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Ideas Are Overrated

“We’ve all got great ideas. Everybody on the street has an idea.”

– ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd

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What’s the difference between a good show and great show? Topic development. At least that’s the case if you ask ESPN Radio Network host Colin Cowherd who discussed it at length in an interview with the Radio Stuff podcast.

“The one thing I’m really proud of is topic development. We love Wednesdays. Monday and Friday we’re trapped talking about football, but we love Wednesday shows. You come in and find a little blip on a transaction wire and we’re like, ‘that’s funny!’ and ‘that makes me think…’”   

4 KEYS TO TOPIC DEVELOPMENT ACCORDING TO COLIN COWHERD

Don’t worry about being right, be interesting.

“I take stuff from my kids, I take stuff from sit-coms, books, ideas. I always think – just try to be interesting. It’s not about being right. Guys tend to want to be right, instead of get it right. Just be interesting. Try to find compelling topics that everybody can play along.”

Personalize the story

“I think how would I react? I think about that with athletes; Would I retire now? Would I take less money to be surrounded by better teammates like Kobe Bryant now? Because, we’re all human no matter if you’re rich or a school teacher or a basketball player or you’re a local dentist or a baker. We’re all human beings. Men have the same basic needs and wants and ego. Women have the same needs and wants. We’re all the same. It’s just some people have different economic stratus and different interests.” 

Put in the hours

“I think about my radio show a lot. Radio never leaves you. It’s not like being a garbage man where your run is done for the day and you’ve done it — or a mailman and then you go home and you don’t have to worry about it until the next day. Radio is with you almost like being a doctor. You’ve got clients, you’ve got things that are constantly swirling in your head and I write down notes several times a week.”

Get a producer who wants to produce

“A really good radio producer, to me, doesn’t want to be an on-air person. They want to be a producer. And they get really good at it. And they try to elevate the on-air person with good guests, playing to his strengths, playing to her strengths, staying away from weaknesses.”

LISTEN to Colin Cowherd on The Radio Stuff Podcast

You Are A Brand

Cowherd GraphicIn 2013, it is no longer good enough for talk hosts to be a faceless voice in a dark room talking into a microphone.

“I’ve got a book now, I’ve got a twitter account. I’ve got a radio show. I’ve got podcasts. I do a TV show on Sunday.”

Colin Cowherd, ESPN Radio Network host talked about the importance of developing your brand during an interview with the Radio Stuff podcast.

“I realize at this point and time in 2013 I’m not going to be your only source of information, I just want to be one of them. And so I’ve got to give you as many opportunities to find me as I can. We live in a multi-layered world of media. So, I’ve got to be on Facebook and twitter and radio and podcasts and TV and at different times of the day; morning-drive and afternoon. People are busy. My job is to find other avenues to connect with the public. And that’s what the book is and that’s what my Sunday morning show is.”

Colin’s book is “You Herd Me! I’ll Say It If Nobody Else Will.” He tells Radio Stuff it’s an important brand extension.

“I think, more than ever, now it is important — even Rush Limbaugh just came out with one (a book.) I mean Rush is making so much money it doesn’t matter, but he has the tea brand and the book. I look at twitter and I post a couple times a day. If I can get you to think about me once-a-day, when I’m off the air, that’s not a bad thing. I’ve got a book now, you’ll think about me during the holidays.”

So how does a guy like Colin have time to do it all?

“It seems like I put in these infinite, bizarre hours, but no more than an attorney, a doctor, or an executive. I’m very time efficient with things I do. I come in and grind my radio show and then I have time for a good 90 minutes a day to talk to radio stations and talk to advertisers. I think we all have time in our day; you just have to be more efficient.”

Creating a “WOW! Factor” with Your Next Radio Event

Radio can be cool, fun, exciting, breath-taking, and memorable. Over the weekend BBC Radio 1 showed me something that blew me away, “Radio 1’s BIG WEEKEND!” Watch this and remember this is radio.

I wish it wasn’t a surprise that radio can pull off an event like this. KROQ does it  , WIP does it , others do it to, but it’s far more the exception than the rule.

Catherine & Jason Marriage Madness

Mike & Mike’s Marriage Madness winners Jason & Catherine. Photo by John Atashian.

