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Radio Brothers Bond over Sports and Chemo

41pOd+u2ScL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BOOK REVIEW 
The Handoff: A Memoir of Two Guys, Sports and Friendship 
By John “JT the Brick” Tournour and Alan Eisenstock
Available on Amazon.com 
 

I admit I was reluctant to read The Handoff, because I know how the story ends – with the untimely death of sports radio’s bigger-than-life ambassador, mentor, friend and programmer Andrew Ashwood. However, I am better for having pushed through.

This is a book about brotherhood, determination, vulnerability, passion, certainty, self-confidence, self-awareness, and one guy’s successful rise from high-octane, motivated, passionate stock broker to high-octane, motivated, passionate sports radio host.

Through his journey of excesses, friendships, and passions, we accompany JT (currently a host on Fox Sports Radio from 1a-6a ET, 10p-3a PT)  as he comes-of-age over and over again. The reader witnesses his evolution into a man, a husband, a father, a friend and talk show host. We are there as  John transforms into JT and we are cheering with his buddies when he earns the name “Brick.” It’s funny, intense, authentic, emotional and ultimately hopeful.

Click HERE to LISTEN to JT the BrickJT rips his heart open for examination allowing the world to peer into his dreams, doubts, passions, and feelings. From being elected president of his fraternity to moving across country away from his boyhood home and then again when he quits his lucrative stock broker job only to pay his way on the radio – you will be rooting for JT.

Somewhat surprising for a sports host known for his scratchy, bullhorn of a voice and for banging the phones, JT is refreshingly self-deprecating, self-aware, and reflective. Even though I knew how it ended, it was a captivating roller coaster of a  journey. The book gives an honest behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to succeed in life and radio. You’ll be motivated by JT’s hustle and moxy, and feel the urge to reconnect with friends from the past.

One of the lessons Andrew passed along was to “make someone’s day.”

Reading this has made mine. Thanks JT.

International Radio Day

radio heart

“Whew! What a party.” – what nobody said after International Radio Day on August 20th.

Yep, you missed it. No worries, seemingly everyone did.

There was barely a blink of a mention on twitter, except relief from one host who made it through another day without being pink-slipped.

Others were more blunt.

And then there was the vitriol.

So, International Radio Day comes and goes. Again. I didn’t do anything either. But it does seem like a wasted opportunity. A little like being sooo busy saving the true meaning of Christmas that December 25th comes and goes and you don’t notice.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but it seems to me that if there’s already a day carved in the calendars radio ought to do something with it. In fact, there are two days; World Radio Day is in February.

Maybe we can pick a spot to set up a 10×10 tent or have the world spin a wheel.

The Producer Game Is Changing

An open letter to producers from host Bob Lonsberry (WHAM, Rochester /WYSR, Syracuse) on Talkers.com has inspired me to respond and write a P.S.

Bob LonsberryGranted, Bob is advising producers on how to produce his show so it’s hard for me to say he’s wrong, he just may not be offering the most comprehensive advice to all producers.

In a nutshell, here’s what he says…

  • Listen to the show
  • Be a broadcaster
  • Handle callers well
  • Think like a reporter

So far so good. But, as I read through Bob’s open letter, I began to realize how much the producer position has changed evolved since my first gig 20+ years ago when I screened calls, pulled commercial carts each hour and drove down to the Sunoco gas station to buy the hosts a six-pack with my fake ID.

The producer is more than a phone screener, a guest booker, and a lesser-than-member of the team to be seen, but not heard — unless spoken to. Real, honest-to-God, hard-core, successful producers have careers and are often times as important to a show as the host.

And yes, they should be better compensated by stations and better treated by hosts.

LISTEN UP!

In his letter, Bob explains, “A radio show is a dynamic, vital thing, and the mood and circumstance are constantly changing. You’ve got to be following it if you hope to contribute to it.” He’s right.

Listen to the show you’re doing. A host should never have to call your name out on the air to get your attention. Listen for all the things he mentions and also listen for; ways to evolve the topic, possible guests you could book, promo material, listen for news and interviews that can be used to forward stories in sports updates or recycled later in the show, listen for tweetable quotes or passionate entertaining chunks that could go viral, listen for good sales material, listen for inaccuracies, listen to production elements before they air, listen to the show after it airs to find ways to improve it. Listen before, during and after the show.

DON’T JUST TALK, SAY SOMETHING

“Be a broadcaster.” Bob says, “…when I speak to you, when I call for you to speak on the air, you have to deliver.” He’s right – sort of. Producers aren’t hired to be on the air. If the PD wanted a co-host, he would hire one. When it comes to a producer talking on-air – less is more. I’ve told any producer who’ll listen, the less you talk the more impact you make when you speak on air and the more home runs you can hit. If you’re constantly swinging and missing – you’ll be annoying. So, if your host calls on you to chime in each segment (and I’m not accusing Bob of doing that) – it’s a host problem, not a producer issue.

