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Eight Ingredients of Remarkable Radio Shows

There are a lot of remarkable radio shows in America and they each have found success their own way. Which means there are far more than eight things to consider when trying to build a show up, but this is a great start.

These tips ring true to me which is why I isolated them from original interviews I conducted with each of these hosts. All the conversations can be found on the Radio Stuff Soundcloud page.

Notice none of the talent talk about billboards, bumper stickers or social media. Great shows can benefit from those things, but bad shows cannot be made great with marketing.

RELATED: SEVEN INGREDIENTS OF GREAT RADIO TALENT

And now, eight ingredients of remarkable radio shows.

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Gene “Bean” Baxter

Be consistent, but not predictable. “Show up every day, be prepared, and evolve.” Gene Baxter a.k.a. Bean of Kevin & Bean explains, “We’re not the guys, generally, that are doing the same bit we did 10 years ago or 20 years ago. We’re looking for new things to do and new things to talk about. As hard as it is to get young people to listen to FM Radio these days I think that’s why we’ve had some success bringing them along because we are still trying to talk about contemporary things.”

Be authentic. “There’s a lot of fake conservatives on the air, a lot of comedians disguised as political pundits, and I avoided the temptation to do that,” Tom Leykis remembers when he was offered an opportunity to be a conservative talker. “I chose to go my own road and that means to not lie about who I am, to not pretend about stuff, to say what I mean and mean what I say.”

Build a team you can trust. I chatted with Elvis Duran about this at Radiodays Europe this year, “Being surrounded by people who get the message and understand that what we do is monumental to so many people. The people we work with and support us are the most important people without them I could never see myself going to work every day by myself. I couldn’t do it.”

Strive to be interesting. ESPN host Colin Cowherd advises host to stop worrying about being right, “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 get it right. Try to find compelling topics that everybody can play along with.”

BJ and Larry

BJ Shea, Larry Gifford, Producer Steve

Everyone knows their role. The BJ Shea Morning Experience in Seattle has a big crew, but everyone has a job. “What I do right is not get in the way, because what I used to do is get in the way” BJ explains his job is to be the host – NOT the producer, “I would think that I have to run the show, I’d have to be part of the planning and I’m an attention-deficit mess. I disrupt everybody else. My ideas are good in the moment, in that manic, bi-polar high moment where, “Holy Cow! This is the greatest idea ever!” and my entire life I have ruined everything because I really shouldn’t be that guy. I should be performing. So, Steve truly is a producer. He is in charge of the whole show. If Steve doesn’t like it, it doesn’t air. And I would say probably – honestly – 10% of my ideas get used. And I give Steve a lot of ideas. But, I also empower him to say this is it. I’m kind of afraid of Steve now. It’s kinda cool. I’ve made Steve the boss of the show to the point that I don’t want to disappoint him.”

Appreciate the audience. “More radio hosts, especially new ones getting into the business, have to get back to basics, understand sports and connecting with their audience,” JT the Brick of Fox Sports Radio refers to sports talk, but his point is actually format-agnostic. “I think there is a big disconnect now between the super successful sports radio hosts who don’t go to any games, don’t meet their audience, and preach to their audience about how good they are or how good their show is or what they believe is the future of sports. Compared to the hosts, hopefully like I am, who continues to want to touch, and shake the hands and kiss the babies and meet these guys, because that is the connection I think you need to have.”

Tom Leykis in his Burbank studio.

Tom Leykis

Create a show filter. A filter helps your focus on the right stories and influence HOW you talk about them. This may not seem like a formula for success for an active rock morning show, but BJ Shea swears it works, “The soul of the show is relationships. Whenever we’re talking about anything I’ll always bring it back to relationships and basically the key relationships are familial, you got your husband/wife, brother/sister, mother/father, and then that of course can translate into the work place. That’s the soul of our show, because it hits everybody.”

Remember radio’s mission. “I’m a radio personality,” says Tom Leykis. “I’m not here to get people elected or get people impeached. I’m here to generate revenue. So many people in our business now have forgotten what our mission is. My mission is to get as many people to listen to your station as possible and then to get advertisers to buy those ears and compensate us so were drowning in money.”

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Subscribe to the Larry Gifford Media “Radio Stuff” email and each Tuesday you’ll receive an email with all sorts of stuff about radio. Sign up here.

Seven Ingredients of Great Radio Talent

The recipe for being a great talent on radio is really a witch’s brew; a pinch of this and a touch of that. Everyone I talk to seems to have a bit of the trade secret to share, but tragically there is no mysterious vault where the “great talent formula” is locked-up. From my experience at least some of it is gut instinct, DNA-related, or luck.

