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.

Tease? Please.

DaveI heard this tease today on the radio on one of the most successful radio stations in America…

“Coming up next? Dave!”

Dave?

Who is Dave?

There are few people that are worthy of teasing their appearance on your radio show with one name and among them are Cher, Shakira, Madonna, A-Rod, Elvis, Sting, Bono, Adele and Charro. There are others, but none are named Dave.

Teases are meant to keep me from punching to another station or getting out of my car. “Coming up next? Dave!” doesn’t provide any incentive to the listener. There’s no hook and really no bait.

I have been known to tell talent focus less on WHO and more on the WHAT and WHY. WHAT’s next and WHY should I care? The WHO is a means to accessing the relevent content and not the reason to stay tuned.

If Dave was an oncologist with new details of a skin cancer treatment, WHO he is remains less important than WHY he is talking.

If Dave is a gunman who fled the scene of a foiled bank heist and called the station to tell his side of the story, WHO he is remains less important than WHAT he is.

It doesn’t mean we never identify who we are talking to. I believe it is less impactful – as a tease – to sell a name of a guest instead of selling the sizzle of why what’s next on your show is worth waiting for.

For the record, Dave was the first name of the sports anchor. Who knew?

 

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.

Oscars Provide a Radio Lesson

Every day in radio we have a choice to make.

What is our show or station going to be about today?

What do you want to be “famous” for today? What do you want people talking about, reacting to, or sharing? What makes you different on this day from everyone else?

Depending on your format it could be something about Donald Trump or Lady Gaga. It could be the Oscars, Kobe’s farewell tour or a new release from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

Consciously or not, decisions on what our show or station is or is not are made every day.

Chris-Rock-PromoAt the Oscars they had a choice to make – are we going to be about “celebrating cinema” or “racist Hollywood?” Host Chris Rock and presumably all involved in creating the awards show actually chose the latter.

I applaud them for tackling the elephant in the room head on from the start of the show. Rock’s 10-minute monologue/sermon/stand-up didn’t let up for an instant. It went on and on and on. And everything in the show seemed tied to that core concept.

Great. They chose to be about something big, bold, and important. But…

But…

But, it’s not what the attendees or the TV audience signed up for. So millions fled.

What happened? Chris Rock was in a no-win situation. If you don’t address it you get criticized. If your skirt over it with a few jokes you get criticized. If you go full throttle you get criticized. And even now, everyone is talking about Rock’s words while skimming over the awards – many of which were upsets.

That doesn’t mean you stop taking chances.

I encourage all hosts and stations to take risks, be bold, try things and always be about something. But there is a trick to doing it effectively. The more that the “something” you are about on any given day matches the expectations of the fans, the better chance you have to keep them tuned in. It is less about being predictable and more about living up to your brand promise. It has to feel right and authentic in the moment for the audience. A rock station breaking down a GOP primary or a news station playing deep cuts off a Zeppelin album violate brand promises. Oscar watchers just wanted an awards show.

Man Meets Morning Host

Man Meets a Radio Morning Host
True story. Names changed.

Man: Aren’t you Jim in the Morning?

Jim: That’s me!

Man: I listened to you once. You’re funny.

Jim: (confused) Once?

Man: Yeah, maybe twice.

Jim: (curious) If you listened and I was funny why don’t you listen more often?

Al Mac's Diner-Restaurant Fall River MA 2012

Al Mac’s Diner-Restaurant, 135 President Avenue, Fall River, MA. Al Mac’s closed for business on July 23, 2012. On the National Register of Historic Places.

Man: Oh, Bill & Jill down the dial do the news quiz every morning at 7:40a. And I listen to that. If I get to the Main Street Bridge before they start the quiz I know I have time to stop at the diner and grab a cup of coffee before work. If it starts before I reach the bridge I know I need to go straight to the office.

Jim: Well, that makes sense.