Simple guidelines for producers who chime in

  • add to the conversation
  • advance the conversation forward
  • set up the host
  • don’t try to one-up the host
  • let funny happen naturally – don’t force it
  • remember “yes, and…” rule of improvisation

HERE’S WHERE WE START TO DISAGREE

Bob wants his producer to “handle callers well.” He explains, “Resist the simplistic but common belief that you are supposed to screen out people who are old or off topic or who you don’t personally understand. That practice castrates and lobotomizes talk radio. It throws away countless callers who I could use to advance the show. You are not the gatekeeper, I am.”

I disagree.

2010 -- Mike ThompsonThere are callers who won’t make good radio or who are off topic who should be screened out. The great Mike Thompson, operations manager of 710 ESPN LA, is one of the best resources on call screening I know. From a packet he put together for producers and shared with me a while ago, Mike makes these points about screening calls.

Screening telephone calls for talk radio shows is perhaps the most ignored and misunderstood art in the talk radio business.  Most stations do not screen properly.

  • First and foremost – our raison d’être is not processing calls like picking grapes and putting them in a bushel.  Callers are nice folks and can add to a show – BUT they are not the end all be all.
  • Each caller needs to have something to say with passion and conviction.
  • Shows must FOCUS ON THE LISTENER – NOT THE CALLER.  There is a difference.  Less than 1% of stations listeners actually call.
  • We are human. We react to stimuli. However, the lack of calls or abundance of them cannot be viewed as a gauge of a good or bad show.
  • Calls are a production element — calls, music, drops, sound bites and newsmakers all add to the production – which must be centered upon the hosts opinion, information, credibility, personality, humor and style.
  • No one has the right to speak on our air.  Don’t surrender your show by letting a bad caller on who has nothing to say.  When in doubt – screen ‘em out.  Be friendly, but firm.
  • Have pride in the calls that you put on the air. Bad callers create even more bad callers jamming the lines.  Conversely, when you put great calls on the air you will notice over time that intelligent and witty callers will join the party.

I believe Bob’s resistance to call screening originates from the general lack of trust and communication between him and his producer. He says in his letter that he won’t be meeting with the producer unless the boss calls one, he doesn’t want to talk to the producer during the show, and coordination before the show shouldn’t take more than a minute.

Bob, that’s not a producer – it’s an errand boy.

Great producers and great hosts have a chemistry and connection. The producer gets to know the host in a way the listener doesn’t so he/she can better support the host and think like they would think. A great producer makes a host better, adds to the show and focuses the host before and during the show on the things that matter most.

How do you expect the producer to support you, your show and the things you want if the only communication you have is through an open letter on the internet?

To Bob’s credit, he says in a perfect World, “we each trust each other to our jobs.” That’s great, but pre-planning, preparation, curating stories, topic development, and constant communication – are all part of a producer’s job. And I believe those meetings and discussions are key to building the trust Bob desires.

BE CURIOUS

Bob finally encourages producers to “think like a reporter.” He focuses his comments on building and maintaining a list of contacts and sources. I’d say that’s more a reporter thinking like a producer. Thinking like a reporter means being curious, asking questions, and finding the stories and angles not being talked about. It means helping listeners to connect the dots or help make sense of a story or series of stories, knowing why you’re interested in a particular story, finding audio to support your POV and telling the story the most compelling way possible.

20 TipsTHE TAKEAWAY: 20 TIPS for EFFECTIVE PRODUCING

These are some of my thoughts on producing, based on my own experience as a producer, host, PD and consultant.

SERVE STEAK – Make sure the host is playing the hit stories various ways throughout your show.

ADD SIZZLE – Look for ways before and during the show to enhance the on-air presentation.

WORRY ABOUT DETAILS – There’s no detail too small to consider.

THINK LIKE A P.D. – From topic selection and guest booking to what’s being played and how it’s being presented during commercial breaks, oversee all content during your show. Be concerned with how your entire show sounds, not just the talk segments.

BE AN EDITOR – Know how to listen to audio, identify a sound-byte and edit it for air quickly.

CREATE AN EXPERIENCE not a SHOW – Help make the show a 24/7 experience through social media, podcasting, blogging, vlogging, and show appearances. Have conversations with your fans, don’t just tweet links at them.

BE IN THE MOMENT – Anticipate the needs of the talent.

CONTEXTUALIZE STORIES –Tell listeners why the big story matters to them now and consider archived audio to help tell a story or put it in context.

TEASE – Help your host prepare or write teases for each segment.