As a radio manager, I’ve had a mix of hit and misses when it comes to events. I’m probably most remembered for Mike & Mike’s Marriage Madness at ESPN Radio. It was the NCAA Tournament meets “The Today Show Throws a Wedding.” It culminated in the ultimate sports fan’s wedding on the campus of ESPN, broadcast live on radio and TV during Mike & Mike in the Morning. It was big in 2006. Since then most of the internet has forgotten, except for some snarky barbs from the folks at Deadspin.  I’ve done others since like this and this.

Today, Inside Radio featured several big time summer radio events, festivals, and concerts.

When done properly, a radio station event is a bunch of hard work and logistics that brings together the radio station, the listeners, partners, and advertisers to help create a buzz around the station (internally and externally), reinforce the brand, build fan loyalty, raise incremental sponsorship dollars, and gives your radio station a story to tell.

Here are five steps you can take to create a radio event with a “WOW! Factor”…

1. Have a vision, a goal, a budget, and define success up front. Start with the biggest, best idea you have and revise the idea over and over again. Be realistic about costs and expectations. Keep the concept simple, but make the event memorable and remarkable. Remember to make it about the listener, not the radio station. Why are people going to show up, what’s the draw? And expect greatness. We can’t be great if we only expect to be good enough.

2. Create a pitch and sell it to everybody in the radio station. You, or someone on the staff who is passionate about the event, needs to OWN the event, but everyone needs to pitch in. You can’t do this alone. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

3. Details make all the difference. If you’re aren’t a detail person, get someone who is. The color of napkins, or the shape of a gobo, or the size of the ticket matters.

4. Be inspired. Don’t just copy another radio station’s event, however take notes, evolve a concept, personalize and customize what you see to make it reflect your radio station. Own the event, don’t lease it from another radio station in a neighboring town.

5. Make sure it tells a story to the listeners. What are you going to tell your listeners and what are they going to tell their friends? Tell them what you are going to do for them, tell them what you are doing for them, and then tell them what you did for them.

Sports Radio Chatter

Twitter - Good and EvilLast night, I curled up in my leather chair with my iPad and an icy, cold beverage and participated in my first ever twitter chat.

And I liked it.

Every Wednesday night (10p ET/7p PT), sports radio hosts, producers, board ops, reporters, programmers and fans across the country are turning to twitter to chat about industry trends, new media, good guests, and share good practices, observations and tips.

Hmmm. Let’s sit with that for a second.

There’s a thought: use the power of twitter for good, not evil.

I think it is awesome that there is a weekly gathering of sports radio pros who help build each other up instead of tear each other down. And that is Chadd Scott’s intention behind the sports radio chats (#srchat), which started on May 8 with over 50 people participating.20130515104946_Chadd_for_web_ba

“I didn’t want it to be a bitch-fest. I didn’t want it be, ‘I wish I had more air time,’ or, ‘this show sucks,’ or, ‘this show should be national’, or ‘this guy doesn’t deserve a show.’ I wanted it to be positive, productive and respectful.” And it has been.

Scott, Assistant Program Director of 1010 XL in Jacksonville and former producer of The Herd with Colin Cowherd at ESPN Radio, told me on the Radio Stuff podcast, “I hope this connects sports radio professionals, brings them together, and serves as almost a fraternal organization or somewhere we can all go to meet each other and exchange ideas.”

owen-murphyScott hosts and moderates the weekly chats with KIRO Radio producer and “Steal This Idea” blogger Owen Murphy, who lives across the country in Seattle. They use the hash tag #SRCHAT, which you can access for past chats. One of the guys will throw out a question which is labeled “Q1” and anybody can chime in with a response by beginning “A1.”

It’s easy. Here’s a snippet of what went down last night.

