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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.

 

How Do You Get Better? Improv(e).

Me: Hi my name is Larry.theater geek

Everyone: Hi Larry!

I am a recovering high school drama geek. I was in the plays and musicals, auditioned for and was accepted into a collegiate theater program, I wore a dance belt and tights (a few times), I took piano lessons, learned how to breath “properly,” explored the history of theater and more. (Lucky for me, the radio station was housed in the basement of the theater – thus, avoiding a career as a New York City waiter.) Of all my theater experiences, the one that comes in handy in every job I have is improv.

On the air or off – improv skills have served me well. Let me just say upfront, if you are a producer, a host, an anchor, a reporter, or a programmer – invest in some improv classes for yourself – it will make you better at your job. It teaches you how to be in present in the moment and hones your ability to listen, react, adapt, create, innovate, play, contribute, and actively engage with the people you work with. Who doesn’t want that?

TinaFeyBossyPantsI was reminded of this while watching Tina Fey discuss the rules of improv while on Inside The Actors Studio this week. (A show that I unabashedly enjoy and one that I’ve paid homage to in my Inside The Bonneville Studios interviews – here with Luke Burbank, Linda Thomas, Brock & Salk and Dori Monson). Tina Fey honed her skills at Second City in Chicago before going to Saturday Night Live. In her book, “Bossypants,” she wrote down the rules of improv that she’s adapted as a world view and she claims they’ve changed her life.

“The Rules of Improvisation that will change your life and Reduce Belly Fat” (p84-85)

 

  1. AGREE – always agree & SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun” and you say, “That’s not a gun, it’s your finger” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if you instead say “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is a Christmas gun. In real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. but the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open minded place. Start with YES and see where that takes you.
  2. Not only say yes, but say YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here” and you say “Yeah…” we are at a stand-still, but if you say “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures” now we’re getting somewhere. YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.
  3. MAKE STATEMENTS – Don’t ask questions all the time. If I ask continuous questions I am putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers. Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. Make statements with your actions and your voice. For instance, instead of saying “Where are we?”, make a statement like “Here we are in Spain”.
  4. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bike, but you think I’m a hamster in a wheel, then now I’m a hamster in a wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discovered have been by accident. For instance, Reese’s PB Cup & Botox.

So, how many times do you or your on-air partners disagree with, disregard or discredit something the other said so you can one-up them, make a better point, or deliver a pithier punch line? Or you’re not sure what to say about a topic or how to move it forward, so you continually just ask questions of your co-host or the audience? Or a sound-byte doesn’t fire and you feel a need to explain to listeners it was supposed to be there – maybe even through your board op or producer under the bus – when in reality the audience had no clue it was coming? All of these are violations of improv.

Other improvisionalists have other rules. For instance, at TEDxVictoria, David Morris offered seven rules.  (10 minute Ted Talk here)

  1. r_davemorrisPlay. The idea of engaging in something just because you like it.
  2. Let Yourself Fail. LET is the key. Failing is easy. The hard part is being okay with it. As soon as you start fearing failure you get trapped in your head. Failing does not make you a failure. Just fail, improvise and start again.
  3. Listen. Listen with all your being. Most people listen just enough to be able to respond. True listening is the willingness to change. If you are not willing to change based on what someone is saying, you are not listening. You are just letting them talk, before you respond.
  4. Say YES. A series of YES’s will take us somewhere. A single NO shuts down the entire journey.
  5. Say AND. YES-men are great. AND-men are people we want to work with. They say, “Yes, I like your idea!” AND they add to the creation.
  6. Play the Game. Anything that has rules is a game whether that’s playing Monopoly or filling out a job application. Rules free us up to improvise. Restrictions funnel our creative process to a create a product.
  7. Relax and have fun. It will lead to a more enjoyable life.

Improv isn’t about comedy. As David Morris’ pointed out in his Ted talk, MacGyver is one of the great improvisers of our time and he dealt in explosives. Whether you’re trying to save the World, save your ratings or save a segment; learn to improvise.