It sure does. Benchmark segments are brand extensions of your show. They help listeners navigate their day as much as it provides predictable, dependable anchors for your show.

For the Love of Radio

i_love_radio_heart_custom_personalized_classic_white_coffee_mug-r48e96857f513422a96f6bd1523d826a1_x7jgr_8byvr_512The other day my six-year-old son and I were in the home studio. I was cleaning up some stuff from past video sessions and he made a bee-line for the mixing board. He grabbed the headphones, dramatically adjusted the faders, grabbed the mic and yelled into the microphone so loud it made engineers up and down the California coast cry, “IN THE NEWS… IT”S RAINING. NO RACE GAME TODAY! GOODBYE.” He giggled at hearing his own voice filling the space between his ears.

Then it hit me.

Radio and audio is still magic to him.

He’s not been jaded by anyone telling that radio is dying or cliché or uncool. He just knows we listen to radio and podcasts a lot and Mommy and Daddy seem to like them, so he’s curious, engaged and wants to know how it works.

d136622e0238b99f8123565d9cfaf96eThat’s how I found radio too. My Dad was an avid radio listener. I believe one year we counted 20 radios in our home and some had nick-names because they were for special uses. For example, his radio for listening to Red’s baseball was the Big Red Machine. The near non-stop chatter of ballgames and the local full service radio station combined with my desire to speak into every microphone I came across was a potent combination to fall in love with radio.

It hit me.

Radio and audio was magic to me.

And it still is.

For Valentine’s Day let’s remember how we fell in love with this medium and why we still love it. A renewing of the vows for our commitment to radio.

I take you, radio, to be my inspiration.

To care for and create,

In sickness (buy your own mic sock) and in health,

For richer or poorer, (usually poorer)

Until video / CDs / MP3s / Apple Music / Podcasts/ apathy kills you off.

Forevermore.

Add your radio love story in the comments!

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

2015 Top 5 Posts

You made 2015 the biggest year yet for this little blog. Thank you. The Top 5 posts of the year are listed below.

#5. “The Controversy of Making Radio Sausage.”  My take on a country radio consultant who cautioned programmers against playing too many female country artists. It got ugly.

#4. “Eight ingredients of Remarkable Radio Shows.” Bean from KROQ’s Kevin & Bean, BJ Shea from Seattle’s KISW and Tom Leykis are among the talent offering insights in this post.

#3. “Seven Ingredients of Great Radio Talent.” The recipe for being a great talent on radio is really a witch’s brew; a pinch of this and a touch of that. Everyone I talk to seems to have a bit of the trade secret to share, but tragically there is no mysterious vault where the “great talent formula” is locked-up. From my experience at least some of it is gut instinct, DNA-related, or luck.

But, we do have the start of a recipe thanks to some heavy-hitters in the radio world who’ve been gracious to give time and insight to the Radio Stuff Podcast. So, here is the start of a winning blueprint for being a great talent.

#2. “Logo Confusion.” This was inspired by a trip to Vancouver in August and a night watching Canadian football.

Patrick v Cowherd 3The #1 post this year was “The Real Difference Between Colin Cowherd and Dan Patrick.” I wrote it back in February when a feud between the two hosts was heating up. It quickly became the most popular post ever on LarryGifford.com

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I Want to Tell You…

I want to tell you about five little words, that when used genuinely, can be a dynamite weapon on radio. The five words are:

“I want to tell you…”

It’s a phrase that signals to the listener that you are thinking about them. It adds intimacy and instantly connects you, one-on-one, to each listener

The listener perceives you personally offering them something of value. It makes you a social influencer. A sharer.

“I want to tell you…” is as powerful of an introduction to a story as “Once upon a time…” It alerts them that what you have to say is worth leaning in for or turning up the radio. It focuses their attention on what comes next.

Each time you chose to use “I want to tell you…” and you pay it off, you build trust with the listener.

Don’t overuse it or abuse it. Always make it special.

Consider it another tool in your radio tool box.

 

 

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