Chadd Scott‏@ChaddScott15h Q1: How important is FM distribution to ratings success in sports radio? #srchat

Owen Murphy‏@TalkRadioOwen15h A1: FM distribution is huge, but AM shd not be dismissed. FM has much larger potential audience, but AM can win when combined w pxp #srchat  

Amanda Gifford‏@AmandaLGifford15h A1. Certainly doesnt hurt, but people find good content no matter where it is. Ask Rush Limbaugh. #srchat

Chadd Scott‏@ChaddScott15h A1: FM distribution is CRITICAL to ratings success in sports radio, especially for new stations, especially w/ younger demos #srchat  

Ingram Smith‏@IngramSmith15h @ChaddScott A1: content will always win – but the strength of FM signal, in particular when the sun goes down can not be understated #srchat

Owen Murphy‏@TalkRadioOwen15h A1: There are some markets where nearl 80% of the audience ignores AM. This makes MLB pxp a game-changer if you have AM stick. #srchat

The Gentleman Masher‏@GentlemanMashr15h @ChaddScott depends on the market. Good content will trump & streaming will eventually make it irrelevant. #srchat

Owen Murphy‏@TalkRadioOwen15h Hey @AmandaLGifford A1: A station needs marketing budget and q-rated hosts to win quickly on AM, as many listeners never visit #srchat  

Heath Cline‏@heathradio15h @ChaddScott FM’s huge. Competitor loves to tout their AM signal’s strength. Only people hearing it are 50 – we crush them on 40k FM. #srchat

Larry Gifford‏@Giffordtweet15h #srchat a1 fm distribution is where 80%+ of the audience is but AM listeners listen 4ever. WFAN will feel pinch when CBS takes AM 660

Sports MBA‏@SportsMBA15h As a consumer, Im one of those. RT @TalkRadioOwen: A1:markets where nearl 80% of the audience ignores AM. #srchat

Larry Gifford‏@Giffordtweet15h #srchat a1 content is king, but when majority of audience doesn’t visit AM you’re only the tallest dwarf.  

Owen Murphy‏@TalkRadioOwen15h A1: As w anything, it’s all about execution, budget and having great pxp partnerships, while poorly planned FM can stagnate. #srchat

Colleen Wall‏@ColleenWall14h A1: Since quality can be better on FM, that’s attractive to listeners. I tune to ESPN NY more often now that its switched to FM #srchat

Wells Guthrie‏@WellsESPN105114h A1: In small-mid size markets FM signal is vital. In large markets AM signals are more than enough. #srchat

You can read the entire #srchat transcript here. It’s exciting to me that smart people in radio are joining forces for the power of lifting the industry instead of tearing each other apart. It’s a trend I’m seeing more and more of and liking (see: Hivio. ) And the great thing is that anybody can set up a hashtag and a chat whenever you want. Do it. Invite your peers. Share ideas. Learn from each other. Lift each other up.

A Picture For The Voice

For the better part of 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with big voice guy Jim Cutler (ESPN Radio Network, E!, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The CW, and gobs of radio and TV stations across the country including 97.3 KIRO FM and 710 ESPN Seattle). Jim and his awesome wife Dawn are on vacation and stopped by the Bonneville Seattle studios yesterday. If Jim wasn’t blessed with a big voice and the talent to use it, he’d likely be a professional photographer. He takes his Nikon everywhere he goes. Last night he brought it to the Mariners v. A’s game and has posted photos on his blog

Here he is taking some of the pictures…

In a previous blog I interviewed Jim about how what he has learned from photography relates to radio. It’s worth a read if you missed it before…

The other thing that struck me after meeting with Jim and Dawn yesterday is a great reminder that the more often you can work with and talk with people in this industry whose opinions and talents you trust, respect and challenge your own complacency – do it.

“Payoffs” – Defining Moments of Your Show

“Payoff” is quickly usurping “Play the Hits” as king of buzz words among news-talk and sports programmers and consultants. Both are important concepts for driving ratings, but the terms are used so frequently the meaning is becoming muddled.

I asked a handful of people — programmers, producers, and consultants — to help me define “payoff.”

Don Martin at Fox Sports Radio was quick to point out the first bit of confusion with the term.

“First blush when I hear the term ‘payoff’ in the radio vernacular, two definitions jump to the forefront and one is an FCC infraction.”

So let’s be clear. We are not talking payola. No money exchanges hands in the type of payoff we are talking about unless a listener wins a contest or your payoffs are so good your ratings go up and revenue flies through the door.

Martin continues,“My definition of a payoff from a programming stand point, is the call to action tease that your talent uses to keep your audience through commercial breaks.”