What Radio Can Learn From Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen SXSW PhotoBruce Springsteen was the keynote speaker this year at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. For fifty “drive-way moment” minutes (three quarter-hours), The Boss was a talk show host, guiding us through the history of his music experience with very little music or singing, but instead with his story, his memories, his personal experience, his reactions, observations and his passion.

He was addressing young musicians, but the lessons transcend to radio.

ADVICE FOR RADIO HOSTS (the quotes are direct from Bruce Springsteen)

Be a catalyst of conversation. Your show is a, “Joyous argument starter and a subject of long, booze-filled nights of debate”

Stop complaining and start creating content. Who cares about how people get your show – radio – live stream – internet – mp3 – facebook – twitter? “The Genesis and power of creativity is consistent over the years. The elements don’t matter. Purity of human experience and expression is not confined to guitars, tubes, turn tables or microchips. There is no right way or pure way. Just do it.”

Be Authentic. “We live in a post-authentic world. Today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all about just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, influences, personal history and at the end of day it’s the power and purpose of your (show) that still matters.”

Fake it until you make it. Go to small markets, or host a podcast, an internet radio show, or offer to do weekends and overnights. “I had nights and nights and nights (1,000 nights) of bar playing. Learn how to bring it live and bring it night after night after night. Your audience will remember you. Your ticket is your handshake. These skills gave me a huge ace up my sleep. When we finally went on the road, we scorched the earth.”

It’s amazing how Springsteen can appreciate where he came from, where he’s been, those who blazed a trail, is still self-deprecating about how he steals/borrows from everyone/every genre and remains self-aware enough to recognize he’s getting old, the game is changing, culture is evolving and in order to be relevant he needs to find a new way. This seems like a good model for radio.

His influences should be and can be your influence as well.

Animals “Gotta Get Outta This Place”“Youngsters, listen up this is how successful theft is accomplished.This is every song I’ve ever written. I found their cruelty so freeing.They were brave, they challenged you, and made you brave.”

Gifford interpretation: Be brave. Don’t be afraid to borrow from those before you.

Bob Dillon“The first thing he asked was ‘how does it feel?’…’to be on your own’ – parents couldn’t understand incredible changes happening in our world.’Without a home’… he gave us the words to understand our hearts. He stood back and in took in the stakes we were playing for and laid them out in front of us.”

Gifford interpretation: As a talk host, tell us how you feel, explore how others feel, give us the words to understand our hearts.

Country Music. This music is “stoic recognition of everyday reality and the small and big things that allow you to put a foot in front of the other get through it. It was reflective, it was funny, it was soulful. It was rarely politically angry, it was rarely politically critical.”

Gifford interpretation: Country music is what successful talk radio hosts are doing today.

Hank Williams “Why does my bucket have a hole in it?” – Hank help launch the “search for identity and became an essential part of my nature. I was not downtown, bohemian or hipster. Just an average guy, with a slightly above average gift and if I worked my ass off on it – and country was about the truth emanating out of your sweat.”

Gifford interpretation: Use your curiosities in life to fuel your show.

Woodie Guthrie: “Somewhere over the horizon there was something…he tried to answer the question why the bucket has a hole in it.”

Gifford interpretation: Search for answers to big questions. Give listeners hope.

Bruce Springsteen’s parting shot should be used by all creative people as a mantra and guiding light:

“Rumble, young musicians rumble. Open  your ears and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And take yourself as serious as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have iron clad confidence. But, doubt – it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town…and “you suck!” It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at the same time. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have and then remember, it’s only rock n roll.”

Watch Springsteen’s keynote address here. It’s worth it.

Why Social Media Is NOT Radio’s Magic Bullet and Four Other Revelations

Five Radio RevelationsOkay gang, every day someone in radio asks me what’s new? what’s next? or how can we be better? There are millions of theories, philosophies, and tips for success. These are five things that I keep going back to. They aren’t the only things. They aren’t necessarily the most important things. They’re five things you can do today to improve you, your show, your station.

