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Radio Might Just Be Rocket Science

September 11, 2016 Leave a comment

space-shuttle-or-radio-station2Over 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?

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.

Radiodays Europe: Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

radiodays_europe_mit_vorlaeufigem_programm5_evo_list_itmes_compSo, this week I’m off to Milan, Italy for Radiodays Europe. The response I’ve received from the U.S. and Canada is measured, if not skeptical, and a tad bit insulting to our radio brothers and sisters around the world.

“Radio days – what? I never heard of it.” – This is the typical response I receive followed by, “it’s cool you get to go to Italy. Enjoy it.”

Translation: This must be a way to write off a trip to Italy on your taxes. I get it.

“You know, Larry, you’re going to find Europe, the U.K. and the rest of the world are about 10 years behind us, but by all means see for yourself.”

Translation: There’s nothing for U.S. radio to learn, they’re all copying us!

The reality of it is, I’m excited to be going. Yes, I love Italy. But, frankly, I love radio more. In the past five years, I’ve met some crazy talented, creative, radio trailblazers from around the world and I anticipate nothing less at Radiodays Europe. For me, I learn loads by getting out of my comfort zone. This should do the trick.

Here is what I anticipate most:

1. Terror & Breaking News: There is a lot to be learned from people who have experienced and reported on terrorism. In one session, we will be hearing about #Je suis Charlie from two French newsrooms; Radio France and of Radio France International. As terrorism refuses to recognize borders, we must learn from our radio friends who have been faced with it becoming a local story.

2. The Royal Prank: Funny is subjective and in some cases deadly. I’ve been fascinated with what happened when 2DayFM pranked a London hospital pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles checking up on then-pregnant Kate Middleton. Three days later one of the nurses they fooled committed suicide. The story continues to make headlines as recent as last week when an Australian court ruled the radio station violated the law and now faces huge fines. Mel Greig, the host who impersonated the Queen, will elaborates on what happened, what she’s learned through it all and what lessons the radio industry can take from it.

3. Morning Show Successes: I hope Z100’s Elvis Duran and BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans are honest and transparent with us. These guys have hugely successful breakfast / morning shows. Both hosts will be in attendance to hopefully help us better understand what makes them work. I interviewed Evan’s assistant producer Graham Alban’s last year and I hope the host is as forthcoming and thoughtful.

4. Millennial Insights: I content kids don’t hate radio, we just haven’t made it compelling enough for them to care about it. It should be instructive to hear how others are capturing the attention of the next generations and getting them to consume (consciously or not) the radio. Presenters from Serbia, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, and the UK will all share insights.

5. The Role of the Radio DJ: This is important. In the wake of Apple plucking one of radio’s greatest DJs from the BBC, it is prescient to have a discussion of the evolution of the radio DJ and the important role curation plays in the future success of music radio.

6. Radio’s Social Media Strategy: There are a number of sessions focused on social media. I bet none of them will satisfy every GM I’ve ever met in radio who wonders, “how do we monetize twitter?” But, I look forward to hearing how others are delivering cool social media experiences for their audiences, how they’ve increased real engagement with their brand, and just listening to success stories from the front lines of radio’s internal struggle with social media.

7. People: Meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends can be inspiring. Hearing people’s “radio stories” and triumphs is a highlight of these events. Often the most interesting people are sitting with you in the audience. Get to know them. Have a drink. It’s fun to spit ball ideas with smart people who “get” radio.

SIDENOTE: Strange to me that there really is no session around sports radio; coverage, the format, play-by-play.

Starting this weekend, I’ll be blogging about my Radiodays Europe adventures at LarryGifford.com, live tweeting @giffordtweet and filing stories in the U.S. for Talkers.com and in Canada on Airchecker.ca. Listen for a full recap of my experience on the Radio Stuff Podcast.

 

Pop-Up Radio Stations

BBC Radio 2 CountrySometimes 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.

RELATED: Listen to a preview of BBC Radio 2 Country

“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.

RELATED: Listen to Brett Spencer Interview here

brett-spencer

Brett Spencer

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. 

Life is Show Prep

TopicsI 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.

Prepare for the Pink Slip

If you have a job in radio right now, Tom Leykis has a message for you.

Iceman-Radio“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.’”

Is it time to start your podcasting career?

Making Sense of Another Radio Firing

DailyNewsFor nearly 20 years Opie & Anthony have been serving up their unique brand of radio. They’ve been called “shock jocks,” “Stern wannabes,” and now “racist.”

Anthony Cumia, the second half of Opie & Anthony, was fired by SiriusXM over the weekend for a series of offensive tweets he made about African-Americans after a woman physically assaulted him in New York City.

(You can read the tirade here if you dare and here’s a personal perspective from a former co-worker of Cumia.)

It brings up a couple of discussion points for radio.

Is your personal twitter account really personal? No. Not when you’re on the radio. Not even if you put a disclaimer on it. Your employer leases your brand via your compensation. It’s not a three-hour-a-day lease. It’s a lease. You get in trouble at home and you’re likely trouble at work.

