Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had the honor and responsibility to help launch new News-Talk radio shows on air in Vancouver and Winnipeg. Not that I’d know, but it seems a bit like launching a space shuttle. A huge team, lots of planning, excitement, adrenaline, nerves, back timing, countdowns, someone is pushing a bunch of buttons, and there are always small adjustments along the way. (A gross over-generalization to be sure, but go with it.)
Below is a list of some of the adjustments that crept up through these experiences that are good reminders to all radio talent
- Improvisation rules apply. Don’t kill the premise of a discussion by dismissing it off hand. Add to it. Expand on it. Think “Yes, and…”
- When co-hosting it is okay to disagree, but it isn’t about “winning at all costs.” Respect each other, establish clear boundaries, and agree on the goal of each segment before diving in.
- Avoid personal attacks. This applies to co-workers and news makers. Characterize behavior and actions, not people.
- News is not a break from the show. News is what’s next on your show.
- Know the clock, respect the clock, and abide by the clock. They’re designed for maximum ratings impact and for clear separation of commercial competitors, repeat commercials and to minimize listener fatigue.
- Write and plan your teases into break. Avoid words and phrases like “after these commercials”, “we’ll be back”, “time to take a break”, “when we return.” Instead keep forward momentum with something like “coming up next…”
- Speaking of momentum, find ways to build momentum for each segment, each show and each day on the station. Build on stories, find the arc, explore new angles, and offer different perspectives.
- Be about something. Don’t just fill time.
- Avoid signing off at the end of your show as if there is nothing else worth listening to on the station.
- Root your on-air personality in authenticity, but remember it is show biz, so it should be an enhanced, more dynamic version of you.
If you are lucky enough to have a radio show you have an amazing opportunity. Your voice will travel through air, into ears and across the Milky Way faster than a space shuttle. It is an awesome responsibility to entertain and inform the public. The impact you make is up to you. You’ve been given the keys to high performance machine, what are you going to do with it?
The 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.
That’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.
Add your radio love story in the comments!
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.”
“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.
“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.”
Yes, 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.
Sometimes it feels as if a station’s format comes and goes in a matter of days, but in the UK this week that is exactly what is going on. BBC Radio is launching its third-ever “pop-up” radio station; BBC Radio 2 Country. It is just in time for the big Country to Country Music Festival at the O2 Arena.
“There is huge growth for Country music in the UK,” BBC Radio Head of Digital Brett Spencer tells me this week on the Radio Stuff Podcast. “It’s really being led by a couple of acts here. One called Ward Thomas, two twin sisters, and another is the band called The Shires.”
The Shires released their debut album “Brave” yesterday and Sunday of next week it is likely to become the first UK Top 10 album by a UK Country act.
Creating the four-day “pop-up” radio station is quite literally a patch-work of personnel and digital space. Spencer and his small staff all have other duties and responsibilities outside of “pop-up” projects. The technology works much the same way, “We take bandwidth from lots of other radio stations in and around the BBC; other digital stations. And take some of that bit rate and compile that to allow us enough bandwidth to be able to broadcast that station.” Spencer continues, “So, things like Radio 4 which broadcasts on long wave on digital radio — that goes away for few days. We’ll degrade a couple of the other stations a little bit to allow us to broadcast. And that gives us enough over four days to power our radio station. So it appears on digital radio, you will be able to hear it on the iPlayer radio app and also on the UK Radio Player app.”
And the talent being used are from other stations too. Listeners will hear their favorite presenters as usual on Radio 2, but immediately following their regular shows, the presenters will do something else exclusively on the “pop-up” station in an effort to drive digital listening.
BBC Radio 2 Country launches at Noon UK time on Thursday, which is 7am ET, 4am PT and continues until Midnight Sunday. More details at the official BBC Radio 2 Country website.
For weekly updates on radio stuff check out the Larry Gifford Media “radio stuff” email.
I work with several podcasters who are trying to impart expert information in a less professorial or lecture-type tone and want to have that personal, one-on-one conversation with the listener that great radio broadcasters do so well.
For one of them it clicked this week.
The gist of my advice that resonated with him was this:
Stop picking topics and let the topics pick you.
Here’s what I mean.
Most experts approach their podcasts like a lecture. The rack their brains for a theme, topic or some wisdom they want or should impart. And then they rack their brains for a story or anecdote that they hope helps personalize it.
Turn that inside-out-and-backwards.
Take notice of the things that happen in your life each day. Pick one of these events even if it’s seemingly mundane or routine. Tell it in great detail and allow it to help exemplify a common theme in your teaching.
For instance, the host I work with teaches foreign language. He realized during the week he was having trouble motivating himself to exercise. He’d lost his will power. This is also a common problem for people learning a new language. So in his podcast he relayed, in great detail and emotion, his struggles with exercise including how he identified why he’d lost his will power when he had it previously, what he’s doing to get it back and how listeners can apply the same technique when they’re finding it difficult to get motivated to learn language each day. It was personal, powerful, effective and entertaining.
By sharing your life stories with great detail and animation, you will come across as more authentic, relatable and vulnerable, which also gives you more credibility. Finding your lessons in your own life stories also gives you and your listeners an anchor to why you are talking about that topic at this time.
If you have a job in radio right now, Tom Leykis has a message for you.
“I’m sure in 1947 the ice-man didn’t see Frigidaire coming and thought the idea of a machine that would cool items would be ridiculous. Sure enough, nobody shed a tear when the icebox went away. Where did the poor ice-man go? Nobody cares!”
Leykis, in an interview with me on the Radio Stuff Podcast, believes radio stations are about to become yesterday’s news.
“They don’t see it. They don’t plan for it. A lot of people are going to be in a world of hurt when the ax comes down. I know they don’t want to hear what I’m saying.”
While you’re still working in radio, Leykis suggests the following:
Don’t be a company man. Many of the companies we know today will be gone, sold, or consumed. At some point there is going to be a fire sale of stations that people overpaid for and everyone will be working for someone else like Google or Facebook or for no one at all.
Don’t assume your job is forever. Assume you have 2 months to clean out your office even if you have more than that.
Get prepared. Make sure you have your own website with your personalized URL. (Tom secured “BlowmeupTom.com” in the mid 1990s. When his show disappeared off radio everyone went to BlowmeupTom.com to find out what was going on.) Also, get your own email address separate from the radio station. This allows your listeners to find and connect with you when they come in with a clipboard one day and say, “Alright, you’re done now.”
Keep Listener Emails. You can use them later when you need to build up a new audience especially if you’re doing an internet project. Tom combed through 10,000 emails over 2-years to build a database and reach his listeners to start his new business.
Tom talked directly to “big stick” talk hosts who rely on call letters, national lead-ins, and big signals for success. “Do you really think after you walk-out of that station you’re going to have numbers that big? You have to look at yourself and say, ‘Is my content unique? Is it special? Can it stand on its own without a big signal or Rush Limbaugh on before me?’ Can my stuff stand on its own? I think a lot of people have not been honest with themselves. I think a lot of people have not looked in the mirror and said, ‘you know what – I need a better act.’”