 

1. Be Consistent. Everyone on your show / station should have a defined role that the listener can depend on. And your show should be dependable…for whatever the audience can depend on it for; news, big opinions, laughter, stupid jokes, three songs an hour, passionate rants, or whatever. Deliver it without fail.

2. Get Personal. If you’re trying to be neutral or unbiased, you’re lying to yourself and the audience. Every word, detail, and piece of audio you decide to use or omit is a choice based on your bias. Stop trying so hard and use your reactions to stories and events (or music) to create and drive your content (yes, even if you’re a news anchor or reporter.) Have a point of view. Even Paul Harvey delivered “News and Comment.” Why can’t you?

3. Embrace Emotion. Don’t drain the emotions from your content…use them; laughter, tears, fear, rage, embarrassment, etc. Emotional moments create the stories and memories in life that people remember and share. No one ever asks what was the most neutrally satisfying moment of your life. Stop striving to create it.

4. Stop reading and start sharing stories. Every day I hear radio hosts reading AP wire copy, newspaper or internet stories. This is lazy and boring and often leads to stumbling, because they’re written for the eyes not the ears. Take the time to read it off the air and tell me the story or relate the story to me the way you would if we were friends.

5. Snap Out of It! “Social Media” is NOT a Magic Bullet.

Yes, find a way to connect and have conversations with listeners through facebook, twitter, text, email, your website, and other platforms.  Don’t just use them as promotional platforms. Like radio, content is king, and users will “unlike” you faster than you can blink.

Here’s the kicker. It is time to stop talking about “social media” as a comprehensive solution to radio’s mid-life crisis. The difference between users and applications of Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and Four Square is vast. Offering “social media” as a solution is like offering “transportation” as a solution for going from LA to NY, instead of car, train, boat or plane. Be specific with your strategic vision. Pick a lane and drive it.

Twitter Doesn’t Break News. Shhhh, Don’t Tell Anyone.

Everyone is getting excited, because Twitter reported the death of Whitney Houston 45 minutes before traditional news sources. Actually it didn’t, some guys named Big Chorizo and Aja Dior M. did. Social Media sites don’t break news, they allow others to break news through them.

The graphic below is from mashable.com.

An unscientific survey of friends shows most found out about Whitney’s death through social media (Facebook, twitter), though most can’t cite the source behind the information. Surely, Twitter doesn’t want to claim credit for Big Chorizo’s breaking news, or it opens the social media site up to massive legal issues. But, that doesn’t diminish the power of twitter.

Mashable notes that over 2.5 million tweets were sent within the first hour after Houston’s death.

To me, this is the shifting news paradigm; People are learning about and talking about breaking news stories in break-neck speed.

For years, news organizations have spent millions building news brands (first, fast & accurate — eyewitness news — on your side, etc), yet in today’s world we consume the information so quickly we don’t stop to see where it came from – and in most cases we don’t care. In fact, an initial prank report that Whitney Houston had died from a bee attack was believed by several dozen twitter users before it was debunked. And keeping up with the speed of news is a dangerous game as CBS Sports discovered by prematurely reporting the death of Joe Paterno.

A friend of mine was espousing how TMZ was ‘the source’ for the Whitney Houston story and how amazing it is TMZ has established their brand with celebrity news in six years or so. However, just because TMZ reports something is it automatically worth repeating? My observation is that TMZ is willing to report on stories and facts with limited confirmation, paid information, or single source. Which is why everyone else gives TMZ credit for developing celebrity news and facts in situations like the deaths of Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. If TMZ gets it wrong, the brand isn’t tarnished. If CBS gets it wrong, the world sits up and takes notice.

UPDATE: Here is a real example of how TMZ puts credible sources in jeopardy.