But, we do have the start of a recipe thanks to some heavy-hitters in the radio world who’ve been gracious to give time and insight to the Radio Stuff Podcast. So, here is the start of a winning blueprint for being a great talent.

Steve Goldstein Amplifi

Steve Goldstein

Have something to say.  “Point of view. That tops the list,” says former Saga Communications programming exec and Amplifi Media CEO Steve Goldstein. (audio) “There are a lot of good mechanics out there and they can make a DJ show work, but somebody who has a point of view and something to say that’s where personality comes in.”

Make eye contact with the listener. This is hard to manufacture if it doesn’t come naturally. It’s not actually looking into the eyes of your listener, but as Goldstein explains, “the ability to say, ‘I know who you are and I know what you’re going through.’ It’s tough.” This authentic connection to an audience is paramount to greatness.

Be hungry. The best talent are insatiable. “Everybody should be hungry. If you know what you want to do – do it. Be hungry and just get there,” says iHeartMedia VP of Talent Development Dennis Clark. (audio) He has worked with the likes of Ryan Seacrest, Elvis Duran and Bobby Bones and they all have this in common. “They’re hungry by just performing and doing a quality show and they just love the business of radio. I think a guy like Kane in D.C. or Fred in Chicago they really have a bunch of different places they’ve been to become better and better along the way and really grow their personalities and grow their acts. Same thing with Elvis, he went from Texas and New Orleans to Atlanta, Philadelphia and then finally New York. Ryan too, you know? If he could’ve been hired in any job in radio he would have taken it at the time when he was just starting out at Star in Atlanta.”

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Dennis Clark and Larry Gifford

Be now. We live in a world of rapidly decreasing attention spans. Frankly, I’m surprised you’ve made this far into the blog. Being “now” is a mantra you hear from Clark a lot. “The one thing that is a demanding factor from our listeners in radio is what’s going on right now. What’s happening? What’s the latest? I need a friend right now, I need companionship. Whether its music or a talk show or a personality morning show or it’s a vibe or feeling or something like that – “now” is crucial.”

Social currency. I preach this to my clients. Social currency is a detail, a nuance, an observation, an opinion, a theory or a revelation. It’s radio’s equivalent of a meme. Something you include in your show because it arms your listeners with information that is sharable when they’re at work, play or home. Dennis Clark also talked about this. “Radio gives people such small talk pieces that they can take to their family at home and “oh, I didn’t know that about Taylor Swift” or “I didn’t know that about the New York Yankees.” So, they can hear things from people they relate to and bring it to their conversations.”

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David G. Hall, Media Strategist

Create a partnership. Success at a radio station demands you to be on the same page with management. Media strategist David G. Hall believes trouble is inevitable if you don’t. (audio) “More often than not what happens is the leadership of the station doesn’t really know what the target is or they don’t do research. They’re not really sure who they are trying to go for. So, then they have a morning guy who’s not clear who he is trying to talk to and he goes on the air and does something that he thinks is pretty good and then he gets in trouble for it, because it is so far out of whack of the expectations of the manager – who never shared those expectations to begin with.”

So what does a talent do?

Hall explains, “The best thing to do is to ask for the expectation. Be really clear.” Hall suggests you ask the following questions of your program director and it will make a huge difference in how you go on the air and will really focus what you do;

  • What do you expect of me?
  • What is the target audience?
  • Where are we trying to go with this radio station?
  • Who are our competitors on either side?
  • Who am I trying to take listeners from?

Storytelling. This is my addition to the list.  Stories are an effective way to transport an audience and share important information and values. Learn to write and tell stories in short form and long form; from 140 characters to an hour-long production. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain and thus are better remembered than simply stating a set of facts. When we experience emotional stories it also produce two chemicals in the brain; Cortisol which focuses the audience’s attention and Oxytocin with makes them more empathic. (Watch a video on it here) It’s science people! If you’re not a great storyteller, practice becoming one.

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Subscribe to the Larry Gifford Media “Radio Stuff” email and each Tuesday you’ll receive an email with all sorts of stuff about radio. Sign up here.

What Do You Do With an Idea?

What do you do with an ideaIn recent weeks, clients have been sharing with me the anxieties associated with following their gut or executing on an idea.

The internal conversation goes something like this, “What do I really know about doing radio? I’ve only been at it for “X” years… If I’m thinking of doing it this way, others likely have too and it probably didn’t work which is why no one is doing it… It’s safer to go with what I know and what people are comfortable with it. Besides we always do it this way. There must be a good reason… I don’t want to be wrong. How embarrassing to go out on a limb and fall on my face. What if people don’t like my idea? What if they laugh at it? No thanks. Go away idea.”