FINISH BIG – Plan for a big final segment – don’t throw it away.

OWN BIG MOMENTS – Be prepared to ditch all your plans for breaking news. Have a plan.

COMMUNICATE – Verbal and written communication is key with your team – board op, anchor, host, PD, reporters, and others. Assume nothing.

BE AN AMBASSADOR – Represent the best of interest of your host and show internally and externally. Help mend fences, build bridges and create fans inside and outside your radio station: co-workers, contributors, listeners, and clients.

DON’T BE A JERK – Your host may have personality issues and is prickly to others in the building (for shame), but that doesn’t give you license to adopt that same attitude. Be a positive force, a leader and problem solver.

EARN TRUST & RESPECT –  Work hard, communicate, be proactive and find ways to showcase your host and the show in the best possible light.

BE ORGANIZED You’re juggling information and obligations from the PD, promotions team, sales team and your host. Create systems that work for you.

BE CREATIVE – Find unique angles to big stories and think outside the box on slower than normal days. Have a future file. Notice what you notice.

BE NEW MEDIA/SOCIAL MEDIA/TECH SAVVY – The more you know, the more you can do, the more you can help the show and station and yourself.

REMEMBER WHO YOU’RE SERVING – With all due respect to talk hosts who believe producers are only there to serve them, the reality is ratings and revenue drive the bus.  That means listeners and clients always come first. The live commercial read for the auto dealer IS more important than your hosts story about bumping into a B-list celebrity at a golf outing.

KNOW THE CLOCK  PDs create clocks with precision to maximize possible listening opportunities in a PPM world. There are reasons why spots and promos and traffic reports are placed where they are. There are reasons why segments are designed for a certain length of time. These should be followed as closely as possible and not considered optional.

The Truth Can Hurt, Which is Why So Many People Avoid It

I set out to write a blog post about the things that annoy me about hosts / talent / personalities who apply for jobs. I’ve been going through mounds of mp3, CDs, even a stray tape or two. Listening through just a few minutes of each demo can be a struggle. But, then I realized – someone is telling these guys/gals they have talent. One of three things is certainly happening.

  1. These “talent” are being lied to about their talent by people who mean well.
  2. They’re getting bad advice from PDs or fellow talent.
  3. They’ve stopped listening to the people in their life that know better.

Leaders: I implore you to stop lying to people about the size of their talent and stop dishing out decade old, stale advice.

Hosts: If you only hear what you want to hear consider yourself at the top of your success. You’re never as good as “they” say you are and never as bad as your harshest critic. But, you must always strive to be better.

In an effort to be helpful, here are four things you can start doing today to be better a host.

Know What Big Story Your Show Is About Each Day.This is my “pick a lane” advice. Be about something each day. If even it’s a slow news day, it is better to be about something than trying to be about everything. What’s the thread holding your show together? It is not picking one story to talk about for three hours; it is picking one story that you want your listeners to remember you for that day and giving it more and better treatment than everything else.

Immerse Yourself in Details of the Stories You Want to Talk About. When you “play the hits” of the day, whatever they may be. Do your homework. Read up on it. Read everything you can. The more you read the better chance you have of finding a unique angle and creating a more memorable, substantive conversation.

Edit Your Own Audio. How can you tell the story, the way you want to tell it, if someone else is deciding what the key characters are going to say? Editing audio is not beneath you. Why leave the heart and soul of your show up to a $10 an hour board op. In my experience not only does editing your own audio give you certainty on a topic, it makes your treatment memorable and remarkable.

Do Not Let Segments Dictate The Length of a Story. Drives me crazy when hosts look at the clock and see they have seven minutes and look to see what topic they can stretch to fill the time. You should take the necessary time you need to tell a story and make your point and then move on to the next story or angle. It takes discipline and preparation. Don’t do your listeners any favors by “filling” the last two minutes with idle chit-chat on the topic. Give me a quick hit of something else, that’s great. Respect my time.

These four concepts are a good starting point. If it resonates with you, try it. Let me know how it goes.

Tim Sanders Tells Radio To Get Busy

I am a pretty positive guy. But, put me in a room full of legacy (old-time) radio vets and it’s easy to get caught up in a cyclone of negativity when it comes to the future of radio. That’s why it’s so important to look outside yourself, your radio station, your format, and sometimes your industry to find out what CAN be done and how you can make a difference.  

Tim Sanders (twitter: @sanderssays) is the former Chief Solutions Officer of Yahoo! and author of “Today We Are Rich.” Last month, he spoke to a group of radio folk at the Talk Media Conference in Dallas.