Whitney’s funeral is in Jersey and there is still debate over where she’ll be laid to rest – Newark NJ or Atlanta GA – even according to TMZ. Makes me wonder if the “debate” is real or a way for TMZ to save face.  Sure, it is a minor detail, but it is a microcosm of a larger issue; followers think they are getting information from a trusted source “WSB” and may not remember pr notice that WSB was sourcing TMZ. So, if Whitney is ultimately laid to rest in Newark some WSB followers will think WSB got it wrong.

So, what is a credible news team supposed to do in this out-of-control, I-want-it-first-I want-it-now society?

At the radio station I program, we removed most of the TV monitors from the news room and replaced them with tweetdecks about a year ago. We use them to see what’s trending, mine and develop unique stories and keep us on the front edge of the artificial news cycle, instead of chasing news papers and TV stations.

News teams (and talk hosts) should strive to tell an interesting story or share a unique detail instead of breaking the news. As we are learning, when the news breaks, most don’t recall where they learned it. It’s what you do with the story after it circles the globe in 23 seconds that will define your brand.

UPDATE 2/15/2012: Two concepts: “Verification” and “Curation”, are key to the future of news. More on Twitter as a breaking news source from CNN

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?

Redefining News-Talk

For years, “News-Talk” was a fair description of what you would hear on hundreds of radio stations across the country that focused on spoken word radio. The stations would report the news (or what passed as news – common crime, fires, city council meetings, accidents, etc.). And then they would fill the time between newscasts with someone talking.

That doesn’t cut it anymore. Not for news-talk. Not for the FM. Not for radio. Not in such a competitive market for eyeballs and ears.

So if not that, then what? Stations across the country are trying to figure it out. Merlin Media is exploring with what’s possible with FM  news in Chicago and New York. We’re trying new things in Seattle too. And others are testing, trying and tweaking. There’s no magic formula. And likely won’t ever be – though I’m certain there are those who will try to find one.

Here is some of what is happening at News and News-Talkers across the country…

Redefining News. Just because something happened, doesn’t mean it’s news. Every story needs to be carefully chosen and written to be entertaining, informational and relevant. We need to ask questions about stories and answer them for the listener. We need to stop filling air time with city council meetings, press releases, and chasing cop cars and fire trucks, and start telling stories about people that helps put news in context and make it matter to the listener.

Empowering the Hosts. For years, the program director’s job was to keep the talent in check. Criticize, critique, and reign in. Today, the role of the PD is to put the hosts in a position to be artists. Give them space to create remarkable content. Give them permission to try new things, provoke, entertain, surprise, and amuse the listeners. Somethings will fail.  That’s okay – if you’re not failing – you’re not trying. The key is to work together to identify what’s working and replicate it and identify what’s not working and abandon it.

Play Your Hits. This is different than play THE hits. What lights you up? What sparks your passion? What are the most important stories to YOU today – likely they’ll resonate with your fans. There are some stories that are “must” cover – but don’t get caught up in having to cover it any specific way. What questions do you have about the story? Why is this story interesting, entertaining or relevant?

Redefine Local. For years, we’ve limited our mindset on what’s local based on location. We need to get past this. Stories don’t have to occur in a specific land mass to be local. Stories that resonate and impact the lives of your listeners are inherently local – the facebook redesign, 9/11, Killing Osama bin Laden, Hurricane Katrina, gas prices, the housing market, Anthony Weiner, the Reno Air crash – all of these stories are locally relevant regardless where you live. They impact each person in a profoundly emotional, personal way. These stories allow us each to evaluate our personal morals and values, question the value of life, the abuse of power, etc.

These are just a few ways spoken word radio is changing. There are more. But we need to move faster. We need leaders who get it, support it, and demand it. We need stop clinging to the past. We need to raise our standards and stop accepting average reporting, average story telling and average radio.

One of my favorite sayings which I learned in my first week at ESPN –  “Evolve, or face extinction.” Radio doesn’t have to go the way of the dinosaur, but will if we insist on acting like it’s 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000.