Isn’t this America? Don’t we have freedom of speech? Yes. It is America. Yes. You do have freedom of speech. (for the record other countries have freedom of speech too). To be clear, while you are free to say what you want you are still responsible for your words. And the 1st Amendment only protects you from being penalized by the government, not your employer. (read up on it here )

Didn’t SiriusXM know the kind of personality they were hiring? I should think so. Opie & Anthony have been in trouble before for crazy, silly, stupid things (see: 100 grand giveaway, Mayor’s April Fool’s death, the Voyeur Bus, Sex for Sam, and Homeless Charlie – all detailed here:  )

So, Why Fire the Guy? This is where it gets interesting. While SiriusXM has seen recent revenue growth it’s below the industry average and hasn’t impacted the bottom line yet. The Street also reports the gross profit margin is mixed and trails the industry average. Additionally, O&A’s biggest advocate at SiriusXM, Tim Sabean, the SVP of Comedy and Entertainment, was let go from the company just a week ago and the guys voiced their disapproval of the move on twitter. Getting rid of an expensive, hard to control talent at the earliest possible convenience seems more than just a little coincidental.  You also must consider this is a publicly traded company who can’t be seen as supporting hate speech like what was spewed by Cumia over twitter.

Bottom Line: We live in a changing world. It didn’t take much to “shock” us before the horrors of the world were a mouse click away. Now it takes so much to get people’s attention that by the time you do it’s like pulling a boulder over a cliff. Once you tug hard enough to get it moving, you can’t pull it back and you are ultimately crushed by the weight of it. If you’re first instinct is to try to shock the world. Take a breath. Is the momentary “GASP!” worth what follows?

Help! I’m Interviewing for a Job…

thetenmostcommoninterviewquestionsI received an email today from a young, rising star in radio who left an unsatisfying radio gig where he was the do-everything-guy for a boorish boss at a directionless station. He’s getting ready to interview for on-air hosting roles and was seeking advice. I was happy to help. Here were my suggestions based on my experiences at both the interviewer and the interviewee.

Be yourself. Don’t try to be who you think they want you to be. Be as authentic and real as you can be while being professional.

Speak clearly. It’s amazing how people, even hosts, tend to clam up and quiet down in an interview. The interviewer is looking for a little showmanship if they’re hiring for an on-air position. Don’t shrivel up.

Tell stories. Have a couple of well thought out stories to share that answer a question you know will be asked. Stories are important for talent to share to exemplify your ability to capture and hold the attention of the interviewer, exemplify your personality and show the certainty you have in your talent.

Role-play. Anytime I go in for an interview for a job I always role-play the interview in advance. I think of all the possible questions I could be asked including some ridiculous ones and I write out my answers.

Some to consider for on-air folk in addition to the 10 listed above:

  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why should I hire you?
  • What do you think of the station?
  • What makes your show special/different/successful?
  • How would you describe your show? What makes it unique?
  • How do you work with sales?
  • How do you like to be managed?

Show prep. I would have some concrete ideas on benchmarks or regular segments that you can share.

Dress up. Dress a little nicer for the interview than you expect you’ll need to if you get the gig.

Be curious.  Have at least three questions prepared to ask the interviewer at the end of the meeting.

For example…

  • What’s your time line?
  • How do you define success for this role?
  • What happened to the person who was in this position (if you don’t know)?
  • What’s the mission or vision for this station?
  • What else can I supply to make your decision easier?

Be gracious. Even if you know you’re not qualified for the job, you’re not going to get it or you don’t want it — express your gratitude for the time your interviewer took to meet with you. They could be the link to another job down the line.

Be patient. Waiting is the hardest part. However, it’s important to realize that the hiring manager wants it to happen fast too. EOE regulations, corporate HR requirements and other hurdles exist making it near impossible for hiring people to be a nimble process. A word of thumb — if a station is looking to hire someone “immediately,” the process will likely take 4 to 6 weeks.

Secrets of a Successful Rock Morning Show

bjshea

BJ Shea has been in radio for 30 years. The last 15 years he’s been entertaining listeners in Seattle. In 2006, The BJ Shea Morning Experience took over for Howard Stern in the morning on KISW. Unlike, David Lee Roth, Rover, and Carolla – he’s seen ratings and revenue success on the heels of Stern. So much so, Entercom just renewed his show for another multi-year contract.

BJ and LarryI spent the morning with BJ and his crew this week and interviewed them for the Radio Stuff podcast. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Everyone on the show has a character profile. They’ve gone as far as mapping out the traits on a white board.
  • Everyone on the show — and I counted eight of them — has multiple duties including individual podcasts that support the show brand.
  • They consider the show a performance and they abide by the rules of improv. Always.
  • BJ’s success started when he began to trust his team. The team success started once they were trusted by BJ.
  • BJ and his producer Steve network, go to talk show/morning show boot camps and conventions and can quickly turn the page from performer to strategist.
  • They genuinely like each other. All of them. Everyone is fair game on the air.
  • The “soul” of the show is relationships. Every story they share, every news item that decide to discuss always is framed in the context of relationships (husband/wife, parents/kids, co-workers, girlfriend/boyfriend, spouse/inlaws, etc.)
  • The goal each day is to start the listeners day of with a smile.

As you plan your show, regardless of format, it would worth identifying the show’s characters, people’s responsibilities, studying improv (I blogged about that here), building trust amongst your show unit, networking, identifying the “soul” of your show and having a single mission each day.