He was just the shot of ‘get-off-your-butt-and-do-something’ that I needed. I believe most leaders in radio needs to listen to more guys like Sanders who offer inspiration, preach innovation, and provide motivation. In his opening address to leaders of talk radio Tim affirmed what we all know, “the reality is there’s a lot of trouble (in radio).” But, he didn’t wallow in it, like many of us like to do. He pointed to Napoleon who defined a leader as someone who, “defines reality and then gives hope.” Hope is what has been missing from most of the discussions I’ve been privy to in regards to the future of radio. I’m going to try harder to be a provider of it.

Sanders insisted that the time is now for all of us to get busy. (my interpretation; stop talking about how bad things are going to be and how antiquated radio is — and start doing something about it).

Sanders is a real positive force. His advice assembled below for easy consumption is valuable if you’re a programmer, a talent, a producer, an account executive, sales manager, front desk receptionist, engineer or other…

Feed Your Mind With Good Stuff and Get Rid of the Poison in Your Life

1. Understand that “success” is not a destination, it’s a mind-set — an attitude.

2. Feed your mind with success experiences (the great interview you did, the sale you closed, the great story you broke, etc.)

3. Read your fan mail. Save it and pull it out in high-stress moments to remind yourself of your successes and how what you do does make a difference.

4. Move the conversation forward. This is how you change culture. Culture is just a conversation about how things are done. Stop asking people, “how’s it going?” and start asking, “what are you excited about?”

5. Don’t reward fire starters.

6. Be conscious that you have thee invisible things to give — and they grow as you go; knowledge, network, and compassion.

  • Share your knowledge; you will not get dumb helping to make  people smarter.
  • Activate your network; you spent a lot of time meeting people and making an impression — now what are you going to do with it? Are their people in your network that should know each other? Introduce them.
  • And be compassionate. Sanders reminds us that feelings are facts to the person who is feeling.

So,…what are you excited about?

Six Keys to Success for Talk Hosts

Every day I talk to hosts who strive to model themselves after someone who is already successful. They say, “I want to be the next Rush Limbaugh, Dan Patrick or Jim Rome.” Newsflash: Those shows already exist. Success isn’t found in the shadows of giants, it’s found under the feet of the most creative, entrepreneurial, daring, vulnerable, honest, talented and motivated amongst us.

So, here are the Larry Gifford Media six keys to success for a talk host.

1. Be yourself, which is to be different than everyone else. Individual perspective and experience is the catalyst for creativity.  

2. Be a trailblazer. Build your show around your talent and then hustle to sell yourself and your show every day to the listeners, clients, staff, and management. Figure out how you can be a personality on the radio station instead of the host of a show.

3. Be bold. Take risks. Don’t fear failure, learn from it. Surprise your fans.

4. Be open. Give yourself permission to be emotional, impassioned, and wrong. Be self-deprecating. Allow the listeners to know who you really are.

5. Speak your truth. Enterprise your own content. Notice what you notice in the world. Have opinions, perspective, and insight. Challenge conventional wisdom. Be informative and entertaining.  (and self-deprecating).

6. Surround yourself with people you trust, people who will challenge you and people who make you better.  And listen to them.

Every Moment Matters

Arbitron will tell you, in general, there are listeners coming and going from your radio station every minute. Listeners are dipping in and out of stations searching for a comfortable place to rest. This is either terrific or terrifying news if you are host, producer or programmer. It means you have opportunities to snag new listeners every minute. It also means if you are off topic, too sloppy or boring – you’re going lose some too. 

Here’s the truth about these non-P1 listeners:

  • These listeners do not know who you are.
  • These listeners do not know your show.
  • These listeners do not know what your station is all about.
  • These listeners do not know your inside jokes.
  • These listeners want to be included.
  • These listeners want to like you.
  • These listeners want you to be relatable.
  • These listeners want you to be local.

In order to take full advantage of this opportunity, it’s important that you pay attention to all the details. Every moment counts. Are the hosts resetting who they are, what they’re doing and what station they are on often enough? Are bench mark segments being explained and sold to the listener as a benefit? Are you saying the web address, phone number, text, and twitter accounts slowly and clearly so new listeners can play along? Is your board operator paying attention, running a tight board and hitting all the correct audio? Are sound bites edited properly? Are producers carefully screening callers? Are hosts prepared for interviews? Are you playing the hits uniquely  or are you covering the story the same way everyone else is? Are you providing social currency or are you wasting time? Are you letting new listeners play along or are your jokes and references too inside?

 In a PPM world every moment, every word, every piece of audio, every phone call, every interview, everything you do – counts. Make sure everything you do on your station is best serving the fans in your city in that moment or the listeners will keep searching until they find the station that does.

Want more on PPM? Listen to this Larry Gifford Media podcast with Charlie Sislen from Research Director Inc.  Charlie Sislen Interview Podcast