And the talent ends up doing it the regular, ordinary way. And regretting it.

TRUTH: One of the hardest people to trust in radio is yourself.

Your ideas, your passion, your individuality will create your success. Your station hired you for YOU and YOUR IDEAS. If they wanted the status quo they would have kept what they had.

If you have a great idea own it. Pay attention to it. Nurture it. Who cares what other people think about it? It’s YOUR idea not theirs. (Just some of the great lessons learned while reading the children’s book “What Do You Do With an Idea?” to my son the other night – <video here>)

At our core many of us fear failing because it could be embarrassing, humiliating, infuriating, or job-ending. But, really it’s usually a moment of “Well, that sucked. Let’s try something different next time.” Your failures are the building blocks that your success is built upon. Successful companies produce failed products all the time because they’re trying new things; New Coke, ESPN the Phone, Apple Newton, Bic Underwear, Sony Betamax and on and on and on.

Building out a radio segment a little differently next time doesn’t seem like such risk now does it?

Radio should take a page from app development and build radio stations and shows with the 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 mentality; improve features consumers like, keep trying new things, keep tweaking, keep evolving, eliminate what doesn’t work.

So, what are you going to do with your next idea?

Radiodays Europe – Day 2

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Elvis is in the Building!

Whoa! Talk about information overload. What a crazy day. It started early for me paling around with my new buddy Elvis Duran. The Z100 and iHeartMedia syndicated morning host kicked the morning off with a chat in front of 1,200 delegates. But, before he took the stage he chatted on the Radio Stuff Podcast. (As did all the speakers I’m featuring here today.)

Sneak preview! Duran on Program Directors, “To be a coach as if I’m in a sporting event — if I’m a football player. I need someone to whisper in my ear what the play is, what our goal is for that play and for that game, and be there to be a cheerleader for me. And when I have a bad show I want them to come up and say, ‘Hey, you know what? You’ll have a good show tomorrow. You’ll have a good game tomorrow. Let’s work on these things and you’ll be better tomorrow. That’s what I need from a manager.”

G Whiz

2015-03-16 10.40.31Media Strategist David G. Hall (Former PD of KFI and others) offered up “Five Simple Tools to Make Your Show Better,” including the idea of “partnership.” This is one of the first thing a show, a host and management need to do. Work together to express expectations, roles, and responsibilities. It goes both ways and trust is one of the key ingredients to make it work. He also suggested shows prepare their shows as early as possible and then upgrade it throughout the day as your show prep marinades in your brain and new (better) ideas surface.

Does Anyone Have Ira Glass’ Phone Number? 

2015-03-16 11.58.29This was a great session by WNYC producer and host of the Death, Sex and Money podcast Anna Sale. If you can’t get Ira Glass to plug your podcast that’s okay, but use other podcasters to promote your show, “podcasts are what grow other podcasts.” It’s simple logic really. It’s more meaningful when podcast listeners hear about your podcast on another podcast because they can download it immediately. If they’re driving and hear about it on a radio show they’re likely to forget by the time they reach their destination. She preached the importance of keeping podcasts intimate which includes the hosts being vulnerable. And shareability is key. So, it’s preferred podcasts are more evergreen than pinned to a news hook, because the tail of listening is so long and episodes are consumed during binges.

Hey Facebook Listen Up!

“Facebook needs us, more than we need Facebook.” Those words are still echoing through my head. Danish Broadcasting Corporation Audience Researcher Rasmus Thaarup was full of social media insights. He believes as Facebook clears the clutter of cat videos and such, quality content — the kind radio provides — will be cherished by Facebook. And he’s already seeing results in increased impressions as they use it to deliver visual add-ons to their radio content (pictures, videos) without paying for them. His group also closed over 100 social media profiles this past year and are focusing on pages for true personalities / characters and radio station main pages.

He’s also big on SnapChat. Here’s his slide explaining why it’s a great fit for radio:

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Radio is Sick in the Head

Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrior diagnosed radio as borderline personality order. This session was one of the most interesting and creative.

For instance, Ferrior contends radio’s competition is not other radio or audio or video or TV or movies — it is people doing nothing. We need to change people’s behavior. The easiest way to do that is to get people to do something for you. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s real and it’s called the Ben Franklin Effect. Ikea implements it and creates massive customer loyalty by making you assemble your own furniture. What then would a radio station look like that was run by Ikea? I’m glad you asked.