When I coach talent about payoffs, I describe it as something that prompts a response from a listener.  The goal is to take the listener somewhere they’ve never been so when they get to the destination they react unconsciously — audibly or internally. That very well could be the lack of action too or not changing the radio station for a commercial break, because you want to hear the story that was just teased. That’s the infamous “driveway moment.”

Pete Gianesini, a programmer at the ESPN Radio Network, defines payoff this way.

“A strong, genuine reaction from the listener… could be a belly laugh, could be anger, could be bewilderment, could be a piece of information that I now can’t wait to share with someone else (a real-life re-tweet).”

I love the idea of a real-life re-tweet. I also call it social currency. It’s what the listener earns in return for investing time into your show or station.

Rick Scott at Rick Scott & Associates adds, “A payoff is simply content that has value for the listener. It can be entertaining, informative, or insightful.”

The trick to this is that the value Rick talks about is perceived by the listener not the host or station. So it’s important to reinforce the value of your content to your listener through branding and positioning. Don’t be afraid to tell listeners that what they are hearing is special.

At 104.3FM The Fan in Denver, Programmer Nate Lundy adds another layer.

“Payoffs happen when the team has managed to achieve one of two goals.  Either building up the image and the brand of the station, or bringing a positive effect on the ratings.  The biggest and best payoffs accomplish both, but you don’t need to have both for it to be considered a success.”

Nate is right. The goal of payoffs is to increase listening to the station. Listening increases when people feel there is a value to spending more time with the station. So, as ratings increase it’s fair to assume revenue will increase and the brand of the station grows accordingly.

At 710 ESPN in Seattle, Brian Long expands the payoff to beyond the scope of the host.

“I would define a payoff when a promotion, tease, or on-air bit has the right amount of build-up creating interest and then is effectively paid off.”

This is an important point. Listeners don’t always discern the difference between payoffs. They don’t even know they are waiting for a payoff. We use that word; they don’t. So, a promotion can definitely provide a payoff. A station event or remote can also provide a payoff, as well as traffic reports, weather reports, and news or sports updates, but again only if the listener perceives it as a value.

So put all of that into a blender and here is the definition of a payoff as it relates to radio. 

One example of a payoff that stands out to Gianesini is how Colin Cowherd handled Aaron Rodgers following the Super Bowl.

“After not buying into Aaron Rodgers as an NFL superstar, Colin had him on the day after he won the Super Bowl. Aaron was very much aware of Colin’s position and put Colin on the spot during their piece. It was just the right mix of lighthearted, yet uncomfortable, to be very compelling. And completely unscripted. That’s the hard part. While I believe you have to plan your show and promote specific elements more than ever and further in advance than ever, you can’t be SO committed to the minute-by-minute that you don’t let spontaneity happen. That’s where the magic is.”

Tiger Talks – But Did He Say Anything?

Mike & Mike interviewed Tiger Woods for 16:51 seconds over the course of two on-air segments this morning. They asked 28 questions, 6 of them were closed (yes/no) questions. Was it ground breaking? No. Was I expecting it to be? No. When I heard Mike & Mike were going to interview Tiger Woods – I was expecting more Larry King than 60 Minutes. It was good to hear Tiger take ownership of his past behavior, talk about how he’s a better person and is able to gain balance and focus in his life.  

I give Mike & Mike credit, because this is not an easy interview, however I believe they tried to cover too much ground, were over-coached and never followed up on some of the meatier issues that Tiger brought up. Tiger mentioned being “balanced” now vs. “unbalanced” before, but they never asked him what it means to Tiger to be balanced and what he’s doing to achieve balance. Tiger mentioned several times that through introspection he’s discovered who he is and where he is going. They never followed up and asked “who are you now?” or “where are you going?” I would have also liked to have heard Tiger talk about what lead to his slow, gradual loss of control in his life. What are the warning signs for others?

Is what Mike & Mike did this morning great radio? Yes. It’s the most recognizable athlete in the World answering questions many want to hear asked. It’s also an event. I’m certain more people came to ESPN Radio, ESPNRadio.com, and ESPN2, because of this interview today. I know it also caused a mess of tweets on twitter. As programmers, you must leverage these event moments in radio to build occasions and grow ratings. Trust me, when an interview any show on your station conducts blows up twitter and brings a bunch of P2s and P3s to your station, it’s a good day.