosts and personalities on-air, in blogs, and on social media are asking too many questions. The theory goes, “If I ask a question the listener or reader will be compelled to listen, read or click for the answer.” I disagree. More often than not I find I don’t care about the question to begin with. However, I am exponentially more likely to pay attention if someone offers a well thought-out opinion, personal theory or thought-provoking observation. People, in general, have hard time not confirming or denying strongly worded statements.

  • Americans are egotistical.
  • JFK wasn’t a good president.
  • Steroids made baseball better.

It’s likely as you read those statements an inner dialogue began in your head (ie. Well, maybe Americans are egotistical, we probably are, but is that bad? Should we apologize for being confident and proud? In fact, it’s less ego and more certainty and other countries are jealous. And on and on and on…)

These aren’t necessary my personal believes, but examples to prove a point. If these were topics of discussion on radio or online today the first lines would likely read;

  • Are Americans egotistical?
  • How good of a president was JFK?
  • What is one thing that baseball bans actually makes it better?

(A – No. B – Pretty good. C – Tackling?  I don’t really care.)

Questions only draw you in if you’re already interested in the topic at hand. However, a strongly worded statement or compelling argument will draw you into a topic you didn’t even know you cared about.

THINK LIKE A NOVELIST

Consider the first line you utter much like a writer toiling over the first line of a book. It should stir your curiosity and draw you in.

“Call me Ishmael.” That was Herman Melville’s opening line for Moby Dick.

George Orwell began 1984, “It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

And then there’s Dicken’s A Tale of two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

These are considered by many to be among the best opening book lines ever by some of the most prolific authors in history. Questions hardly make the lines more compelling

“Can you call me Ishmael?”

“Why were the clocks striking thirteen on a bright, cold day in April?”

“Was it the best of times or the worst of times? Could it be both?…”

The authors use declarative statements to draw you into their world. They don’t want to bridge the gap between your life and their reality; they just want to suck you into their reality. They do that by immediately establishing the norms, the rules, the laws and parameters that the story abides by.

YOU CAN DO THE SAME THING

Today the questions being asked on sports talk radio are;

  • Are the Seahawks the greatest defense in history?
  • Was Malcolm Smith really the MVP?
  • Can the Seahawks keep the team together?

Rephrasing the questions above as statements instead of questions makes them more provocative, more engaging, and extremely more interesting.

  • This is not the greatest defense in history.
  • Truth is there were four other guys that probably meant more to the Seahawks win and the team than Malcolm Smith.
  • The Seahawks don’t need to keep the team together to keep winning Super Bowls.

It doesn’t matter if I’m right, because it’s my opinion. I just need to back up my statement with compelling facts, stories, or observations. Colin Cowherd likes to say, “I don’t have to be right, I just have to be entertaining.” And he’s right (except when dealing with facts and not opinion.)

TEASE ME, WITHOUT QUESTION

This applies for advance teasing stories too. Asking a question is too easy and, ultimately, a too ineffective way to tease a topic whether you are a host or a news anchor. Write your teases in advance and make them so compelling I can’t afford not to stick with you.

Instead of asking “What was the question asked to Peyton Manning that nearly set him off? That’s next.” I would tease, “After the game, Peyton Manning bit his lip and parsed his words. He nearly blew his top. And not over the loss. That’s next.”

Do your research, make your observations, connect the dots, advance personal theories and compel people with statements.

Writing News with Vic Ratner

VIC RATNERVic Ratner has the voice for radio and he knows how to use it. For over 50 years he trumpeted through the radio with urgency and authority;  slipping, sliding, dancing through each story. It’s as if he was a jazz musician and the news was his muse. And boy could he jam. Sometimes it was just a word or a pause. An unexpected note. You never knew where Vic was taking you, but you felt safe enough to sit back and let him guide way.

But, to say Vic Ratner is a “voice” is to miss the essence of his success. In his soul he’s a writer; even a poet. His descriptions guide his voice and force listeners to see what he’s saying. He takes you there, wherever he is. How does he do that?

“An early boss told me, “When you go out the front door of your house everyday look around you and describe, as if it were for a radio audience, what you see.” And I think that’s like time spent in a gym building up muscles.

In an interview with the Radio Stuff podcast, he talked about how that piece of advice served him well during his 40 years at ABC Radio.

“When an emergency happens, the lessons you’ve learned over time in describing things for people on the other side of the radio – just kind of kick in.”

VicRatnerNASAFor Ratner, colorfully describing his world has become ingrained in everything he does. He’s written with such clarity for so long that now the words roll off his tongue in regular conversation. For instance, when he shared with us his experiences on the day Challenger exploded.

“You know every reporter has times when you don’t believe what your eyes see. When I woke up that morning, I went out to my rented car. There was ice on the windshield. And I told my producers in New York, “They’re not going to launch today. You don’t launch when it’s this cold.” We had been taught by the engineers that you don’t launch in sub-freezing weather. And we now know that NASA’s – some of NASA’s engineers – pleaded with the space agency the night before, “It’s too cold!” They said, “Don’t launch.” They were overruled by the administration and it’s the tragedy that followed. And when the shuttle system came apart you heard a pause in my voice — you could not believe what was happening in front of your eyes.”

For those hoping to walk in the footsteps of Vic Ratner, he does offer this advice.

“Go for it! Do it! Any place you go, any place you wind up do as many different things in as many different places as you can.”