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No More Pranks

2015-03-16 16.50.33This is M2015-03-16 16.24.51-1el Greig aka the “Royal Prank DJ.” Read about the incident here if you’re not familiar. I am impressed with how open and honest she is about the whole incident and aftermath. She shared death threats that she received through social media, admitted she spiraled into a 12-month depression, and she is  adamantly opposed to radio hosts pranking unsuspecting victims in the future. “Don’t do it. The joke has to be on us. Take the piss out of yourself.”

Day 3 of Radiodays Europe is Tuesday. Follow along with #RDE15

 A reminder all of these guests will appear on the Radio Stuff Podcast, which flights and jet-lag willing will post on Thursday. Subscribe to the Larry Gifford Media “Radio Stuff” email and each Tuesday you’ll receive an email with all sorts of stuff about radio. Sign up here.

Airchecks. Dreaded Airchecks.

Paul Kaye

Paul Kaye

One of the issues that I hear from talent quite a bit is how airchecks suck. They dread them. Talent feel like they’ve been slimed by negativity afterwards when they just want some support, strategy and a plan to improve. They know what sucked. How do you fix it?

Paul Kaye, Talent Development Director for Newcap Radio and Ops Manager for the Vancouver radio cluster has been writing a series of articles for AllAccess.com about airchecks; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. He talked to talent around the globe and is passionate about making radio talent remarkable. So, I invited him on the Radio Stuff podcast this week.

Our chat is about 30 minutes long. Some key take aways for me:

  • PDs, talent (and often GMs) need to agree on show goals to help focus the coaching sessions and set expectations.
  • Trust needs to be earned by both sides or it all falls apart.
  • Airchecks are not about “managing,” “nitpicking,” or listing negatives, they should be constructive, mostly positive, and helpful in achieving goals.
  • They should be as short as possible and as long as they need to be.
  • Hallway feedback; be timely, specific and supportive.
  • It’s never okay for PDs to throw coffee cups at the talent.

Paul and I also realized through out chat that there really is no system in place for training PDs how to manage and coach talent. It’s all trial and error with mostly error. If the industry is serious about talent being the differentiation between streaming radio services and satellite compared to local radio we need to address this and continue to invest in remarkable talent.

Click the image below to listen to the show!

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Subscribe to the Larry Gifford Media “Radio Stuff” email and each Tuesday you’ll receive an email with all sorts of stuff about radio. Sign up here.

VIDEO: Ask Larry! Episode 10

Radio consultant Larry Gifford answers three questions about radio; A college senior asks about starting a job hunt, should your radio show make a viral video, and should ex-athletes refer to their playing experience while on air?

Radio Co-Host Confession

tony215x215There is an issue facing thousands of radio co-hosts and sidekicks across the country; the radio station values the main host of your show more than it values you. That was the revelation this week for Fitz in the Morning sidekick Tony Russell when the host of his Seattle-based morning show got a new deal.

“I realized Fitz signed for another 5 years, but I didn’t. No one came to me to sign a contract for another five years.” Tony, who is documenting his mid-life crisis on the blog www.TheNextHalf.com, confessed his frustration on this week’s Radio Stuff. “Basically, Fitz’ decision was my decision. I had no say so in it what so ever. So I’m here for another five years too, basically. It’s kinda like Brooks & Dunn.”

It was a swift kick in the gut.

And then another does of reality hit.

“Hell, I’m not his co-host, because if I was his co-host this would be a 50-50 deal. Thus the word “co.” I’m a sidekick. And I thought, ‘Wow. I don’t really want to be here another five years if I don’t make more money.’ The truth of the matter is while I make great money for the rest of the country, for here (Seattle), I don’t even qualify to buy the average home. I thought, ‘This just sucks.'”

So he wrote a parody of a country song about it. (Listen) Fitz and the morning team had a good laugh. But, there are lessons for all us in Tony’s story.

“The biggest mistake I made early on was not saying, ‘Hey I want my name on the show.’ Because, if your name is not on the bumper sticker your equity goes way down and so does your pay in comparison to a host. Get your name on the show when you’re starting out. Make sure you’re part of the brand not just part of the team.”

If all this sounds a bit mopey and “woe is me,” Tony has a caveat. He’s not bitter with Fitz or even blame him. He owns it. And as a licensed mental health counselor and ordained minister he offered himself some advice;

“Watch your attitude. Because it’s easy to get bitter. Remember you get to do something everyday that thousands and thousands of people would love to do. Walk in everyday like your pants are on fire and do the best you can do and again brand yourself. Find what your good at and don’t go ask to do it, don’t wait to be asked, initiate and show your value if you want to stick around.”

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